Because of the Very Worst, Life Gave Me the Very Best

It’s been some time since I have been able to sit down and write. Writer’s block, lack of enthusiasm, loss of creativity, angry that I am doing life alone, whatever you want to call it; I had no words to pour out onto a page. It frustrates me when I get to this point, because writing is, and has, truly been my greatest way to handle grief. However, dates seem to consume my memory banks, and flood my emotions. June always takes the cake for emotions, as I finish up celebrating Mother’s Day in late May, Father’s Day, the date of my husband’s cancer-versary (date of diagnosis), the thirteen days we initially spent in the hospital, which also overlaps our wedding anniversary.

joehopsital

I am often frustrated by the lack of understanding from others when I get to this point. I attempt to preface it all–make plans, do fun and exciting things, go on adventures, be extra reflective and grateful for God’s blessings, but then it hits. I am celebrating a wedding anniversary as one, not two. My husband is in heaven, and our life together was cut short. Milestones, anniversaries, birthdays, all of it, cut short to celebrate together.

That’s where reflection comes in, however. A quote, the only words, someone has shared with me in this journey of grief is at the most forefront part of my mind:

“It hurts this bad, because you two loved each other that much.”

Truth. It really does hurt this bad, because we loved each other that much. And you know what? I loved him as much as I did, because of the very worst. I thought I loved my husband with every bit of my heart, that there was not possibly another ounce of love I could give him. And then the doctors told me he had cancer. The doctors then made me share the news with my husband, while I was seven-months pregnant sitting on the corner of that sterile, white hospital bed. God chose me to take care of that man, who battled for sixteen months, in between countless chemotherapy infusions, blood thinner shots in his abdomen, dressing the largest gaping stomach wound I could never imagine, surgeries, pumping medication refills after medication refills into his declining, frail, thin body to keep him comfortable. He chose me to deliver his son into this world, while Joe was sick, knowing we needed hope and strength from something a doctor couldn’t prescribe to make him better.

my fave

I was petrified. I was angry, anxious, full of fear. I begged God sprawled heavily pregnant on public bathroom floors to change our circumstances, to spare his life and take mine. I bartered with the one who calls all the shots telling Him I could endure the pain, but to relieve Joe’s body. I told God what I thought I knew, and promised Him our son and daughter needed their Daddy, more than they needed me. He didn’t need my half-knowings, He told me there was a different plan. I just begged Him to change it.

Sure I loved Joe in the greatest of times–family vacations, road trips, dinner out, working on a never-ending dream house. I loved him when it was fun, and we were daring: hiking trails, caving, wake boarding, being in love without a care in the world, getting married at sunset next to the ocean. Love is easy when things are good. But in the very worst, when cancer came and robbed of us of a lot of joy and happiness, when cancer filled days with pain, sorrow, questions, and doubts–that’s when I really loved him. And you know what? In the absolute very worst, love is even easier. It flooded my soul like nothing has ever flooded my soul in my life. When we faced losing every materialistic thing we owned, when cancer threatened health and life, when health failed and told me our children would grow up without their dad, and leave me as a widow, love was easy, and it was the very best. All of the bad in this world allowed me to see life in a totally different perspective. A perspective I am forever grateful for, and a better person because of. I’m thankful every day for the gifts cancer gave us–they are too abundant to count. Deep, unconditional, love that is indescribable. Restoration in humanity and my faith. Miracles that cannot be explained, at least from the explicit state of mind; just confirmation that God has way more power than even we think we can comprehend. Answered prayers, community, and prevailing love from friends, family, strangers, medical staff, you name it. We got the very best, in the very worst.

meandhubs

So, as our wedding anniversary approaches, I remember how we celebrate. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary without my husband being able to sit up, use the bathroom on his own, and could barely keep his eyes open after a total colectomy only a few days prior. I sat seven-months pregnant next to his hospital bed, watching his chest rise and fall. It was the greatest celebration of life, knowing I had my husband one more day in this crazy life. We celebrated our second wedding anniversary, on our front porch watching our sweet, chunky, little nine-month-old son playing with his toys and puppy. Joe was too weak, sick and tired to sit up from the chemotherapy, so he laid on the cushions on a porch bench, while I played on the deck, watching our sweet baby and my sweet husband, thankful for all of God’s grace and goodness. Our third? I returned to the beach we got married at, the exact spot, alone. I fell to my knees and cried, asking God why this was the plan. Our fourth–I cried in bed, then remembered Joe brought out the best in me and pushed me to my limits. I went out and para-sailed above the beautiful lake we live on. And our fifth? I will choose to live again, doing something full of crazy adventure and fun. It will push me outside of my comfort zone, raise my heartbeat, and know that the very worst of life, has given me so much good.

Remember the collateral beauty in each moment. They very, very worst has truly brought the very best in life. Even when I hated to admit it, God remains good and prevails His blessings upon us maybe just in ways we didn’t specifically ask for. I am choosing to see all the good, even when my heart hurts on an anniversary of eight years this man has been in my life, five of them being married to him.

XOXO,

Celebrating life–Kristina

We Talked About Everything. Except Dying.

My husband and I dated three years before we said, “I do.” He is as opposite from me, as I am from him. He is as quiet, as I am loud and talkative. He is as shy, as I am outgoing. Opposites certainly did attract, when God created this man for me.

me and Joe baby-FAVE

Joe and I have always had an “easy” relationship–easy, as easy gets. We still had things we didn’t agree on, but we rarely ever had an argument. We just talked. About everything. Even weird things, or things that were uncomfortable to talk about, we just did. I never really thought much about that fact–until sometime after he won his battle with cancer, and gained his wings to Heaven. Somewhere after that, it hit me hard, that we never talked about that one topic. The one that is inevitable for everyone to talk about. That thing that will happen to each of us. Death. Dying. Taking our last breath. Expiring. Not being here on Earth. We never spoke a word about it. Ever.

In the midst of the whirlwind that happened in our life: being seven-months pregnant, being diagnosed with Stage III, then Stage IV colon cancer, celebrating our wedding anniversary in the hospital, and then delivering our son into our mess, that topic just never seemed to come up. Or it intentionally was never brought up. We avoided it entirely, even when there was opportune times to talk about it–when the doctor told us our prognosis, when respite care was called, hospice, or even some terrifying moments of the loss of health. Here’s my perspective:

joeandipresurgery

During our first round of chemotherapy with our son at a week old, the doctor told us that any treatment from here on out would only prolong life.  I vividly remember the comment not even phasing me, while I nursed our son sitting on the hospital bed with Joe. It did not phase me at all. Bold face, wide eyed, I looked at him and replied, “Well, I guess you are going to see a miracle.” He sheepishly looked down, and weakly smiled. I wasn’t being naive, but I knew we were going to defy odds. We always won at difficult circumstances, and prevailed to the top.

 

Chemotherapy was hell on Earth. It is Hell on Earth. Anyone going through treatment will, and does, agree without hesitation. The mental warfare it does on those going through it, is a side effect society, and doctors, rarely talk about. This held true for Joe. Tears, emotions, fear, anger, and lots of why’s consumed us both. But never, ever death. Not even when he hadn’t eaten in days, passed out, hit his head and had a seizure in the bathroom floor unresponsive to me. Not even when the chemotherapy stopped working, and we tried multiple different options. Not even when we went for a second opinion, but didn’t get randomized for a clinical trial of chemo. Not even when the doctor told us there was nothing further we could do. Not even when he wasn’t strong enough to pick up our year old son to give him a kiss. Not even when he heard me softly crying on my side of the bed in the middle of the night, and asked if I was still awake. I stifled the tears, choked back the lump in my throat, and pretended I was asleep.

joe-chemo

Not even when he went most of the day without waking up, and rarely eating anything. Never. Ever. We did not talk about him dying. I simply couldn’t. I believed, for a very long time we would get our miracle of healing. I boldly prayed for it. I never had a mindset we would not. God would prevail, He showed up in impossible situations to prove His greatness. He would show up when we least expected it.

The week Joe passed away, he came up behind me, as I was sitting at the island feeding our sweet baby in his dark, mahogany wood high chair we picked out together. He softly picked up my flowing hair over my shoulders, and whipped it back into his frail, bony hands. As he played with it, he calmly said, “I’m going to miss this. So, so much.” He stopped due to the crack in his voice, but lingered running his fingers through my hair, and softly kissed my neck. I knew he wasn’t talking about days off from work together. He wasn’t talking about late morning breakfasts, just the three of us. I knew he was talking about “it,” but we didn’t talk about that. I didn’t, because I didn’t want him to think I had given up on our miracle. He knew. I knew. We just couldn’t.

kissing-him-goodbye

But today. Today–April 21, 2017–five days shy of being two and a half years since I kissed his face for the last time, not talking about “it” has proved harder, than just talking about the inevitable for all of us. I wish I knew what he wanted for my life, our life, now that he is gone. I wish I heard his voice tell me that it was okay to find love again, one day. I wish I heard him tell me how to raise our son into a man. I wish he told me he wasn’t angry that he got cheated at life, at being a dad, at being my husband, at being a son to his parents. I wish he told me not to be angry for him. I wish he just told me something, anything, about dying. Not having instructions after death is so much harder.

Talking about death isn’t the easy answer. It would have been hard, probably the hardest conversation we ever had. Although I “think” I know what he would have told me, I still need to “KNOW.” I wish we would have talked about what Heaven would have been like. I wish I told him to go say, “Hi” to my grandpa. I wish he told me he would watch over us. We didn’t though. We never talked about death.

There are many things that are uncomfortable to talk about. They make you wince, push it off until later, delay it a little longer. Later is always too late though, isn’t it? I’ve had a lot of tough conversations since then. Conversations that are possible situations I hope never happen in this lifetime. But I never want doubt, fear of the unknown from the past to haunt the future of today and tomorrow. Death is going to happen to all of us. We better just prepare and talk about it now.

Struggling with the thoughts of what tomorrow is supposed to look like-

Kristina

Redefining Widowhood: A Young Widow’s Perspective

As a young girl, mowing yards for elderly widows with her grandpa, I saw what widowhood exemplified by some of the most beautiful souls in the world. They were sweet, worked in their flower beds, baked yummy-treats for me as I finished mowing their yards, and talked for hours with my grandpa and I on their front porch. They were classy, tactful, full of grace and wisdom. They all also had another thing in common: their age. Their age was reflective of the lessons in life they were talking about, the wisdom they had to share, and also reflective of their occupation: retired. They were all at a certain life stage. They had raised their children: watched them go to college, get married, and have families of their own. Although I am certain they were lonely, missed their spouse more than words would ever be able to describe, they were older. Maybe, just maybe, failing health and age was more foreseeable in their future, than that of mine.

Not long after my husband passed away, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire. Not even foreseeing what was about to be asked, I willingly did my duty. I cruised through the usual questions of name, address, phone number, but then the marital question was asked. “Married? Single? Divorced/Widowed?” My heart and hand froze, my throat clenched, and right there in the middle of the doctor’s office, I lost control of the masquerade I had put on since he passed. I was still married. But society’s form I was filling out had me listed with those that were divorced. As if divorce and widowed were the same thing. They were not. They didn’t even come close. And I was not ready to answer that I was “widowed.”

theoneandonly

I was though. I was twenty-five years old, and had a one-year-old baby sitting in my lap. I was a widow. I will forever be a widow, whether I marry again or not, until God calls me home. And yet, I don’t fit the bill of a widow. My age doesn’t qualify me to be in this unwanted club. I am nowhere near retirement. I am too young to receive widow’s benefits from my deceased husband’s Social Security benefits. Yet, I am too young to be identifying with those widows that are retired, are able to meet in life/connection groups mid-day. I do not, necessarily, have a social cohort that I meet entirely with. My friends are all in a similar life stage of adding to their families, buying/building their second homes,  and some, are unfortunately going through loss of divorce.

Widowhood at a young age has proved a very difficult stage of life to navigate, in my late twenties. On the outside, I have been told, my confident presentation comes across as though things are going as planned in life. I have a great career, excelled in furthering my education with a master’s, raising a brilliant and handsome child, and have a beautiful home. At surface level, society says I have it all. But how do you navigate being a widow at such a young age? Who do you identify with? How, exactly, do you wander what life is supposed to look like beyond this point? How do you tell those new acquaintances when you are a widow, not to run away, you just want to connect with someone, anyone?

MASTERS GRAD

Widowhood is not just those that are at a later stage in life, that maybe has casual past times at their leisure. It is not someone at failing health and age. Widowhood is young. Widowhood is juggling a full-time career, raising a child, living through all of grief’s nasty punches, and still trying out to figure out what you want for the rest of your life. Widowhood is still trying to connect with friends, yet feeling the awkward difference of losing a spouse. Widowhood is trying to figure out when it is acceptable to take your wedding band off, when to trade it out with your widow’s ring, and then eventually if you are supposed to stop wearing that, as well. Widowhood is not being able to articulate your wants and desires that conflict with guilt at an every-hour-of-the-day rate. Widowhood is uncertainty, sadness, fear, walking the unknown. Widowhood is still having dreams, hopes, and desires for the future; just a future you don’t know what it looks like, or who it is with.

Widowhood is young. It is old. Widowhood has no boundaries and does not discriminate in age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or life stage. It is hard. Widowhood is just that–living life without the person you committed and planned the rest of your life with.

Just remember: widowhood does not have a number. It may be a twenty-eight-year-old woman, raising her son, uncertain of every move she makes. It may be that woman, hopeful that each choice leads her to a future of promise, hope, and love; all-the-while always carrying the love that was once given to her by a husband taken from this world far too soon.

me happy

Dreams, Hope, and Love,

A 28-Year-Old Widow