How I Know My Dying Husband’s Nurses Played Cards

This past week Washington State Senator, Maureen Walsh, proclaimed that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably played cards for a considerable amount of the day, ” (CNN). What she was specifically referring to, is rural hospitals with smaller number of patients/beds to take care of. What she underestimated in her ill-planned statement though is a true caregiver’s perspective.

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True Love

You see, I was seven months pregnant with my first child, when my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. We were blindsided by the diagnosis, let alone the late stage, and even the detrimental words “terminal.” We live very rural, a small lake-town that thrives off of tourism in our service industry businesses. And, I have to tell you, Senator Walsh was right: those chemotherapy infusion nurses, those post-surgery, seventh floor angels, those pain-control, specialty oncology nurses, they did play cards. I watched, observed, cried, thanked, and even begged them to keep playing cards to save my husband. Let me tell you about those cards they played:

When those masked, and scrubbed-in angels pushed my husband out on his hospital bed, down the corridors, and into his new “home” for the next 10 days–they played the card of who they should take care of first–their patient or the patient’s wife. They struggled if they should take care of the man wincing and crying out in pain, or if they should take care of the seven-month swollen expecting momma that was beside herself as she hovered over his body in his bed. They played the cards of wondering what they should convince that desperate wife and expecting mother of first: should she eat and feed that small babe growing inside her, or do we tell her she needs to sleep for the first time since they checked in four days ago?

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Eight Months Pregnant, in for another surgery for an infection that developed.

Those blue-scrubbed Mercy Angels played the cards of wondering if they wrap their arms around that depleted wife when she was on her hands and knees begging God to relieve the pain her husband gasped for help with–or do they hold the small nine-month old chunky baby that was in the hospital floor playing with his toys to give that devoted wife a moment to just be her husband’s best friend and saving grace.

Those chemotherapy and infusion nurses–the real heroes in our story–they juggled the most cards of all. They juggled do we take care of the expecting momma, and later the momma of a five-day old, or do we tend to our patient’s every need. Do we take food, baby toys, or any of their needs to their overnight hospital stay, or do we stay home with our own families that we need to spend time with? They juggled whether they got to cry in front of us, or escape to the backroom to relieve emotions, when the oncologist said there was nothing more we could do. When those champion card players saw that frail, bony husband of mine disoriented, unaware of everything going on around him, and a momma carrying him on one arm, and their sweet year old baby in the other out of the chemo clinic–they played the card of what emotion they got to show that day.

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Our “spot” at our doctor’s appointment every other Thursday. All day infusion, meant juggling lesson plan writing, grading papers, and a sweet baby taking a nap in between me and his Daddy’s chair.

Senator Walsh, you are correct. Our rural, country, small-town nurses do play cards all day–in fact, a considerable amount of the day. Wait–no– all day and all night. They play cards when they go home, when they are supposed to be with their families, when they are supposed to take care of themselves. They are master card players, the real poker faces in this game of healthcare. They play the cards of taking care of patients, taking care of patient’s caregivers, families, dying wishes, egos, dignity, and every single basic need in between. And while they are playing those cards, they are card sharks at playing their own cards of emotions, family, vulnerability, and juggling their personal time that they devote to their patients and their families. They attend funerals, they hold that wife and that brand new baby in their arms while they weep because they are standing at the coffin of a patient they loved.

They are card sharks. Poker faces. True Vegas-style card players. Yes, Senator Walsh, my husband’s country, rural-small town nurses play cards. The very best cards there are to play. And I couldn’t be more thankful.

A Champion for Nurses,

Joe Smith’s Widow

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Kristina Smith is a widow, mother, Special Education Administrator, Colorectal Cancer National Advocate, Blogger and Amazon Best-Selling Author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir”

You can purchase your personal copy of Smith’s memoir here.

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Coincidences Do Not Exist, Here’s How I Know

I have had a lot of things, actions, “weird stuff” happen since my husband passed away, that I simply cannot give a rational reason or explanation for. All I could tell anyone is that these things happen, and the instant they do, I know it is Joe. I have had friends look at me with “the look” of pity, as if they think I am crazy, and only clinging to believe that it could be Joe, since I miss him so desperately. I have even been told I have a “good imagination.” I used to get upset by such measures, and then I realized most people don’t know. They don’t know the unbearable, immeasurable loss I took, personally and for my son, over four years ago when my husband, and Porter’s Daddy passed away. And since people don’t understand that loss, or that love, I realize they wouldn’t get how many unexplained things happen. I do not believe in coincidences, and the death of my husband has only solidified that. Here’s why: maybe, just maybe, one of these instances could mean a coincidence, but all of them, in combination together, there’s just simply no way. God tells us multiple times He sends us signs, we just have to look for them. And sometimes when I feel like God, and Joe, are furthest away and I can’t feel them, it’s because I am not searching for them.

The first time I knew Joe wasn’t far away, was less than one month after he passed away. Putting laundry away in our bedroom, I heard our sixteen-month-old baby in the living room cackling–you know that baby belly laugh, where you can’t help but laugh too? Knowing no one else was home, I slowly peeked out my bedroom door to see what was so funny. There, I saw that sweet little bald-headed babe watching intently if someone were sitting right in front of him, and he was anticipating what was going to happen next. That look on his face with the smile already there, but waiting for the punch of hilarity, and then the red-faced, belly-laugh ensued. The laugh only stopped long enough for him to pause for the next motion of funniness as he watched whatever it was in front of him, and then the cycle of laughter continued. That moment in time, where what I could see was only a child and no one else, but there was clearly someone there entertaining him….Well, I guess unless you were there to see the pure happiness of that child as he interacted with someone I could not see, was the moment I knew his Dad hadn’t gone far.

Less than two weeks later, sitting in my bedroom closet, that wobbly, big-headed baby looked at me knowing he was going to take his first steps to me. You see at sixteen months we still weren’t walking yet, because he had grown up in hospital floors, being held more times than put down, because of Daddy being sick and always in the hospital or the chemo chair. As I stretched my arms out for him to take two steps to me, he excitedly reached out with a smile, and when he fell into my arms, he immediately without a second of hesitation screamed Daddy, as he looked over my shoulder. Flabbergasted, I pulled him away so I could look at his face, and he was set on the image behind me that I couldn’t see–with known intent of who he really took his first steps for. His Daddy.

As I went to speak to Congress for the first time three years ago, I was sat with a group of states. Missouri advocates sat with South Carolina. Significance? That is the state we were married in. And South Carolina sat right next to me. I knew Joe was there, affirming what I was doing.

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Missouri and South Carolina advocates were pre-planned to sit next to each other.

My first wedding anniversary without him was in June 2015. From October 26, 2014 until June I had searched my house high and low. I knew, I just knew, in my heart that Joe had left me a message, a note, something, somewhere in our house. I emptied drawers, closets, searched his shop, looked everywhere–and I found nothing. I was in desperate need to find something, because Joe and I could never talk about dying. Ever. There were prime times to talk about, times I knew we were both thinking about the conversation about what I should do if he passed, but physically I could not choke the words out. I just needed something. Three days before our first wedding anniversary with him in Heaven, I was looking for a card that a friend sent. In the middle of a stack of baby shower and birthday cards for our son, I found a card with the words, “Love of my Life” scribbled across it. Inside that card, he wrote, “There is nothing more I want then to spend the rest of my life with you and our family. Love Always, XOXO, Joe.” So tell me, how, after intentionally searching our home for months, did I find this three days before our wedding anniversary? More importantly, I have no idea when he would have went to get this card, I was always with him, he could never drive on his own, and yet I still have no idea when he placed that card for me to find.

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To see his handwriting again…to see his last wish written and know that I gave that to him–tears of joy and longing for what was.

Most recently, I turned thirty. A birthday I am thrilled to get to celebrate, and more time with our son and my friends and family. As the day approached though, the thought hit me that my husband would never know me in my thirties. It hit hard too. Approximately two and a half months before my birthday I had submitted a proclamation request to Missouri’s Governor to declare March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Since I had not heard anything, it was vaguely out of my thoughts. But only three days before my birthday, a signed proclamation was in the mail. How did the perfect timing of this happen–a reminder from someone that he wasn’t far as my big birthday approached? I think so.

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Happy 30th to Me!

I’ve written our memoir and have worked over three years on it. At times, feeling as though I may not make this dream a reality, I had a friend step in. As I joined them in their office, and they turned around their computer to say “Happy Birthday” there a revised draft of our story, our struggle, our blessings is a book cover that could only make me scream, laugh, cry, but no words come out. That friend? I only met him through Joe–without Joe, I wouldn’t have the chance to know him. He then volunteers to help get everything set up, going, and ready to make the book live, because he believes in me that much. Why? Coincidence? Coincidence that so many years ago, Joe introduced me to this person, and now they are my champion? Again, I don’t think so.

You see, the list goes on. It goes on and on and on. The cards from friends I haven’t heard from in years, on the days that I can’t hardly get out of bed. The songs that I haven’t heard in forever, and yet they play at the most opportune times. The people–THE PEOPLE that years ago, seemed like they were just an acquaintance, and they are the ones that have completely changed my life in pivotal ways. The “random” chances of “just the right people” hearing my story, that spurs leading me to go speak to Congress, that then “just the other right person” hearing my story, and asking me to model and represent caregivers under the age of 50 in an advocacy colorectal cancer national magazine, that “just the right time” I am led to write a book.

Coincidences don’t exist. They are far more explained when you start connecting all of them and how they play a much bigger picture in your life. Coincidences are really God at work, in His ever-mysterious, never fully-explained or understood way. They are all around us, and I know that God, and Joe, send me these signs to know neither of them are very far away.

Keep going in grief. Find the sings, not the coincidences, and know that God and your loved one are right there with you. It’s so worth it.

XOXO–Kristina

Being Content in My Grief

Three years and three months out seems like an eternity since I lost my husband. This eternity is heightened when I think of all of the things I miss: having my soul mate to talk to, vent to, being held and comforted when I have had a hard day; or even the help, mental and physical breaks from being a parent and all the responsibilities this entails.

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When I first lost Joe, I remember thinking, “I will not get through all the stages of grief.” Though, I did, indeed, go through every single one of them, like a jig-saw puzzle that often moved forward, backward, and sideways faster than I could mentally keep up before knowing I had changed directions again. No one, and no literature, told me there would be a stage of contentment; but I am here to tell you, that phase is where I am now.

I struggled to admit this phase of grief, because in a way, I feel guilty stating that I have “accepted” my reality. I don’t know that I have necessarily “accepted” it, but I have indeed become content in it. I do not like it, I am not happy that my reality is what it is, but since my reality of my life is that I am a young widow, that my husband passed away from a grueling and vigilant fight to last as many days as possible on this Earth, and that my son will never get another Earthly day with his Daddy, I am content, to say, “We are living. And we are making the very best of the life we have been given.”

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I can be content because of many factors. First and foremost, my son. He is truly what makes me continue to seek goodness, to be the best in all areas of my life, and to show me pure, genuine joy in life. His smile makes my heart burst, and his pure sense of exploration, inquisitiveness, and constant evolution into his own person drives me to continue to live. Providing him the childhood of a lifetime, is my ultimate desire as his parent. Watching him grow into a young man, is my only wish I could ever seek in life.

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I am content because I did go through all phases of grief. I often look back at private journaling, as well as public blogging I have done, and cringe on both. But I do not regret any of them. Those pieces are only reflective of the stage of grief I was in. Without going through everyone, sometimes multiple times, means I couldn’t be where I am today. I did grief my own way, not the way others suggested, or how those with the greatest of intentions suggested. I knew what I needed, what I felt, and the way I needed to feel. And I felt my feelings through the nasty process. I am stronger because of it.

I am content because although I despise my circumstances of feeling helpless, beyond frightened and scared, angry, robbed of me and my family’s life, and eventually helpless, it has made me into I am today. I am stronger; even though I didn’t want to be. I love harder, and I was already a lover. I feel harder, more, and cry more often; when my heart was already so very tender. I cannot help it. The loss of your spouse’s health, body, mind challenge you and your beliefs in many ways, but it makes you love, like you have never loved before. I would never trade any of that for less love.

I am content, because of my faith. Faith in God, yes, but faith– believing what you cannot see. I never once believed that life or loved ended when someone took their last breath; but that belief, only amplified October 26, 2014. I believe in love more, I believe in signs from those we cannot see, I believe in God, like I have never in my life. I was once asked,

“Do you still believe in God? Even after your husband getting sick and later dying?” My answer, “I have never believed in God more, than my very darkest days.”

You see, that is when He has been the most obvious, the most present. The blessings beyond our sickness, our situation, are so immense, mere words couldn’t convince you of the things He made happen. But He did. And–I continue to be amazed by His goodness.

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I am content, because unfortunately, yet fortunately, there are other widows and other young people fighting cancer in what should be the best days of their lives–raising families, accomplishing goals, pursuing dreams. I hate it for them, I wish beyond any wish, they didn’t have to fight the battle they are armored up against. But because they are, heals me, and allows me to heal others. The fellowship of those that truly understand, you don’t have to tell them, they just get it. It has healed me beyond belief. The opportunities, that by calculation, had already been decided and chosen, yet arose for me in God’s timing, have healed me. Modeling for a national non-for-profit, speaking to Congress, writing our story into a book, seeking out those with similar situations and just “being” there. I am content because of this.

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I am often asked about my next stages of life–dating, finding love again, why I continue to be involved in a world that can be so heavy–and so close to triggering me back into my journey of the heavy stages of grief. I respond with, “I would never wish my life circumstances on anyone, but I would wish my perspective on the world.” There IS joy and beauty and blessings in the very darkest of our days. I am content with just days. More days to give more, be more, and do more good for this world.

I am content.

See the Beauty in the Ashes,

Kristina

When “Thank You” Wasn’t Enough: A Caregiver’s Perspective

Many moments in my husband’s sixteen month battle with colon cancer, I wondered how much more we could take. One more set back, one more battle with flu, dehydration, one more chemo that depleted every ounce of energy or fluid left in his body; one more blow that our blood counts weren’t going down, but in fact, were doing the complete opposite, with a steady climb upward. It broke my heart, I tried to fill the prescriptions faster, have paperwork ready beforehand, and not to mention, the laundry done, floors swept and mopped, dusted shelves, and an infant that barely made a noise, because he was just content at all times. The appointments were made, the lawn was mowed during nap times of both of my boys–my husband and our son– so as not to miss a beat of them needing me while they were awake.

Some days though, I was just depleted. One hundred and fifty percent, spent. Exhausted. And I wanted to give up. I wanted to cry, throw a fit, go for a walk, maybe even get a pedicure, to just relax from the most daunting task of all. Taking care of my sick husband, and our sweet, fresh baby that came in the midst of fighting cancer, took a toll. That wasn’t an option though. It never was, it never is, and it never will be. I often cried on that mower, or in the shower. I often stifled tears, and talked myself down while I was doing laundry, or bringing wood in for the fire place. I even sent mass texts out: begging for prayers of patience, strength, endurance, and understanding.

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Eight months pregnant before our second surgery in July 2013.

And even though my sweet husband said, “Thank you” more times than I could ever remember–for every single thing I did for him, some days, those two words didn’t seem to be enough. You know what was enough, though? The way he looked at me from across the room as I changed another dirty diaper, grabbed another drink out of the fridge for him, and wiped up spit up–that look was enough. The way he smiled, or held me longer in a hug, made me know he was grateful beyond any words he could say. The way he squeezed my hand in the middle of the night, or I quietly heard him whispering a prayer to God, thanking Him for his wife: THAT was enough. His sweet random texts I received in the middle of my teaching days, to say, “I could never tell you thank you for all you do for our family. I promise I will fight to be the husband you deserve.” THAT was enough.

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Post surgery after a total colectomy June 23, 2013.

 

When he got up every single morning, on chemotherapy or not, and cooked me eggs, bacon, and toast, while bringing a cup of hot coffee to my vanity while I got ready for work–THAT was enough. When he woke up in the middle of the night, in between feedings of our son, and needed more pain medication, requiring me to get up one more time; thank you didn’t seem enough. But when I crawled back into bed, and he kissed my forehead and told me he couldn’t make it without me: THAT was enough. When he knew every other week, he walked into a clinic to be hooked up to chemo that would make him sick until the next time he had to walk in, THAT was enough. He never once complained; he never once asked if we could stop trying to fight; THAT was enough. When the pain was unbearable, and his eyes begged me to make it better, while he gasped for more air, and I felt helpless and hopeless, “me” was out the window. He was enough; his fight, strength, determination to be a Dad and Husband the rest of his days, THAT was enough. The hospital camp-outs in the floor, the second-opinions, the unmatched days and nights that we got to be a family at home in the floor, and avoid the rat race of life: THAT was enough.

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Joe at our chemotherapy appointment, while our two-month old son naps on a pallet next to him.

There are many titles I have had the honor of holding. Other than Joe’s wife and mother to his son, caregiver is my favorite. It was, and is, the most difficult phase of life I have been through. It is also the most honorable and beautiful thing I have ever been through. There is no way I could have allowed someone else to do what he needed those sixteen months. I only wanted him to know that every single act I did for him, whether it was keeping track of when and what to administer of his medication, or carry him to our bed because he didn’t have the strength to stand up, or to feed him like a small child when he was too weak to pick up a spoon or wipe his mouth; yeah, every bit of that, was my way of saying “Thank you” for every day he fought for us to remain a family.

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True Love.

When thank you doesn’t seem enough in battles of your hardest days, what else do you see that is enough? Maybe even the look from across the room is all you need, to realize that “Thank You” isn’t enough; they don’t, and could never, have the words to say just how grateful they are for all you do for them.

It’s been three years without him; he still sends me signs every single day of how grateful he is for me. What he may never know, though, is just how grateful I am for him and all he gave me and made me.

XOXO,

A Thankful Caregiver

When Cards Stop Coming, Being a Family of One Less Does Not

When my husband passed away just over three years ago, the inopportune timing of right before the holidays about took me under. To say I dreaded the holidays, would be a major understatement. The panic, fear and stress of how and what I was supposed to do, to get through them was beyond me. Fate took over, as it typically does, and invitations rolled in for my son and I to join friends, their families, and even strangers to join them for holiday festivities. The sympathy cards were so abundant, they were countless, that lasted well beyond the holiday season. The rawness that my husband, my life partner, and our children’s daddy wouldn’t be here was fresh. Sympathy abounded each person’s tone, intent, and well wishes to get us through that first holiday season.

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Four days before Joe passed; less than a month before Thanksgiving.

That next holiday season though, one year later–we didn’t get those invites, and the shock and numbness of just losing him had dulled–just a bit. Since the rawness wasn’t as fresh in everyone else’s mind, I realized it would be left to me, to lessen the blow of the holiday season; but how? It truly felt like the first holiday season, trying to figure out what I  was supposed to do–everyone took care of the last one, when I was only walking through the motions.

Three years out, I know what to do. Joe’s family is our home base, and we schedule, just like everyone else, where to be, when to be there, and who we will spend our holidays with. But you know what has not changed? What hasn’t changed, is that Joe isn’t here. He is not here to hang the Christmas lights outside, while I decorate inside. He is not here to wrap the Christmas presents, because I absolutely hate that one job of the holiday season. He is not here to pluck his stocking off the mantle, but it is still hanging there, embroidered with “Daddy” waiting for his large, calloused hands to grab it. He’s not here. Period. But his love is, and his memories are, and so is the longing of missing him–from me, his children, his parents, and his friends and family.

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Christmas 2016; two years out.

Talk about them. Any grief article, blog, book, or conversation I have–we want that. Talk about them. We may cry; we miss them. But it hurts us worse when you don’t. We still send his childhood friends Christmas cards, we want one from them too. We want to see you thriving, living, loving. Still invite our family over for get-together’s. Yes, we are one less, physically; but he is still with us, he makes us the family we are, and were. Still celebrate in love.

We are just a family of one less- we are reminded of that every day. It still hurts, it is still raw that we do holidays, and every day, without him. The amount of time since he was last here, will never change that. We just want Thanksgiving memories and traditions that still talk about the gratefulness of all Joe was, and is, to everyone he touched, to be brought up. We will still continue our Christmas traditions of our angel tree since Daddy passed, presents under the tree from Daddy under the tree , and writing our Christmas letter to Daddy each Christmas Eve to put in his stocking. That’s how it hurts less; we still acknowledge him every day, in everything we do. We hope you will too.

 

Holiday Blessings,

A Momma in a Family of One Less

What I’d Say to You Today if There Was One More …

Letters and conversations to my husband that passed away three years ago tomorrow, are not new things. In fact, they are probably the two things that have kept me as sane as I am today. Feeling like I am telling him things, filling him in on the chaos of life, and asking for advice, signs or direction into a next step of life proves helpful to my heart and clarify of mind. The odd thing to others is, I do hear him. I hear him in the way the wind blows at the exact right moment, in the exact right direction, in the exact right path.  I can hear his catch phrases of, “It’s just time and money,” when I become overwhelmed with one more project that needs to be done at the house. I constantly see those crystal blue eyes shining, with his thin lips pursed together, as he tries to shyly discrete how much his heart his shining for me, after each success or milestone that is accomplished. I can feel his pride beaming in a room, in which I have tackled one more thing. But truly, if we had one more hike, full of just he-and-I conversation, down a sunny and breezy Arkansas trail, I think it might go something like this:

“Did you see just how big he is getting? How could he look more like you? I mean seriously, that big head, and THOSE eyes. Babe, how he can he look more like you each and every day? He acts just like you, too. He is so tender hearted and so sweet natured. I marvel at how much he knows about you, through you, and that I know you too have a bond so deep–I cannot even see it”

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Those blue eyes.

“Are you disappointed? You know, when I get upset, and lose my patience; when I don’t have another ounce to give, and I get another night of take-out? Do you get mad when I get mad at God for Him taking you too soon? I try not to get mad, but I do every day, because I still miss you so much.”

“Can you believe we got to go to Congress and share our story? And how about that modeling gig? You think everyone now will know I really am the luckiest girl in the world–because you picked me to be your wife?”

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Standing on the Capital’s Steps, March 2017

 

“How did you know? You know, that day that out-of-no-where you told me I would write a book one day, while I was nursing our infant son, and you were lying in bed sick from the chemo? How did you even know that? I did it. Just to heal, I put the words down on paper, and it reminded me all over again, that God gave me the greatest honor of my life to be your wife to take care of you.”

“These last three years, I needed you. I knew you said you wouldn’t miss a day, but I really needed us. Fighting this world head-on together,  to cry with you, to be held, loved. I could feel you on those days and nights, though. How did you do that?”

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A sad Porter, wanting his Daddy.

“What’s it like up there? What all do you really see? Is it really so pure like God tells us and promises us? There really is no hate, pain, fear, regrets, remorse, or tears? I try to imagine, I just simply cannot.”

“Do you know me today? You know, three years out. I feel like it has been forever since I have kissed you, hugged you, talked to you. I’ve changed, I’m better and I’m worse. I fight the demons of losing you and the guilt, grief, depression, sadness that goes with it every day. But me–you always said you were proud of me, are you still? I’ve tried every way I possibly know to carry your name on; selfishly –for me, because it helps me when I talk about you more. And for our son and daughter, because I want them to always remember the best daddy in the world. I want them to know that even with all the bad, the world doesn’t owe them a thing, we still owe the world all the greatness we have to give.”

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Keeping my promise to him-Graduating with Masters in Education Administration, May 2015

“How do I know? How do I know when all the next steps are right, are perfect timing,or imperfect. How do I know what you would say and want–remember we never talked about that, because we couldn’t. It hurt too bad, and it still does. I just wish I knew for certain, and heard you tell me what your wishes were, when you were not here to tell me anymore.”

“She’s beautiful–your girl. She’s truly breathtaking. She looks just like you–still. I know your heart would shine for her, just as it always has. I dream of you walking her down the aisle one day; kissing her good-bye for prom this spring. And I die all over inside, when I know that is not the reality.”

“How does he know? How does he know things that there is no way I told him? That I know, in some way, you two can communicate with each other, and do, so that he still knows all of your favorite things, how to do certain things, that there is no Earthly explanation for? Is that you carrying out the last begging request I made, to always send a sign, through him, when I needed to know you were close? It marvels me Joe, you really always have been beyond extraordinary–but this tops the cake!”

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Joe’s Babies.

“I’m sorry; for all of it. For crying too many tears, for our son seeing each one fall, for crawling into a ball in the middle of our bed and not being a functioning member of society too many days. I’m sorry I still question God’s timing and plan in all of this. I’m sorry that too many days the grief consumes me, and I can’t make it go away. Thank you for loving me this much, that it would hurt this bad, though.”

At the end of this conversation, I would realize he didn’t say anything, and I said it all. Because he would be content listening as I rambled from one thing to the next, never taking a breath to wait for the next answer. And that look–the one that confirmed everything I knew he felt about me, would be shining in my direction, beaming with pride. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know he would say,

“You’re doing it all perfect. You are the greatest mother I could have ever chosen for our son. You are perfect–at everything you do, how many times do I have to tell you that? Always and forever, baby, I love you, forever and always.”

With an extra long tight squeeze and a kiss on my forehead, his words never had to be spoken, it was the feeling he gave me that confirmed everything would turn out just fine.

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Our last photograph together. Unconditional Love.

I sure do need that tonight, and for the last three long years that I haven’t had a hug or a kiss from him since. What I would give.

Three years–far too long to live without your soulmate, your best friend, your husband, the father of your son. Far too long for your son to live without their daddy to hold their hand, and teach them new things. It is just far too long.

XOXO, An Aching Widow’s Heart

 

 

 

Why I’ll Never Move On in Grief

As the three year anniversary approaches of losing my husband to Colon Cancer, I get asked frequently, “When are you going to move on?” It is a gentle question, often presented simultaneously with hesitation and lack of eye contact, in fear of how I might react. A fair question, nonetheless. Humans were not created to do life alone, we naturally seek companionship, crave the feeling of being loved and cared for. And three years, well, that is a lifetime when days seem to trudge by, and are unfulfilling without someone to do life with you.

I never really know how to answer the question though; other than, “Never.” Yeah, I am never, ever going to “move on.” I can’t. This is my life, it is a story that will forever linger until the day I pass from this Earth. It is a story I keep alive for a child who has, and will, grow up without his dad here to guide him and share memories with. I won’t stop talking about Joe, because when I do–that is when he really dies. To hear his name, blesses my heart and fills it with so much joy, it is indescribable. To honor his life, his memory, his heart, is yet another way to give back to this world that needs more good. I keep Joe alive because I don’t want another young widow in this world; I don’t want any other child to go through their life wondering what their Dad is like, or cry themselves to sleep because they miss him so much. I want a cure to Colon Cancer, and mostly, I pray to God that it happens before the possibility of our son begins to have symptoms of Lynch Syndrome, the hereditary form of colon cancer.

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I often tell people, if you didn’t know our story, and spoke to our son, you would never know his Daddy has been gone three years. We talk about him daily, random conversation, of “Oh, that’s what my Daddy does/eats/likes.” He is proud of his Daddy, and knows him better than science should ever begin to explain a toddler’s memory. I am darn proud of that, and blessed because of it.

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The double-edged sword though, is it does hurt like hell. I am sure most friends ask me the question of moving on, because they do still see me cry, grieve, and miss him.  They are concerned that because I talk about him so much, it allows the wound to still be so fresh. They are correct–it does. The alternative though? The alternative is a child that forgets about his Dad, and never talks about him. The alternative is a child that doesn’t know unconditional love, beyond the Earth, but eternally. The alternative is me not talking about Heaven, salvation, grace, and forgiveness in the purest sense. And it is a silencer in a world that needs a cure for colon cancer. And when I think about what hurts worse, talking or not talking about him, never “moving on” past our pain-filled story, I realize I can live with the deep cut to my soul and keep talking about a little boy’s Daddy, rather than to forget.

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Moving on never really happens for any of us, anyways. We wish we could, but everything that happens in our life molds us, forms us, allows us to carry on from lessons learned. The love, and the ruthless pain from losing my best friend and husband, will carry with me until the day we get to meet each other again. I may take different steps, I may take a chance at falling in love again, I may live a life full of happiness with a sweet blue-eyed boy who is the exact epitome of his Dad, but I will never move on. Unconditional eternal love ensures that it is stronger than anything else in this world. I am just blessed enough to have it.

XOXO, A Sweet Boy’s Momma

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My Fears for the Boy Who’s Daddy Went to Heaven to Soon

Growing up, I heard the chatter that was redundant fall out of every parent’s mouth:

They grow up too soon.”

“It seems like yesterday they were in diapers.”

“Next thing you know they will be in college.”

Words that all parents share, feelings and sentiments we all bask in and wonder about how time passes so quickly. And we all share in the worries and what-if’s of tomorrow.

 

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I know I am not alone in the second-thoughts, motives, and self-doubts in my parenting. It’s just that the mom-guilt is so heavily burdened by the grief-guilt, some days I feel like I cannot take the pressure. The struggle, the tightness of my heart, trying to control the tears from falling. You see, not only do I fear all the things we share in as we walk our parenting journeys, but I also have other fears. Fears that arise from my son’s daddy being in Heaven far too soon. Fears that I try to quiet, and hush, every single day. But they are real. Grief is real. It never ends. And the more we talk about it, the more we know there are others out there who share in our fears and struggles.

I fear, daily, one day he will forget his Daddy. His memories, the talks we have about him, how he looked, what they said to each other. 

I fear one day our sweet baby will stop talking about his Daddy. Even though that sweet boy has never went a day without talking about his Dad, since the day he was fourteen months old, when daddy joined the angel army with Jesus.

I fear the amount of hours I work will tell our son I didn’t have time for him. Even though, he goes to work with me, coaches on the sidelines with me, I fear he will see a mom that always had to work, and didn’t have time to always get in the floor to play with just him. 

I fear, every hour of every day, I am not providing the male opportunities his Daddy would, if he were here. Even though I spend hours researching, building projects, riding four-wheelers, taking him fishing, explaining how mechanics work–what if it isn’t enough to fill the void of his Daddy being here?

I fear being a mom, I one day won’t have the manly advice to give to him, that only his Dad could. Then what? Do I fail? How do I overcompensate for that? Who do I trust to give up a little piece of my parenting role, to help mold him into a fine young man?

I fear the grief that has overwhelmed my heart since October 26, 2014 will taint our innocent sweet baby. I fear he will resent me for shedding so many tears, and being sad missing his daddy, even in the really good times. 

I fear, every day, that I make wrong decisions, that will affect him a lifetime. The days I’m too tired after work to play, the too-many meals of take-out, and not enough home cooking. I fear I don’t color with him enough, that time is flying by so quickly, I can’t even slow it down. 

I fear he doesn’t have enough male influence, that only men can provide. Will this harm him, create self-doubt, or low self-esteem, as he grows older and needs these influences?

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I tell myself daily it is all ludicrous. I tell myself that all parents share in these unknown fears, that we are all just doing the best we can do. But what if the fears of a little boy who’s daddy went to heaven too soon, become real?

Fear is a gripping chain I try to throw off my back every day. It is a fight. It is a struggle. Fear never really goes away, it controls. And writing about it, allows us to free ourselves, and each other, knowing we are not alone.

I’m doing the best I can do, I really am.

A Sad Momma of a Sweet Boy Who’s Daddy Went to Heaven Too Soon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Preserving the Innocence of a Child Through Grief

I often catch myself holding my breath and clenching my chest more often when my son’s innocence of his Daddy’s absence comes out. When we hear the motor of an airplane, or see the streak it leaves through a crystal blue sky, you can hear his voice rise when he jumps up and down and screams, “DADDY, DADDY, IT’S MY DADDY.” My throat gets even more restricted when I see him on the playground and his friends chime in with excitement when they think they are seeing our son’s daddy playing captain, while flying high in the sky. The tears fight my will not to fall when we bow our head each day, three times a day, to pray for our food. He doesn’t just thank God for his food, but his daddy too. Each and every time.

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What really gets me though, is when I don’t expect it all. The grief, the painstaking stab in the throat, when he watches other kids at the park  play with their dad’s and asks out loud, looking up to the sky, “Daddy, I keep asking you to come down here, but you won’t listen.” With a sad face, he looks at me, shoulders slumped, and asks me why his Daddy doesn’t come down to play with him. The catch in my throat often delays the response to give to him, although my heart and mind are racing to find the appropriate answer. His innocence and joy are so pure, as are all young ones, and you see, I don’t want to take that away from him.

 

Part of his innocence was taken that day in late October when his Daddy drew his last breath. He was in the arms of one of my best friends, when I let out the blood curdling scream of “NO,” begging God instantly to reverse the decision He just made. Too young at fourteen months old, to have a conversation with explaining what just happened, he only knew the screams his mommy was letting out. That best friend had to comfort him, since my heart was handicapped to do so myself. You see, in that moment, both of his parents were incapable of comforting him. One that had left his Earthly body, and the other who’s body released every bit of stress, grief, tension and was oblivious to anything but the shattered heart attempting to keep beating without her soulmate.  He was not afforded the innocence of having his Daddy here to teach him to ride a bike, play in the floor with cars, or be his daddy’s little buckaroo. He was granted a life with a shadow of sadness always lingering, always absent of one man he would need the rest of his years. He, without choice, had that innocence taken away from him far too young.

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I find myself every day questioning whether or not I am handling grief correctly; not just my personal grief, but leading my son’s grief. I do not know whether I am doing right, wrong, or just okay. I guess only time will tell me the answer to this. What I do know is this–they grow up far too fast. Each day I reel at how fast the past four years has gone–four years since my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer, while we were seven months pregnant. Four years since our son was born into an inopportune situation. Four years since cancer changed our lives forever, and eventually took my husband, and his dad, from us. Four years of learning to lead a life I didn’t choose, or want. Four years. I feel like I still live the heaviness of cancer in our every day lives, although that picture has changed drastically.

Since four years of different forms and stages of grief has come, I have decided this: if seeing or hearing an airplane in the sky, makes my son’s heart jump with joy and excitement because he thinks his Daddy is the one flying that thing, then I am going to let it. If his prayers every meal and every night consist of telling Jesus thank you for his Daddy, then I want to keep those sweet prayers coming. Even if he gets sad, and asks me why his Daddy won’t listen to him and come down here to play with him, then I am going to encourage him to keep having those conversations with his Daddy, since I do not have the answer to give to him. I am even going to let him keep talking to his Daddy’s pictures every time he gets mad at me, and tells him “Daddy, mommy is being mean to me, you come down here and swat her.” Because as frustrated as I can get at that almost four-year-old little boy, my goodness, that makes me laugh every time.

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His innocence will grow into something that will tell him different far too soon. My heart might just break a little sooner than I ever thought possible, when reality hits him hard. I forever want him to have conversations with his Dad, I always did. After all, I choose the world’s best Daddy to be that boy’s Daddy. I love the stories he makes up about his Daddy, and I love the things that his Daddy comes down to tell him, when there is no other way to justify that child knowing details that he, in fact, does.

Innocence in grief has been a blessing. It is a blessing. The reality of this ugly world is not. I beg you to not take the innocence of a child in their grief. It is all they have to get through.

XOXO,

A Little One’s Widowed Mommy