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

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.

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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:

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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.

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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 leaned in and 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.

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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. 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 us 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

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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.