Life’s most messy moments, are often the ones we learn the most from, aren’t they? Do you ever think about that? Those moments that we were certain would break us, or maybe they did break us, are almost always the defining, most memorable moments of our lives.
I’ve pondered this in the last month, as nostalgia has over swept my heart and soul. Without avail, those beautiful Southwest Missouri hills turning burning red, majestically yellow, and fiery orange as the leaves change, brings an overhaul of emotions to my heart too. Today marks seven years that my husband passed away at the very early age of 37 due to colorectal cancer. And each year, as I think that grief won’t return with its forceful blunt edge because “time heals”, grief does indeed blow in like the leaves of fall. But in the windswept of fall leaves and emotions, so too, does the beauty of it all.
What are life’s most beautiful moments? Are they the perfectly coordinated birthday parties, the magazine-worthy wedding events, or even the staged moments captured on vacation? Or, if we are being honest in this filtered-centered world we live in, are the most beautiful moments quite the opposite in the most unscheduled, most unpredictable, uncaptured/non-filtered moments of life? The moments you are so engaged in you don’t have a camera, let alone social media, to document it. Those painfully beautiful moments are literally the best of our lives, and most talked about memories: Labor and delivery of your children; no make-up, sick-as-a-dog, nine months of carrying a healthy, beautiful, child to term; step-momming (or any parenting for that matter) and not knowing if anything you say or do is right or wrong, but trying your best anyways. But do you know what I have discovered, and accepted? The other most painfully beautiful moments are these moments too: a terminal cancer health diagnosis; chemo appointments every other week with a new-born infant that you are nursing, while you sit next to your spouse watching them in pain; and even the final moments of one’s life where they struggle to breathe, and attempt with every weak ounce of energy to hang on so they don’t leave you or your children from this world.
I know many of you can relate to how painfully beautiful being pregnant (or your spouse being pregnant) and expecting a child, no matter how rough pregnancy, labor, and delivery may be. And in that moment where you don’t think it is possible to love your spouse any more, but then you watch them hold your child for the first time, your heart literally feels like it could burst because love oozes out of your heart more than it did just a second before. That feeling–that feeling we all share with newly-expectant parents that none of us can begin to describe of how much more we love our spouse/partner, when we didn’t think it was possible? That exact feeling happens when the doctor comes to tell you that your spouse has cancer, and that they aren’t sure how long they have. My heart, although inexplicably shattered in that moment, oozed and gobbed with more love for my husband when I had already declared there was no way I could love him more. And only a short 16 months later, as I lay in our bed, watching him take fewer and shallower breaths, until he gently took his last, my heart did it again. It shattered into a million more pieces, gripping my breaths in pain that didn’t even have words. And my heart, while breaking, overfilled with the surplus of more love I didn’t think I could possibly feel.
You see–life’s most painful moments really does hold the most beautiful moments too. Likewise, our most beautiful moments are quite often painful. Although some moments reveal their beauty quite instantly (holding our child in our arms after giving birth), some take time to see the beauty that was/is embedded in them. For me, today–seven years out–I can see beauty that is so abundant I can’t articulate all of it. To be loved until one’s dying breath; to GET to be the caretaker of my sweet husband, the father of my children; the intimacy of love that most don’t get to experience until the end of a long life, of how you can love your spouse more when you don’t think it is possible; to grow from your own grief, to help others in theirs; to not give excuses, but rise to the highest level of expectations for you and your son–THAT is painfully beautiful.
Would I wish my life circumstances on anyone? No. No, I absolutely would not.
Would I wish my life perspective on the world? Yes, Yes, I absolutely would.
The only way to have this perspective, is through pain, loss, and grief. It truly is painfully beautiful.
Keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.
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.