The List I Lost

When my husband first died, I tried to explain why my grief was so hard, so deep. It was all stereotyped statements though, and everyone just nodded their heads like they understood. Yet, I knew there was no way they could. The more I have spoken in the grief community, the more I realize there is one large commonality we share: we all have a list, that we lost. We didn’t just lose our spouse, our parent, our child, our loved on. We lost an entire list that goes with that person. And maybe, just maybe, if you realize just how long that list is, others can understand why grief is so ugly, so nasty, so incredibly difficult to learn how to exist without the list of all that you used to be, and used to have, when one day you wake up and it is all gone.

I may have lost my husband, but this is the list of what I really lost that October night:

I lost my spouse. And the day he became my spouse, and even before that, I envisioned our lives together when we had kids, when our kids were teenagers, when our kids were adults, and  when we became empty-nesters. I lost my future. I lost all of my future plans, vacations, Christmas card ideas. I lost my retirement plans, I lost my entire future, as I/we had envisioned it to be.

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Oh to be this young and full of life again. A hot, summer night at Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO.

I lost my best friend. I lost the person that supported me, even when I was wrong. I lost the person that I vented, purged, unwound to at the end of the day. I lost the sounding board, advice-giver, comforter, biggest cheerleader. I lost the person that had my back, even when he didn’t agree, even when I was wrong, even when I could have been better. I lost all of that. I lost the one person who thought I was the greatest at my worst, yet pushed me to be the best at all times.

I lost ‘him.’ Just him–to encompass everything he was/does would simply be impossible. I lost my mechanic, the one who took care of the maintenance around the house, the idea-giver, dreamer, inventor. I lost the one who spent money faster than we could make it, because there was another grand-idea. I lost his compassionate, tender heart. I lost the giver, the caretaker, the one who filled my gas tank, washed my car, juggled the household chores, the one who cooked dinner. I lost my life partner at every angle. And of those angles, these are the other things I lost:

I lost my identity. I lost being his wife, being a caretaker, a prescription refiller, a doctor appointment scheduler, a recorder of all the medical records.

I lost getting to be someone’s best friend. I lost getting to create surprises, leaving notes at the coffee pot each morning. I lost getting to be the giver of my own love, compassion, and time.

I lost the person who cooked breakfast every Saturday morning.

I lost my morning coffee-maker, who delivered a fresh cup to my bathroom vanity while I got ready, with a kiss on the forehead.

I lost the person who provided for our family. The one who worked hard, to give us everyone we could possibly want or need.

I lost my Friday night date.

I lost my Saturday morning gardener.

I lost my meal-time go to chef. He knew I hated cooking.

I lost the father to my son. I lost getting to watch him be a Daddy to his son.

I lost the innocence of seeing my son know his Daddy. Now, it is only the memories and videos I intentionally share so he knows his Daddy, but not the way I wished for.

I lost getting to watch him walk his daughter down the aisle, and I lost getting to watch him with his own grandchildren.

I lost the person who sits next to me at school events, the first day of Kindergarten, the last day of their senior year.

I lost the other person in the family pictures in Hawaii, in graduation photos.

I lost the person I wanted to share each life milestone with our kids.

I lost a sense of being. I lost the memories I wanted to make. I lost getting to say, “My husband” and the following words being present or future tense.

I lost who I was, when I didn’t know who I was. I knew who I wanted to be, but eventually I had to give that up, too.

I lost knowing that my life had to look different. I lost security, comfort, feeling loved. And I lost being able to give all of those things too.

I lost the adjective “wife.” Instead, society says I am a widow.

I lost the innocence that went with the word wife, instead of widow.

I lost my existence, my day-to-day operations and routines. I lost it all, and I had to learn how to find it all again.

Don’t you see? I lost so much more than just my husband. All of us that have lost someone loses so much more. Next time you see someone who “should” be over according to your standards, or to society’s standards, please give grace. They have lost their entire existence. They are trying to learn to live in another way. They don’t get to move on. They have to learn to live moving forward, but when everything has to be re-learned, surely you can see just how hard it is to lose everything.

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Our family at a Color Run Fundraiser our community put together for us. This was only two weeks before Joe passed away. It would be our last, and my favorite, family photo of the four of us.

This Christmas and holiday season, the greatest gift you can give anyone you love that is grieving is permission. Give them permission to do whatever they need to do. If that means the miss your get together, tell them you love them, and you understand. If they choose to show up, but want to talk about their loved one. Give them permission to do so, by sitting next to them and listening. Talk about their loved one, say their name. Will they cry? Yes. Just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean they don’t get to show emotion. They will either cry with you there to comfort them, or cry by themselves when they go home. Whatever it is they choose–YOU have to give them permission, not guilt.

Remember our list this Christmas isn’t full of things we want, it is things we lost. Be kind. Show love however that is for the ones grieving in your life.

Please keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.

Holiday Wishes-Kristina

KSmith

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.

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

A Letter to My Husband in Heaven on Mother’s Day

Dear Handsome,

I’ve asked myself out loud, and God too, why the pain has to be this bad since you’ve been gone. I really believed others when they said the first year of holidays, milestones, anniversaries, birthdays, and loss would be the hardest. They were wrong though. Most people also added extra side comments, attempting to justify and make sense of the pain. Most times their words hurt more than they eased the pain, though. There was one person though that said something that stuck,  and I believe it to be true to this day.

“It hurts this bad, because he loved you that much.”

Each time I cannot escape the pain, whenever it overpowers me to the point I cannot breathe, I remember this statement. I do, because I know I wouldn’t trade anything for the alternative. I would never trade how much you loved me, just so the pain would be a little less–even two years after you’ve been gone.

Mother’s Day, though, baby, it is the hardest of them all. It is THE holiday that almost tips me into the downward spiral I cannot get out of. It’s the holiday that you created for me. It’s the holiday that we only got one of together, and even that one was incredibly special. It’s a day society celebrates the hardest job on this Earth–being a mom. You’ve given me many things in this lifetime, but being a mom and your wife are the two greatest gifts of all. DaddyandP

Our son is beautiful, he looks just like you. His crystal blue eyes, that squint in the outward corners take my breath away, because it is you looking back at me. He is incredibly talented, smart, and problem solves well beyond his short, little three years of life. His heart is lined with gold, and tender, much like your’s.  He is you, inside and out, in every way possible. He is like other children though: testing his limits, exploring, creating, figuring out. He gets sick, has his bad days, and grieves just as hard as me. He asks for you to come down from Heaven to play, and to come out of your picture that he kisses each time we walk down the stairs. He thanks God for you each time he says his prayers before he eats, and when he lays his head to down to sleep. And all of those reasons and more, reminds me that his innocence does not know yet how hard this mom business really is.

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I sometimes believe Satan when he tells me, parenting would have no hardships if you were here to help me. He often whispers lies that homes that have two parents have no challenges, are not sleep deprived, or sick with worry. I know he is wrong, and I know he lies. Every day though, I still ask God for a little more patience, a little more grace, and a whole lot of guidance to get me through being a mom without you here to help me.

I wouldn’t ask for anything special if you were here. I wouldn’t ask for any gifts, flowers or jewelry to prove how much you appreciate me being your son’s mom. I would just ask for a hug and a kiss, and to sit on the front porch swing appreciating the miracle we created. Since I cannot have that though, maybe you can send me a sign from Heaven to tell me you love me, and appreciate me, even in the really hard days for taking care of your boy. Maybe you can send me a sign through our son that, maybe, just maybe, I am doing something right as his mom, and not failing when I lose my patience more times than not. Would you, please? Because Mother’s Day is truly the hardest holiday without you here to tell me you love me.

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I love you. Forever and Always,

Your Son’s Mother