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.

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

Rambling Chaos I Think I Know Almost Four Years Into Grief

He died October 26, 2014. I knew in that very moment, I would never be the same. I was right. Four years out, and I am a hot mess 99% of the time. My heart still aches, it still longs for him, it still remembers everything about him–but all of those things are different than the day he died. They changed, yet they are the same. Here’s what I think I know almost four years since I lost my husband, my best friend:

It’s hard. Dang hard. Widowed parenting. Widowed in your twenties. I never know what next step to take in any part of this life. It’s just hard.

I miss him. I miss us. I miss being a family.

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The night before we got married on the beach in North Myrtle Beach, SC- June 2012.

I’m mad at him. For no reason at all, but I have no one else to be mad at, and so sometimes I cry and scream at him because I have no one else to be angry at. Then I feel guilty. There’s nothing more he’d wish than to be right here living life together.  I know that.

The jackhammer that goes up and down and up and down–it’s a  representation of my waves of grief, up and down and up and down. Some days I know I am going to be okay, others I still do not know if I can get out of bed. I do though.

It’s not fair. None of it. Him suffering, him dying. His son and daughter not having their father here to help them grow up. Me doing this by myself without him. None of it is fair. And there is no answer–at least I still haven’t found it.

His son is starting to lose him again. That babe that was 14-months old lying in my arms at his Daddy’s funeral, he is five now. He is becoming more aware that Daddy isn’t coming back. “Mommy?” he asks, “I keep telling Daddy to come down here, (from Heaven) but he won’t listen to me. I guess he isn’t coming.” It completely rips my heart out.

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Together on Porter’s first birthday, eating shrimp and steak. They were truly the best of friends. I have never seen anything like their bond–even still.

That little boy–he has more grace for me than I ever deserve. I am tired, exhausted and defeated. I want a nap, a break, ten minutes of silence. And he doesn’t give me any of it. When I am frustrated and short-tempered, he still loves me. And I don’t know how I’d get through a day without him.

People stare–still. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do. They think that four years is far too long to still grieve and hurt and cry. They’re probably right. But man, my heart hurts. Doing life alone is no small feat. Even God assures us He created woman for man. Doing life alone is empty. Completely empty and unfulfilling.

Almost four years out, the thought of love again is hopeful and doubtful. I want to love and to be loved, but the cautious side of my broken heart is weary of the strength and confidence and graciousness it would take for someone to step into our circumstances. There’s so much gray, and my black-and-white, well-planned out mind knows only faith can allow a new beginning.

I cry. Still. Grief is a known attendee at every holiday, birthday, anniversary and milestone. But boy those days I don’t plan for, and grief just shows up–it knocks me down, gasping for air to breathe. I hate it. But grief, I have come to love. It is proof I love very deep, and always will. I am grateful for every experience with it.

I am happy. I have more good days, than bad. We are truly living. A little boy who is happy and healthy, smart, and gregarious, outgoing and caring. We’ve had experiences I could only dream of. I cannot believe I am giving him the life I am. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, and bittersweet.

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Summer 2018. We have a good life.

Things I think I know, four years out–we’re going to make it. We are making it. We have a good life. We smile, we laugh, we LIVE.

But what I also know four years out–I will never stop loving the man I call my husband. I will never stop missing him. I will always want another day, another conversation.

But four years out, there’s a life I am living I could never dream of.

Keep going in grief–it’s so worth it!

Colon Cancer Widow, XOXO,

Kristina Smith