Choosing Happiness

(Susan Coyne Photography)

Adam often comes through to me in songs and dreams. One of the most powerful ways he connects with me is when I am writing and a song comes on the radio. As I was writing to our sons about their daddy, the song Inner Demons by artist and songwriter Julia Brennan came on the radio.

Angels, angels please keep on fighting.
Keep on fighting.
Angels don’t give up on me today.
Cause the demons; they are there.
They keep on fighting.
Inner demons just won’t go away.
So angels please, hear my prayer.
Life is pain; life’s not fair.
So angels please; please stay here.
Take the pain; take the fear.

Life isn’t always fair. I feel like I have demons inside me some days, trying to drag me down. This song speaks to me on so many levels.

The fight for those “happy-sad” moments is a real battle some days. Fighting to choose happiness. Fighting to move forward in life and let go of some painful memories because all they do is stir up anger. Cancer stirs up anger.

This ongoing war within me leaves me exhausted.  I have learned to lean into my grief now and rest. I let the guilt go for resting and listen to my widow-sisters when they tell me resting is doing something. They remind me it is what I need to be doing in that moment.

Adam used to ask me, “What do you need to get done today? Nothing, just hang out with the boys. That’s all you need to do.” So I listen to him now and remember the only thing that matters is taking care of the boys, eating, and sleeping. Really, truly the basics.

My friend took this picture of us three days after Adam died. Three days removed from us, I chose to find joy in this moment.

Every morning, I have a choice to make. To smile and find a piece of happiness or let my grief steal these little moments with my sons. No matter how small that moment might be, I will always choose happiness. My friend took this picture of us three days after Adam died. Three days removed from us, I chose to find joy in this moment. 

Finding joy every day is not easy. Anger likes to creep in. The inner demons.

What would happen if I didn’t let anger slide in at God for taking Adam from us and leaving me with a hard, lonely life some days?  What if instead, I looked at what God wants me to do now? What if I focused and prayed on what my purpose is in this next chapter of my life?

What if I stopped being angry at myself for not being the mother or woman I imagined myself being at 33 years old? What if instead, I allowed myself grace on the days that life is really, really hard? What if I truly acknowledged I have become a stronger, more confident and complete person in the wake of losing my best friend to cancer?

What if I focused within myself for happiness? What if instead, I learned to be fully content with what I’ve been given today? How would I feel if I embraced my imperfections and learned from them?

I have faith my life won’t always feel this heavy. Letting go of the anger helps me heal and resolve the guilt. It is also realistic to know my grief will always be a companion. That is the price of true love with an incredible man.

Reflecting back now, I relied heavily on my late husband too often for happiness. I think we all do when we are in a relationship. As the years go by, you become dependent on each other.

Through my grief, I am learning to be more independent. I am finding new hobbies, like writing, and carving out time to do them. I am making myself a priority more then I ever have in my life and that is important. It is important for everyone, no matter where you are in life.

One evening, my friend was in a grumpy mood. I asked him to tell me what the best three things were in his day. I kept asking him to tell me two more things until he got to ten. I then added ten more things he could be thankful for. We had a good laugh when he said, “you just made me more grumpy by asking me all these questions!” I had violated my personal rule of “Sometimes it is okay to not be okay!”

This simple conversation made me think. I truly do wake up grateful every day. Now some days I do not wake up happy AND grateful, but I always wake up grateful.

Yes, always grateful.

Grateful for my sons, their health, and their smiles.

Grateful I woke up, for my health, and for those moments in the day when I laugh.

Happiness is a choice that starts within myself, that starts within everyone. My inner demons try to pull me back from moving forward in life and living a life Adam would want for me. Yes, some days it really is okay to “not be okay.” This is reality.

But every day, I will wake up grateful. I will find a moment in my day, just one moment, to find something I am thankful for. It really is one of the easiest ways to turn my frown upside down.

All I need to do is look at my sons, Edward and Reginald.

And I will choose happiness, every time. 

So angels please, hear my prayer.
Life is pain; life’s not fair.
So angels please; please stay here.
Take the pain; take the fear.

An Open Letter to My Sons

To My Dearest Edward & Reginald,

Your Daddy led by example and was a quiet, humble man. He was the best dad and husband, always involved and helping. He even went along with cloth diapers and would spray the poop out of them. Until of course, he figured a way out of doing that chore (he was clever like that!) He would bring you both to me to nurse, changed your diapers, gave you almost every bath up until the day he had his mother of all surgeries in New York City.

Reggie’s first bath. Look at his smile!

He always made sure I was taken care of, both as his wife and your mother. I will never forget one chemo treatment week when Reggie was a newborn. He gave you both your baths and headed downstairs to bed before you both because he felt so ill. He must have heard me break down and cry while nursing Reggie. Daddy came in to our room with you, Edward. He taught you how to rub my feet and legs.

The next night Daddy went to bed early again. Edward, you came and rubbed my feet while I nursed Reggie. You asked, “Do you like that mommy? Does that make you feel better?”  It was one of the sweetest moments as a wife and mother, to see how Daddy taught you to show affection.

You both know how to cheer me up when I need it. I think you have good intuition, even at your very young ages. Daddy works through you to make sure I keep laughing! I see so much of your Daddy’s humor and personality in each of you already, I am excited to watch you grow. 

Living with your Daddy’s cancer changed our relationship for the better. We learned how to live day to day because we had to, and because we had to, we made the most out of every moment. Suppers together, bedtime stories, going to a park, enjoying the Packers on Sunday, all of these moments were big moments for us.

One of our best family memories in fall of 2016, going to the Firefighter Hall and Museum in Minneapolis.

We started living and loving more fully, I never thought that was possible because your Daddy and I had an incredible marriage. We were a great team. Living with the fear of Daddy dying made our love even more amazing because we were pushed to be stronger and braver than we wanted to be.

Sometimes it was hard to always find the joy in moments when we really wanted to cry. I promise you, we always found the joy because you two brought that out in us. We met with a therapist and our Pastor almost weekly when he was well enough to do so. It made us stronger individually and together. It was so important we were living whatever life we had left to the fullest.

Enjoying a beautiful day in New York City after his laparoscopic procedure.

When we traveled to New York to meet with the surgeon, we found a Packers bar, went to the American Museum of Natural History, and met Daddy’s cousin for dinner. We didn’t let the reason we were in New York be an excuse to not enjoy each other and a city he loved so much. 

I always told him how brave he was fighting cancer, it was a scary beast.  He chose to fight for you both and for mommy.  Daddy gave up steak for spinach and fruit smoothies every day, eating foods he never dreamed he’d pretend to enjoy. Anything to make him stronger and give us one more day together.

One day I will share the short journal we kept with each other in those early days of chemo. You will read his handwriting and feel his commitment to our family. Make no mistake about it, his love for us three was bigger than anything in this world. His proudest days were when you were born and the day he married mommy. 

“Everything I do, whether it’s go to work, waking up, or fighting cancer, I do it for you, Edward, and Baby Brother.” 

Daddy was so sad and upset he had to go to New York for surgery. We chose New York because it was his best chance at more time with us. He wanted so badly to stay home, so he could be close to you. You BOTH were always number one in his fight.  We will never understand why God chose this path for our family, why your Daddy earned his angel wings at 34 years old. Please never lose your faith in God, He has bigger plans for us three.

Daddy will always send us signs he is there. He will be in our dreams and come to us in music. Trust me on this. I have a lot of examples to share with you about music, dreams, and signs through the television Daddy gives me. 

There are no coincidences Edward and Reginald. As you get older, if you think you feel or are sent a sign from Daddy, it is him. He is all around us and with us.

After his surgery, Daddy texted me on a bad day in New York. “I love you very much and think of you for strength.” He always had more faith in your mommy then I had in myself at the time. We made each other better people and it breaks my heart every day he isn’t here with us to enjoy this life we built together.  I’ll do my best to teach you both to be brave, strong men.

I am so grateful you two have each other as brothers. You will help each other through your grief as you get older and understand more. You are each a blessing to Daddy and I, giving everyone around you a smile whenever they see you.


Daddy’s hope and dreams for you are to grow up to be good men. He wants you to have fun, play outside, make lots of friends, play sports, and throw the ball around with family (because it isn’t mommy’s specialty!) He really wants you both outdoors and in nature, being active and helpful to others. 

He enjoyed life and all it had to offer. One of his greatest joys in life were writing about the Packers and all of the games we took in at Lambeau. One day, I will take you both there and it will be our tradition together, just like it was with Daddy. You will experience all those things and more. 

Go Pack Go! Our favorite day together, Packers Sunday.

You will learn how much your Daddy loved teasing me, playing board games, and spoiling us. Your Grandparents and Uncle will tell you stories about hunting and teach you.  Your cousins will tell you how much time he always made for them and how goofy he was. His friends will one day tell you how he earned the nickname, “The Reverend.” 

I will share with you how much he enjoyed grilling meat, trying new craft beer and fine dining with mommy. You will finally get to play those board games Daddy and I played on date nights after we became parents. Daddy’s friends and I will help introduce you to heavy metal music, professional wrestling, the bloody horror movies and shows he liked, as well as the quirky sitcoms and dramas we binge watched together. 

You will hear and read stories from his co-workers and former bosses about what a talented writer he was and his strong work ethic. They will share how he was not only respectful but a RESPECTED man. Daddy enjoyed working and took pride in it, whether it was at the USDA, MCGA, AP, or in the kitchen at home. 

The All Star everyone came to see! Daddy loved writing for the AP & covering the Twins.

Some day you both will change the world, maybe it will be quietly like him or maybe you’ll make a lot of noise. Either way, I know he is in your hearts and with you everyday. Daddy promised he will be watching over you and me. I made a promise to him you will know who your Daddy.

We will always talk about Daddy and all he was and would have been to us if he was here today. He was a proud husband and father. He joked and laughed his way through life with our family and friends. There is an amazing village of family and friends who will help us and share those memories of him with you.

Proud, goofy, and loved every minute in his life he got to spend with you boys.

I pray you always have faith in God and know how much Daddy loves you from heaven.

We will live and love to the fullest.

No regrets.


Your Mommy


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