We did it. We made it. We survived Reginald’s first year!
Reggie’s birthday lunch with our doula.
When I say we, I mean Adam and I.
We also means our village now. Our roommate, Adam’s best friend, who goes beyond the call of friendship on a daily basis helping. Our parents, siblings, and amazing network of friends who continue to support us by spending time with us, watching the boys, and offering a listening ear. Our village is YOU reading this, sending words of encouragement and prayers for comfort.
I remember the day we found out Adam had cancer. I came home to get some things. One of my dearest friends came over to watch Ed. After his bath, we sat in the boys’ room and talked. I cried holding my 18 week pregnant belly and shared with her my fears. I shared the heartache and fear we wouldn’t be able to raise our family together like we had envisioned.
I knew in that instant life had changed. Our dreams had changed. Reality was adjusted in less than 12 hours.
My girlfriend didn’t tell me it would be okay because she is a wise. Instead, she told me our village would help us raise our sons, assuring me of the love our children would know. Our children would grow up learning how to help others because of the help given to us.
She was right. Our village has been incredible. The first time I listened to this beautiful song by Cam, Village, it made me think of this first awful night when I came home from the hospital.
Cause your whole heart’s a village
Everyone you love has built it
And I’ve been working there myself
And that’s where I’ll be
With a front-row seat
To watch you live your life well
Reginald and Edward, know this. Your daddy always took the time for you, for me, for his family and friends. He was a hard worker, a positive, kind, and respectful gentleman. He made everyone around him want to be a better person. Some day, with the memories you have and the memories your village will share, you too will be like your him. I have no doubt about this.
I wish so badly we could protect you from the grief you will experience as you grow into young men. Always remember you are so, so loved. Daddy is proud of you and is always with us.
I am thankful. Thankful for your little personalities that bring a smile to my face every day and keep me moving forward. You remind me of the love your daddy and I had for one another.
Edward, you will always remember your daddy and the time he took to be with you. I have written down the memories you share with me that are your own so that you will never forget. Your memory never ceases to amaze me.
Reginald, you will always have your daddy in your heart. Your relationship will be unique and you will know him. Lately, I feel his presence more. I know you do too.
Reginald, you felt his presence on the night of your first birthday. I was feeding you a bottle at bedtime in your room when the dog pushed the door open. You sat up mid bottle, as you do. Then you pointed to the hall, where pictures of Daddy and us hang. You smiled and said “Da”. You then looked at me, smiled, and pointed to the picture behind the rocker and said “Da. Da!” Again, you smiled. You pointed to the poster above Edward’s bed with a family photo on it and said “Da.”
Without a doubt, I know Daddy is with you in a way none of us will ever understand. I feel it, I see it. I believe it.
Time keeps moving forward. We keep going through the firsts in life without Adam. There will always be firsts without Daddy, and the simple everyday moments without him. Then there will be the second, third, and fourth times we celebrate a holiday or birthday without Daddy. Some of these milestones will sting more than others, and some might not be as bad as we anticipate. Daddy will always be with us though.
Like we say every night as part of our bedtime prayer.
“Good Night, Daddy.
We love you Daddy.
We miss you Daddy.
You’re in our hearts.
We will keep moving forward in life, remembering and honoring you Adam. You made me a better person when we said “I do.” You’ll always be in our hearts.
Cause your whole heart’s a village. Everyone you love has built it . . .
Learning to be brave on Easter,
our first without Daddy.
During breakfast on a recent Friday, I started sobbing pouring cereal and making toast. I just couldn’t stop crying. Rarely do I enjoy a good cry. Who does? My tears over the last 18 months have been tears of sorrow. At 18 weeks pregnant with our youngest son, my late husband was diagnosed with cancer. Less then a year later, I was burying my forever 34 year old husband days before we would have celebrated his birthday.
My husband died at 11:30 pm on a rainy, cold Friday in November. Some Fridays, like other days of the week, the loss I feel is starting to soften but it will always be there. This particular Friday morning, it was so raw and fresh. It felt like he just took his last breath, all while it felt like he’s been gone a lifetime from our young family.
My oldest son Edward told me, “Be brave mommy.” He went on to comfort me and explain “people die, Daddy is in heaven.” My three year old explaining death to me, encouraging me to be brave until I stopped crying. When my tears subsided, my always large appetite for breakfast came back. I had my coffee, ate my eggs, and went on to race remote control cars with my two sons.
I teach my son about death and grief because I have to. His daddy died and he misses him. In a few years, I will teach his younger brother about death and grief. Many adults have not experienced the kind of loss my sons and I have. I teach my sons it is okay to be sad. Tears are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign of having loved someone so much that you miss their presence in this life. We have not lost our love, but we have lost seeing them, feeling their hugs, talking to them, hearing their voice and so much more.
I also teach him we can be happy and sad at the same time. Edward often asks me if I am happy or sad during the day. Sometimes my response is “I am sad, I miss Daddy” and other times it is “I am happy right now, but I am always missing Daddy.” He calls this “happy-sad“. What a perfect way to describe grief and moving forward in life! Three year olds really can simplify death and grief. They are amazing teachers.
In my experience, grief in my oldest child looks like it does for adults, only simplified. It shows up as anger through tantrums, withdrawal from playing with others, being more quiet or loud than usual, and new unexplained behaviors that weren’t there before. As an adult I have problems sleeping some nights, and there is no doubt my oldest son has shown signs of needing more naps, more snuggles, and more structure around bedtime to get adequate sleep. It is a fine line determining what is grief in young children and what is their “new normal” development.
I am not a teacher or child development specialist, although I passed several of those classes in college until I declared my degree. I am simply a mommy learning about grief with my son. Be gentle with children (and adults) grieving a death, divorce, illness, or other loss. Patience is key, both in looking for patterns to determine the behavior and in dealing with them. In the last month, slowing life down and spending more time together has helped our family begin to relax more at home. Their daddy was a patient man and believed in quality time together. This is a great way to live life with or without loss.
Brave. One word describing my husband and how he lived with cancer.
Be Brave. Two words I tell my son often when he is afraid.
Be Brave Mommy. Three words my son now tells me when he sees me feeling sad and afraid of our future.
Learning to be Brave. Four words I now try to live by every day. In the last month alone, I celebrated Easter with my sons and took them to church by myself, without their Daddy. I booked a trip for myself to the Netherlands with my girlfriends this fall. I got a tattoo in Adam’s handwriting from our journal, reminding me of his love and encouragement. Soon, we will celebrate Reginald’s first birthday. Another milestone in our life I will need to be brave for.
Go out in your life and really live life. Do something for yourself, do something for others. Make memories. And be brave doing the tough stuff.
Our neighbors left us a thoughtful gift basket this fall. It included an address book, complete with their pictures, names, numbers, address and what they could help us with. #Thoughtful
Let me know if I can help.
Is there anything you need?
Let us know what we can do.
When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, these messages would ebb and flow in volume through texts, calls, and as a top comment someone would make while saying good-bye. Since his death, the same is true. The offers to help are still there, but they ebb and flow in volume.
People move forward with their life. This is normal and expected in our culture. If someone hasn’t been through the layers of loss that living with cancer brings to a family or the immense loss of a spouse, it would be difficult to know what a caregiver or widow(er) might need. Until I walked in these shoes, I didn’t know what would be helpful for a family living with cancer or surviving the death of a spouse.
A few months ago, a friend asked me what was the most supportive while our family was living with Adam’s cancer. She wanted to be supportive to a friend going through a similar situation. A few weeks ago, her friend’s husband passed away. She came to me again and asked what was helpful after Adam died. This got me thinking, “What was the most helpful?”
Here is my list of what I found the most helpful while I was a caregiver and what helps me now as a widow.
1) Meal Train. A friend set this up almost immediately after he was diagnosed. We had steady meals for months. Those who lived far away sent us grocery gift cards for grocery delivery service and those who lived closer brought us meals. This was one of the best and most supportive ways people helped us.
Close friends continued to bring meals after his surgery and continue to surprise me with a meal now, almost five months out. One friend brings supper once a month when she watches my boys. I look forward to those Mondays because I know a healthy warm meal is on its way, NO THINKING INVOLVED! Every now and then, a friend or a neighbor sends me a message to check the front porch. Those meal surprises are the best! Something so simple but means and helps a lot.
2) Be specific with your offer to help. Caregivers or widows are not likely to ask you to help but if you offer something specific to do, it narrows down what their needs are. Neighbors told me they would rake our yard in fall and shovel in winter. They didn’t ask, they were specific with their offer and followed through. They showed up like little secret elves from October to March. Nothing warms the heart like looking outside in the morning to see the snow falling and looking outside a few hours later to a driveway clear of snow.
Family offered and followed through to help clean, fix things in the house, and do yard work. Friends gave me dates they could take the boys to their house before and after his passing. It took away planning and guilt on my part for asking for help. Caregivers have a ton of guilt over every aspect of life, especially their life. It is hard for us to ask for help.
3) Give the family a calendar with available dates. If you are a family member or close friend to the family, communicating and collaborating with other friends about a specific plan is incredibly helpful. It takes some of the daily planning and decision making away from the caregiver. Little decisions really become exhausting! When a family is living with cancer, there are constant, daily decisions to be made about doctors, appointments, treatment, and plans for the patient.
After we had our youngest son Reggie, our siblings emailed one another and set up a calendar with who could help me at home on Adam’s chemo weekends. For two months, I knew someone was coming every other weekend to help me watch the boys, clean, make a meal, and let me nap. It took away some of the guilt we had to continue asking for help. It helped give Adam, the patient, a little bit of comfort knowing I had someone to help me when he couldn’t.
The last two weeks of his life, when we were in the hospital and then hospice, my family and friends behind the scenes set up a schedule for who was watching the boys. Thinking about their help still brings tears to my eyes. My friends set up a schedule so my family could go back and forth to the hospital or hospice house in Adam’s final days. They didn’t have to worry about meals or the boys.
After he passed, a friend gave me a calendar with one Monday a month she would come to watch the boys and bring a meal. I look forward to these Mondays! They are like built in holidays. I see a friend, she plays with my boys, never asks where or what I am doing, and leaves me with supper.
4) Check in Monthly. A family’s needs change often while living with cancer and after a death. Check in on a regular basis, see #2 and #3. I have friends who seem like they have reminders in their calendar to text me and offer days they can help with my sons. They are wonderful surprises. Sometimes I take their offer to help and other times I don’t. What is important is they keep on checking. They respect my need for quiet time and a sense of normalcy to try and do it on my own.
Another friend was given the daily task of texting me to make sure I was eating and drinking water while I was pregnant. Reminding someone you are thought of and giving them reminders to sit down, eat a meal, and drink a glass of water are more important than you could imagine. Most people don’t need to be reminded to eat and drink, but when your body and mind are running in circles, it is often the first and most dangerous part of a caregiver or widow(er)’s day that gets neglected.
5) Cards. Receiving cards in the mail months after the cancer diagnoses or death announcement has been made is thoughtful and appreciated. After a couple months, the cards slow down and seeing Adam’s name on all the bills makes checking the mail painful. Another daily reminder he is gone and one more company to call. There are a couple members from my church who send me a card every week. I look forward to these and reading their notes. Nothing beats an old fashioned greeting card!
6) Respect. Sometimes, helping is simply respecting the cancer patient, caregiver or widow(er) doesn’t want help or a visitor. Please do not be offended if you want to visit and they say no. Living with cancer means constant doctor appointments, massage or acupuncture appointments, labs, chemotherapy treatments, and the daily grind of life. Thinking about cancer and all it’s uncertainties is exhausting and emotional.
Grief is full errands, phone calls, chores, and paying bills your husband used to do. There are still appointments, only now they are support groups and weekly therapy session. Grief is filled with exhaustion.
7) Gift Cards. We had so many generous people who sent us gift cards. The most helpful cards were those to Amazon, Target, and grocery stores and gas stations near our house. We did not use gift cards to restaurants because we had no time or energy to go out to eat. On the rare occasion we did dine out, we went to our favorite restaurants.
8) Prayers. This one explains itself. I have learned it is helpful to be specific when praying for someone else. Some people even asked me what they wanted me to pray for.
On our journey in the last year, we chose to make Adam’s diagnoses and treatment public. We shared many intimate details of his cancer, our relationship, and our faith. We chose to do this because it was an easy way for us to give updates, ask for prayer requests, and to also offer hope in any small way possible to others. Making our private life public led to so many wonderful offers to help.
Cancer is a marathon, not a sprint. Families need help after the shock has worn off. Caregivers are exhausted trying to keep everything running smoothly so the patient can focus on their health and family. After a loved one passes away, the caregiver becomes the person who needs looking after and rest. See tips 1 – 8 and repeat. . .
Who Am I?
The last month I have been in a deep state of grief. I fell into this dark hole I didn’t know existed. Silly me, I thought the worst was past. Boy, was I wrong.
I don’t even recognize myself anymore.
My person, my other half who helped define me for nine years is gone.
Who Am I?
The person who knew me better then anyone else is dead.
The person who could always calm me down or cheer me up is never coming back.
The person who held my hand while I gave birth to our two beautiful boys won’t see our sons grow up.
The person who held his hand while he was dying is numb. I have changed. In some ways I have changed for the better, and in other ways, for the worse.
Who Am I?
Grief is incredibly exhausting. It makes me forgetful. I walk around in a giant fog.
My brain is constantly thinking about the past while trying to move forward at the same time. Over three months out from his death and I am merely in survival mode.
Completing tasks around the house is like climbing a mountain. Sometimes the mountain is a little hill and sometimes it is giant. But that mountain is always there.
Every. Single. Day.
Who am I?
I’ve gone from being an extrovert to introvert. It takes a lot of energy to leave the house. It takes even more energy to spend time with other people. Crowds never made me anxious and now, being with more than a few people at a time overwhelms me.
I feel constant stress and pressure as the solo parent. Some days I wake up feeling like I can conquer the world. The next day, it takes all my concentration to take care of my two little boys.
Who Am I?
I have allowed grief to push me over the edge and mutter “This isn’t fair. This is hard.” Two sentences I didn’t allow into my vocabulary when Adam was living with cancer. Because it could always be worse, right?
I am trying to accept my life is hard. Once I can fully accept that reality, maybe I will start to appreciate what I am doing in life to move forward.
I have decided to focus on what I accomplish at the end of the day instead of what I didn’t. My accomplishments some days are waking up, getting everyone dressed, fed, and keeping us safe.
Who Am I?
Grieving doesn’t work the way my Type A Personality wants it to. I move forward every day but still look back, missing my best friend, my husband, and my sons’ Daddy. Some days it hits me out of nowhere. “What the hell happened? Is this my life? This is UNFAIR!”
I am irrational one moment and understanding the next because one of the worst events in my life has happened. Most things in life don’t get me excited or upset anymore, yet I long to have those feelings. Long to not be so numb.
Who Am I?
Grieving has made me completely disorganized. I have a hard time returning phone calls, even texts. I returned an email from two months ago last week. I will pick up the mail once or twice a week. I hate opening the mail. Seeing his name on bills is another reminder he is gone. Another reminder to call the energy company and tell someone my person died.
Who Am I?
My grief started long before he died. There was grief before the grief. Compounded losses when he had cancer and losses on top of losing him.
I am constantly reminded of his absence. The absence of sports being on in the house and hearing wrestling on TV before bed. The loss of watching our favorite shows together. The loss of having my person to share our inside jokes with.
The loss of having my parenting partner there to back me up at dinner time when our toddler is throwing a fit and our baby is throwing food off his tray. The loss of having a second parent to put down on a form. The loss of calling him every day at lunch time to give him the daily report of how the boys are doing.
Who Am I?
The person who knew me best, who would know how to pull me out of this deep dark hole I am in is gone. Gone. I know where he is, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
I am working on finding new ways of pulling myself up when I am down. I am starting to see the light above this dark hole and ready to climb my way out.
I will probably stay here a little while longer yet, but it is a relief to know I am feeling something again.
Until then, I will find the good in each day. I will continue to smile. I will continue to laugh.
I will pray for God to guide me through my grief.
Because this is the only way to find who I am now.
If someone would have told me on December 1, 2015 that we would develop a close relationship with a therapist, together, I would have laughed. Adam’s common response when I wanted to have a serious conversation was, “ok, let’s talk” proceeded by me talking, him listening, and Adam having a four word response. “Okay, I love you” was typically his reply to anything! We had a strong marriage and did up until the day Adam died.
We were able to maintain our rock solid relationship because of our therapist at the cancer clinic, along with our pastor who met with us for healing prayer almost weekly. Our therapist, Brooke, was an amazing part of Adam’s cancer care team. Those who knew Adam, will agree he was a quiet man who chose his words wisely. He went to the first counseling session with me because it was important to me. After one session, he said “okay, we can schedule another appointment.”
We met with her several times a month to talk about our anxiety, fear, and to help guide us in communication while we were juggling life and a terminal illness. In the last year of his life, Adam and I became better at communicating because of the guidance from our therapist and pastor.
Five days before he passed, we were in the ICU and learned he was rapidly declining. These stones were given to him by Brooke to hold if he was feeling worried, restless, or nervous. She chose the words comfort and discover.
To find comfort in the presence of his family and in the goofy, silly moments she knew Adam wanted to hold close.
Discover to find what peacefully lies ahead.
She told Adam, “And someday, you can give these stones to Julie so she can find comfort in each day and have the courage to discover what lies ahead for her and the boys.”
The morning Adam died, he was looking for these stones. It took me awhile to figure out what he was looking for. He described them first as discs, like waffles, something to toss. He couldn’t find the words and it broke my heart to know he was declining so rapidly. “
“Toast, waffles,” he would say to me . . . finally, I figured it out. He was looking for the stones. The stones our therapist gave to him.
I pull these stones out from time to time. On Sunday night, I took them out and really studied them. Thinking about our last day together and about my husband who I love and miss so much.
I held them and cried.
Sunday was the first night I had ever stayed home alone in our new house (okay we have been here for almost two years but 2016 feels like it didn’t happen to me.) The first time in almost four years I had stayed home alone with no kids, no family, no friends and no dog. I don’t think I’ve stayed home alone without my dog since she was a puppy seven years ago. Sunday night was a huge step in my moving forward and building strength.
I am sharing this with you because mental health and holistic care is so important for everyone. Palliative care are two scary words to cancer patients but they don’t have to be. Adam opened his mind to many holistic approaches such as relaxation, massage, acupuncture, essential oils, and supplements that complemented his treatment plan of chemotherapy.
As I move forward without Adam, I continue to use therapy as an outlet. I’ve added in a grief support group with my three year old and online support groups with other young widows.
My self care, my comfort, involves a few of my favorite things. Haircuts, massage, walking my dog, of course wine! and laughing with friends always bring me joy.
Joy? Yes, even a grieving widow can find joy in her days.
And each day, I look forward to discovering what lies ahead with my boys. They are my purpose and always will be. My everlasting gift from Adam.
Until next time, be kind to one another.
Grief is a bitch. There, I said it. Many days, I fly right through. There are moments I pause and think about the last 10 weeks and wonder where time has gone. I might shed a tear or two, sometimes they are tears over happy memories but mostly they are tears of pain because my baby boys and I were robbed of a future together with their Daddy. When I grieve, I grieve over what I miss and what I am going to miss. The plans we talked about for our boys, vacations, retirement.
There are days like today. The day starts off like any other. Then out of nowhere it spirals out of control. Maybe my toddler has requested three different breakfasts in the span of thirty seconds. Maybe it was because my baby woke up too early and didn’t want to fall back asleep, so now we are both tired. And just like that, I start my seemingly scheduled panic about forgetting all my memories of my husband. I’m trying desperately lately to remember all the details of our marriage, the things he did with our sons, the details of his death.
Was I holding his hand when he died? Or was I touching his leg? Was I even touching him? Was he scared? Did I do everything I could to make him comfortable? Did I help him feel less afraid? God how I hope he wasn’t afraid. He knew he was dying. He told our friend it was a good thing and a bad thing. And it was both of those things for me.
Lately, my heart aches for what he was feeling and fearing while going through the hellish year of surgeries, chemo and complications from surgery. We shared many of the same fears, but the day he went to have fluid drained from his lungs for the first time, I found something I wish I hadn’t. A cancer webpage was open on his phone, he was reading “what does it feel like to die.” I wasn’t sure if I could keep going. I never mentioned it to him. I knew it was something he had to read about, he needed to think about because that was where his mind wanted to go.
Grief is such a *bleeping* roller coaster. It sucks. On the night Adam died, I asked his best friend how I would ever survive this. He told me, what he shared with everyone during the eulogy: “. . . while we may sit here and not know how to get through tomorrow, we will wake up, and it will, for lack of a better term, suck. The next day will probably suck too. But one day we will get up in the morning and take a baby step, and it will hurt a little less. Even though the next day might be a step backward, eventually we will start taking more steps forward than back.”
But, as I move along in my own grief, I am learning this is one task I need to do on my own. I need alone time to grieve, and baby + toddler = none. Especially when one or both are always challenging me to grow and be patient, using all my energy reserves. It takes energy to grieve. Who knew?
Every grieving widow is different, but one thing is the same among us all. Friends and family checking in with a simple text or voicemail, maybe even a card in the mail long after the “get well” and “sorry for your loss” cards have stopped, mean more then you’ll ever know. Maybe you offer to take the boys or say yes when I ask you. Please know that sending my boys to your house is filled with guilt, relief, excitement(!), more guilt, and time for me to grieve.
You might have to leave three voicemails before I call you back. Be prepared for the dinner date to be cancelled last minute, maybe even twice, because I am not emotionally or socially available like I thought I would be. It might take me three months to get back to you on the offer to watch my sons, so I hope you really meant it the first time you offered! The reality is I am a tired, single mom grieving the loss of my best friend and sons’ father.
Grief ebbs and flows. Some days it is a tsunami and other days like a little trail of water running down my driveway. Today it is a tsunami and that’s okay. I’ll be better equipped for tomorrow’s grief because I got through today.
Adam & I take in a sunny day at Lambeau Field
The Packers’ season and their fall in the NFC championship game is symbolic of our last year. The season started out hopeful, then took a bad turn about six weeks in at a game we were in attendance for. The team was left with slim odds to make the playoffs by the end of November. The Pack got a butt whooping two nights after Adam died. The Packers went on to “run the table” and got in to the postseason.
Extraordinary determination and play from the entire team. They rallied hard for two playoff games nobody expected them to win. Then came the NFC Title game and they collapsed. Hard.
Adam’s fight against cancer felt like this football season. We were hopeful in the beginning for surgery, then had a gash in our hope when surgery was aborted five weeks in to his diagnosis. Adam mentally felt like a dead man walking with a toddler and pregnant wife by his side. With help from Adam’s Pack, we kept his fighting spirit alive. I didn’t give up HOPE for Adam and our little family. He rallied and put together a winning streak during his 11 rounds of chemo, pushing the cancer back. We made it to his “play-offs” and he had surgery in New York. The hopeful surgery to buy us more earthly time.
But it was like Adam made it to the big game and his body couldn’t drive it in to the end zone. His mind was tough and the fight was there but his body had too many “players” on injured reserve. He had been through so much physically that he needed a break, a break he simply wasn’t awarded. Only God has the answer why.
Too many setbacks from the beginning of the title game. The Falcons were too much for the Packers this postseason. Likewise, too many setbacks for Adam after his surgery. His body never allowed him to get back on chemo, back to his game plan to drive the cancer out of his body. The cancer was too aggressive for Adam’s body after the massive surgery.
Football offers a great distraction in life. Adam and I lived and breathed football. We enjoyed how it let us escape reality every Sunday and be part of something bigger that was out of our control. In the last season, football offered us something to look forward to on Sundays just like every other season.
It will always be a huge part of our household, an important part of our lives. Growing up in central Wisconsin, it is in my blood and I hope it’s in our sons’ blood too. Nobody could ever replace the football bond we had. I hope our boys will share this football bond with me that I shared with their dad.
My point is this. Enjoy life. Even the parts of life that are brutal, try to find a way to enjoy it. A year later and I am first beginning to reflect and process what has happened in my life since December 1, 2015. One thing this year taught me is to find the good in every single day. Sometimes we have to dig deep to find the good, to find a smile or laugh, but it is so important each and every one of us look for the good in life.
Our boys, my boys, will always be the good in my day. Adam’s best gifts ever given to me. He always liked to give me a challenge and Adam didn’t miss a beat with these two little men. My mini-Adam’s through and through and for that, I am beyond blessed to see him everyday in our sons’ brown eyes.
Until next time, be kind to one another. And thanks for the good run Packers. Go Pack Go!
Today is the last day of 2016. It feels a little bittersweet to me, even though I’ve never been sentimental about New Years. Adam and I couldn’t have cared less about where we were when the clock struck midnight, as long as we were together.
Looking back on 2016, the first thing I thought about was all the love it had for us. Yes, there was pain but the pain is secondary to all the love and blessings we had. 2016 was intense, it was fierce, and it is a year which will never be forgotten. Adam will never be forgotten. Our love story will never be forgotten.
It held highs after the diagnoses when the surgeon felt confident he could operate on Adam. Followed quickly by the lows of Adam’s first surgery. They started the surgery, opened him up to clean the cancer out, and quickly closed him up as we learned his cancer was too aggressive and far spread for the surgeons at the U of M.
There was relief when we learned his cancer freight train had been stopped after five rounds of chemo. Hearing those words from Dr. Lou (otherwise known as the “Lou-Man” in our house) brought tears to my big husband’s eyes. I’ll never forget that day. Adam’s first sign of hope in months.
In the month following this appointment, we waited, and waited, and waited anxiously for Reginald to arrive. Anxious and uncomfortable were mutual feelings by Adam and I. During the month of April though, I took the trump card in the house for pain and being uncomfortable as little Reggie gave all 5’2″ of me a run for my money. The first six months of Adam’s diagnosis, our pregnancy gave us a nice distraction. While we worried about what the future would hold for our new baby, our new family of four, the one thing that remained constant is Adam wanted cancer to take a back seat to me, to baby Reggie, and to our little man Edward.
Adam was hard on himself during his diagnosis, never feeling he was doing enough as a father. This broke my heart because he was. He was always the best and gave everything he had, but he never felt this way because chemo dragged him down. Cancer and chemo were often more of a mental fight for him than a physical fight. I will always remember him being a kickass dad, an amazing husband, and pushing through on even the nastiest chemo weeks. I know Edward will remember this too and I will try my damnedest to make sure Reggie knows how brave his daddy was.
Adam never missed a day of work except for his infusion day at the clinic. In his last round of chemo, he had to leave work early one day because he was exhausted and overall felt terrible. He mowed the grass all summer until his surgery, chemo week or not. He did both boys baths, rarely missing a bath night. We tried to plan baths around the terrible chemo days because that was Daddy’s time.
The beginning of June, we learned it was time to revisit surgery again. With a newborn and toddler, I hit the ground running to try and find the cure for my husband from the best surgeons in the country. I researched, I talked to friends in my cancer groups, I pressed the doctors who they would go see if it were them.
In July, Adam was off of chemo so he could explore surgery options. Life felt almost like it was before cancer. But, unfortunately, we had the elephant in the room and we knew we couldn’t avoid Adam being off chemo for too long. We flew out to New York three times in July. We had a lot of fun the first two trips. Yes, fun mixed in with medical appointments in the Big Apple.
Even Adam’s pre-op appointment the day before surgery we found ways to have fun and laugh (enter Snapchat filters!) The last trip we flew out for his big surgery. I divide the last year into two sections-life pre-cancer and life pre-surgery. We left our three month baby and almost three year old home. Not an easy decision, a definite low in the year but at the same time we were filled with HOPE.
After surgery, life had a lot more lows then highs. We found a few in September, going to the Firefighters Hall and Museum. Adam rode on top of an old firetruck with Edward. When he came back, I thought for sure he soiled himself or was going to throw up. His eyes were so big and he told me, “whoa, I made it, that was a bumpy ride!” with a huge proud grin on his face.
Just like our last year, we made it, it was a bumpy ride. All the way up to our anniversary weekend and making it to our final Packers game. We created memories. We loved life and each other with no regrets all the way up until his last breath.
The other night, I was reading our entries from the past year. I could feel the love but I could also feel the pain, especially in the last four months of Adam’s life after his surgery. We had good moments sprinkled in those months. They were every day moments like watching football together. A rare day we ate supper together after his surgery. I remember a few times he even made supper or breakfast for us.
Reading as a family before bedtime became a huge moment because it meant Adam had enough strength left at the end of the day. At the end, it was downstairs on the couch where he spent most of his time and often we read every other page so he could finish the book. Yes, he was that weak. He didn’t want many people to really know how weak he was, but reading a book to the boys took a lot of energy.
I am heartbroken as I think 2017 will not hold a single new memory of Adam. It will be made up of new memories with my growing boys, our faithful family, friends, and the new friends I will make.
While I am sad to see 2016 go, I am excited to see what 2017 has in store for my young family. The new year will have plenty of adventure, there is no doubt in my mind about that.
Until next time and next year, be kind to one another. Happy New Year…And Go Pack Go!