A Penny, A Prayer and A Legacy

The boys and I received pennies in church last week. I wrote down a prayer request and Edward put it in a basket with the other prayer requests. He brought a penny back, like everyone was instructed to by Pastor. This penny is to remind me of this prayer request.

Truth be told, the prayer was for me.

A prayer for comfort, peace, and direction. Comfort as I head into the third year without my husband by my side. Peace to fill my heart for the holiday season. And guidance for direction in my life.

I put the penny on our microwave where I’d see it often. Ironically, the boys came home with six pennies each on Monday after an exercise about honesty at daycare. Seeing all these coins is a good reminder to pray for help and lay my problems down for the Lord.

Two years ago, I went through the worst week of my life. It started on Sunday and ended on a Friday evening when my loving husband passed away. There was very little time to process how fast the end of Adam’s life came and how it all happened.

Adam and I knew the end was near. We had met with palliative care days before his last week of life to begin some end of life planning. Time ran out for any of these wishes to happen or be carried out. Instead, we had fifteen minutes in between his oncologist delivering me news we should move to hospice before our parents all came in to visit.  What a short conversation for us; for him to share his wishes for me to love again, hear him tell me “I’d be okay”. In between nurses and family that week we’d sneak in funeral questions, bank and billing questions, things at 33 you should not be talking about

This last week of his life, the last week of our marriage was full of searing pain, yet exploded with love. There was also a sense of comfort and peace. I felt this peace especially when we entered into hospice. The only way I can explain this feeling, and my ability to pray and help guide Adam to his eternal peace was from your prayers.

This week ,since the penny came home from church, I have felt peace again. Every time I saw the penny in the kitchen, I’d say “please give me comfort, peace and direction God.”  God is good; I have really felt comfort this week that I haven’t felt since he died.

I still think about about the painful days during Adam’s illness. The memories are scars left in me and honestly, I don’t ever want to forget them because it reminds me to be thankful for life, health, and our sons.

But what I can now see in this second year of living with my grief, is prayers are not always answered how we want. We practiced healing prayer every week with our Pastor. Nightly, I led and prayed with Adam.

I have to carry the burden and balance feelings of being thankful, angry, and bitter.  Thankful God peacefully took him home to heaven, free of cancer and pain. Angry my sons will never truly know their own father and madness our love story was cut short. Bitter I was robbed of a loving marriage and the life with my best friend.

And again, thankful God is still with me and answering prayers. Sending me new relationships and strengthening others to help me find my way in this new life. Giving me peace and comfort during this week where I remember Adam drifting away from me, going where I can’t yet. 

At 33 years old, I didn’t expect I’d have to rebuild my life. No “job”, a full time mommy to a baby and a preschooler at my side. But this is the life I was given and I am going to live it. I am going to love life and honor Adam’s legacy. I am going to honor my promise to him, “I’ll be okay.”

Reading, volunteering, traveling, and most of all time with his sons were the things he wished he had more of when when we talked. Coming from the man who always had a couple of books on the nightstand; would offer or say yes to help family or friends; who was always ready and willing to book a flight and go. A man who loved his sons and wife more than life itself.

Those very things he wished more of, I will carry on for him. Ironic now, how reading and writing have become two ways I cope best with my grief.  When I travel, I am able to shed a little layer of guilt and pain. Volunteering with cancer caregivers and widows helps me find a way to kick the aftermath of cancer. I will live my days to honor Adam and his legacy by being the best mom I can be to our sons. 

No regrets.

Miss you sweetie. I love you more. You’re still the best!

Support Groups & Counseling: Helpful Gifts

Support groups and counseling have provided a safe place for me to talk. To share vivid dreams and signs from Adam. People who understand my anger, awkward widow humor, and the secondary losses of losing a spouse.

The first group I was invited to was December 2015. I was not thrilled to be sent an invitation to the Young Cancer Wives support group on Facebook. 

This woman, kind enough to reach out when her husband had just entered hospice care. Their sons were a little older than ours when he was diagnosed with colon cancer two and a half years prior. 

My husband was not going to die. He was going to defy the odds and survive well into his 40s at least. Her husband died a few weeks later. We were on opposite ends of the spectrum from my perspective.

Meet Catherine.

She has become one of my best friends. We have only met in person twice but she understands me. She gets me because we are living a “what the hell happened” kind of life and finding ways to move forward. Finding ways to feel joy again.

She gave me her number and answered any time I called. If Cat was on a home visit for work, she’d text me as soon as possible. Cat was the one who walked me through how to talk with Edward about his Daddy dying, about the funeral, about death. 

Cat provides support and offers advice as a fellow widowed, solo mother who is dating.  Sometimes we just call to say a lot of f-bombs together. Because nothing makes us feel better then talking for 15 minutes and seeing how many swear words we can fit in.

I went to this online support group she invited me into when it felt like the bottom to my life was falling out. When I didn’t know what to say to the endless offers of help, they gave me practical advice.

They shared their experiences of having babies when their husbands were on chemo. Tips on how to prep myself.  If there were any ways to prepare someone for cancer, chemo, and a newborn baby this group would know.

Women who helped me care for myself and support Adam through his surgeries, chemo, emotional ups and downs. 

Caregivers who became widows. Supporting me in a way nobody else could when it was time for hospice.

In March, I will have the privilege of meeting the founder of this group and other fellow caregivers. Sadly, most of us are now widows. It is because of these groups that I have found ways to help fellow caregivers through Cocktails and Chemo.

When Adam died, Widows Don’t Wear Black (for cancer widows) and The Hot Young Widows Club became the only reason I’d log in to Facebook or Instagram. This group of strangers grateful to have each other. All of us wishing we would have never met.  

Meet Anna 

It took a little more work to find a support group we could physically go to. Our social worker from the cancer center knew about a family grief support group through Fairview Health Services.

As I retold the events of how my sons and I arrived at this group, a woman across the circle kindly stared. She asked if she could go next.  Anna’s s husband died less then a month after Adam from colon cancer. Their story was almost identical to ours.

Fast forward to today. Anna and her two children have become an extension of our family. She is an incredibly important person in my life. 

Our oldest boys are a year apart in age, our youngest also a year difference in age. We have morning play dates and supper dates with all four kids. It is always loud, a mess, and we can never guess who will eat and who won’t. 

We rarely get in five minutes of adult conversation without interruptions but that never stops us from trying.

It is helpful to have someone nearby to relate to. Our oldest sons especially benefit from playing with another child whose “daddy died of cancer too.” As her youngest daughter and my Reggie start to identify their grief, they will lean on one another.

As mothers, we lean on one another. 

We have helped each other with dishes and laundry when the other was sick. When getting to regular counseling sessions became difficult with my new schedule, our weekly dates at the zoo became my grief therapy. 

Regardless of how our grief is affecting us in the moment, we can get each other to smile. She laughs at my inappropriate jokes. We encourage and inspire one another. There is an exchange of f-bombs when the kids are not within ear shot. (Disclaimer: young widows love the f-bomb.) 

Without social media, I wouldn’t have made new friendships.

Without our social worker at the hospital, I wouldn’t have found the family grief support group or my grief counselor.

A large part of why I am a survivor is because of these gifts.

Survival: The Biggest Gift

We survived our first 5K on a hot and humid morning. (2011) 

Survival was the biggest gift.

I do not remember much from the first six months.  Family, friends, and our nannies helped often and frequently with the boys so I could merely survive this new life I didn’t ask for.  Shock helped protect me but around July it started to wear off.

August was a wake up call when I was blessed with the shingles. Blessed? It wasn’t a blessing at the time but I can look back now and see it was.

It helped me realize several things. My antidepressant was NOT working. I was on such a low dose but honestly, never felt like I needed it. My medication was increased when I got the shingles because people in their 30’s get shingles from lack of sleep, stress, and a low immune system.

I turned into a zombie from the increased dose. I was exhausted and no amount of coffee or naps helped. In November, I couldn’t take it anymore. Six weeks later on a new medication, I am not exhausted anymore. My highs actually feel high and I can feel the lows too. My mood has leveled out and I can function better.

I needed to find ways to get quality sleep and take better care of myself. While I have not found the answers to simplifying life with two busy boys, it has improved.  The new medication and taking melatonin before bed has greatly improved my overall health.

In November, instead of turning to wine to drown my sorrow, I joined the YMCA. I can workout while they boys play; instead of trying to exercise at home with them literally under my feet, asking for a snack every two seconds. I am enjoying exercise again, something I got away from when the lows became more frequent then the highs. It has been key to my mental and physical health.

Okay, so you might be asking yourself, “Why is she sharing her medical chart with us?” Antidepressants get a bad name and some people assume they are for the weak or grieving. I think that is absolutely wrong. I was on an antidepressant in college for about six months. Sometimes these medications are long term and sometimes they help your body and mind get through stressful situations until you can maintain balance again. There is no shame in asking your doctor about a prescription.

Exercise. Simple right? Simple to skip, that is what I think. I go through phases this last year where I think, “Why even try to be healthy? Adam exercised, ate well, and lost weight the years before he was diagnosed and it didn’t matter. Eating organic didn’t matter. Drinking only once a week didn’t matter. Why will it be the difference if I exercise, eat well, and limit my (bottles of…) wine?”

Honestly, I don’t know what to believe is the right answer to prevent cancer anymore. Fitness didn’t prevent Adam’s body from overproducing cancerous cells. I do know it was one of the things he did that helped his body and mind feel better. Exercise helped him feel in control of something. It helped him survive when he felt terrible.

I think about us going to the gym together over the years. The body pump and cycle classes we went to. The session of yoga classes he took with me at a studio. Imagine Adam in yoga? Yeah, it was as hilarious as you are imagining! He did it though and never complained. He started running with me one summer and we ran a 5K. He even stepped in and ran with my friend when I was injured so she didn’t have to run the race we planned to do together. We walked the river boulevard probably a hundred times when we lived in St. Paul and biked by the river.

When I get in a rut and don’t want to exercise, I think about Adam. I think about him going for a walk when he was wearing his pump for chemo. I think about him walking after his surgery in summer and how every step was like climbing a mountain for him. Getting back to fitness has helped me feel better overall and has been a big factor in surviving.

I survived a lot this year. Even something as simple as eating and going to a body pump class brings a constant flood of memories with Adam. I trust I will survive all the happy and sad memories next year too.

Survival, the biggest gift of 2017.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas Adam’s Pack

Julianna, Reginald (19 months) & Edward (4)

I am grateful for the blog posts I wrote this last year, the status updates on social media, and the pictures I took. These help me remember the pain, the good times, and the accomplishments. My hope in sharing these with you is that in some way, my blog helps you. 

Why do I want to remember the pain? This is really very simple for me. I want to remember the heartache because it is from pain I have grown. It is how we all grow. 

If I have learned anything this last year, it is to be grateful. It is “okay, to not be okay.” It is to find ways to be patient amidst trying times. It is to continue living and loving fully, with no regrets.

We have enjoyed all of the holiday cheer mailed to us, thank you! As we close out the year, I am going to share with you each day a gift 2017 brought. Stay tuned this week of Christmas to hear more about them. I will share a little cheer, some hope, and a lot of honesty. 

Here is a preview of The Gifts of 2017 we were blessed with. 

Survival was the biggest gift.

Support groups and grief counseling were the most helpful gifts.

New hobbies were the gifts that helped find joy. 

Going back to work was the hardest gift to accept.

Organizing and starting the Minneapolis Cocktails and Chemo Chapter was the most rewarding gift.  

Dating was the most unexpected gift.

Edward, Reginald, and Matilda were my favorite gifts!

We wish you a blessed Christmas and New Year.

Live, Love, No Regrets.

Julianna, Edward, & Reginald

One Year Ago

A year ago, we all said good-bye to the one and only Adam Czech.

I have been searching for the words to describe this past week, this past month, this past year.

Searching for those words to tell you how I have survived this year.

I don’t really know. If I go back and read what I have written over the last two years, the story I read reminds me.

Our sons, Edward and Reginald who help me find the joy every day. Our bulldog Matilda, who has been a faithful companion and the best comforter to my tears at three am. My faith, which gives me a promise that I will see Adam again some day.

Our friend, Witt, who has kept a promise made when Adam died one year ago. The promise that he, along with our families and friends would always be there for us. A promise I learned Adam asked him to keep a month after he was diagnosed with cancer.

My parents, who have watched me cry and listened to my anger over life, and supported me in any decision I have made. They have been asked to do the unthinkable and help their daughter grieve losing her husband. A loss that started the day he was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

Our families, especially both my parents and Adam’s parents who have never said no to me when I have asked for help with the boys. Our friends, especially my widowsisters who understand this life and are always there for me. 24/7.

Year one has been a blur. I learned that every happy moment, will always be “happy-sad” because Adam is not here. I know that every dark wave of grief will be followed by a period of calm.

I learned to smile and laugh again. I learned how to have fun in this next chapter of my life. I have discovered the heart is capable of expanding to love again while never losing my love for Adam.

A year ago, we entered hospice on November 17. A day later, Adam passed away. While we were in hospice, I found a peace that didn’t know existed during death. I will leave you today with a very personal peace of my journal. Something I have thought about sharing for 365 days, but never felt it was right.

Today I feel is the right time. Looking back on the last two years, it is unbelievable the twists and turns, the pain, the anger, the love, the help and peace I have felt. Often all at the same time.

The following is a text conversation I saved with one of my best (and also widowed) friends. I saved it so I wouldn’t forget the peace I felt among the pain on that cold November day I saw my husband take his final breaths.

The death experience is almost a beautiful thing. It is so spiritual. Adam is afraid, but I am helping to calm and guide him. He’s not ready yet. It won’t be long but it won’t be soon. 

“I’m sure you are doing an amazing job. There is nothing more intimate than being with the love of your life fully in their time of death. Nothing as tragic and heartbreaking either, but your presence is giving him peace in his transition and that is such a gift. “

It is so odd. You know what I mean right? I feel relief but I am afraid I’ll feel guilt. And I am sure I will. I leave him 2-3 hours a day every other day and it’s too much. 

“It is odd. There are so many emotions at once. There is no wrong emotion. You aren’t crazy to feel peaceful. He’s at a point where he can’t come back from, he can’t live this way, there’s no suffering where he is going, that’s why you feel some peace.  My prayers went from Stop This!!! to Just let it be peaceful, let him know how loved he is, within days of each other . . .I can’t stop the pain you are going to feel. Trust me, I still feel it.”

Am I crazy that I feel peaceful? I know I won’t when it happens. Is it prayers? Does this really happen to spouses? 

I feel like it’s the calm before the storm. Last night I was so scared. Today, now that we are here, I’m not as scared. I’m sure this feeling will come back.

“Nothing you feel is wrong. We were telling stories and jokes off and on the whole time. Watched an awesome Packer game the night before (Jim) died.” 

It will be heartbreaking helping the boys. I’ve told him he will always live on in me and the boys. The boys will know who their daddy is and they are half of him. They have his DNA. If I ever (date again), I’ve told him they have to marry me and you because I will never stop loving him even after he is gone. I will love him more and more every day after he is gone.

“You are so right. I love Jim as much if not more. And he will always be my husband and the dad of my boys.”

He is very alert but not as sharp as 2 days ago or 1 day ago. He knows this and it scares him. The nurse and I talked to him about being okay to take the medicine to feel better. Only God will decide when it’s time and I told him, God won’t take him until he is ready.

He’s asked will he get to see his parents again? I said in the morning. The boys? Yes, in the morning. I told him he isn’t ready to go but he will know when he is. It is scary because nobody can tell him what exactly it is like. 

“The unknown is awfully scary. The medicine should help his anxiety….”

Indeed. He wanted ME to talk to him tonight and not take Ativan. What an honor. I was able to calm him to sleep. Amazing .

“That is amazing. Such an honor.  Some people never experience the love we have. So blessed in spite of this.”

We are. The social worker here said he was in awe, said at our young age, only knowing us for an hour, we have experiences and love most will never ever know or touch. Heartbreaking and blessed. 

 

Love Never Ends

I remember Adam telling me to slow down as we walked out of church. “I want to remember every second.” This is how we treated our time together, enjoying every second.

October 3, 2009 I married my best friend and soul mate.

October 3, 2016 we celebrated our last anniversary.

Or so I thought.

Our seventh wedding anniversary weekend. It was the last weekend Adam felt well. We went on three dates, THREE! Date one, The Mixed Blood Theater to see “BBQ” on Friday. Date two, The Stripclub for Adam’s (last) steak dinner (really a four star restaurant, not an actual strip club!). Date three, we attended church together (for the last time) on Sunday morning, followed by a visit to the Highbridge in St. Paul where he proposed one hot summer day. I’ll never forget this weekend. Adam made sure it was as special as ever.

I thought about October 3, 2017 for months. What would our first wedding anniversary look like without Adam by my side? Was I celebrating seven years forever or would I celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary?

Adam was in my heart and thoughts as he is every other day. As I ate breakfast on our anniversary morning, I watched and listened to our boys run around laughing, playing together, and intermittently crying {more like screaming} as one bumped into the other too hard. Edward and Reginald, a product of our love and future. His legacy. My anchors in life.

In that moment, I felt joyful. I felt thankful for the seven full years of marriage and the love we gave to each other. This day was about memories and our commitment to love each other until death do us part. It should forever be celebrated. 

Renewing our vows on November 16, 2016. The same look of love while we are holding our two little loves.

We renewed our vows on November 16, 2016, two days before he died. I remember clearly when our Pastor took me outside in the hospital hallway before we renewed our love in front of our family. He talked to me about updating the words to reflect our vows living on into eternity. It was so beautiful, I loved the updated version for Adam and I.

On our wedding day, we wrote personal vows to each other. After the advice of our Pastor, we also used
the traditional vows so we could renew them at any wedding ceremony we attended. We vowed to love one another until death do us part. When we renewed our vows, we said “love never ends”. It hasn’t, and it doesn’t.

Some might not understand how you can love someone more every day, even after they are gone from this earth. Hell, I still get mad at Adam. Some, probably many, might not understand how you can love again after you lose a spouse. 

It is an incredible blessing and absolutely possible to love two people at once. I have been a witness to this, watching close friends who are widowed love their late husband while at the same time, honoring their legacy by loving life. Honoring their marriage by reopening their hearts to love again and grow.

A close widowed friend compared it to the love a parent can have for more than one child. When we got pregnant with our youngest, I wasn’t sure I could love another baby as much as my first. But I do!

My heart has expanded and grown in ways I didn’t know was possible. It has been able to grow because of the strong marriage Adam and I had for seven years and in my heart, continues. I will always be committed to him and remember him.

I visited Adam and brought him our two favorite beers for our anniversary. Wherever heaven is babe, cheers to our love!

This year there were no wrapped presents to give each other. No cards with personal messages and our signatures. This year, our gift to each other was our eternal love. Adam’s gift was the confidence he had in me and how he filled my love bucket every day for the entire nine and a half years we were together. The gift of his blessing for me to live and love life. His wish for me to love others after he was gone.

My gift to him was to follow through on my promise that I will be okay. My promise to be the best mom I can be to his sons. My gift was to continue honoring his legacy by writing, sharing memories of him, and finding a way to love again. I celebrated, yes! I celebrated our anniversary! This year my friends were my date and we toasted our anniversary.  

Widowed friends understand all the anniversaries and hard days like no one else. This sweet treat was sent to me by one of my amazing Widowsisters.

When we renewed our vows, a member from our church gave us this gorgeous gift with our wedding Bible verse. It hangs in my hallway, and every day I think to myself, “love never ends.”

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. It is not irritable or resentful. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

As I sat and looked through probably 100 cards Adam gave to me over the years for our anniversary, for birthdays, and just because he plain old loved me; I was reminded of our faithfulness and fun we had with one another. It brought many tears to my face but it also brought many bursts of laughter, as I read the cards he wrote me (some even from our dog and her perspective). There was also plenty of proof Mr. Adam Paul Czech used plenty of exclamation points in his life! This card alone, had three! 

“I am the luckiest guy in the world to be married to you. If I could do my life over again, I would’ve married you after our first date so I could’ve enjoyed you as my wife even longer!! Love you! Adam

I visited Adam at his grave site over the weekend and gave him a toast with our two favorite beers. What I say in my heart every day, I will leave here for our friends and family.

I loved you yesterday.

I love you still.

Always have, always will.

No regrets.

 

Adjusting Expectations

{Susan Coyne Photography}

Becoming a widow at age 33 threw my expectations of life out the window.

There was an expectation July was going to be one of the worst months in my first year without Adam.  I didn’t want there to be much time to think about our last summer together.  Adam wanted me to live and enjoy life so I tried.

I really wanted to forget how much hope we had last year at this time because it stings so badly. A big part of me wanted to have this “new normal” that doesn’t exist, by keeping ourselves busy and making new memories so we wouldn’t dwell in the past.

See, I can anticipate when certain dates, certain seasons, certain events will be more difficult. What I didn’t anticipate, was that my grief would not get any easier. I did not anticipate that at some point my coping skills I’ve relied on so heavily would not be enough.

Lately my days have been busy filling out preschool, daycare, and screening forms for my boys. Parenting duties which were my job before, but fall all on my now. These forms ask for names of parents, emergency contact persons, and “special life events” teachers need to know about. A constant trigger and reminder  I need to talk with new teachers this year about my son’s deceased father, his coping skills, and our home life.

I am really at a loss lately. I have to dig deep to find the good in my day. I second guess all my decisions and hope I am making the right ones.

A few months ago, it felt like I was rocking this widow life. I leaned into my grief, cried, and would find the good in my day to keep going. Now I am more angry than not at cancer and the universe. Being a solo parent is hard. What is even harder, is remembering that my path to solo parenting started well before Adam passed.

This sounds harsh. It is harsh. I would yell at Adam and correct others when they would comment on how I was handling parenting and the house on my own. I wasn’t handling them on my own a year ago, not at all.

I still had Adam. He was still reading a few stories to the boys and could pay bills when I forgot. There were even good days sprinkled in after surgery where he made breakfast one day and supper the next. I was still married and wore my wedding ring with pride.

There was hope. Hope we held for more time. Hope for a miracle. Even if he only felt food a few hours a week, I had his humor and smile. I could still hold his hand and give him a kiss good night.

The truth of the matter, is that a year ago I became the primary caretaker of bills, the household (aka organizing help), and parenting. When people tell me how “strong” I am, I hear it, sometimes I own it. Other times, I silently say to myself “I have been grieving and preparing for widowhood since we learned there was a grapefruit sized tumor in his colon.

For the last twenty months I have been taking care of so many details. I am tired. I send my boys to their grandparents and I still feel tired. I feel guilty because I rarely accomplish anything other then some extra sleep. At the same time, I know to be a good parent I must take breaks. To grieve, I need time alone. I need rest.

This post was started a week ago but my body finally said “enough is enough”. What I thought was allergies, or maybe even hives from stress, turned into shingles on my left eye, face, and scalp. I have laid in bed the last few days, completely fatigued and angry because I am ill, falling more behind instead of holding my own.

It also made me realize, I got away from taking care of myself and let grief dictate what felt good in the moment. I shed more tears this summer, alone, with friends, and even in public than I have in months. The balancing ct of enjoying life and grieving is a fine art. I tried to run from my grief but grief will always find you.

The expectations I have for myself are unrealistic.  The little bit left of my logical brain knows this. Then grief rears its ugly head. The huge waves of emotions, while raising two small children leaves me mentally and physically exhausted. At 33 years old, I cannot make it through a day without a nap.

In a recent conversation with my new therapist and in my cancer widow support group, we talked about exhaustion. How in the world did I manage everything in the short year Adam was sick? I survived on a few hours of sleep at night and bits of naps during the day for most of 2016.

Caregiver adrenaline, that is how. When my therapist and group told me fatigue is very common in the first two to three years, I almost crumbled.  At the same time, hearing this helps me feel more normal. It is helping me to adjust my expectations and get back to living life day to day. Focusing on what really needs to be done. Trying so hard to hear Adam’s voice, telling me to cut myself some slack.

Again and again, I need to adjust my expectations. Enjoy our boys while they are little. Relax my mind when I think about what really needs to be done. I erased the list on the fridge and put it away where it can only be seen if there is energy for it.

Get back to the basics.

Pray.

Rest.

Choose happiness.

And throw those expectations out the window.

 

 

 

 

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.

Love,

Your Mommy

 

A Village

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 . . . 

 

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