Comfort and Discover

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.

Signs from Heaven

12. The number of weeks Adam has been in heaven. Now I promise, today is a Feel Good Friday.  I am writing with a sense of peace and calmness. Unfortunately for you reading this, my feel good moments are different now as a widow.

Writing is one way I work through my grief.  This week, I took a break.  I wrote a lot last week, both for myself and to share with you. While it felt good, it also was emotionally draining on me and left me exhausted. Today is the first Friday which really has been good.

My friends who are further along in their widowhood journey tell me some day I’ll wake up and won’t count the weeks anymore that Adam died. The sting of Fridays will linger around but time will soften the blow. I trust these women, they are smart and brave. They keep me going and encourage me to keep living.

Now living, that has an entire new meaning to me. One week, I’ll breeze right through. Other weeks, I feel paralyzed from the physical hole and ache in my heart. The physical hole that was created the Friday night Adam passed away. When he took his last breath, I felt a part of my soul go with him. I know other widows have said the same and know this feeling.

It is an indescribable feeling and an honor he wanted me by him when he died.  He trusted me every step of our marriage and every day of his cancer diagnoses. He trusted me the night before he died, to calm his anxiety to fall asleep. He didn’t want to take any drugs that night, he wanted me to talk to him. He fell asleep without anything other then my voice.  A true honor and blessing to be with him and provide him that comfort.

Some days, I notice the hole a little more. I am certain if I had a x-ray or scan of my chest, the doctors would see a hole near my heart that they couldn’t explain. They couldn’t explain why my heart is still beating with this hole in it.

I was beginning to wonder how my heart would keep beating these last few weeks. I was really feeling this emptiness, needing to feel his love and faith in me.  So the other night, I dug out the journal Adam and I shared after he was diagnosed. I read the cards from the last year and the words of encouragement he wrote to me.  While I will never have enough notes from him, the one message over and over again he left me was of his love and faith in me.

“I love you very much. You are very strong . . .”

It is hard to believe though he has really been gone three months. The last few weeks it feels like he has been gone five years. I have been praying this last week for him to come to me in my dreams. I have never had a problem dreaming about loved ones in heaven, they have always been vivid dreams and I am begging Adam to come to me.

Then this morning, my friend texted me she had a dream about Adam. Wow. That text was sign number one today.  “I had a dream of Adam in it last night. We were together and you were telling me that Adam still came to you and you could see and feel him . .  then all of a sudden, he was there and I was able to hug him and see him, too. We knew he wasn’t alive, but we were with him and he could interact with us . . .” 

As I sat down to write today, sign number two came.  My Amazon music station blew me away. Song after song, Adam was speaking to me. Unreal. I had to stop writing and paused to listen to each song and their lyrics.

Mumford and Sons came on first with Where are you now. I stopped to listen. I mean I love that song anyway.

Then, Lost in My Mind by The Head and the Heart came on.  I hadn’t heard that song before and wow, the lyrics really spoke to me. This continued for a few more songs.

Then again, for the first time, I heard The Man Who Lives Forever by Lord Huron. Adam could have written this song.

Okay honey, I am listening. You have always been stubborn and never wanted to give me gifts when I expected them. He wasn’t going to come to me in my dreams because that is what I was asking for. Instead he decided to talk to me through music, keeping me on my toes which he always loved to do.

One of his greatest hobbies was finding new music. Now I find myself always looking for new music, and boy, did I find it today! My therapist asked me what I thought these signs meant. I am not entirely sure yet, other then my heart tells me it was his way of saying “I am okay. I am with you. I still love you. Now stop doubting yourself because I am never far from you.” 

That wasn’t enough for him today though. He was always telling me I was hiding stuff on him when he couldn’t find it.  Like the ketchup, the ketchup was always “hidden” in the refrigerator door.  I even instilled a ten second rule in our house years ago, he had to look for ten seconds for an item before he could ask me where it was!

Well today he wanted to make sure I really knew he was here.  A few weeks ago I was really focused and upset about remembering the last moments of his life. I was really bummed out and thought I lost my notes I kept while he was in hospice. Well, what do you know friends? Sign number three, I found those notes today.  Somehow they were deleted from my journal on my phone but saved in my Google drive . . . every last note I kept on his passing on the spiritual experience I had from being with him.

I heard you loud and clear Adam. Yes, you are here. You are talking to me.  You will always be with me and the boys.

So here is my Feel Good Friday note for you. Love big my friends. Have no regrets. Trust me on this.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Until next time, be kind to one another.



God Makes You Strong

I often feel the boys’ books speak to me, simple as they may be. Tonight, Reggie’s bedtime book was Good Night, God, written by Bonnie Rickner Jensen. The following page seemed so fitting for the last week and for the benefit our church family and friends had for us last night.

God Makes you Strong
I am your God. I will make you strong. Isaiah 41:10

No need to be worried,
No matter what comes,
No quivering or shivering,
No reason to run . . .

No thing in this world
Is out of God’s sight –
His strength will be yours
By the power of His might!

Good Night, God
Thank you for making me strong when I trust you.

(Good Night, God by Bonnie Rickner Jensen) 

These words couldn’t have been any truer right now. As I sat down to write, I read though some old, painful CaringBridge entries Adam and I shared with you this last year. I am starting to read them more, as hard as they are to read and recall. It is necessary as part of my healing because much of 2016 is a blur.

Where did this strength come from for Adam and I? How did we survive his cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy and surgeries? How did I survive then and how am I doing it now?

God. God made us strong. He gave us HOPE. Our Pastor helped guide our spiritual journey and we pulled a lot of strength from those weekly visits. Reading through some of the entries we wrote, I could see when our faith was weak and when it was strong. Our strength was really tested after Adam’s surgery last summer.

My faith, my hope in life, and my strength is still being tested. I know God continues to walk this path with me, even though I often feel alone, I know deep down I am not. This is my battle now. A constant fight and struggle to be patient and trust in God.

Last night, our church family had a wonderful benefit for my sons and I.  It took a lot of strength to show up as this was something we said “yes” to back in fall, together. It is a painful reminder Adam is really gone when I show up to the church we were married and where our boys were baptized.

As the event went on last night, it got a little easier and a little harder with every passing friend and family member I saw. It was overwhelming and humbling to see the community of people who gathered to support us. This is the strength God sends me. He sends me strength through Adam’s Pack.

Thank you to the organizers and to our church for all of the hard work and love that was put into this event. Friends, family, Adam’s co-workers, and the community around us proved last night there is still so much good in this world. I am humbled by everyone’s generosity and support given to our family. It will never be forgotten or taken for granted.

The sun was a little brighter today as Adam shined down on everyone in appreciation of the support given to our family. Thank you from myself, Edward, Reginald, and from my love in heaven. We are blessed.

Until next time, be kind to one another.

Feel Good Friday – 656

I have decided to try a different outlook on Fridays. Instead of waking up and counting the Fridays since I last kissed my husband,  I am going to think of a happy memory.  After his diagnoses, we had to dig a little deeper to enjoy all the daily moments because they were bittersweet.  Adam would want us to keep smiling today and remembering how awesome he was…because Adam never lacked any swagger.

Adam was a gem.  Most of you already know this. His friend and I have been talking a lot lately about Adam, his humor and how proud he was of himself.  And he was proud, ALL the time.  We have had a lot of good laughs about him lately, it feels so good to reminisce.

His dry humor and the way we would tease each other is one of the daily things I miss the most. Sometimes he would take it one joke too far, and his response was always “I kid, I kid” followed by a big Adam hug and groveling.  His friend Witt was always the butt of Adam’s jokes when they were together, okay, even when they weren’t. The more Adam teased you, the more he showed his love.

My notes for this post are growing fast.  I have a smirk on my face, so let’s do this! (An old co-worker of his gave me permission to use as many exclamation points as I want now, but I don’t want Adam to start hiding things on me in the house so I’ll make sure to tone it down.)

He organized about 536 wrestling DVDs in October.  A friend completed the last 120. (Photo taken 10/5/16)

656. This is the number of wrestling DVDs Adam collected from other wrestling fanatics, who converted old VHS recordings of matches to DVD of 1980s and 1990s AWA, ECW, WCW and WWF. Adam was so excited when he received a big envelope in the mail of 50 or more DVDS at a time to organize.  He would download them to his hard drive and then to the iPad so he could watch them anywhere, anytime.

In October before he passed, he bought this giant, heavy, suitcase DVD organizer. He was so proud of it while I cringed thinking about where we would store this monster. On this night, three days before we learned his cancer was back, I watched him start work on organizing 656 wrestling DVDs. He was so serious about it.

I enjoy a good, hard belly laugh when I look back on a video I have of him organizing them, while I tease him in the background. He doesn’t say a word, but his smirk grows bigger and bigger the more I dish it out.  This was Adam and I.

Watching wrestling together in the hospital.

Now, I am grateful we have it. Wrestling was something that helped ease his mind during his cancer diagnoses. When he wasn’t in the mood to watch it, I knew his mind was in a bad place. One of my worries, yes, worries, was who would help me teach the boys all about old school wrestling? I mean, I have probably watched over half of these matches in this suitcase with him, but Adam was an expert on all these wrestling. Books, blogs he read and participated in, he was invested.

When I asked him who I should go to, who knew the most about wrestling, his obvious response was, “nobody knows as much as me.” {Insert my laughter while Adam had a stone face.} I listed friends off, and he put them in order who I should go to for help on “all things wrestling.”  Adam then looked me square in the eye on that hospital bed, five days before he passed, and said “Julie, you are going to have to do some homework on your own.”

My husband had a lot of confidence in me, and I’ll never forget these words. All things wrestling was part of our last heart to heart, where he gave me his blessings and advice for the future without him physically by my side. Do my homework. There was a lot he told me to do my homework on and I will, because he had all the confidence in me, just like he had in himself.

Adam never gave up on trying to grow my love for old school wrestling. He never let up on watching Japanese wrestling on TV before bed (incredibly distracting to listen to wrestling commentary in another language while trying to drift off to dreamland). He never gave up on teasing me. He never gave up on making sure I knew how amazing he was. He never gave up on showing me how much he loved me and the boys. And he certainly never gave up on living, down to his final Friday.

I will never give up Adam, and I will do my homework.

Grief is a *Bleep

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.


Finding the Good

Adam & Julianna at Lambeau

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!