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 . . . 

 

Be Brave Mommy

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.

 

 

Tips to Help a Family Living with Cancer

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?

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 parentSome 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.

 

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.

 

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