What is this?

What is this? I don't really know, other then a continuation of my updates and writings that I was sharing previously on Caringbridge of this journey through cancer and now widowhood and single parenting.

Maybe it won't end up being anything at all, or maybe it will be a glimpse into my heart, my life, my current situation, my testimony.

Whatever it becomes, I am touched that you are interested.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Be like B"

"Be like B" is a phrase that repeats in my mind often.  It's a term coined by a friend in response to how Brandon so gracefully and faithfully clung to God's promises during the most difficult journey of his life.

When I am feeling lost and like my world is spinning out of control I think back the last months of his life.  I remember things in visual snapshots and I am so often taken back to this one:

It was August of 2014, Brandon was in the hospital yet again, and the news was not good.  I had just returned home from there to an empty and dark home, a rarity in those days since I was surrounded by so much support.  Aria was napping and I sat alone in the dark living room on an exercise ball weeping because I had just prayed the hardest prayer of my life.

It was simply worded, but so profoundly impactful.

"Lord, if you are going to heal him, please do.  But if not, please make it fast.  Not my will, but Yours be done."

The same words that days before Brandon had admitted to me that he prayed for.

When he told me that was his prayer I was so mad.  I never let him see that, but I felt like he was giving up and I was not ready to do that.  I am a fighter and WE are going to fight this, not surrender to it!

But his words and the peace he said them with stuck with me. Slowly I came to see that in reality he was not throwing up the white flag to cancer.  No, instead he was surrendering his life to God's plan, regardless of the worldly pain and outcome that may come.  That was not cowardly, it was brave.

When I realized that, I knew that I could not pray those words unless I truly was willing to release him to God and accept the peace beyond understanding that comes with surrendering.  And on that day, I did.  It was the hardest thing I had ever done, and was only possible because of Brandon's impenetrable faith and his shining example before me.

To keep Brandon's memory alive, and to continue to raise support for Aria, a loving friend had it on her heart to create and distribute "Be like B" reminderbands.  If you would like one, please visit this GoFundMe page to order.

I hope that when things get difficult, as they will, you too can remember to "Be like B" and know deep down that God's got it under control.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42

I hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Where have you been?

Where have you been? How are things going? Are you OK?

Honestly, I don't even know how to answer those simple questions anymore.

This journey is the hardest most confusing path I have ever walked in my life.

They say there is no right or wrong way to "do grief". 

There is no formula for how to do this. 1 therapy session a week + 1 support group + 3 self help books = healed! Nope. I wish.

Instead you fumble your way through each day, each "phase", each trigger date, each milestone of months passed and wonder, did I do that right?

We each do what we need to do to get through, but in grief we are often very critical of ourselves and it makes it even harder. But the reality is that I have no idea how to "do this", other then to survive it.

I really was doing it well for a while there. But I knew that one day that would come crashing down, I just didn't know when and I didn't know what it would look like. And then it happened. I spiraled into darkness and chaos for a while. 

Slowly I've been finding my way to steadier ground but not without some battle wounds, however I'm pretty sure that's just how life goes.

So where have I been and how are things going? 

Honestly, I've been searching for myself. Not only did I loose my spouse, but I lost myself, my identity. Two became one, so when Brandon died I felt like I lost half of me and all of my future.  He was my security and my confidence and truly my better half. And at the same time I have to also adjust to the new role of mother...actually single mother. 

I've spoken with numerous other widow/widowers and this is very common to not only miss our spouse, but miss ourselves. Yes, I miss me too. I want to find her again. I used to like her. Now it's like I am desperately searching for someone but I don't even know who I am looking for.

I have been trying to rest in the fact that God knows who I am, and I am not my grief, my insecurities or my mistakes. I am simply broken, and I am loved for exactly who I am. A child of God who is hurting and finding her way through this loss, and that is OK. I am loved and covered in grace. 

So wish me luck as I continue to "find my new normal", "put the pieces of life back together" and "keep on keepin' on", "one day at a time" - and all those other cliche (but true) sayings.

*I want to share some beautiful moments from Brandon's birthday and first Angelversary soon, so be on the lookout for another update soon (hopefully!). 

Friday, August 21, 2015

We don't graduate from this

I so wish I had something uplifting and inspiring to share, but sadly I do not.  I have been waiting to be in a decent state of mind before I share anything but it seems that if I wait on that it may be a while.

But I do want to send out a quick update and prayer request.

I think my last post said how I was going to lean into the grief and attempt to process the traumatic things that happened this time last year.  Well, to be candid, doing that seemed to open pandora's box.  Pair that with a gradual but very bad reaction to a new medication that nearly made me loose my mind, it goes without saying that it's been rough lately.  Very rough.

I am trying to navigate what I am calling a 'breakdown'.  A loss of control over my emotions and my mind really.  Ultimately, I held it together pretty good for pretty long, but all along I knew that this was going to happen, I just didn't know when or what it would look like.

Add my cat going missing and starting the process of getting Aria tested for Lynch Syndrome and Brandon's Birthday (tomorrow) and his upcoming Angelversary - I feel like I am at my limit.  Things got kinda scary and Brandon's family swooped in to help with Aria.

I got away for a long weekend last week without Aria and came back in a better state of mind then I left in.  Instead of feeling crazy everyday, it's on and off - so that is an improvement.

I know I'll get through this, and I know it's something I have to go through.  It just sucks and I wish I knew when the "end date" was.  But I also know better.  There is no end to grief, we just learn how to incorporate it into our lives.  We don't graduate from this.  But it will get lighter.

So, I write this to ask for these prayers:
-Aria to test NEGATIVE for Lynch Syndrome (cancer causing genetic mutation Brandon had)
-Clarity of mind and wisdom for me
-Peace beyond understanding for us all as we face these difficult days ahead

Thank you <3

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Domino of Disaster Day

Today is the 1 year mark of the first “domino of disaster” being tipped. The date July 14th will always stick with me. That inevitable day that loomed ahead of us as we tried to enjoy every second of our short time as a new family of three.

However the days between the PET scan results on June 27th, the birth of Aria on July 2nd and the start of treatment on July 14th hardly allowed us that opportunity.

Once we got that dreaded call it was almost like Brandon stopped being able to fight the symptoms anymore, knowing it wasn't just a thyroid problem or a reaction to the Avastin preventative treatments. It was cancer. It was back. And in reality I lost him to it in the beginning of July.

Sadly we never had 1 normal night as a new family. Even before the chemo started Brandon was battling severe nausea, fatigue and pain and was mostly bedridden and unable to be the father and husband he so longed to be.

On July 9th we had our newborn photos taken and until he had to be in them he was in bed.

Days later I remember bathing Aria in the living room so that he could take part in it while resting on the sofa.

I spend a lot of time wondering what any random day would have been like for us had this not happened. I get mad because most of the time I can't actually imagine it. I have nothing to base it off of. I feel cheated and like something has been stolen from me. I let myself cry, pout, throw a pity party or punch a pillow. I sit in it for a moment. Marinate in the misery.

Often it's for just a minute or two, or an evening here or there. And every now and then I let it swallow me for an entire day.

But then, once I have felt that pain God reminds me that nothing will be lost in Heaven. I don't know how, but I believe with everything in me that He will redeem what death has stolen. A husband. A father. A complete family. That is the hope I hold on to. That alone is what gets me through each day and blankets me with peace beyond understanding.

As these trigger dates over the next 3 months approach I feel ready to take the next step and reflect back on the traumatic details as part of my healing process. I am rereading my updates day by day, and taking myself back to where I was a year ago.  (7/14/14 Update)

Though I have accepted what happened, and I have accepted my new reality, I have not yet processed how it all happened, and I think it is time that I do so.

I feel I need to unpack the painful memories I have compartmentalized so that I can come to terms with them. In the beginning those images were all I could think of. I pushed them away desperately wanting to remember anything else. But I couldn't.

Gradually I became able to remember Brandon prior to the summer from hell. But in a very strange way. Most of the time it feels like facts that I have memorized rather then memories of a life I lived. They feel foreign. I assume this is a very normal grief experience. A healthy way my brain is coping, by allowing me the memories, but minimizing the emotional association to them for now.

I do believe my brain will restore the memories to a more complete form when it is ready, but that day is not today - and that is ok. My brain knows what it needs to do to survive this and raise a toddler on my own, and I just have to wait it out and go along for the ride.

Thank you for supporting, encouraging and coming alongside me on this ride.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Trigger Dates...ready, set, go...

I have this urge to sit down and write, and I don't know what it is that is needing to come out.  Maybe it's the fact that starting today, the next 3 months are full of trigger dates.

Dates that stick in your mind and make you sit in thoughts and memories, both good and bad.

I feel I've turned a corner in my grief lately.  I've begun to figure out how to cope with this, not just survive it.  Writing about it seems to help for some reason.  And not just journaling, but sharing it publicly.

Journaling seems to have it's own specific purpose.  A place for me to release all the awful, scary, weird and confusing thoughts that swirl in my mind endlessly until released.  The things you dare not say out loud for some reason, however they still need to be processed and let go.

Then there is this.  I don't know why I feel the need to write here, but what I share feels spirit guided.  It's what God is putting on my heart to put into words and put out there for more then just myself to read.

I may have more posts as in these upcoming months as well.  In this new stage of grief I'm feeling the need to face these trigger dates head on and truly process them.  I even downloaded the Timehop app which shows you pictures and postings from your social media sites and phone from this day in years passed.  Until now I have hated seeing people's Timehop photos show up on my newsfeed.  I wished I could find it interesting to know, but it only made my reality hurt deeper.  But now, I think I'm ready to face the hurt that brings healing, so I will lean into it, not away from it.

One year ago on this day we found out the cancer returned by the results of Brandon's emergency PET scan.  I was in the last week of my pregnancy.  Fear consumed us.

I close my eyes and get visual flashes of parts of that day.  They are utterly hard to think about.  The feelings of that day come alive again.  My heart starts beating fast, anxiety rises, dreams start breaking and tears flow.

Four years ago on this day we awaited the results of Brandon's treatment completion PET scan.  I close my eyes and am now transported back to our apartment, and I feel the anticipation in waiting, and the hope for healing, and the fear of the unknown.  I took a moment to re-read my CaringBridge Update (<--click to read) from that day, and feel partly like I'm reading someone else's words, and partly like I just wrote them.  It's all very conflicting.

But what I have found to be very true is the common saying that "The only way to do it, is go through it."  Not around it, and not avoiding it.  And I feel ready to continue through the darkness of this grief.  "They" say there is light on the other side.  God says He can redeem anything, and I believe Him.  So I will try to walk by faith.  Steps that have never mislead me before.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

First Father's Day

This past Sunday was Father's Day.  The first one.

The "firsts" of everything come with anxiety and uncertainty.  For me this one also came with purpose.  And my purpose was not simply to "survive" it, but to be intentional about it.  This was the first time I felt able to put some thought into one of these days.

In the weeks prior I spent some time in thought about what Aria and I could do, starting this year, to honor and remember her daddy.  I thought of what I would have done for Brandon's first Father's Day, and how could that translate in some ways?

I probably would have made him sleep in and brought him breakfast in bed.  We would have had a lazy morning then the three of us would have gone to the driving range together so daddy could hit a bucket of balls.  In a couple of years we all would have had our own bucket to hit, with daddy critiquing our swings and giving us tips.  He probably would have only hit a few balls himself, taking more joy in watching and helping his girls.  We would then have a picnic lunch at a park and probably spent the rest of the evening with family for dinner.

But that's not our reality. And tears fell freely imagining what could have been.

Instead, I got to sleep in til 9 am (thank you Aria!)  We had a lazy morning together, and during her morning nap I sat outside and painted 2 bird houses.

Brandon loved birds and would feed them with numerous feeders around the yard.  He even had a heated bird bath for the winter so they could drink easily.  He saw it a challenge to identify all the birds that came and find the particular kind of feed they preferred.  So every year on Father's Day Aria and I will paint birdhouses and hang them in the back yard.  Then, someday when she moves out she can take all of her painted birdhouses to her home to bring a little bit of daddy with her.

My thumbprint heart birdhouse and Aria's hand smudge birdhouse.
After she woke from her nap we went and got one of daddy's favorite foods, a double bacon breakfast burrito, and headed up to Mount Lindo to have a picnic lunch together.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the low 90's.  Even at almost 8,000 feet elevation it was hot, so I shaded us with an umbrella and we hung out there for an hour and a half.

Sharing Daddy's favorite burrito.

Just hanging out.

I was hoping to take a walk on the paths of Fox Hollow Golf Course with Aria, however she wasn't really up for it by the time we left the cemetery, but maybe next year.  So we headed home and played together.

All in all, it was.  It's hard to say it was "nice".  I mean, it was purposeful and meaningful.  But it was missing something.  It always will.  And that sucks.  There is no getting around it.

But I leave my hope in God.  And I know that no matter what pain and loss we feel here, nothing will be lost in Heaven.  Somehow, beyond my understanding, Brandon is not loosing his opportunity to be a father to Aria.  And I will do everything possible for Aria to feel like she knows her daddy.

Not long ago, a friend of mine gave me a priceless gift.  She has walked very closely with me through this experience and our friendship has blossomed in the past year since she moved back to Colorado.  Due to frequent moves in the past few years she never got to know Brandon personally.  However, she encouraged me with some beautiful insight that I have held close to my heart.  She told me that if I talk about Brandon to Aria in any way like I talk about him to her, Aria will undoubtedly know exactly who her daddy was.  From his silly nuances and annoying habits to his wise council and unwavering love.  She will know him.  All of him that I can give to her.

And I am grateful for that.  I already talk constantly about him with her.

I joke; "Daddy would have told me to stop trying to pick the booger out of your nose and just leave you alone!"

I inform; "Daddy probably wouldn't like me allowing you to do that."

I say tearfully and longingly; "Daddy would have loved to see you do that, sweet girl."

It's important to me that all her associations with daddy are not sad.  That's not how he would want his baby girl to know him.  Linked with loss and pain.  No.  He was full of life, love and laughter.  The loss is ours, not his.  But someday, that loss will be no more.  And that's what I live for.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Making Lupus Look Good

May is Lupus awareness month, and it's been on my heart to share just a little bit about it.  When people find out I have this chronic illness I usually get 1 of 2 responses.

One:  "What is Lupus?  I think my friend's, cousin's, neighbor has that..."

Well, in short Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder.  This means my body creates antibodies that can not tell the difference between foreign invaders (like a virus) and healthy tissues, so my body attacks itself.  These attacks are called "flares", which can last for days, weeks, months or years.  A flare can be set off by stress, illness, over exerting yourself or seemingly by nothing at all.

Everyone's flares are different.  Mine typically involve extreme fatigue, joint pain, headaches, nausea, night sweats, fevers, and a grab-bag of other random crappy feelings.

The disease can range from mild to severe, and can be fatal.  There is no cure, but there are many treatments, and the disease can go into remission.  For me, I am on daily low dose steroids and an immunosuppressant, along with a handful of other medications and supplements.  When I flare I typically do a "burst and taper" of steroids over a 3-4 week period of time which shocks my immune system back to reset.

Typical Pain Chart

Even in my best days following a "reset" I deal with daily chronic pain, on a scale of about a 3-4.  On these days I still wake too early, wanting just to sleep, but my hips and back are in too much pain to continue laying down.  I need to get up, move out the morning stiffness and eat so I can take all my pills.  It takes about 4 hours after that until I feel human, but even then I have to be constantly aware of how much I do, or I will pay for it for days to come by what I call mini-flares, where I have to rest (ha!) to avoid another steroid treatment.  This daily balancing act is beautifully described in The Spoon Theory. (<--click for more information)

For those whose disease has progressed and is moderate-to-severe, their lives may involve dialysis, chemotherapy, kidney failure, long term hospital stays and worse.  I am grateful that for now mine is in the mild-to-moderate category and hopefully never progresses.

The second most common response is:  "Well, you don't look sick..." or "You look like you're feeling better..."

Well, thank God I don't look as bad as I feel!  I use a lot of "spoons" to ensure that, because if I dressed the way I felt, I couldn't go out in public most days.  Lupus is an invisible illness.

Believe it or not, the above pictures were taken on the same day.  On the left, a pain level of about 8, and on the right about 5.  Pills, heating pads and rest paved the way to putting a smile on my face and real clothes on my body despite how I felt.

I often "don't look sick" because it makes me feel worse emotionally to look how I feel.  Depression is very common with autoimmune disorders because of the emotional toll it takes to endure so much constant physical pain and life limitations.  However, I have often been tempted to just look how I feel so my disease doesn't seem so invisible. 

That day, my friends saw the Christina on the right, and probably had no clue my pain was at a 5, and had been an 8 earlier.  That every step I took out the door I could feel pain in my back, hips and knees, and that it hurt to grasp the steering wheel, and despite it being warm outside, I drove with the heated seat on like a mobile heating pad and the air conditioning on to counteract it.  That I wanted so badly to wear cute sandals, but that I have to choose my shoes based on where I am on that pain chart.  

My Shoe-to-Pain Chart

Anyhow, you get the point...

I don't make my pain known most of the time.  I'd rather that be my burden to carry, otherwise it would lead to:

"Why didn't you tell me you felt so awful?  We could have done something else! I feel terrible!"

Ha!  If I put a voice to my chronic pain, I would be a chronic pain in your @$$.  

But bless your heart, my selfless friend.  I appreciate your flexibility and concern more then you will ever know.  However, I am learning my limits.  I am starting to admit when I can not do something, or need to cut something short, or even need to cancel.  But I am a fighter and I am determined to not let Lupus take everything from me.  I will gladly push it to my tolerance limit (and often a bit further) in order to spend quality time with those I love, and pay for it later...alone.

I did not write this for pity or attention, I wrote this to attempt to put a voice to and bring awareness to something invisible that many, many people suffer from.  Chronic illness, invisible illness, autoimmune disorders, etcetera.  I personally don't have a hard time expressing the depths of something I struggle with, but so many do - and maybe this can be a little voice for their pain too?  

Ultimately, I trust that though I suffer with this, that God will use it.  Many others in their suffering have ministered to me, giving me encouragement, advise and hope, and I pray that God will someday do that through me as well.

1 Cor 1:4 , [Praise be to God] "who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My Village

They say "It takes a village", and I have the best village around. Seriously. A few weeks back one of my friends told me she wanted to organize a group of people to come and help me out with some housework, and I gladly accepted. All I had to do was be there and tell them what to do. 
Clockwise from top left:  Katie & Elena tilling soil.  Anna-Lisa and pregnant Sheena working in the side yard.  Mandy feeding Aria, Katie & Whitney w/ Giovanni & Ryker in the background.  Mandy working on the umbrella base.  David & Ben working on the baby swing and Robb in the shadows with the bird feeders.

They showed up with food, drinks, work gloves, cleaning supplies, a couple babies and servants hearts at 7:30 this Saturday morning.

God blessed us with beautiful weather and my "somebody-else's-honey do list" got done! Mowing, weeding, fertilizing, bagging wet leaves, tilling, moving rocks, hanging a baby swing, setting up the umbrella and a few other yard tasks were all done in 3 hours. Aria was loved on and kept busy with the other kiddos while I pretty much bossed everyone around. (Hehe).

Not only did so many of my chores get done, but I also got to catch up with some of my dear friends that time has not allowed me to see enough.
Later Aria and I gave the swing a try and she is one happy baby! We played in the grass and I didn't have to keep her from trying to eat the field of dandelions.

To add to all the outdoor help, when I was away earlier this month I came home to find that my amazing neighbor, who has been tenderly taking care of my yard (and snow removal) for the past 7 months, had replaced my very broken fence gate. I still have to chat with him for more details on how he graciously took care of this for me.    

I truly could not do this without the amazing people God has placed in my life. 

Brandon asked only 2 things when he knew he was going Home. One - for us not to be mad at God, and two - to take care of his girls. And on days like today I like to think that he is in Heaven, joined by the loved ones of my "villagers" watching God's Kingdom at work here on earth, taking care of his girls.  And they are overjoyed for us all.  I could not be more thankful.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Miracle Moments

It's been a while.  Time has been hard to come by, as have words to describe this part of life.  I've tried to get just a quick update out with some pictures numerous times, but I've found nothing to say.

Where am I in this season?  I don't know.  Some days I don't cry, but those days are usually very long and exhausting days.  Other days I long for the time when Aria goes to bed so I can sit in my misery a little bit, if I even have the energy to do so.

I've been attending a Widow/Widower group at a non-profit grief support center.  I was initially discouraged by the fact that it's clear across Denver, about a half hour drive away.  I questioned God, "Why don't you ever bless me with proximity?!"  But I found after just one meeting that it was worth every minute and every mile.  My friend encouraged me to use that drive time intentionally.  I have some quiet time to myself, so why don't I make phone dates for that time? (Don't worry - I chat hands free.)  Another idea she had was to listen to audio books or sermons on the drive.  Now, I actually look forward to my drives across town.  I've drawn strength from various sermons, gained a better understanding of Grace and Heaven from numerous books, and have whined, cried, yelled and laughed in rare uninterrupted adult conversation on these weekly evening drives.  I never would have anticipated how God would use that time to minister to my heart so much.  A blessing in disguise.  

Then I arrive to a room full of others who are the remaining half of a whole.  Some as recent as just a month before - sitting there disoriented and shocked that they are indeed at a Widow(er)'s group.  Others 5-10 years out, now giving back to the place that held them up in their devastating loss.

Every time I pull up to the HeartLight Center I am still in disbelief that this place I feel so at home at is part of a Funeral Home.  I shake my head and repeat for probably the 20th time that day, "How did this happen?  How did this actually happen?"

But once inside I'm greeted by those who know the pain and loneliness I'm feeling.  There is something amazing that happens when a room of 25 people can share the raw unedited emotions of bereavement, the thoughts that seem truly crazy and the ridiculous things we find ourselves now doing, and almost every head in the circle is nods in agreement.  Though it feels like it, we are not alone, and I am so thankful for that.

I've also been attending GriefShare, a 13 week program hosted all over the nation.  This week part of the topic was on "Miracle Moments". "A miracle moment is when God's presence suddenly appears and is so profound that it changes your perspective. - Zig Ziglar"

I feel I have been blessed to have had many of these throughout this journey.  Truly it is what has been getting me through.  Since Tuesday's meeting I have been asking God to give me a Miracle Moment.  I have kept my mind open, but I wasn't finding anything.  I was frustrated and just feeling deflated and so far from Brandon.

Then after Aria went to bed I was drawn to my office where I felt ready to listen to a CD I found while organizing my office earlier this week.  A CD of songs Brandon had made for me when we were dating.  

How the heck this turned up is honestly beyond me.  It moved with us from Pennsylvania to Texas and then relocated 4 times within Colorado, and yet it was in a box in my office closet.  Not in the crawl space with all that useless crap that has remained unopened since it was sealed and loaded in a Uhaul 10 years ago, but in the only box in the closet.  And I have no recollection of seeing this CD since Brandon gave it to me in college.  But there it was.

I listened to the songs lightly as I looked back on pictures of us, leaning into my grief.  But suddenly I was attune to just a couple lyrics:

'I'm gonna be here for you from now on,
This you know somehow.
You've been stretched to the limits but it's alright now.
And I'm gonna make you a promise
If there's life after this,
I'm gonna be there to meet you with a warm, wet kiss.'

(Keith Urban - Making Memories of Us)

The tears flowed freely.  Sadness.  Heartache.  Disbelief.  Anger.  Resolution.  Hope.  Gratefulness.

I got my Miracle Moment.  God reminded me that our love and our lives are eternal, and Brandon is eagerly awaiting that moment, just as I am.  I needed that, and it felt almost as if Brandon had said it directly to me.  I believe God knew when Brandon made that CD for me 10 years ago that I would need to hear exactly that tonight.  And somehow that CD found it's way into my hands just when I needed it.  And tonight I will be grateful for that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

6 Months later...

6 months....

Only 6 months, yet already 6 months.  I keep telling myself that with each day passed I'm not one day further from Brandon, but one day closer to him.  Some days that is comforting and some days it isn't.

Why is 6 months so much more "significant" then 5 months or 7 months?  Because it's an easier way for our brain to categorize a length of time?  Half a year?

I have found that, especially being Type-A, I want to figure out my grief.  I want to check the boxes.  Denial - check!  Anger - not checked?  Bargaining - check! Depression - double check! Acceptance - check.  Ok - so, let's work on anger... I have some plans to go Gallagher on some watermelons soon. (For you youngins' click here to understand.)

But these are just 'normal' stages in grief.  They are far from the only stages, and just because we can check the box next to it doesn't mean we have completed that step once and for all.  Hardly.  I feel like I have to accept this loss all over every day, often in different ways.

At my GriefShare group this week I stared at the carpet and for the first time it actually sank in that I have to raise a child on my own.  ON MY OWN.  That is a huge undertaking!  And I am not prepared, at all.  I have no experience with kids.  I was counting on having the help of my husband.  But I don't.  It's just me raising Aria.  Alone.

6 whole months, and I still woke up disoriented the other day.  "Uhhh, why do I always have to get up to get the baby?"  Oh, right - because I'm the only parent.  This nightmare is still real...

So halfway through the first year, what should I expect in my grief?  How can I categorize where I am?  Well, for some the fog is just starting to lift and the pain is setting in.  For others, the demands of responsibilities or dependents allow that fog to hang around longer.  And yet many involved with "expectant death" or "terminal illness" started grieving long ago, and it may be 6 months - but it's also much longer then 6 months.  "Everyone grieves differently."  Gosh, if I have to hear that again my brain may explode.

But it's true.  That's why it is repeated so often.

So I have no "how to" to reference.  And I want one.  I feel so numb.  I robotically go about my days.  I feel guilty that I am not crying over every "trigger".  Shouldn't I?!?  This bag of skittles should have leveled me.  Why can't I cry about it?  Ok, let's sit in the moment and journal about it.  "They" say to lean into your grief.  Don't run from it.  Feeling it brings healing.  But, don't chase after it either, because it will find you when the time is right.  So what the hell do I do?  Journaling brought me nothing.  Am I still in shock?  Is this acceptance?  Am I avoiding the pain? Where do I go from here?

When we are somewhere we don't want to be, what do we do?  Look for a way out.  But the problem is, there isn't really a way "out" of this.  You have to go through it.  And you don't know how to do it other then trial and error.

In reflecting on all of this the other day I feel like God gave me a little gift of a memory from those horrific three months.  Right now my brain has sort of blocked out that time unless I intentionally go digging through it.  But I got flashes of the numerous times Brandon made a point to say, "I'm so proud of how you are handling this, hunnie.  You are an amazing and strong woman."

During that time I was just trying to be his strength.  Trying to handle myself with dignity.  Find the joy among the pain.  Cling to God, not run from Him in anger.  I just wasn't going to let reality take me down and keep me from being the wife I needed to be.

And that's what I seem to be doing now, except substitute "wife" with "mother".  I think this is exactly how Brandon would want me to be grieving.  Seeking support, going about my days and bringing Aria joy and laughter.  I think he would be proud of me.  I don't need to be doing these things I think I "should" be doing to grieve.

Maybe that day will come where I am overcome with pain to the point of delirium.  But maybe it won't.  Or maybe it will just look different for me.

I'm working on finding peace in the way I'm grieving.  Give myself the grace to just go where it takes me.  Good days and bad days.  Numbness or not.  If I feel I am robotically getting through, maybe that's exactly what I need to do to survive as a single mother right now.  Maybe that is simply the grace of God in my life?  Maybe I am incredibly blessed that God is truly carrying the weight of this for me right now?

So where am I in my grief 6 months later?  I guess just where I need to be....

*Note: As I quickly edit what I wrote late last night I am finding peace and truth in it.  Today is our 9 year wedding anniversary - and by the grace of God I am getting through so far...

Monday, March 9, 2015

March Update

My little nugget is crawling!  Somewhere between 7 and 8 months, she has become super mobile.  It started with an army crawl, then quickly progressed to a wobbly crawl and now is full speed ahead where ever her little heart desires to go.  She giggles at her new found freedom, alerting me that she's on the move.

This age is so fun.  Interaction is more intentional and she is finding her voice and stating her opinions (uh-oh!).  She is expressive like me and content like Brandon.

Nothing melts my heart like when she lays her head in my lap and smiles up at me.

As for me, things have improved a little since my last post about the messy truth.  

God put it on my mom's heart to pay me a visit for a long weekend, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect.  She helped me get my head above the water.  We took care of my taxes (ouch!), looked at the big picture of my budget and played out numerous hypothetical scenarios for the short term future so I know better where I stand.  Finally having a clearer picture of my financial situation has relieved a tremendous amount of weight from my shoulders.  

Without sharing too much, but also acknowledging that my survival right now has been contingent on other's generosity, I would like to share a few details of how the gifts we have been given have blessed me.

Brandon and I always had to give with our time because we could not give above and beyond with our wallet.  I know how valuable time is.  Now more then ever.  Many have given to us this way in taking care of yard work, snow removal, child care, counseling, praying, cooking, corresponding and such, all making a huge impact on my grief and day to day life.

We have also received many donations of baby gear, which has been an amazing financial relief. I just love when I see a last name written on the tag of a bib or jacket, reminding me of the kind families who have given so much.  

Then there has been the monetary help.  I shake my head and sigh, because there is no way to put into words how grateful I am for the tremendous generosity of friends, family and complete strangers.  

Since so many gave in this way, it has allowed me many things in this time.  I can keep our house with all our memories.  I am not forced into having to make decisions regarding Brandon's things.  I can leave them right where he left them until I am ready to do otherwise.  This is an absolutely priceless gift.

I have cut nearly everywhere I can, but for now can still have some luxuries like cable for distraction and a semi regular hair appointment.  I have even been able to treat myself from time to time with dinner to-go, a massage, a manicure or a little retail therapy from one of the many gift cards I received. 

In the beginning of the year I was contacted by a bunch of the guys that Brandon had walked through the past 5+ years with, many of them the husbands to my close girl friends.  They wanted to come by and give me a gift.   A pledge and financial sacrifice from 12 guys (and their families) to help me with the cost of childcare for the entire year!

I think back to the things Brandon repeated the most in that last month. "Thank you so much for taking such good care of me" to all of his caretakers, and "Take care of my girls, please just take care of my girls."  I think he is rejoicing in Heaven watching how God has used so many people to grant that request.

After stepping back looking at my budget I can see how God works in such incredible ways.  With more then half our household income gone, minimal social security benefits and the added expense of a child and child care, guess what?  I have exactly what I need to get by.  No more, no less.  That's how God works.

My mom getting taken
advantage of by baby and cat
He gives us what we need.  And before this "accounting miracle", I had sadly accepted the idea that I may have no choice but sell the house.  Maybe God was going to take me somewhere else?  Or I may have to get rid of cable and internet.  Maybe I need to be less concerned with the worldly?  Or I may have to use all of the donated money in the next few years to stay afloat and not be able to save any of it. Maybe God is asking to be my only safety net?

No, none of that is what I would want, but it may be what I need for what ever reason I may never understand.

But for now, I am grateful that I get to stay, I get to watch Master Chef, and I get to have a little security for the unknown ahead.  Any day they too can be gone.  I've learned there is a lot that I thought I needed that has since been lost to me, but I've found the only thing I really need is my faith in God.

Thank you for continuing to walk this with me.  Please pray as the upcoming weeks are going to be some of the most difficult to date, with the 6 month Angelversary and our 9 year Anniversary just days apart (March 23rd & 25th).  Turns out my Widow & Widowers group is the evening of our Anniversary, and it may be exactly where I need to be that night...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Messy Truth

This is the messy truth. This post will be unedited. I won't save it, pray over it and reread it 50 times before posting. I'm not going to try to find the optimistic view or white knuckle the thread of hope I have been clinging to. The only thing I'm going to do, is what God has put on my heart to do today, and that is to be transparent.

I'm actually following suit after reading a similar, what's the word....confession... from someone who has found herself at the end of herself, trying to remain who she was in circumstances out of her control.  

Those close to me have seen some of this mess, but even that is usually sandwiched between the 'coping by distraction' me and the 'pick yourself up by the bootstraps' me.  These alter egos are real and authentic. They have been the only way I've made it this far. But as I'm finding, they only go so far because grief is constantly evolving. 

I felt God tell me that I have to let myself accept the other me. The 'falling apart and it's ok' me. And that I may need to expose it.

I have been clinging to something that God put in my heart a few months ago.  That He made me for this. This. Young, grieving, single mother, widowhood with chronic illness. And not only did He make me to survive this, but to thrive in it.

My independent, go-getter, problem solving, systematic, community seeking, love of leadership and authentic nature all will be used for God's glory through this tribulation. But really, how well can it be used if I don't also share the depth of the darkness and the extent of the mess I sit in?

Want to see?

This is my life. A complete and utter mess.  Half the bed piled with clothes, Christmas ornaments, a fan and God knows what else. My luggage from Christmas hasn't moved since I finally unpacked two weeks ago. Yup - took me until the beginning of February to unpack.  Part of my closet collapsed a couple months ago.  Oh well. I am living like a bachelor pulling wrinkled but clean clothes out of the laundry basket on the floor.  My attempt to set up my work at home office has hit a standstill and I tiptoe around the organized chaos of piles to file, to shred, to recycle, to put away, etc. then close the door on it. Those who know me know that my environment drastically effects my well being, and I have never in the last 9 years lived like this.  (Don't worry, the baby and the spaces she inhabits are safe. She is my priority.)

My body is falling apart. Constant headaches, lupus flare, a month long steroid treatment, nightmares, night sweats, painful bruises all over, nausea. The recent stress has drastically effected my milk supply and I think I'm coming to the end of my abilities to nurse.

I'm at the far extents of survival mode. If something is not bringing 100% positivity to my life, it's out for now because I can not carry one more ounce on my shoulders. I haven't watched the news in over 6 months, it's just too negative. In the rare times I can watch a little TV, it's either Ugly Betty or cooking shows, because even HGTV brings too much stress with couples buying their first home, or renovating before the new baby arrives.

These are the parts of my life I have been keeping the doors closed on when people are around. 

When you look at what I will allow you to see it looks how I so desperately want it to look like myself. A bit disorganized and not like it used to be, but overall ok-ish:

But I'm not ok. I can't keep my head above the water lately. Wave after wave of crap keeps hitting me. The life I had is completely gone. Gone. Everything in my world is different. Everything in my day to day life is different. I had no choice in any of this. I feel like I'm navigating this alone because there is no one who can take the place of your soul mate. 

I just want a break. I wish I could just get away from it all. A chance to collect myself and regain strength. Just press pause. Better yet, how about fast forward? To the other side of this

I have so many people who want to help. New friends and old. But I don't even know what to ask for at this point. It doesn't feel like anything can help this. 

Who can help me coparent? Who can grab the baby in the middle of the night to give me a break? Who can 'keep an eye on her' while I wait for the headache to go away, or grab me some ibuprophen when I can barely move in the morning? Who can take away this feeling like half of me is gone? 

I have found tangible ways to receive help, and seriously I have the best community of people who have gone above and beyond. Meals, cleaning, companionship, last minute child care, funding for child care, cards, care packages, messages, anticipating difficult days...I seriously could go on and on. Without you all, I really can not even imagine how utterly disastrous my life would be right now. And as you read this you probably feel helpless. You are doing everything you can, but there really is nothing anyone can do to mend a broken heart. That's God's job. 

I am going to therapy and multiple grief groups weekly. I am praying and seeking God's word. I beg for His peace that surpasses understanding that has gotten me through the past 7 months. And at times I feel it.  But not today. Not for the past couple of weeks.  But still, I trust that God is allowing this. There is something I need to see or experience or learn or grow from through this part. It all has passed through His all knowing and loving hands.  But it doesn't mean I have to like it.  

I know I'll get through this. I don't give up. I want to, that's for sure. But I can't. I have a beautiful daughter that needs me. Most days she is the only thing that makes me plow forward. That she needs me to put my big girl pants on, buck up and be strong for her.  So I do the best I can...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The light in the darkness

Well, I have my first reason to like winter finally.  Ok, I lie - I love wearing boots (NOT snow boots), so that has been the only benefit I have found in it.  Until now.

Now, in the winter, while the leaves are absent from the trees, I can see the cross at Mount Lindo from my dining room window.  The cross that Brandon and I loved being able to see from our neighborhood.  The cross, which signifies the death of Jesus and the forgiveness of my sin.  And this particular cross, that my husband is buried next to.  It's bright light shines through the darkness, and into our home.  Just past the neighbor's satellite dish...

We had lived here since 2011, and never once did we notice that we could see it through the window.  But I noticed today.

It warms my heart indescribably to have discovered this.  It's as if Brandon is looking in on us.  I have taken such comfort in the cross shining over our neighborhood, but into our home in the grey of winter is even better.

I have already thought of asking the neighbors if I can cut down their trees so that I can see it in the summer, but quickly let go of that ridiculous idea.

Today I had the chance to pull into the park behind our house at dusk, as Aria was sleeping in her carseat and I did not want to wake her.  I have been wanting to try to catch the cross lighting up and took this as an opportunity to give it a try.

I sat there for about 5 minutes, just thinking and praying before I squinted trying to see if they indeed did just turn on.  The sky was still light, making it hard to see.  But as it gradually grew darker it became easier to confirm because the darkness illuminated the light.

Cross difficult to see in the light
I took a few pictures, but photos rarely do landscapes justice.  Seeing it first hand is the only way to truly experience it.

Today was also the Angelversary of a beautiful woman Brandon and I had the privilege to know, who one year ago, won her battle with cancer.  I remember we followed her and her family's journey through cancer and hospice in awe.  Their faith carried them through, praising God and trusting in His plan even in the darkest of days.  With children, the youngest a preschool aged daughter, I wondered how they could bare to find any peace in this terrible situation. I thought to myself that I could never have that kind of faith.  To continue to believe when everything is falling apart and life just isn't fair.

But like the cross lit in the daylight, sometimes our faith is also found in the darkness.

I'll be honest and say that prior to the recurrence of cancer, I was the farthest I had been from God since being saved almost 10 years ago.  I was allowing myself to be distracted with preparing for the baby, preparing for our dreams to come true.  I had mentioned this to a few friends, who lovingly reassured me that of course I was distracted, there was so much to do to get ready, it was totally normal.  I countered back a couple times with, "Yes, but what is more important then preparing my heart and my walk with God for a child?"  Yet, I did nothing but busy myself with painting, cleaning and nesting.  Our dreams were coming true...it was light out.

But like the cross on the hill, the love of God was easier to find in the darkness then any daylight of my life before.  I now could understand how that precious family clung to their faith and God's promises to them to get through.  For me there was no other way to find my way through the dark, but to seek the light.
Beautiful view of the cross at sunset 

Many people have told me that I have been an inspiration to them for the way I have walked through this with such grace and continue to trust God and love God in the valley of the shadow of death.  I don't know how to respond to this.  It is not my strength that has gotten me through, it is the strength of God.  All I can claim is allowing the Spirit of God to work in me.  That is it.

But until we experience suffering like this first hand, we often doubt the strength of our own faith.  I surely did.  And now, others are telling me that I have impacted them the same as that family impacted me.  It's quite a surreal experience.

I guess it's like being able to see the cross lit myself, yet a photo does not allow others to see that gentle illumination.   It takes our own eyes to see the strength of our own faith when tested in our own ultimate darkness.

Aria & I at the park
earlier in the day
But I found that in that darkness, God's light is easiest to see.

Right now, my faith is stronger then it has ever been before.  Maybe because I am in the greatest trial I have ever experienced before?  Like the saying, "Sometimes God lets you hit rock bottom, so you can discover that He is the rock at the bottom."

But I also know that I am human.  Just as the Jews doubted after Jesus parted the sea before their eyes, I know the strength of my faith will also ebb and flow.  But God knows that.  And I am forever thankful for His amazing grace, and always being that light in the darkness.