Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gift of Friendship

I first met Lisa in a theatre class. We were two of the mature students (over 20). We sat up front so that we could hear and see better. The class was actually held in the theatre so while the acoustics were great for a play, they were not so great for class. And our professor was soft spoken and nerds that we were, we wrote down almost every word he said during his lecture.

I had missed a couple of weeks because of my husband's illness and Lisa had graciously make copies of her notes for me. When I came back to class, she told me she had been praying for us. Then we got to talking about our churches. It only took a few minutes to realize that we were talking about the same church. How wonderful.

As part of the class, we had to attend a play. I was not really looking forward to seeing The Mikado, but it was part of our assignment. We met at the play and we were both equally surprised to find out how much we enjoyed it.

Sometimes Sunday mornings are tough. Mike and I always went to church together and then we would have lunch sometimes with family, sometimes with friends, but often with just each other. I miss Mike all the time, but Sundays were always special for us.

Since Mike passed, sometimes Lisa and I will have lunch together after church. Today was one of those days. As I was sitting across from her, I realized how wonderful it was for God to put such a special woman in my life. She in always quick to hug and offer encouragement. I'm so thankful that she is here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Pleasure Was Mine

The Pleasure Was Mine by Tommy Hays is one of my favorite books. The main character, Prate Marshall is losing his beloved wife. She has Alzheimer's. He has had to place her in an assisted living home. As his wife Irene's memory fades, Prate is confronted with the past, present, and future all at once. And if Prate's life isn't already complicated, he has his nine year old grandson to look after for the summer. The boy's father is recently widowed. Irene was the doting grandma while Prate had been the grouchy old grandpa. Over the summer, the Marshall men struggle to come to terms with a life without the women who loved them.

Although the subject matter is dramatic, there are plenty of humorous moments within the story. If you are looking for a good book, one that will make you laugh and make you cry, then I highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What is in the name?

The Kindred Spirit mailbox is located on Bird Island, which is at Sunset Beach in North Carolina. My family and I first went to Sunset Beach back in July of 2006. It was the mailbox that attracted me to this vacation zone. I read about it in an email from Proverbs 31. I thought how cool to have a mailbox back in the dunes. The mailbox is full of pens and journals. People come to write to the Kindred Spirit each year. To me it feels like sending a message to God. I feel his presence and strength so profoundly when I look out at the ocean in all its splendor.

We have been vacationing there ever since. This past year was our fourth year there. Last year my son got engaged at the beach. His future wife could not wait to go to the mailbox to leave all the details there in the journals.

Sunset Beach is a special place for our family. It is a place to rest and to reconnect with one another. I am looking forward to next year already.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hot Dog

I went through a grief support group study a while back. Most of us had lost our spouses due to illness. I was thinking the other day about how Mike's illness was really an opportunity for us. We got to say and do things that were important to us.

We found out that Mike had cancer in March of 2008. At that time we were dating. I thought one day that we would get married, but I didn't know when and I really wasn't rushing things, which if you know me is a miracle. I am not patient and I am constantly trying to push things along in my own timing. 

A terminal illness gives you a new perspective on life. Mike was a careful planner. He would contemplate and go through every scenario before making a decision. Sometimes it was exhausting just waiting on him to make a decision about the simplest of things, let alone the really serious things. But with his illness, he suddenly realized that he didn't have all the time in the world. He could not wait for the perfect moment because if he did - the life he had left would pass him by.

We got married in between chemo sessions. I was worried the night before the wedding. He had not been eating or feeling well. He had not bounced back after this last session as he had the one before. Was I making the right decision? Did he need more time? Was I being selfish? I talked to God quite a bit each day as I would leave work and head for home. Please God just give me a sign. When I got home, Mike was actually hungry. He surprised us because he wanted a hot dog. I figured after a week of the mildest of foods, if he could eat a hot dog, then we could get married.

We had the wedding in front of the fireplace at our house. There was a stool for Mike to sit on if he needed it during the ceremony. His chair was also nearby. I looked into his eyes and we each repeated our vows ... in sickness and in health... til death do us part. 

And that is the thing, although death has parted us, I still love him. I carry him in my heart and in my memories. A well meaning person once told me, you weren't married that long - you'll get over it. Death is not something you get over. You accept it. And of course as a Christian, I know this is not it. There is so much more to come. And it is more wonderful than our earthly selves can even imagine. But for now I miss him and I remember him dearly.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Normal

I feel numb. I go through the motions each day of what I am supposed to do. 

I was supposed to go to an event last weekend that had a comedian and a singer. I had been looking forward to it. But then, I just couldn't go. I didn't want to laugh. How could I laugh and be happy? My husband just died.

I've also been hearing, "he's in a better place." a lot lately. I know that, but it doesn't mean that I have to like it. I wish that a better place was here with me. I read that it takes a widow a thousand days to really deal with the loss of her spouse. It has been 166 days since Mike died. I'm not good at math, but I know that means that I still have over 800 days until I am supposed to feel more normal. I hate hearing that time will heal. I don't think time heals. I think that you learn to accept it.

I struggle to define myself again. I was Mike's wife. We did things together. I had someone to have dinner with and talk about my day. I had someone to plan things with, to dream with, to hope with. I do have my family and friends. And they are all wonderful, but it isn't the same.

Years ago, I lost my sister. She was my best friend. Next week is her birthday. It is hard to believe that she has been gone for twenty-one years. And maybe her birthday is part of my melancholy. Actually, my Mom's birthday is in September and then Mike's is in October. And then there are the holidays. We lost most of our family traditions with the passing of Mom and grandmother. We haven't quite figured out what our new normal is.

I guess that is really what I'm searching for - my new normal.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sunday Dinner

For most of my life, we would meet at my grandmother's house on Sunday for dinner. My Mom did most of the cooking. I learned to cook in my grandmother's kitchen. My daughter also learned to cook in grandmother's kitchen. 

When my mother died, Sunday dinner was good for us. It gave me an opportunity to spend time with my brothers even though I did have to do the cooking. Grandmother would come too. Cooking Sunday dinner made me feel closer to my Mom and my  family.

When Grandmother died, I quit cooking every Sunday, but I still usually managed to have the family over for dinner at least once a month. But when Mike got sick, I quit making Sunday dinner. It was just too stressful with everything going on to try to do that as well.

Tomorrow we are having Sunday dinner at my house. There will only be five of us. My daughter is out of town and one of my brothers already had plans, but I'm making dinner. There will only be five of us. 

I had forgotten how much work went into making dinner. The macaroni and cheese has been prepped and will be popped in the oven tomorrow when I get home from church. Pinto beans are soaking in water. I'll change out the water and turn the crock pot on in the morning. Tomorrow I'll cook cubed steak, rice, gravy, and biscuits. And we are having brownies with vanilla ice cream for dessert. 

I want to revive the tradition. One day my children will give me grandchildren. I would like for my grandchildren to remember Sunday dinner at grandmother's house.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ya Gotta Have Friends!

The weekend did not get off to a great start. I was lonely and feeling sorry for myself. Friday night I sat at home and watched television. Well, I didn't really watch it, but it was on. I spent most of the evening thinking about Mike and how we would spend Friday evenings out on the porch talking until the wee hours of the morning. You would think that we would run out of things to say, but we didn't. And Mike was an unusual man. He actually liked to talk. I miss the way he would smile at me.

Saturday morning my daughter and I went shopping. She has been working so hard and going to school so I decided to treat her to a shopping excursion. It was so much more fun than when she was a teenager. She even liked a shirt that I picked out for her. Such a drastic change from three years ago, when I wasn't cool and my taste was horrible. Later we had lunch with my best friend and her daughter. 

We went to see the chick flick, Julie and Julia. It was a cute movie. There was a little crude language, but it was actually refreshing to see a movie that depicts two pretty good marriages. You saw the tough times as well as the good.

That evening some of Mike's friends (well they are mine too, but Mike introduced us) came over for dinner. We had lasagna, salad, and chocolate cake. And then we played Apples to Apples. The only thing missing was Mike. He would have loved it.

Sunday night our small group finally got together after a hiatus for the summer. It was so nice to see everyone again. I have missed them so much. Technically, I am the only single person there, but they continue to welcome me with open arms. 

All of these friends have been such a vital part of my life. My friend Lisa has been with me for thirty-seven years. We grew up together. And then there are the friends that I was blessed with through my marriage to Mike. I appreciate each one of them so much.

I thank God for the wonderful friends that he has brought into my life.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dryer Sheets and Ordinary Days

Our anniversary was in May. And our anniversary also fell on Mother's Day this year. Since Mom died; I cannot walk into a hallmark any time in April or May. And now, I had our anniversary to contend with as well.

I tried to prepare for it. I expected to feel awful. But strangely, the overwhelming sadness did not consume me. I missed my husband and I missed my mother. But I had a special time that day thinking and remembering each of them. 

My husband loved a bargain. Costco loved him. He stocked us well with paper towels, toilet paper, and anything else that he could. One day, he noted we were almost out of dryer sheets. My husband loved to do laundry. That was a miracle worth noting just by itself. He proudly plopped a huge package of dryer sheets into our cart. "These will last a life time," he said.

A couple of weeks after our anniversary, I was doing laundry, which I absolutely detest. As I reached for a dryer sheet, the memory of "these will last a life time," and my husband's sweet chuckle when he said something funny came back to met. I just sat down right there in the laundry room and cried like I thought I would have on our anniversary. It took me a while to get myself together.

While emotionally, I prepare myself for the big things like anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions; it is the little things that still surprise me.

One day during Mike's sickness, I worried that he didn't really get to make a "bucket list." He didn't get to travel to exotic places or do exciting things. It was really bothering me. And then I received a letter. It was from a dear sweet lady, Aunt Lee. She had taken to writing us when she found out about Mike's illness. I so looked forward to her letters. In this particular letter, she reminded me that it is the average, ordinary days which are extraordinary.  It is the memories of those ordinary days that I remember and cherish. The greatest gift that you can give someone is your time and attention. And while I would have loved more, I am so thankful for the ones that we had.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In Laws

            On Sunday, I got to visit my in laws. It is the first time that I have seen them in several months. Shortly after Mike passed away, they were offered the chance to do some mission work in Africa. They had been asked earlier, but had turned the opportunity down due to Mike’s illness. I missed them, but I also know that it would offer them healing. Africa has long held a piece of their heart as it did with Mike. What better way to remember him than by being at a place that he so dearly loved?

            As I walked into their home, I was immediately greeted and hugged by Mom. We held each other for a moment. I didn’t want to let her go. They brought me back a little bit of Africa, placemats and a breadbasket all in Mike’s favorite color – blue. They also gave me a picture. It is an African silhouette formed with butterfly wings.

            We chatted about the rest of the family and what everyone has been doing. One daughter is on vacation. Their granddaughter just got a job teaching. They had a nice trip with their other daughter and came to visit Mike’s grave. It was the first time they had seen the headstone.

It is nice to have them back in the states and know that they are only a short drive away. So many people complain about their in laws. Mine are a wonderful blessing. 

Monday, August 3, 2009

336 Days

It is so hard to believe all the things that have happened in the last year. Last year, instead of taking the African trip we had planned, we found out that Mike had stage 4 lung cancer. The doctor’s diagnosis was grim last March. And then Mike had complications, which resulted in surgery. At one point, the doctor said he probably only had 10 days to live.

I prayed for God to give us as many good days as he could. Well, God granted us 336 days. And during that time we got married, we celebrated one more birthday, we had one more beach trip, we had one more trip to the mountains, we had one more Thanksgiving, one more Christmas, one more New Year’s, and one more Valentine’s Day. And on March 8 the Lord took him home. Mike had some pain on Thursday and Friday. But once they got him to the hospice house; they made him comfortable and truly took such wonderful care of Mike as well as the whole family.

The nurse that morning was also the nurse who had given Mike his chemo treatments. When Mike would come in for treatment; she would hug and kiss him and tell him that everything was going to be ok. What a wonderful approach to take with someone who is going through such trauma. She also informed us that she was a cancer survivor. She cheered Mike on every time he came in. She fretted over his losing weight and encouraged him to eat, eat, eat and drink, drink, drink (water). She suggested foods that would be tolerated well. She discouraged him from eating his favorite foods because they would not taste the same.

Sunday morning, I noticed that Mike’s breathing was not as labored and that his fever was down. I hoped for a moment that he was getting better, or that I might have a few precious good moments with him. Kim came in and I told her that he sounded different. And then with tears in her eyes; she told me he wasn’t getting better - his organs were shutting down, he was dying - she suggested that I call his family to come.

I sat by Mike’s bed side. I held his hand and I told him how much I loved him. I was scared. I couldn’t think of what to do. I picked up the Bible that Mike had given me two Christmas’ ago and began to read Psalm 23. His breathing became more shallow with each word. And as I read the last word, he took his last little breath. I felt the final flutter of his heart flutter. He was gone. This wonderful man that I married was gone. We only had a short time together. We had dated for a couple of years and we were married just a couple of days shy of ten months. It wasn’t long enough, but it certainly was wonderful. I will cherish the memory of every single day. I thank God for everyday that he blessed us with. Some might say that Mike didn’t receive a miracle because he died from cancer. But to us, everyday that we had was a miracle. We had 336 more days together.