May 20, 2016

Dear Todd

My Dear Husband,

It has been a month now since I heard your voice.

A month since you told me for the last time that you love me.

A month... it feels like 2 days and it feels like 2 years. I miss you so much... so, so very much.

The children mostly just play and are generally happy, although they are both showing their grief in their own ways. Samuel has stopped asking me if you're going to get all better, but when his sensitive little heart gets hurt, he still cries for you. Amelia tells me often that she's sad that you died. She is afraid that I will die too and asks me lots of what-if questions.

I wish you were here to help me navigate grieving children. I wish you were here to help me with my own grieving heart.

It's hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. It's hard for me to do the tasks that need to be done each day. I want to stay in bed and cry all day, but the needs of the children keep me going.

I have this scream that is caught in my throat. Sometimes I'm afraid that it will come out. Other times I imagine standing on a mountain top and letting it out. I feel like if I started screaming I'd never stop. Well, until I lost my voice.

I want to scream because my heart hurts so much. Because I'm so angry that you died. Because I'm so confused and lost and alone.

I don't want to move on.

All I can think about are the plans we had for this year. We were moving back to Guyana with your plane. We were going to build a house. Get a dog. Adopt a child. Our family was going to be full and happy and blessed... but so far... I'm not feeling very blessed...

A lady from the counseling department at the clinic came by to talk to me yesterday when I had the kids in for an appointment. She said that the first time she met me she was struck by my strong faith... And she said that she knew that strong faith would carry me through this. But I don't feel like I have strong faith... I wish you were here to pray with me. I always feel stronger when you are at my side. How can I be strong without you?...

I am so thankful that you showed me what love looks like. I'm thankful that you never gave up on me. That you never stopped loving me.

You used to annoy me. LOL. I can remember getting so frustrated because you did things the "wrong" way. All of that died with you though. I can't think of a single fault you had. In my mind, you'll always be the perfect husband, perfect papa, perfect Captain.

You never got to see Chelan in the Spring. It's beautiful here. The hills are all green and wildflowers grow along the banks of the river and lake. The seaplane is making regular flights. We always stop to watch him take off or land, and we think of you. That was something you were really looking forward to - getting your seaplane rating. I wish you could have taken at least one flight...

I wish a lot of things...

I'm so glad that we have the hope of heaven. The hope of seeing you again. The hope of a world without cancer. I feel more impatient than ever for the resurrection.

There aren't enough words for me to tell you how much I love you, or how much I miss you. Sometimes I wonder if my heart is too broken to ever heal again.

I know it's silly to write you, and that you resting peacefully, and that you can't read this, but I just have to much I want to talk to you about. So I'll just be silly and pretend I can talk to you a while longer.

I'll love you forever.
-Cas
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May 13, 2016

paddle boarding

Paddle boarding. It’s my new thing.

I’m not always excited to drag the heavy board down to the water, but I’m never sorry I did.



The thing about paddle boarding is, you don’t get anywhere unless you paddle. There’s no motor. No autopilot. No one else on that board but you (unless you have small children, then there is a good chance one of them is sitting on the back).

Today the current in the lake was pretty swift. And the children were pretty sassy. So I paddled out a ways (my sister was on the beach with the kids) and laid on my back on the board. And I drifted in current.

It struck me as I looked out, only inches above the water, that I was drifting. And not just in the water.

I’m caught in a current.

My head is barely above the water.

I need to stand up and paddle. Give the board some direction. Go somewhere.

But instead… I drift. Unable to stand on my feet. Unable to do what I need to do.

Sigh.

Today it’s been three weeks since I was widowed.

That word.

It still plagues me.

I picture a widow as an old woman who lost the argument with her husband “who would be the first to go.”

Not someone in her early 30’s with a 4-year old and a 6-year old.

Sigh.

Anyway. Three weeks. Or is it three years? Sometimes I’m not sure. Sometimes it feels like it was only moments ago I last held him in my arms. Other times, it seems like so long ago.

In the last three weeks I have begun adjusting to being a single parent. We’re not there yet. Oy. Single parenting is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been virtually a single parent for months now, but at least I had someone I could talk to. That at least was something more than nothing.

I drift alone in parenting.

In life.

In all things…

Yet. The board, even without me controlling it, provides quite a bit of stability. No matter how close to the water I am, I don’t sink. No matter now much I drift, I float still.

I have a God who doesn’t let me sink either.

I feel like I might fall - especially when the waves come - but I don’t.

He is what keeps me stable. And floating. And above the water.

I’m drifting. But not alone.

We had a lovely day on the lake and my pale skin has darkened a little. My muscles are starting to get used to moving again now that I’m not sitting at my husband’s bedside for days and weeks on end. I’m starting to make healthier choices. Eating a little more. Drinking a little more water.

Paddle boarding is good for my body. And my soul. And my heart and my mind.

Todd would have loved it.

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May 8, 2016

the light and the dance

I wasn’t going to to camping. It’s too soon.

But Jenn and Sandy talked me into it.

But then the morning of, I changed my mind.

It was too soon.

Everything these days is the first of something.

The first time we went to church after Papa died. The first time we had fun after Papa died. The first camping trip after Papa died.

It’s too soon.

But friends have an amazing way of helping you navigate what is really good for you.

We went camping.

It was warm (minus the night hours, we froze properly for the first camp of the year). We were on a river. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was sad. It was hard.

Todd loved to camp. We camped as often as we could, which was never enough. He would have loved this trip.

Saturday night the kids went down late as always happenes when camping. Not long after they went down (all 6 kids crashed pretty quick), the grown-ups were sitting around the campfire chatting. Actually, it was an impromptu group counseling session. You know who your friends are when you can tell them all the hard, raw, ugly parts of this hard, ugly, raw journey. Those people sitting around that campfire - those are people I can trust with all the feelings. All the fear. All the uncertainty. All the tears.

There was a quiet lull in the conversation and someone noticed that there were flashlights bouncing in one of the tents still. One last, “go to sleep!” When Ryan, in a uncertain voice that was almost comical, said, “Uh, speaking of lights…. what is THAT?”

We all looked straight above us in the sky to see a brilliant white light lighting up the sky above it. We stared at it a few minutes before the light began to dance.

One of the things Todd always wanted to see his whole life was the aurora borealis. Now, two weeks after we said goodbye to him, we stood there and watched it light up the sky.

I sobbed. Happy tears, sad tears, and hurt tears.

We all ran to our tents and tried to wake the kids up. Not one of them could be roused. So the grown-ups all enjoyed the show together.

If I hadn’t gone camping, I would have missed the first time seeing the aurora after Todd died. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this one.

The lights danced for over and hour before they faded into the night sky. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone.

Todd died in about 10 days. It was so short. But you know what? That’s about how long it took me to start to fall for the guy. We were engaged two months after we met.

I know, crazy, right?

Ten days was enough for me to see that he was special. It was enough for love to begin to bloom.

And like the northern lights, as quickly as our lives began together, it was over.

Only our dance was longer than an hour. Our dance was 14 1/2 years. I’m so, so grateful for every step, every turn, every dip.

We danced more in those years than most people do in a lifetime. I can never regret a single moment.

Moving on is a term I’ve grown to dislike. I don’t want to move on. I was happy where we were. I was happy with my life. I wasn’t ready to stop dancing with the love of my life.

Now I feel like I’ve been left on the dance floor without a partner. Though the world swirls around me, I’m standing… wanting to keep dancing but not knowing how to dance alone.

Not wanting to dance alone…

Camping is therapeutic. 

I’m so glad I went and got to experience something most people never get to experience. I’m glad I got to sit by the river and cry. I’m glad I got to explore in the woods alone (note to self, make sure people know where you’re going next time so no one freaks out and think you fell in the river). I’m glad I got to see the aurora and be reminded of our dance.

I’m so sad and my heart hurts more than I think I can bear, but tonight, I get to be a little glad too.

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May 6, 2016

maybe someday

Everyone said there would be good days and hard days.

It’s a hard day. The loneliness and pain are overwhelming.

It’s been two weeks since I said goodbye.

Two weeks. The world keeps turning. Life continues. We keep on breathing.

…Just keep breathing…

I sat with Todd and begged him to keep breathing as he struggled. Now I’m giving myself the same reminder.

It was so painful for him to take breathes at the end.

It’s painful for me now also.

So painful.

But I keep on breathing.

We’re back at the lake house. The water is sparkling. The sky is blue. This is such a beautiful place. But I can’t stay here. I need a plan. A life plan. I’ve had numerous offers of spare rooms, jobs, etc. Nothing feels right. I was 19 when Todd and I fell in love and I’ve never done anything really without him. He’s always been the sensible one who keeps me grounded.

Without him, I might not ever eat a vegetable again.

Without him, I might end up with 20 dogs.

Without him, my heart might shrivel up.

I don’t know how to keep going, but I don’t have the option not to.

The questions that everyone is asking me are, “What do you need?” And, “What are you going to do now?”

I don’t know, and I don’t know.

Actually, I need to get a car. I’m a grown up and I don’t own a car.

Other than that…

I don’t know what I need. A house in the country with room for 20 dogs?

Feel free to comment below with life-plan ideas. Be creative. Or realistic. Or whatever. Maybe you can come up with something better than I can.

Todd and I always talked about what we would do if we couldn’t be missionaries. We’d make imaginary plans for if we had to live in the US again. I’ve always wanted to be a farmer and so most of our plans included a little farm somewhere. With an airstrip on it. While I don’t have need of an airstrip on my farm, it’s still a dream I have. Maybe someday.

My life feels full of “maybe someday”s.

Maybe someday I’ll get my farm.

Maybe someday my heart will heal.

Maybe someday I’ll feel whole again.

Maybe someday I’ll understand all the whys.

Maybe someday.
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April 24, 2016

I am a widow

I am a widow.

The word doesn’t want to come out of my mouth, but it’s a word my brain keeps playing with.

I keep thinking back over the last 3 weeks. I sat in the hospital next to his bed for more hours than I can count.

Before he was intubated, I would lay next to him and beg him to just breathe.

Just keep on breathing…

His lungs were destroyed so fast. I am what his doctors call an “excellent patient advocate.” That means I asked questions like my life depended on it… like his life depended on it…

The doctors were very kind and patient and were good at showing me the progressive scans and X-rays of his lungs. I’m no doctor, but even I could see that what was happening was happening very, very fast.

One of the chemotherapy drugs he was given - a lower dose than usual - caused a devastating toxic reaction in his lungs that happens so rarely it’s never been studied. When it does happen, there is only a very small percentage that doesn’t respond to the steroids…

From when the disease began until death was about 10 days.

Ten of the longest, shortest days of my life.

And there was nothing anyone could do.

We said goodbye, just in case. He made the decision to be intubated. I was both thankful that he made that choice so I didn’t have to, and devastated that he chose to. We all knew it was the last chance he had to live, but we also new that chance was only a whisper.

We laid in the hospital bed together, whispering our last words.

We have a little thing we’ve been saying to each other for almost 15 years. He says the first line and then I finish it with my part. I can’t tell you what we say because it’s our secret. But we both knew we were saying it for the last time.

As the doctors and nurses bustled around the room preparing for the intubation, instrumental hymns played from Pandora. I watched the doctor unpack the emergency kits and give orders to the nurse.

My husband and I gazed into each other’s eyes for the last time, and I was asked to sit in a chair away from the bed. I wanted to scream at everyone to leave him alone and to get out. I wanted to scream at my husband to not give up. To not leave me. I wanted to run back over and so he could hold me one last time.

The doctor came over and we had to discuss if they would resuscitate him if it didn’t go well. The decision was made that they would not.

The roughly 48-hours he was intubated there were moments when we could communicate to him. He would nod or shake his head, or give a thumbs up. He tried to write to me a few times, but the only word I was ever able to read from him was, “HURT.”

His lungs continued to deteriorate so quickly. First a hole in one lung, then one in the other. The medical team worked around the clock to try to keep him stable. Friday morning it was apparent that they no longer could. He was likely already suffering brain damage from the low oxygen levels. Because of the lack of oxygen, his heart was also beginning to fail.

There was no more chance. No more hope.

The children arrived around 10 am. Amelia sobbed like a child should never, ever cry when I told them that Papa was going to die. I explained what was going to happen. I reminded them what we believe about the Christian hope we have after death. I wept with them.

We all went into the room and surrounded him with all the love in our hearts. Both our families were there, and my best friend.

The tube came out and he continued to breathe on his own for about an hour. And then, he didn’t.

He slipped quietly into the deep sleep of death as I clung to his side.

My heart. Oh my heart.

I never imagined I could feel so dead inside.

Yet, despite all the sadness and pain, it doesn’t feel dark to me. Instead of what I was expecting - a dark shadow to consume me - I instead find myself wrapped in love and light.

Maybe the darkness is still to come, but for now, I am comforted knowing that my husband can rest until Jesus calls for him to wake up and go to heaven. I am comforted knowing how much love is being poured out for our family. I am comforted by looking into my children’s faces and seeing him live on. I am comforted with the knowledge that he ran his race well, didn’t stop until the end and finished with grace and love.
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March 31, 2016

what cancer taught me

Cancer.

It has a funny way of changing your perspective on life.

It's changed my perspective on life.

Some thoughts on what I've learned:

That lady that cut me off - maybe she just found out her husband has cancer. Maybe she's not being a jerk. Maybe she's having the hardest day of her life.

That lady who, at the cash register at the supermarket, suddenly remembers she needs tomatoes, and the cashier makes everyone in the line wait - well, maybe she's overwhelmed with just finding out her husband has cancer.

And when she bursts our sobbing over the tomatoes, a smile might not seem like it matters, but it does.

And when she goes to pay and all of a sudden can't remember how to count money, maybe she's not just a dumb blonde. 

Those people who seem like they just can't be bothered (returning the shopping cart/parking askew/etc), they seem like they're acting aloof and entitled. But maybe coping with life isn't their best thing at the moment.

People need a little more grace than we give them.

People need a little more understanding and compassion.

I can't say in words the outpouring of love, support, and generosity that has been blanketed around our family the last 3 months.  Utterly indescribable.

What if we looked at people through the lens that our community looks upon our family? We've been invited to cry, yell, scream, vent, and wear PJs to church with no judgement.

I've acted so selfish, said stupid things, and asked so much of my closest friends. Yet it's all been met with so much sympathy.

"You're going through so much, you're allowed to not be your best self."

What if we allowed strangers to not be their best selves either?

What would the world look like?

Sigh.

What I've really learned from cancer is that sometimes bad things happen to everyone. Good and bad. That's not a new thing. God causes the sun and rain to shine and fall on the good and the bad.

It doesn't mean we did something wrong or aren't good enough. It means that we live in a sinful world where people get sick and get hurt.

But we won't always.

We're not our best selves on our best day. None of us. Because what we are isn't what we were created to be.

We are all in need of a little grace.

As I write this, a song is playing on Pandora,  "Grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sins." 

We're all in this hurting world together.

The good and the bad.

We're in it together.
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