June 22, 2016

changes

 Dear Todd,

Our lives keep going on and on.

Everything is changing. Nothing is the same.

Each change is a stark reminder to me that you are gone.

We have a dog now. And 2 kittens. I call them our therapy animals. I have a new car. The kids needed new swimsuits. I got new shoes. We got camping equipment. I even have my own paddle board now. All of the new things are reminders of what I can't share with you anymore. Camping trips you will miss. Road trips you will miss. Memories you will miss.

It's been two months now since you left us. I can still see your smile so fresh in my memory, but sometimes I struggle to remember the sound of your voice. We watch videos of you and look at photos often so we don't forget.

Today I sat down with a grief counselor for the first time. We met at the park and chatted while the kids played and rode bikes. He says I'm dealing with my grief well. I don't feel like it. I feel like I'm falling apart.

I wish you could meet Samson. He's our puppy. He's a black Great Dane and his eyes look so much like Alex's eyes. I look into them and I remember so many adventures we had when we got Alex. He was such a good dog, and Samson is following in his footsteps. I'd forgot how much I enjoy training a dog. He really is therapy for me. He's Samuel's dog - Samuel got to pick him out for his birthday - but Samson is a mama's boy through and through.

The kittens are so much fun. They are so tolerant of the children constantly carrying them around. Amelia named hers Mary and Samuel named his Moses. They are going to be really good kitties.

We got back to the house just over 3 weeks ago. I thought that once we got back here everything would fall into place and I could think more clearly. Instead, the house feels so empty, just like my heart.

I printed and framed a large family photo to take to your funeral. It's up on the piano now. It's one of the ones we had taken in November with your plane. I stare at it, that was just a few months ago. Already the cancer was spreading throughout your body and we had no idea. No idea that we were spending our last happy months together. No idea of the fight that was to come. No idea of the heartache that was to come.

We were happy.

You were so proud of that plane. I am still proud of you. You know, that plane is going to Guyana soon. James is going to fly it. I know that's what you would have wanted.

I haven't mustered the courage to go look at it yet. The kids have asked to. Maybe someday.

We had a little party for Samuel last week on his birthday. It was small and simple and I didn't spend hours making anything. In fact, all I made was a cake. I was fine until I brought out the cake and we sang to Sam. Then, I lost it.

A boy needs his father.

Sob.

Next week I will spend our anniversary without you. Thirteen years. I'm so glad for the time we had together, but it wasn't long enough.

After that is my birthday, the children are concerned that I'll never get a birthday present again. Haha. There's only one present I want now, and I can't have you...

I wish I could end my letter by saying, "See you tomorrow!" I can't wait for the day when we are reunited. I'll have so many things to tell you, and so will the kids. They keep growing, you know. I see you every time I look at them. Thank you for that gift.

I love you.

I'll always love you.

Someday when we are together again you'll laugh at me for writing letters to you. I hope that I'll be able to remember to tell you all the things I wish I could tell you now. I close my eyes and imagine talking to you and despite the pain of missing you, it actually makes me feel a little better knowing that someday will come.

Love forever,
Cas

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June 5, 2016

his last letter

We got back to Tennessee a week ago.

I walked into our house, where I knew someone had been staying the last few months.

I took a deep breath and let my eyes sweep around.

The kid's artwork, the Christmas cards I had left on the door frame, our books and personal things were all gone from the walls. The worship books and candles were not on the piano. Furniture was moved.

I felt like a stranger.

I just walked into a house. Not our house. Just... a house.

I went into the kitchen and dining rooms.

Empty walls stared back at me. Our homeschool shelves still were full of books. But there was no "Anderson Family Kindness Plan" on the wall.

Even though I knew someone had been staying there, I didn't expect to feel like our home had been violated. It probably wouldn't have mattered at all if my husband had been by my side... but he wasn't. 

It's kind of silly, I now realize, but for some reason I had it in my head that if we could just get back to this house, to where our life was, to where he was, that I would be able to think clearly and make decisions and figure out what I want.

But as I stood in a empty house there was no clarity. In fact, I felt more confused than ever.

It's been a week and I've been halfheartedly unpacking at best. The kids' clothes finally made it into their dresser today.

I don't want to be here.

I suspect that I don't want to be anywhere.

Friday morning we spent the morning out at 12-acre farm that's been offered to our family for 2 years. From the emails back and forth prior to seeing the property, I wasn't sure it was something I could handle. But, with a little help from our amazing community here, it's going to be a sweet little house for us.

I don't know if I'll get there and not want to be there, but for now, it's something I need to try.

I'm going to surround myself with animals and write and be outside as much as I can.

I think I'll love the space and hate that I can't share it with my husband.

I'm still living out of boxes, and I'll continue to do so until we get out to the farm - it will take a few weeks to work on some repairs and such. I'm also having to move our belongings that were moved out of our living space, everything was put in the kids' room.

As I'm going tenderly though the stack of things that once sat beside my husband's bedside. On impulse I put them back where they belong. Then, I sat down on the bed and looked through his things. Books, notes about airplane things, doodles from the kids. On the bottom was a composition notebook.

The man loved his composition notebooks.

I opened it up expecting to find a maintenance log or tax-record log (heaven help my non-record keeping self). It was mostly empty as I flipped though except for the first 3 or 4 pages. I turned the book right side up and let my eyes scan the first page.

My heart stopped.

It was a letter.

To me.

That he started after we found out he had cancer.

I read the first few lines and closed the book. And my eyes.

I can't.

I paced the room a bit, grabbed the box of tissues, and sat down on the bed again, determined to read the last letter he wrote me.

We were letter writers. I'm a better communicator when I write, so we've written hundreds of letters back and forth over the years. As I'm reading this letter, it's not just a letter. This was us. It was only 3 pages long, and then it would be over.

I slowly opened the book and found where I had left off.

Two more lines and I'm sobbing again.

The pain. Oh the pain. My heart. Oh how it hurts.

He never finished his letter. We ended up flying him out to Seattle so fast that he didn't have time to finish it.

He loved me so much more than I ever deserved.

Now his love is gone and all I have are his words and the memories of his love.

Friends, leave memories of your love with the people you love.

Write letters. Take photos. Do the all the things. Go places. Be present.

Don't forget to treasure the memories in your heart.

You'll never regret love.
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June 2, 2016

time

I am restless.

I feel as if I’m searching for something, but I’m not sure what it is that I’m seeking.

I sit down. I get back up. I sit outside. I go back in. I sweep the floors and put the broom away. Then I get it back out and sweep more.

What am I supposed to be doing?

Everyone keeps telling me to take my time. For what? What is it that I am supposed doing with all this time?

I hate time. Time tricks you and it makes you think you have time, but then it’s gone.

Gone…

This month will be my 13th wedding anniversary. It will also be 2 months since I lost my husband. Thirteen years wasn’t enough. I feel cheated out of the life I had. And now I have this life… A life of searching and wondering and staring out the window watching for him to ride his bike over the last hill before home…

You know, we didn’t have a Hollywood romance. There were moments, but for the most part, it was not a great story. No one will ever make a movie about our love story. It was too real. Too boring for Hollywood. We had hard times and we had great times. We had sad times and quiet times and frustrating times. We had fights and we had hurt feelings and we cried. We made up and we laughed and we never stopped loving. Our love never stopped.

We loved until death parted us…

And I love him still.

I have a new car. When I say “new” I mean NEW. I’ve never had a new car before. Some friends and churches worked together and raised enough money and bought me a new car. It’s my dream car. It’s so fancy and practical and techy and all I want to do is show my husband this amazing gift. I keep closing my eyes and imagining his reaction. His eyes open wide and his mouth drops open. I love his surprised face. It always makes the surprise totally worth it.

The first thing he would do after looking inside is open the hood and check out the engine and start a maintenance notebook and start keeping track of the gas milage.

But I can’t imagine for too long. My heart can’t handle too much imagining.

We also came home to 2 fluffy black kittens. A friend of a friend had a litter and as we were driving home, on a whim, I had someone go pick them up and take them to the house for me. Something to help with the transition. The kids are in love. Amelia named her girl Mary and Samuel named his boy Moses. They named them totally on their own.

Samuel is asking for a doggy for his birthday in 2 weeks. I want to get him a puppy, but finding the right one is tricky. When Todd and I got married we rescued Alex, the best dog ever. He was a Great Dane, and that’s what I want to get now. So if anyone has any leads on good puppies, let me know. ;)

The kittens, and the puppy and the car and everything, as great as they are, are all things that I can never share with my husband. It’s all part of moving on and I hate that. I hate moving on. It’s so sad and hard and painful. I’m afraid of forgetting. I’m afraid of the kids forgetting.

Sigh.

Change. Moving on. Time. I don’t have as much control in this life as I once thought I did…

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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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