All things made new

In true Michelle Stringer fashion, my life these last two months has been insane.  Ridiculously insane.  You might think to yourself “Michelle is accustomed to that kind of life, it probably feels normal.”  I get that, I do.  I kind of think the same thing.  The trouble is, I am not accustomed to it.  Or OK with it.  My life feels totally and utterly overwhelming.  For a visual I give you a raging sea.  Tides and waves crashing on rocks, it’s a little over cast these days, not full blown storms…..but nowhere near calm either.  I am in a tiny sailboat, being tossed and shaken like a helpless rag doll.  I am frantically grasping for my sails….trying to adjust with all the strength I have.  Some days I am able to steady my little boat.  Other days the waves are too powerful and I am too weak and  I give up and curl up to wait the storm out.

To catch you all up on my life, I honestly don’t know where to start….it’s that complicated and exhausting.  I have started to update many times over the last few weeks, but I always quit….at a loss for words  once.  If I could, I would meet for you for coffee somewhere quiet and I would tell you all about the last two months and you would probably be at a loss for words.  That’s OK, I am too.

I guess the easiest way is to just old school list out the things I am carrying on my back and then try to explain them.  Does that sound OK?  Otherwise this blog post will be long and weighty….who has time for that?

Here are the things that weigh me down right now on a daily basis:

Selling my house

Buying a new house

Leaving our community and starting over somewhere new

Full-time college (every UGH I can mutter)

Applying for Nursing School in the Fall (again….all the UGHS)

3 kids and solo parenting

My breast saga continues and that is a huge burden

My health has started to decline thanks to sky high cortisol levels and extreme stress

And last, but NOT least…..I’m still heavily grieving Matt ( this in itself is huge)

 

When I look at this list I have to kind of laugh at myself.  A few weeks ago I panicked because my back muscles between my shoulder blades became so tight and tense.  It’s not so much painful as it is uncomfortable.  When you google this for a woman it says HEART ATTACK.  YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.  THE ER DOCTORS WILL DISMISS YOU AND YOU WILL DIE.  Fantastic.  My chest is almost always tight.  I have reflux.  I have gained a ridiculous amount of weight that I can’t seem to stop.  I’m chronically tired and worn so very thin.  My emotions? Forget it.  I don’t even know what Michelle to expect each day.  It’s a crap shoot.  It’s just that my life is hard.  So heavy.  So complicated.  So many damn decisions and choices and options and forks in the road.  And I no longer have this partner in my life talk things over with.  And I get it, some of you have always been single…..or you are single now.  Yet, I have never truly been a “single”….I have always been a “double”….since my senior year of highschool.  How many 36 year old women can say they have had ONE boyfriend?  ONE relationship?  It seems almost pathetic to me now….but it’s the extent of my experience.  So doing all of this life with 3 kids and no career and not a lot of experience…..it’s beyond hard.  Beyond complicated.  Beyond stressful.

So my house.  I’m not really sure why but all of sudden I just felt this overwhelming urge to sell.  I just had to list my house….it was time to sell it.  So I decided to practice obedience (I struggle with this spiritually.)  A little over a week ago I put my house on the market and waited.  I honestly thought it would take a couple of months…..but to my surprise, one week in, I received an offer.  Almost immediately a peace washed over me and I knew I was supposed to take this deal.  I said yes and waited.  For the last month I have been perusing houses in a city I want that is close to my family and has the schools I like best.  I would mark many houses as my favorites, but always came back to this one house.  Every other house I loved was eventually sold, except for this one that I felt God gently nudging me towards.  So the day after I accepted an offer on mine I decided to look at this one house.  The second I walked in, I felt it.  It’s inexplicable and can only be experienced, but it was home.  I just knew it.  Felt it….sensed it.  (I realize this makes me sound like a flakey new age hippie who burns patchouli and bathes in essential oils, but whatevs.  I gots those feelers ya’ll.)  So I made an offer and after a little bantering, they said yes.  This all happened with 9 days.  This is a big deal for so many reasons, but the main reason is this:  I have never bought or owned a home.  Some of you are scratching your heads and going “Huh? I know she and Matt bought homes  and lived there.  She lives in one now!!”  My name was never on a home we bought.  Matt bought them.  I’m not a co-borrower or anything.  Same for my car, Matt owns it.  Because I stayed at home with our babies and didn’t bring much to the table financially, Matt didn’t think it was important for me to be on the loans.  I never cared.  I should have.  When Matt died, I had NO credit.  None. 35 year old woman with no credit history.  Awesome.  So under the advisement of people I trusted I opened lines of credit.  This boosted me to a great score.  I also have a good chunk of equity in my home since when we bought it, it was an absolute dump that was basically inhabitable.  Matt’s last gift to me for sure, even though he didn’t know it.  So I am selling a home BY MYSELF you guys.  I am BUYING A HOUSE by myself.  I got pre-qualified BY MYSELF.  When I think of who I was a year ago and who I am becoming today, it’s astonishing.  The learning curve of widowhood is steep.  Ridiculously, impossibly so.  Yet I am learning…..at light speed.  There are so many emotions that wash over when I think of moving.  Leaving our community.  Starting over.  Saying good bye to a home that Matt loved and built with his own hands.  I couldn’t possibly explain them.  I’ll just tell you it’s hard and happy and sad and angry and ugly and beautiful and exciting and terrifying all at the same time.  So, yeah.  It’s that.

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Our future home. (I know Hadley is crying.  This is real life with kids.  One is always crying.  Always.)

OK, so the boob drama.  This makes me say UGH too.  I ended up with an MRI that was going to be “definitive….we will know exactly what is going on after this MRI.”  So I decide to go this MRI alone.  I am single and I need to learn to be alone….so I’ve got this.  Right?  Riiiiiiiiiiiight.  First of all, the MRI is in the exact same place I took Matt to for 6 weeks Mon-Fri for radition last year.  OK, so I’ll just do some deep breathing.  Focus.  Put my thoughts above it.  My hippie stuff.  I’m zen…or whatever.  No my head isn’t spinning.  My chest isn’t getting tight as a drum.  I’m all chill and cool and calm waters.  Right.  They call my name and of course the receptionist says “hey I remember you! You were always with the really tall guy huh?”  I laughed at her description (accurate) and reply “yes, that’s me”.  She says what I know is coming and I am instinctively dreading it.  “How is he?”  Oh.  Well.  “He died last July unfortunately.”  Now I am staring at a small part of a random wall.   Making my thoughts as tiny as possible.  Choking back the tears that are dangerously close to overflowing.  I will not cry.  I will not cry.  Then this woman, this stupid woman who isn’t really stupid, but she was this day says “Oh, gosh.  You’re listed as married.  I guess I should change that to widowed, huh?”  Those tears…..THEY GONE………out of my eyeballs and slipping down my cheeks silently.  In my brain I punch this woman and say “yeah, I guess you should, you stupid, insensitive piece of garbage.  CHANGE IT TO WIDOWED BECAUSE MY HUSBAND DIED AND I AM HERE TO SEE IF I HAVE CANCER ALL ALONE.”  What can I say, I have a flair for dramatics.  I did keep my cool and as I continued to stare at the tiny piece of the wall I said flatly “Yes, I’m widowed now.  Thank you.”

 

The MRI went fine….if you think laying on your belly with your breasts hanging through holes, while you hang out in a loud tube for 30 minutes is fine.  I waited two long days for the results.  What is going on with this stupid duct of mine?  And why NOW?  The doctor called me while I was at a school and said “welllllllllll, we still don’t have an answer.  The duct is completely full of blood and it’s not really OK….so you have to have what is called a ductal endoscopy.”  But of course…..does anything in my life happen easily?  No.

Today I had the endoscopy and they found a small papilloma.  I was awake for the entire thing because I declined anesthesia.  You guys I am too busy for that, I had stuff to do today…….widow moms ain’t got time to be knocked out.  Did it hurt?  Like hell….they couldn’t numb me enough since I chose to be awake.  Once he found the papilloma he cut my breast open and dug it out.  I’m a good time you guys, I always have a crazy story to tell.  I literally watched him cut me open. I watched the camera as it went down the duct and found its target.  I asked questions the whole time (I was worried he would be annoyed by me but he seemed more impressed…dude should read my blog.  Boob cuts?  Doc, please.  Childs play.)   The perk to being awake was that he said “Hey you see those red dots?   I don’t like those.  I’m going to cut those out and send them to pathology.  I think we might find some pre-cancerous cells or straight up cancer cells here.  It’s really common next to papillomas.”  I didn’t even flinch ya’ll.  I just said “OK!”  Now, I was a little drunk during the procedure.  I basically got 3 margaritas in my IV.  So I was pretty relaxed.  Cancer?  Please.  I eat cancer for breakfast Doc.  Next.   We talked and he said that even if there is some cancer in there, it’s contained.  It’s stage 0.   Although this might be the most horrible, awful, stupid timing ever in the history of stupid/bad timing…..I get it. I just felt God and Matt were all over this.  The way I discovered this is so strange and so not me.  I don’t check my breasts.  I don’t think about them.  If they hurt I just shrug it off.  I don’t over think it.  I over think a lot of things. but not my boobies.  I’m so glad I listened to that tiny tiny voice that said “hey, check this out homegirl.”  Even though it’s added a new dimension of stress to my life, deep down, I know it will be  OK.  It will.  Boobs are dumb.  The end.  PS…..check your boobies.  Squeeze them.  Make sure nothing strange is going on.  If it is, go get checked.  Really….just do it.  Those boobs? They are time bombs….check them.

So this blog ended up being horribly long….sorry for that.  I lied to you.  It happens.  I will quickly sum up that school totally sucks, I feel as though I am drowning most days.  I am doing well in 2 out 3 classes, and I have to be OK with that.  Managing my time and balancing all of my THINGS is HARD.  I want to do it all and be a  strong, I can do it all mom and woman, but the truth that I am learning every day is that I can’t.  Not only can I not pour from an empty cup, but I certainly cannot pour from a cup that has a rusted out bottom.  And that’s basically what I’m attempting to do.  It’s not working well for me at all.  I am officially applying for Nursing School and officially FREAKED OUT.  I can’t really believe it’s here.  I have bulldozed my way through all of my pre-reqs. Through a cancer diagnosis, cancer treatment, my husband dying, grieving, learning, solo parenting, and now a cancer scare of my own.  Yet I persist.  I keep moving.  Even when I want to quit.  Even when I cry and cuss and feel sorry for myself in the bottom of my sailboat…..I persist.  I push.  I grab my sails…sometimes in desperation and other times in strength of steel and I persist.  I can’t help but smile some days when I think of how proud Matt is of me….because he radiates it to me daily.  His love for me is still here and with me.  He is with me and I am so glad.  I have my King and my man in my corner…..who can possibly come against me?

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Sadness

Right after Matt died, I figured the toughest and hardest months would be the first few ones, because that makes the most sense right?  I am quickly realizing this is not entirely true for grief like this.  Of course I spent the first 3 months basically sobbing nearly every day, but I was still able push forward.  Go through the motions.  I didn’t know that it was actually going to get much harder…..and a whole lot sadder.

I guess since the beginning of the year I have felt something shift within me….but not in a positive direction.  Quite the opposite.  I feel suddenly heavy and so tired every day.  Each morning when my alarm goes off I feel dread.  Dread that another day is here…..another day I have to struggle through.  Fake it through.  Another day without Matt, the man I built my entire adult life around.

A thought occurred to me the other day that broke my heart all over again and made me feel horribly guilty too.  I feel like loving Matt the way that I did and sacrificing so much for our joint happiness together has ruined my life because he died.  I feel like I am completely broken and so beyond repair it feels hopeless.  At 36 the rest of my life suddenly feels so long and desolate and lonely.  Truthfully it appears depression has settled in and it worries me.  I’ve never dealt with an actual depression before.  Anxiety, yes.  I tend to run on the worried/frazzled/anxious side.  So this version of myself is unrecognizable.  I have very little motivation for anything.  School is a huge struggle now, as I just don’t care this semester. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have almost dropped out of my courses and just said “forget it.  I just want to sleep today.”  My house, my car, my kids, my life in general is a giant mess because I just don’t really care.  I hate to even admit that about myself and I’ll probably regret doing so on this blog, but it’s the truth.  It’s this ocean of sadness that feels like I’m drowning in grief and loss and anguish.  I miss him so damn much.  I cannot quantify it.  Word it.  It’s an endless, horrible ache for something I can never have again and my heart is so very broken.

Just to give you a glimpse into what it’s like to grieve like this and still sort of live or at least pretend to, here is what happened to me this morning:

So my alarm goes off at 5 am because I have a huge exam at 8 am and I need to cram whatever I can into my brain.  At 6 am I wake my kids up and get everyone ready and we are out the door by 6:45 so I can drop them off with a friend and head to school.  As I am driving I am listening to music and just trying to think about my test and what I need to remember.  Suddenly I see Matt’s face in my mind.  Not his healthy, happy face.  His sunken in face…..the face he wore hours before I would feel his heart stop beating.  His face that is looking at me with so much sadness and fear because my love, my very heart, my best friend is dying and he knows it. He is struggling to breathe because his lungs are full of fluid and his heart is enlarged and every organ is starting to fail…..but he’s awake and alert and knows it’s coming.  Can you imagine that kind of terror?  It takes my breath away to even think of it.  He looks at me and tells me to drug him….he wants to go to sleep now, it’s too hard and too scary and he doesn’t want to know he’s dying.  I have the drugs that will accomplish this and with every ounce of love and compassion I have I begin to put my love to sleep.  But that face…..that face I fell in love with 17 years ago…..that sweet, 21 year old boy who made my heart race is now dying in front of me and I can do nothing.  He is begging for mercy and I can give him that mercy, but at what cost to my heart and soul?  So I continue driving while I bite my lip and squeeze my eyes shut to stop the flood gates from opening.  I have to focus, I have a job in front of me.  But these flashes hit me out of the blue and insist I re-live them and it’s hell.  Perhaps it’s a form of PTSD or something, I’m not sure, but I hate it.  Getting to say goodbye before Matt died came at a very high cost to me and I will pay for it for the rest of my life.

I’m not sure if what I’m going through is a normal part of grief and if it is, hopefully it will pass.  It terrifies me that I might stay here and become a sad Michelle, an empty shell.  I also find it hard to breathe when I wonder if I am ruined forever by this?  Will I ever be OK?  Normal? (whatever that is…)  Happy?  Content?  Loved?  I just don’t know and it terrifies me.

Now although the majority of my memories of us and our love are heavy and sad, the other night as laid in bed staring at the ceiling in the dark an amazing memory popped into my head.  It was so clear it was like I was re-living it and I don’t know why it came, but I’m so glad it did.  So, it’s my senior year of high school and Matt and I have been I guess kind of dating for 2 or 3 months.  I say “kind of” because I had no real clue what dating meant and Matt was older and in college so it wasn’t like we saw each other all the time at this point. We had been on one date so I didn’t know if we were a “thing” or what.  Suddenly it’s Valentines Day and although I knew Matt was taking me out to dinner that night, that’s all I really anticipated.  I’m sitting in my last hour and my name is called over the intercom to come to the office.  Crap.  I’m in trouble for skipping……again.  I’m positive my heart sank and I walked as slowly as I could to the office.  When I walked in there was a crowd of girls and teachers standing there and they all turned to see me as I walked in…..including the Principal.  What in the what??  Everyone starts talking at once and says “Look!!  Michelle, look!”  Suddenly I see the biggest, most insane bouquet of roses I have ever seen.  At first I’m confused….what am I looking at?  Oh, those roses?  They are for ME?  Huh???  Well, the principal is even thrilled and demands I read the card out loud.  Lord have mercy.  I open the card and read these words that I will never, ever forget “Happy Valentines Day to a girl who deserves roses every day.  Love, Matt”  So yeah, 20 females swooned that day and everyone wanted to know who is this boy????  (By the way, I still have that card in our wedding scrapbook….it’s a keeper!)  But seriously, those roses??  HUGE.  GIANT.  OBSCENE.  They were long stem and so enormous I was actually a little embarrassed to leave the school with them that afternoon and had to put them into my Honda Accord at an angle just to get them in.  That sweet, shy, quiet Matt was quite the charmer when he decided to be.  When I saw him that night (this is before cell phones and texting ya’ll so we had to wait to talk…the horror) I gushed about the roses.  I didn’t know if we were like a couple or what and he just looked at me shocked.  “Michelle, I started saving for an engagement ring the first night we talked. I’m in.”  Whoa.  I laugh now because 36 year old Michelle would be like “whoa Cowboy.  Settle down….back that pony up.”  But Matt was all in and he proved it over the next 17 years.

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Look at those babies.   I’m a senior in this picture and this was at the very beginning of us.

Believe me I want to get to the point where I am just so grateful to have had a love like that for 17 years.  I know so many never get it and I’m a lucky one.  I know that.  I do.  But today I just feel loss and anger at the loss.  I feel robbed and ruined and lost.  I’m angry that at 36 I don’t know who I am.  I have no job.  No education.  No way to support my kids, because I put all of my eggs into Matt’s basket and that blew up in my face.  So now I’m left to walk through this war torn life of mine and pick up pieces and try and glue things together.  Make a new life…..new dreams…..new memories.  Today it’s just plain hard.  Tomorrow will hopefully be a tiny bit less hard.  That’s all I hope for.  Just a little less each day until I’m on the other side of this great sadness.

Mom Joy

As the days, weeks and months continue to tick by methodically, I see new ways that losing Matt to cancer has affected and will continue to affect us.  Some ways are small and some ways are huge and far-reaching.

The most difficult one so far is how single parenting has changed my life as a Mom.  Being a mom has always brought so much joy to my life.  I can still remember like it was yesterday what I felt when I saw my first positive pregnancy test.  Matt and I would spend hours staring at my bare belly, mystified that we had created this little tiny human that was half me and half Matt.  It still fascinates me to this day and I’ve done it 4 times!  I was determined to be the best mom and wife….they were my only life goals (I know, I know, I didn’t do much to further the feminist movement…sorry).  But I found so much happiness in those two roles….I loved serving my people day in and day out.  I have always been the mom that made treats for parties and volunteered in the classroom, helped with PTO, etc.  Matt came to dinner waiting for him every single night.  Our house was always full of love and noise and I relished it.  My people were happy, so I was happy.

When Matt became ill, instantly our lives changed.  I thought it was a temporary change, that our lives would fall back into that familiar rhythm I loved so much, once Matt was better.  Once he beat the cancer….everything was going to be OK.  That just isn’t how it’s turned out.  And now…….today?  No part of our life is the same.  Matt dying has stripped me of all joy in my role as a mom.  I am always exhausted, depressed, busy, stressed, worried and angry.  Being a mom by myself with nobody to help me isn’t fun or joyful.  It’s hard beyond anything I could have imagined.  I never wanted to be a single mom, I was raised by a single mom and I know just how hard it is, for the mom and the kids.  I fought for my marriage.  I nourished it and fought for it and did everything I could to keep us on track so we could make it….beat the odds and grow old together happily.  And we would have.  Except I didn’t count on death to ruin my life.  I didn’t ever imagine this battle, we never saw it coming.  I had no plan for Matt dying and finishing out this job all by myself.  And if I’m totally honest, I don’t really even like being a mom these days.  I don’t.

Imagine all the things you do as a mom, now add in all the things your husband does to help (trust me he does WAY more than you think sisters, I have learned this the hard way) and add in all the life stuff (bills, sick kids, house stuff, etc) and then add in the BIG HUGE things.  Like selling your house.  Moving.  Changing schools.  Going to college full time and wondering how you are going to support your kids financially.  Are you making the right decision?  Is this the road or is that road over there the road I should take?  And there is nobody to ask…no partner to lay in bed with at night and talk about pros and cons.  When something goes wrong…or even right, my first instinct is still to call Matt.  Then I realize with crushing sadness I can’t call him anymore.  He no longer shares this life with me and my heart can’t even believe it. Last week I walked out of class and as I climbed into my car I thought about how Matt would love hearing about the things I’m learning right now.  He was a total science nerd and he would think it’s so funny that this English girl of his is going to end up with a Science Degree…oh the irony.  As I sat there laughing to myself, it quickly turned to tears quietly falling.  How can this be? How is Matt not here for me to call and talk to about my day?  Why did this happen to us?  To my babies?  How do my precious babies NOT HAVE A DAD?  How am I a single mom?  How can this be my life?

Gone is the organized and together mom who knows what is happening at school.  Gone is the mom who has an amazing dinner ready at 5 pm every night.  Gone is the mom who is patient and listens and actually has the time to care. Gone is my immaculately clean house and empty laundry baskets.  Now?  Home cooked meals are sparse and a treat these days.  I haven’t read a folder from school in months….and no I am not exaggerating.  MONTHS.  My floors are always dirty, trash cans over flowing and if I have the ability to lay in bed?  That’s where you’ll find me. Folded laundry.  Hahahahaha.  That’s funny.  Find what you need from the pile.  I know it looks like I’ve got it together, but I don’t. I’m struggling in school, this semester is much harder for me mentally, I guess because the full reality of my situation in life has hit me.  I have so many balls in the air, it’s sometimes impossible to focus on my work.  And honestly, trying to find quiet time to study with 3 kids?  Right.  Not happening.  Getting my house ready to sell is stressful in itself.  Deciding where to land is stressful.  Knowing that my kids will say goodbye to their friends is stressful.  Not knowing if I can even get into Nursing school is stressful.  It’s all so darn stressful.  Then I am told I need to get my stress under control.  Well, that’s hilarious.  Yes, I’ll just take some deep breaths and it’ll all be OK.  It hasn’t worked yet….I’m still waiting.

I do tell myself daily that at some point my life will get better.  I’ll be happy again.   I’ll be a good mom again.  My kids will be OK, they will survive this too.  I tell myself that Matt is happy and wouldn’t come back to me if he could.  I thank God that he doesn’t have to feel this misery, this pain, this loss.  Because it’s the worst kind of hell and I’m so thankful only one of us is having to go through it.  I try to envision my future and how I hope it looks in one year, two years and ten years.  I gently remind myself that my life isn’t over and ruined, even though most days it certainly feels that way.  I force myself to remember happy Michelle.  Funny Michelle.  Determined Michelle.  Fighter Michelle.  Then I get out of bed, I do some dishes and fold some laundry.  Some times that is all I  can do.  And for now it is good enough.

I hope that I can find my Mom Joy again some day in the near future. I miss that version of myself.  Although I know that I will never be the exact mom I was before Matt became ill.  I am changed and our life is changed.  But I can be a different version and I hope to meet her soon.  I think a lot of it will come with moving.  Even though moving has been such a hard decision, it feels absolutely right.  Being closer to family and help makes my heart very, very happy.  My kids were initially upset but now are pretty excited to be in the city and be by their grandparents.  The amount of stress this will ease for all of us is immense.  My house will be on the market officially in the next couple of weeks and I think I am ready to move forward.  It’s a huge step, but one I have spent the last few months really thinking and praying about.  I continue to be surprised at where God is leading me in this crazy life and if my past is any indication, I think I will continue to be surprised as my future and story unfolds.

For now I’m still swimming.  Still taking things one day at a time and trying to find small pieces of joy in hopes that one day it will be big, fat chunks of it.

 

My MRI has finally been scheduled for this Wednesday at noon.  Believing for good news and I truly do not feel worried.  Thank you for your prayers, love you all.

Oh February

I have been dreading February since Christmas.  Once I tackle one milestone without Matt, my mind immediately begins to prepare for the next one.  Today is my birthday……my first birthday since I turned 19 without Matt by my side celebrate.  Next week will be Valentines Day….ugh, love day.  Blah.  Boo.  Whatever.  It is also the month of Daddy Daughter dances.  Fantastic.

What none of you know about Matt is that although he was a man of few verbal words, he was actually amazingly talented at writing words.  Communicating his thoughts and emotions was much easier for him if he wrote them down instead of trying to say them.  So, over the years I have amassed a huge collection of love letters  and cards that I will treasure for the rest of my life.  They have always been precious to me, but now they are priceless.

The very last day of January I was cleaning out closets and getting my house ready to go on the market when I found an envelope that said “Michelle” in Matt’s terrible handwriting.  I was surprised because I thought I had put everything in a box to keep and protect.  I took out the piece of paper and read his sweet words.  I don’t even remember when he wrote this letter to me or why.  But my heart needed his words.  It was like he had placed it there for me to find and re-read as I head into another difficult month without him.img_0721I know this letter was long before he was sick and reading these words hurt my heart so deeply.  My heart longs for his so deeply it is hard for me to describe.  I am making so many decisions right now that are huge, life changing decisions and it’s terrifying to make them without Matt.  He’s my touchstone, my person.  Knowing that this will be an entire year without him, cuts like a knife.  He wont know 36 year old Michelle.  Everything I do this year and beyond will be without Matt and I cannot wrap my mind around it.  Selling our home and moving into a new one means living somewhere Matt has never lived.  Making new memories without him.  Most days it still feel insurmountable to move forward without him by my side.  I still find amazement in all that I am doing each day.  That 7 months have passed and my heart still beats…..it’s still living, still loving, still desiring life and I’m amazed.

I have found these last couple of months that it is extremely difficult for me to be around couples.  Happy couples irritate me because it reminds what I’ve lost and no longer have.  Un-happy couples anger me because they are taking what they do have for granted and I want to shake them and tell them to wake up.  Death and loneliness are way more difficult than loving your spouse, I promise.  So a month dedicated to lovey dovey stuff?  Ugh.  I’m OUT.  I doubt I log onto any social media February 14th….I’m happy for you friends, I really am…..I just don’t want to see you that day.  Or your flowers.  Or your romantic date night.  I’ll pass.  I know this “phase” will pass eventually and I will be able to be around couples again and be OK.  After Isabella died I hated everyone with healthy and perfect kids for awhile….it’s just part of it.  Now I’m thrilled if you have healthy perfect kids, because the alternative is devastating.  One day I’ll be thrilled that you have a great marriage, but not today.  Today I kinda want to punch you.  I kid.  Mostly.

Before Matt died he mentioned a few things that were on the horizon for our kids that he would missing and it broke his heart.  One of those things, was Hadley’s first Daddy Daughter dance.  For years we had watched others take their daughters and mourned the loss of our only daughter Isabella.  When God blessed us with Hadley that was something Matt really looked forward to.  “Dating” his daughter and teaching her what she needed to look for in a husband one day.  Matt wanted to set the bar high for her so that she would choose the best of the best to be her King.  This is a role I cannot fill for my baby girl.  I cannot be her Daddy.  I cannot take her to dances and show her what is it like to be loved by a great man.  This knowledge cuts me so deeply  and I grieve for all the ways my babies will be affected by the loss of their Daddy.  It is infinite.

Last week one of Matt’s best friends and old roommates called me and asked me something that made me immediately burst into tears.  He asked to take Hadley to the Daddy Daughter dance with his daughter.  I was so torn between joy at his gesture and willingness to share this special moment with my girl and absolute brokenness that Matt would not be the one to take his baby girl.  I of course, said yes.  Absolutely yes.  I wondered when I told Hadley about it how she would respond?  She misses Matt and talks about him often.  Some times she breaks down out of the blue and says “I miss my Daddy, I want to see him and hug him.”  It is awful.  When I told her, she immediately smiled and said “Do I get to wear a pretty dress?”  Yes.  That’s all it took.  Haha.  So we bought the dress and shoes, we got the hair done and off she went to the ball.  So very special.  So very grateful.  So very broken.  All at once.  img_0698I worked very hard to keep myself together because Hadley reacts the way I react so I had to be Happy and all This is GOOD so she would feel OK about it and have a great night.  The second I got in my car the tears flowed and flowed and flowed.  Life is so darn unfair and it breaks my heart to see Matt’s daughter dressed up and beautiful and he isn’t here for it.  He will never take her to a dance, he will not walk her down the aisle and give her away when she gets married.  So much loss.  Yet even in the brokenness God stepped in and made a way.  It isn’t perfect, it wasn’t what it should be, but it is still good and worthy of joy.  Hadley had the best time and danced her little heart out.  Matt’s friend sent me a picture from their lunch and Hadley had written this :img_0723“Daddy”  My heart. Oh, my heart.  We miss him all things at all times.  Always.

So I will get through this 7th month like I have the previous 6 months.  One day at a time, one hour, one minute or just one second at a time.  I’ll heal a little more this month.  I’ll grow some too.  Even though Matt isn’t here, he is still HERE.  I have no doubt he has a window in Heaven and can see our joys and Saturday his baby girl dancing was one of those for sure.

I know so many of you are wanting to know what’s going on with me and my fun little “situation”.  Well, the Dr. wants me to have an MRI so he can get a better idea of what this thing is.  He is NOT worried and that gives me great comfort.  I know the face of “I’m lying to you, because honestly I’m a pretty worried about this but I don’t want to show my cards just yet.”  I saw that a lot while Matt was sick.  This Dr. didn’t have that face.  It’s one of two things he said.  Either a papilloma, which is benign or carcinoma in situ which is also nothing although the name implies terrible things.  Either way I’ll be having a small surgical procedure in the near future to remove it and hopefully be able to move on with my life.  I’m definitely ready for that.  I don’t feel worried or nervous about it, in fact it’s in the very back of my mind now and I’m grateful for that because I have a lot of balls in the air right now.  Juggling is hard.

I’ve done some big things this month on my own and I’m proud of myself.  I filed our taxes with our accountant by myself…..something Matt always did. I just sat there and signed my name every year.  I have also been pre-approved to buy a house and this is insane to me.  When Matt died it was brought to my attention that I had no credit.  Everything is in Matt’s name.  My car, my house, my entire life.  So I opened up some lines of credit to get a “credit history” and it’s helped me tremendously.  Because although I’m paying the mortgage and car every month, I get no credit for it. The thought that I could buy a house on my own is something that both terrifies me and also makes me a little proud.  Like “Look at me, I’m like a real adult now….at 36, ha.”  I know with each thing I do, each mountain I climb Matt is there cheering me on.  Pushing me forward, telling me “You can do it babe”, which is just what he would say if he were here.  You can do this.  And even when I feel like I can’t, I’m doing it.  I’m somehow surviving.

Thank you for all your prayers, cards, texts, messages and encouragement.  I cannot tell you what it does for my heart and soul.  So much of my strength comes from my readers and I am so grateful to have each one of you on this journey with me.

 

On Second Thought

Well I probably should have known better than to publicly announce that my life is boring and I don’t think I’ll need to blog any longer.  That is basically begging for the universe to come and screw with me right?  Right.  So……here I am….with more “excitement” or distress or life happening.

At the beginning of the year I randomly noticed something a little peculiar with one of my breasts….now, I’m asking for maturity here since I’m going to go out on a very small, scary limb and talk about my own body in a public forum (which is very different than talking about Matt’s body for a year, oh the irony of life.)   My left nipple was bleeding.  Not gushing or anything gory or crazy, but it was there and I knew it wasn’t right.  I first consulted Dr. Google (which is ALWAYS A HUGE MISTAKE) and Dr. Google informed me I have stage IV breast cancer and I am going to die, like any second.  Since I am prone to anxiety these days my heart starts racing……I can’t breathe.  No.  NO.  NO.  OK, call a friend.  Take a deep breath and no more Google.  I got myself under control and waited until Monday to call my Dr.  (These things only happen on weekends, am I right?!)

They immediately referred me to the Breast Clinic at OU for a mammogram and ultrasound.  This made me feel even more uneasy.  I was hoping the Dr. would say “Oh, that’s nothing…..once you’re over 35 your nipples totally bleed randomly for no particular reason. You’re good girl.”  I know, wishful/delusional thinking.  As the appointment approached I really wasn’t very apprehensive.  Several friends in the medical field had comforted me and provided me with reasons why this was happening that did not include CANCER.  Whew.  OK.  No worries.  Just breathe it out.  Think other thoughts.

When I arrived at the clinic I was a ball of anxiety and nerves.  I’ve never had a mammogram. Is it going to hurt?  I mean surely it won’t be fun.  Squishing my boobs flat into a pancakes sounds like a blast.  A nurse led me into a room and asked me to take off everything from the waist up and put on this super hot cape that basically covers nothing.  Awesome.  Then she left me in a quiet room….alone.

As I sat there I couldn’t help but look at the empty chair next to me and all of sudden this huge realization came rushing over me.  “Oh my god.  I am totally and completely alone.  Matt should be here to hold my hand and tell me everything is going to be OK.  Comfort me.  Hold me.  Tell me funny jokes and make me laugh until I forget I’m here to see if I have cancer.”  But he isn’t here.  And it hit me that while I was able to honor our vows until death parted us, in every way possible, I no longer have that.  When Matt died I lost that.  There isn’t someone to love me through sickness or death.  Nobody to hold my hand and tell me they love me and take care of me if I get sick.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have family.  I have amazing friends.  I have people to stand in that gap when needed.  But it isn’t the same as a spouse.  Not by a long shot.  This hole in my life is so huge and so vast it continues to knock the breath out of me with each new revelation.  I am alone.  So naturally the tears began to fall and soon they were pouring out of me.  My mom was in the waiting room with Hadley and I texted and asked her to come into the room with me.  I could not stand the infinite loneliness any longer.

I had the mammogram (not nearly as bad as I anticipated) and the ultrasound.  Both were clear and good.  Whew.  So the Dr. said she wanted me to try a course of antibiotics to rule out an infection and come back in two weeks if the bleeding persists for more tests.  I can do that.  Oh, please let it be an infection Lord.  Please.

Two weeks pass, antibiotics are taken, bleeding persists.  I am upset but trying to still hope for the best.  It cannot be cancer.  It just can’t be.  My husband just died of cancer 6 months ago Lord.  You must be joking me……this cannot be real life.  I call and am scheduled for something called a Ductogram for the following Monday….awesome.  I consult Dr. Google to see what a Ductogram is.  Sounds like something out of horror movie.  Fantastic.

You know there is just something humiliating about figuring out what is wrong with your body when it breaks down.  There is just no room for dignity or pride in these situations.  Having worked in healthcare I know that people are at their most vulnerable.  I know that in a clinical setting I’m not looking at your body and judging you.  Easy when you’re on the other side.  When you’re on the patient side it’s a whole other ball of wax.  “Hey, climb up in this chair and let your breasts just hang out.  We are going to rub you down under these bright lights and stick a cannula in your milk duct.  Okie dokie?”  Um, okie dokie….I guess.  So what is my strategy for these situations?  No eye contact.  Never.  I stare at the ceiling and think about groceries, to-do lists, my kids, why the sky is blue, the meaning of life….basically anything but what is actually happening to me.  At one point the nurse said “You need to breathe  sweetie.”  Right….forgot to do that for a second.  After the Dr. stuck a needle in and out of my nipple a few times (and no they don’t numb you), she said well, I can’t get it in far enough so I went ahead and injected some contrast, lets get some images.  Sweet.  More breast pancaking.  As I’m standing there one step above humiliation the Dr. says the dreaded words “there, I see something right there.”  Heart racing, sweaty palms, shallow breathing.   “Michelle, come look.”  Oh I can’t wait to look.  And I see something (no idea what) but it is there.  Now the Dr. wants to ultrasound me again.  Here we go.  Ultrasound reveals nothing so Dr. is perplexed.  She begins asking me rapid fire questions about me and the last year.  I begin sobbing because I don’t know.  “I don’t know when this started or for how long?  You see, the last year and half I’ve been taking care of my dying husband, who by the way died of CANCER and now I’m raising 3 kids on my own and going to school full time, so I haven’t really been paying attention to my body or my health.”  The Dr. is very compassionate and says “Oh my goodness, you must be totally panicked right now!” (grave understatement, I’m on the verge a catatonic) She then tells me she isn’t worried.  She wants to send me to a Breast Surgeon for further evaluation so we can figure out what this is.  It’s hopefully a simple papilloma and nothing more.”

So now I am waiting for Monday.  I really, truly cannot believe this is happening.  Even if it turns out to be nothing that I need to worry about, the stress of these last 3 weeks has done a number on me.  My mind swirls all day and it takes super human strength to resist consulting Dr. Google.  I really do feel as though physically my body cannot take much more stress.  My anxiety is at an all time high, my back muscles stay knotted and tight, heart palpitations, inability to sleep, exhaustion, all of it.  All of this while keeping up with the kids, 13 hours of tough college classes, getting my house ready to sell, thinking about moving, where we will live, what schools are best for my kids, on and on and on.  Since I was 19, Matt has been my sounding board.  My safe place.  My human valium.  He’s gone and it’s so completely obvious right now it breaks my heart.   Just the sight of his beautiful gentle face still reduces me to tears.  I cannot quantify what I would give to have him hold me right this minute.  Anything, anything, anything.

I have been back in church these last two Sundays and it’s good…….and so very hard.  The first Sunday I almost ran out 3 or 4 times.  My body was filled with so much anger.  I felt like I would combust with it.  But I stayed, mostly for my kids benefit.  Last Sunday was better.  I felt God…..I heard him actually.  As the Pastor was giving the message I heard His voice say “I didn’t give you permission to quit blogging…your story isn’t done.”  I kind of looked around and thought “great, now I’m a paranoid schizophrenic.  Add it to my list.”  And the following day is when I got the news that they couldn’t figure this thing out.  And I said to God “Are you joking me JESUS!?  My story isn’t OVER?  What?  I need to battle cancer too?  Maybe  you’ll take me too and let my children be freaking ORPHANS.  Yes.  Because I’m almost on the brink of a total nervous breakdown that requires sedation and padded rooms.  THISCLOSE Man.  WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME????  What else can I give?”  Do you know what he said while I sobbed.  “My ways are not your ways and I have a plan Michelle.  You’re not going to die.  Trust me.”  Trust me.  It sounds so simplistic.  Just trust me.  Even though I took your daughter.  Even though I took your soul mate.  Even though you have no money.  Even though you have to leave your home.  Even though you might have cancer.  TRUST ME.

I am here and I am trying.  I am talking to God a little more everyday.  I am trying yoga and mindfulness and blah blah all that hippie stuff.  I’m trying.  Because I have nobody I can trust right now and I need that.  I want that.  I have to trust Him with my life.  With my future.  I have to trust that my future will be GOOD one day.  Not today, most likely not next week either.  But one day it will be good.  I will be whole in Him again one day.  Broken always, but still whole.

So I’m back.  I’m being obedient and taking baby steps to total trust.  Thank you for your prayers, for we are believing this will be BENIGN and NOTHING and NOT TODAY SATAN.  You’re gonna have to take me off your radar.  I am a fighter.  Even though I am at my most weak, I’m still fighting.  Even if I’m laying on the floor sobbing, I’ll still throw punches your way.  I’m no quitter.

Psalm 31:14 “But I trust in you, LORD; I say, “You are my God.”

Forward

So I have some news for all of you.  Some is good news, some is bad news and some is sad news.  Which honestly, falls right in line with the last year and a half of my life, right?

Let’s just get the bad news over first shall we? I like to just rip the band-aid off so that I can move along with my life.  After speaking with an attorney, it looks like I have no chance of getting any life insurance money.  I had already prepared my heart and finances for this, so it wasn’t really that hard for me to take. I know many of you will want to the know the “whys” and “hows” of this.  Well, let me just say this:  You need to look at your life insurance policy.  If you have something through your workplace and if it is an ERISA policy, get rid of it.  It’s worthless, it will never pay out because there are thousands of loopholes for these insurance companies.  You need an individual life insurance policy.  With health screenings.  I have one now and know that my kids will be taken care of , God forbid.  Matt’s company did a poor job of explaining this to their employees and as a result, we were not covered like we should have been.  Hard life lesson for me and my kids to be sure.

What does this mean for our family?  Well, I’m not entirely sure.  The one thing I DO know is that we have to sell our house.  Whatever money I do have will quickly dwindle trying to keep up with the mortgage, car payment, etc.  So, selling the house is a definite thing this spring.  The good news is that I do have some equity in the house and that will help us considerably to survive until I am done with school.  The sad news….for my kids and our friends is that it is very likely we will be leaving the community we live in and the only one they’ve known.  There are so many reasons for this both financially and logistically. Financially where we live, it is not a “cheap” place.  The standard of living here is high and so are the home prices.  Not really a place for a widowed mom of 3 in school. The odds of me finding a house I can afford are slim to none and rent on the apartments is the same as my mortgage so that doesn’t work either. Logistically all of our family lives in Norman and Moore and I desperately need their help.  I’m not just a single mom, I’m a completely solo parent.  This means where I live I sometimes have help, but it isn’t consistent and it can’t be.  Friends can help, but they have their own families and activities and schedules.  I will be in school for two more years and last semester showed me just how truly difficult it is to get 3 kids everywhere they need to be, find time to study, keep up with the house, pay bills, etc.  My stress levels last semester and this coming semester will be sky high.  It is too much to do alone and I have to concede that I need help.  My kids are beyond devastated at this news and it breaks my heart.  I feel like they are losing so much and I feel totally helpless.  I have to use my head in this part of my life though and do what is best for all of us in the long run.  My school is in the city, my future job will be in the city and I will most likely always be alone.  So I need to try and make it as easy as I can on all of us.  I want my kids to be close to their family (both mine and Matt’s) and that will be much easier if we live close to them.  We have loved living in Washington and I have always bragged about what an amazing community it is.  Because of my community we haven’t drowned yet and I’ve been able to stay afloat until now.  I love this town, I love my friends, I love my kids friends and their families.  Matt and I always envisioned Washington being our forever home.

It isn’t a decision that comes lightly or without a very heavy heart for all of us.  Life just hasn’t worked out the way Matt and I planned it together.  Matt dying has changed and will continue to change the entire course of our lives.  Change is hard and it is terrifying, especially when it is against  your will.  The learning curve for me continues to be very steep and I am learning as quickly as I can how to navigate these waters on my own.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times a day I wish I could call Matt and just ask him what to do.  What I wouldn’t give to hear him tell me I will be OK.  I have never made a single decision in my adult life without his guidance.  These last 6 months I have had to make huge decisions on my own and it has been so very hard. I am proud of how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned.  I’m absolutely not doing it perfectly or right, but I’m doing it.  I’m putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward…..like it or not.

My last piece of news is that I think I am done blogging.  I don’t know that I have anything else to write…..my life is finally beginning to look somewhat benign and boring again and this THRILLS me.  I know so many of you will be sad about this and I just want to thank each one of your for reading this blog of mine.  For reading our story and encouraging us, praying for us, supporting us in so many ways and loving us through the hardest two years of our lives.  I’ll leave the blog up and just let it float in the internet forever I guess, haha.  I don’t really know what else to do with it.  I know so many of you want this in a book one day and I guess if that’s what God wants, He will make a way.  Or it might just sit here and do nothing but encourage other caregivers and widows one day.  That’s OK too.  I don’t know how my story is going to end, I guess none of us really do.  I am fully aware how so many of you want MY story to end and I appreciate that, I really do. I know everyone wants to see me fall in love again and live happily ever after.  I just don’t know that I see it ending that way, with another love story unfolding.  I have had a great, big, amazing love and I am so thankful for that.  16 years wasn’t long enough, but I will treasure it for the rest of my life until I am with Matt again. Thank God I never have to say goodbye to my love, we are just temporarily separated.

I will miss updating all of you on our family and what we are up to, but honestly, I’m kind of tired of myself.  I am ready to focus on life and the living of it, whatever that looks like.  You can keep up with me on Facebook and Instagram, I’ll be there from time to time with pictures and the sharing of memes and stories of how my boys didn’t brush their teeth for FIVE WHOLE DAYS ARE YOU KIDDING ME FIX IT JESUS.  Stuff like that.  So come on over, don’t be shy and let’s be friends.

Thank you just seems so insufficient for what all of you have provided for us over this last year.  I could never have dreamed this blog would have the impact it’s had and I am so thankful and humbled by it.  Thank you from the very bottom of my crazy, cussing, wine drinking, Jesus questioning, God loving, persevering, fighting mad, full heart.

6 Months

So, two days ago I sat down and typed out another long and sorrowful blog entry.  I cried big, fat heavy tears the entire time and wrote out all the emotions that came with surviving these first 6 months without Matt.  Surviving our first major holiday season without him.  I was so emotionally exhausted after the writing that I didn’t even finish it.  I just closed my computer and went to sleep.  The next day I thought “you know, what?  I’m not even going to publish it.”  Here is why:  I’m actually becoming sick of myself.  I’m beginning to annoy myself with my non-stop whining and woe is me, my life is over, I’ll never be happy again, etc, etc, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still totally in the middle of heavy grief.  I know I have a long road ahead before I’m ready to take those big steps in moving forward with my life without Matt.  So for now I will continue to take baby steps, that are equally as important.  I wanted to write something happy instead…..not just for you guys, but for myself too.  I want to believe that I deserve some happy so I’m giving it my best shot.

I always get so excited for a new year to begin.  I am 100% one of those people who loves to make resolutions and lists and game plans for what I want the year ahead to look like.  I love a good solid plan and challenging myself.  I’ve always been someone who evolves and welcomes change in life.  I mean, I don’t appreciate my current changed situation, but I don’t shy away from change in general.  I think who you are today doesn’t have to be who you are tomorrow.  I love that about life, you can literally just say “I don’t want to live my life like this….” and poof….you change.  So what does this year ahead look like for us as a family of 4?  Well, for starters I am taking my health back into my control.  Prior to Matt becoming sick I had worked really hard to shed almost 90lbs.  I had gained a lot of weight through the loss of Isabella (stress gets me every time) and then tack on two more babies and putting myself last on the list and there you go.  I have always loved working out (I know, how annoying), but I truly feel like I can tackle anything  after getting a solid hour of almost dying at the gym.  Those endorphins are the best addiction a person can have and I am solidly addicted.  Since Matt’s diagnosis I have gained a whopping 65lbs.  Ugh.  I hate to even type that out.  And I know you’re all going to tell me “Michelle, give yourself a break you were taking care of Matt and totally stressed out.”  This is all true, but it is time to put myself somewhere towards the top of the list.  It is something I really struggle with.  I’m not a selfish person by nature and it’s something I always kind of envied about Matt.  (And totally wanted to throat punch him for as well.)  He had no issue taking care of himself and saying “I need to spend 7 hours outside alone today. Bye.”  I asked him many times “Don’t you feel guilty?”  His response every single time “Nope.  You should try it sometime Michelle, it’s great.”  I laugh thinking about it right now.  Oh I miss him.  So Monday I started back to the gym and although I need a handicap bar to pee today, I’m totally loving it.  I have to take care of myself and my body.  Eating garbage and not moving my body isn’t what it needs or wants.  My 3 kids need me to be here and be healthy.  I have a lot of reasons to take care of myself and love myself.  So I’m doing it.

I am about to begin my last semester of pre-reqs for Nursing school and I am in the process of filling out my applications.  I can’t hardly believe that it is already here.  When I think about how I will have completed 40 hours of college during the hardest time of my life I want to cry.  I’m truly not even sure how I’ve done it.  It’s a little blurry for sure.  Yet here I sit, staring down the tunnel and that light is pretty bright now.  I cannot wait to start the program and be a Nurse.  I have zero doubt it is my calling and I just can’t wait to get started.  I really feel excited about that part of my future and so grateful for the opportunity to pursue something that I will love to do.  And listen, I’m not even going to be humble you guys, I’m going to be a totally bad ass nurse.  For real.  You will want me as your nurse, no doubt about it.  One day I might just save your life….or your kids life.  And I can’t wait.

As for the kids they are doing pretty good all things considered.  I’m really proud of them and how they are pushing through and persevering.  I really admire them and their strength to still be happy in spite of losing their Daddy.  Of course they have their days and their struggles, especially my two boys.  They are the oldest and have a firm understanding of the scope of this loss and it breaks my heart regularly.  As the months pass by we all see big pieces of just how much Matt’s absence will change our lives in a continuing way…..and it’s hard and sad.  We are all doing the best we can though and trying to just keep pushing, keep moving.  Not long ago Jackson (my oldest) and I were driving alone and he suddenly said “Mom, thanks for still living.  For getting out of bed every day when I know you probably just want to sleep and cry.  Thanks for going to school and cleaning the house and taking us to do fun things still.”  You guys.  I dropped him off and totally lost it.  Blew me away.  “Thanks for still living.”  I really hadn’t given much thought to the fact that my kids are watching my every move.  I’ve just been moving, most of the time blindly, not doing a lot of thinking, just moving.  To know that my kids see me and appreciate it was all the motivation I needed to keep going.

img_0326I know the next 6 months will have its challenges and sad times too.  We are not out of the woods yet by a long shot.  My birthday is coming up and that will be tough.  Our wedding anniversary, which would have been our 15th will be beyond hard….it’s the milestone I dread the absolute most.  And of course we have Fathers Day, which the boys have already mentioned.  The thought of it brings me to tears.  No Father to celebrate takes your breath away for sure.  If the last 6 months have been any indication for what to expect in the next 6 months, then I know we will be OK.  We will have bad days, hard days, days where we want to quit.  Yet, we will get up, put our clothes on and go through the motions even when we don’t want to.  We will make it.

My biggest challenge for this next year is getting back on track with God.  I’m still pretty angry at Him.  I don’t see goodness from “His plan”and I question all the time if any of this was really in a plan at all.  I long to be back in church and my kids do too, but we have a lot of hurt and dis-trust there too.  A good friend called me the other night, who has also been struggling with God and church and she said something that really made so much sense to me. Our relationship with God is a marriage, the bible clearly states it. We should treat it like that, and most of us don’t.  So when we fight with our spouses and really kind of hate them do we pack our bags and walk out?  Do we say “I’m done with you.  You pissed me off.”  Well, OK, some people actually do walk out forever, but I never did.  I never gave up on my relationship with Matt.  Ever.  So I’ve got to look at my relationship with Christ as a marriage.  Sure we’re going to disagree.  I won’t always like what God allows into my life.  But if I really love Him and trust Him and devote myself to Him, then that’s it.  I have to be all in.  I never struggled to be all in with Matt.  Today I can see fully that I was an amazingly devoted wife and an OK Christian at best.  Matt came first, no doubt.  So this friend said “Hey, let’s go to church together.  Let’s commit to it and hold each other accountable.  No flaking out on Sunday mornings anymore.”  I took a deep breath and said “OK, I’m all in.”  So I’m talking to God again.  My prayers are short and sweet, but I’m praying again.  One night my prayer was simply me sobbing and telling Him “I don’t understand why you allowed this.  How you think I’ll be OK without Matt.  I am really questioning your judgement here Lord.”  And because I know He loves me and is for me and really adores me, He hurts for me too.  I sometimes envision God weeping right next to me and saying “I know.  This world, I wanted it to be so good for you.  I really did.  Someday it’ll all be good and right and amazing.  Just hang on, it’s going to get really good soon.”  So I am hanging on and diving into Him.  He is the only one who can heal this heart of mine anyways, we all know that.

Although I know 2017 won’t be our very favorite year, as we continue to navigate these waters post cancer, I have hope that it can have a lot of joy and laughter and adventure in spite of what we are facing.  We have plans to travel and camp and hike and fish and explore as much as we can this year.  I want to live and not just exist.  Those are two very different things.  Matt has taught me so much about life and just how beautifully and tragically precious and fragile it is.  I want to soak up my days and savor them.  Lay in the sun and just let it wash over me.  Dig my toes into warm sand.  Look at beautiful mountains (my favorite) and marvel at their massive beauty and feel so small and insignificant.  See cities and towns and take plenty of road trips just because.  Watch my kids continue to grow and change and learn.  Fall back in love with life and all that offers.  I am still here and I don’t want to waste it.  I want to live it.

Christmas

This time last year Matt rang the bell signaling the end of his 6 weeks of radiation at the cancer center in OKC.  It had been a long and hard two months that included two week long hospital stays and gruesome chemo treatments followed by daily radiation for 6 weeks.  We all went into Christmas full of hope and joy and faith that Matt’s cancer journey would end sometime in January with a surgery that would remove this awful disease from his body.

I could not have known, guessed or even believed that this Christmas, one year later, I would be a widow for 5 months.  That I would be raising our three beautiful kids, all by myself.  Making every decision on my own.  Crawling into bed each night without my heart, my love, my best friend.  I couldn’t have known that this year I wouldn’t get to tease Matt endlessly about what a Grinch he is.  Or make him all of his favorite treats that he waits all year for so impatiently.  There are no more family trips to look at pretty lights while I annoy him with loud Christmas music or forced photo ops in matching Christmas PJs.  (Matt complained every. single. year!) There is this giant hole in our lives and it is impossible to ignore.  My husband is gone.  Their Daddy is gone.  Our hearts are broken.

Sunday evening I was driving the kids home after a fun day with friends and feeling something….I couldn’t put my finger on it.  It had been there all day long and I had been trying my hardest to ignore it and make it go away.  As I drove tears began to silently pour down my face.  I tried to fight them, but I just couldn’t win this battle.  The flood gates opened.  I cried so violently that I really felt as though my chest would just burst open.  Often when these episodes happen I think that my heart is actually going to stop….it just can’t take the intensity of my loss any longer. It hasn’t given out yet thank goodness…..because I have 3 babies who need me.  There are just moments, that sneak up on me out of nowhere, when my brain whispers to me “Can you believe Matt died Michelle?  That guy you loved so completely and built your whole life around?  Yeah, he’s gone now.  You’ll never see his face this side of Heaven again.  He will never hold you again.  Or tell you everything will be OK.  It’s just you.  That sucks, right?”  And then that’s it.  I’m in the fetal position on my bed clutching his shirt and sobbing.  I wonder how long it will take to reach acceptance that this is my life.  This really happened.  My Matt really did die.  That I am alone now and have to do this life by myself.  When does that come?

I so desperately want to talk to God again.  I miss Him and I need Him.  Yet every time I try, my heart stops me and reminds me what I have lost.  I am scared to trust Him again.  Scared to follow in His way.  Not scared….absolutely terrified.  What else will be required of me?  I don’t feel that I have anything else to give this life.  I know I look strong and you probably think I am strong.  I’m not though, I promise you.  Matt dying has left me at my absolute worst and weakest.  I thank God every single day for my three kids, because if it weren’t for them….well, I just don’t know.  There have been dark nights for sure.  I know He is there, just waiting for me.  I know He loves me and hurts for me and cares for me and wants to give me a hope and a future.  But  when I start to move towards him again I am angry at what He has asked of me.  What He has taken from me.  How much more Lord?  Why Isabella?  Why Matt?  Why did I have to hold them as they died?  Why do you ask these things of me?  WHY?!?  I did finally take my kids to church again.  So there is a step in the right direction.  I became totally immersed in the worship and remembered how much I love it.  Then the sermon came and every time the Pastor offered some platitude my mind responded with some smart ass remark back.  “God will take care of you, He wants to bless YOU!” Me, “Yeah, by letting the love of your life die of cancer in your arms. Blessings abound!!”  I like to think that sometimes God kinda laughs at my mouth. “That Michelle, she’s pretty funny when she’s mad”  Matt would say “Oh, from this angle, it’s hilarious….but down there, not as funny man to be on the receiving end.”  Ha.

I have laid in bed many nights thinking about my love for Matt.  Our love for each other and just how amazing it was….and still is.  I find myself questioning whether 16 years of amazing, all encompassing true love is worth the hell I am enduring now.  The hell Matt knew I would face once he died.  It really broke his heart because he knew I would be walking a scary and lonely road without him and he was right.  I think about my future and question whether I will ever by truly happy again?  At 35, my life seems way too long now without Matt in it.  Can my heart ever love again like that?  Could another man ever love me like that again?  I mean, it’s pretty stiff competition.  Can I learn to just live and love being alone?  Be fulfilled by my kids, their future family and my career? I guess it’s all wide open and right now that terrifies me way more than it excites me.  With Matt by my side it was easy to have confidence in my future because it was our future…..so everything that came we would get through it together.  Knowing that for now the future is mine to face alone, is daunting to say the least.

This month has found us in a tough place, a place that we wish we could escape.  I’m proud of myself and my kids for how we’ve truly rallied and tried.  Making the decision to carry on with Christmas and it’s traditions was a good choice for all of us.  This weekend we will be surrounded by love from family and friends.  It will be hard, no doubt but we will be loved.  The kids decided they do not want to stay home on Christmas Eve and wake up without Matt and I could not be more relieved.  There is just a lot of pain in that morning without him here.  So we will stay with my mom and try something different this year.  Santa goes everywhere 🙂  In the past, Matt has always taken the week after Christmas off and we spend that week together as a family.  So this year I am taking the kids on a trip solo.  Wish me luck, this will be my first time on a trip alone with 3 kids.  Be near sweet Jesus, be near.  I am taking the kids to Great Wolf Lodge and then Gaylord Texan…..we have never been to either and we are all pretty excited.  I had to sell a kidney to make it happen, but hey, that’s why you’ve got two right?  One to sell.

So yes, this week has found me crying more than I am smiling.  Our lives are so very different than this time last year.  And they will be so very different next year too, because that is the way life goes.  What I want most of all for all of you who read this silly blog to know is this:  Love your people.  Love them hard and well.  Say what you want to say to those you want to say it to.  Life is so very, very short and precious.  Look at your spouse tonight and pull them close and smell them.  Tell them you are so happy you have them tonight and hopefully for many more nights to come.  This Christmas could be your last Christmas with someone you love and I want you to enjoy every minute of it.  Take pictures.  Document your memories and your love for each other.  Love so big and mighty, so that if that day comes, when you have to say goodbye, you are left with goodness and love and memories that help fill that giant void in your life.  I loved Matt with every fiber of my being.  I served him every day of our marriage together and I have no regrets.  None.  My gift to you is this advice from someone who knows just how precious your life and your loves life is.  You don’t get a do-over or second chances at this life.  You only get one shot, so get it right.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas full of love, laughter and family.  I hope you love with your heart wide open this weekend and in the months to follow.  Life is too short to do it any other way.  Merry Christmas friends.

Train Wreck

Well, December is proving to be as brutal as I had dreaded it to be so far.  It has been a month full of so many different emotions and experiences, it is hard for to find words for once….it’s just that raw.

For one thing, not only is this month the first Christmas and “Holiday Season” without Matt, it’s also finals for college.  These two things combined really threw me for a loop, both mentally and emotionally.  As it turns out, the class I have been working the hardest on, have shed tears over and stressed over more hours than I care to admit…well, I may not even pass it. Crazy, I know.  The last two tests of the semester were the hardest tests of the semester and they found me at my lowest point both physically and emotionally.  So tonight I have shed more tears and experienced more chest pains because I don’t know what this means for me and school.   I really don’t.  Because I feel completely and utterly over-whelmed.  Burdened.  Stressed.  Tired.  Done.

Attending college full-time the entire time your husband is diagnosed with cancer……then continuing as you are a full time caregiver, wife, mom, daughter, etc was hard.  No doubt.  However, continuing two months after your husband dies, as a newly widowed single mom?  Insane.  I wanted to quit so many times.  I cried and stressed and cried and freaked and cried and have I mentioned that I cry??  Oh, I do.  My back today is a mess of angry knots that I can’t get rid of.  My neck is so stiff from stress it hurts all day, every day and I can barely turn it.  My chest is almost always tight and my anxiety levels function at “full speed” every day.  These last 4 months have been complete and utter hell.  What you see is Michelle looking like she’s got it all together.  I’m with my kids and smiling and laughing and chatting with everyone, like my life is just great.  Fabulous.  What you don’t see is me having total nervous breakdowns to my mom over the phone.  Or my house, which became so filthy and chaotic that I finally just gave up and let it be.  The mom and wife who kept a perfect house, kept up with the laundry, bills, groceries, etc?  She is gone.  Adios!  I rarely cook, because I lack the time and motivation.  Laundry?  Please, get your clothes out of the clean pile on the couch…aka “Mt. Laundry” as I affectionately refer to it.  Keeping up with my kids homework, reading records and Friday folders?  Don’t make me laugh, ya’ll.  I can’t even.  Their teachers probably judge me constantly for my lack of involvement.  But for the love of all that is holy…..when my “to-do” list is literally bulging and I have chest pains and I’m crying in the shower……..I have to start prioritizing.  Reading records and Friday folders?  You’ve been cut.  Healthy dinner every single night?  Cut.  Folded laundry that is put away?  Cut.  My car…..oh please.  Let’s not even go there.  It’s now the portal to hell, I kid you not.

So tonight I am up late with chest pains thinking about my future.  What do I do?  I am no longer sure I can do this whole nursing school thing.  It isn’t an easy degree or an easy job.  I’ve known for a long time that I’ve wanted to do it, and I know I would be great at it.  I just don’t know if I can handle the stress of a house, 3 kids, bills, no job, no husband and a degree that they don’t hand out for free…..it’s so much.  Possibly too much.  I am always in the worst mood and my kids get the brunt of it.  My kids didn’t just lose their Daddy, they lost a version of their Mommy that they knew and loved and that’s hard.  I just can’t ever be that Mom again and I’ve told them that.  This is our reality and we all have to make the best of it.

The biggest issue this month, is of course who is missing.  With all of my struggling and stress, my heart misses Matt even more.  He was my greatest encourager and biggest fan in this life.  Countless times when I was worried about something, he would hold me and always say these words “Well babe, even it doesn’t work out, who cares? We have each other.”  It always gave me such comfort because it was true. We had each other.  The most heartbreaking thing for me today is that I no longer have that.  Cancer robbed me of my partner, my best friend, my co-parent, my world.  Lately, whenever I am really in the mood for a good wallowing, I let myself remember the way it felt for my head to rest on his giant chest.  I always told him he was my living and breathing valium.  Just his presence calmed me and made me feel like everything would be OK.  Now, I just don’t know if everything will be OK.  There is no more “Us against the world”.  It is just Me and it’s the loneliest feeling in the world.  I wish I had the words to describe just how much my heart hurts without him, but I can’t…there just aren’t any for this kind of longing and pain.  We just fit together and went together so perfectly, that I still cannot believe I am here living and breathing without him.  It literally takes my breath away almost daily.  It’s strange and sad and lonely to be crazy in love with someone who is no longer living.  It’s the hardest thing I have ever done or ever will do.

So tonight I took my babies to see The Nutcracker at the Civic Center.  It has always been my most favorite ballet, even as a little girl. I grew up dancing and I have so much love for art that is ballet.  The music, the tutu’s, the cute boys in tights (can’t lie ya’ll, they’ve got some serious quads going on) and just the magic of it all does it for me.  Matt and I went for years and at some point I took Jackson and he was hooked.  Tonight was the first time for my youngest two to go and I was so excited for them to experience this!  I made big plans, spent money I don’t have so that we could have a magical family night and escape our sadness.  And it went a little something like this:

We are all getting ready in our “fancy” clothes as Hadley likes to call them.  Girls are having a lot of fun getting pretty…..the boys….not so much.  I hear what sounds like a fight in the next room.  As a matter of fact it is a fight…..a fist fight between Cain and Abel…..I mean Jackson and Kingston.  Fix it Jesus! I break up the fight, we take some obligatory photos and we are off to a nice steak dinner.  Hahahahahahahahaha.  Right.

We arrive at the restaurant, order our food and eat our food.  Cain and Abel are separated because, steak knives and proximity are not a good combo tonight.  At the end of dinner Kingston looks at me and says matter of factly “I ate too much, I need to go puke mom.”  Just like it’s no big deal, and this is what everyone does after dinner.  Gorge and puke….duh mom.  So I’m looking at him as though he’s completely crazy and I say “For REAL?  Like REALLY? That steak was expensive Kingston….digest it!!!!!”  Nope.  He pukes.  Stress and anxiety levels?  Rising.  So Kingston assures me he is totally OK, fit as a fiddle now that he’s regurgitated his $30 filet.  Right. OK.  A few meditative breaths for me and were on the road.  Little does the OKC Ballet know, but the freaking Grisowlds are coming to the ballet tonight.  Buckle up buttercup.

Once we arrive at the ballet I am a little more relaxed and tell myself to chill out and have fun.  This is a mantra I repeat often.  The kids are pretty impressed and love all of the sights and sounds.  We go and buy a couple of Nutcrackers like we always do and get in to line for our seats.  The line is long so I decide the leave the boys and take Hadley to the restroom before the show starts.  Great idea, right?  Wrong.  Hadley has a brand new dress on tonight and it’s precious.  She also has this gorgeous little white furry vest I bought her to wear with it.  Somehow, and I still haven’t figured this out, she takes the vest off (WHYYYYYY.  WHY DID YOU TAKE THE VEST OFF?!?!?!) and manages to dip it into the toilet.  At this point I am now yelling at her in the stall…”Hadley, your VEST IS IN THE TOILET. WHAT IN THE HELLLLSSSSS ARE YOU DOING!?!? GET YOU VEST OUT OF THE TOILET.”  Fix it now Jesus.  Stress and anxiety levels? Rocketing.  So now I’m staring at this stupid toilet water soaked vest and thinking “do I just throw it away?  Take it home and wash it?  Burn it in the sink?”  So many options for this fun little escapade.  Since it’s only half wet and the water was “clean” (nobody had peed yet anyways) I decide to carry it and wash it at home.   And by carry it, I mean hold away from me with two fingers…..disgusting.  Finally we are in our seats and ready to watch this beautiful show. Dirty vest is on the floor, no worries.  The ballet starts and my kids faces absolutely shine.  This makes my heart so happy.  They all three love it and I am so thankful that I can share my loves with my babies.

During intermission the kids ask for hot chocolate, so we hop up and get some.  I think this is a great idea and I am an idiot.  Hadley of course takes one sip and is done with hers, so I think she sets it on the floor by her chair as the second act begins.  I will find out shortly I am very wrong.  So, it almost the end of the show and it’s a really climatic part.  Big music, beautiful dancing, everyone is captivated.  Hadley chooses this time to whisper that she wants to sit in my lap….I’m totally OK with that, so I motion for her to come over.  As she gets up I see that her hot chocolate is in her seat next to her and I am too slow and the chair is too fast and it spills with a horrible SPLASH onto the feet, coat and purse of the woman behind Hadley.  I KID YOU NOT. Sticky, chocolate liquid all over this poor woman and her neighbors, because that cup was totally full and hit the ground at full speed.  I’m DYING.  I’m DEAD.  Lord, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from these children.  Amen.  It was truly the icing on the cake of tonight.  All I could do was miss Matt and the looks we would have given each other all night that said “can you believe we created these jerks?”  It makes me laugh just to think of it.

The night ended very anti-climatically thank you Jesus.  We all had an OK time.  It wasn’t a great time or a perfect time….but it was OK.  That’s good enough for this season in our life.  I am slowly (very slowly) learning the ropes of single parenting and it’s a got a steep learning curve.  I’m doing it though and studying and getting up every single day and trying.  Some days I give 100% and other days I give 25%.  I’m OK with that.  My kids seem to be OK with it too.  We are here and healthy and for the most part we are happy.

This month will continue to be hard and we covet your prayers as we face our first Christmas without our husband and daddy.  We miss him so very much in all ways.  Not a day or moment goes by that we don’t long for him.  Thank you for loving us so well through this month, it is noticed and appreciated more than any of you know.  Goodnight friends.

Thankfulness

About a month ago I was talking to one of my closest friends and she was telling me about a shirt she had ordered for Thanksgiving…..it said “Thankful” on it.  I rolled my eyes and said to her “Ugh, I wouldn’t wear that shirt for any thing right now, I’m not thankful at all!” This friend, who loves me, immediately said “Don’t say that! You have so much to be thankful for Michelle and you know it!”  I’m sure I rolled my eyes again to drive my point home and grumbled something sarcastic (hard to believe I know!) and we moved on.  But, because she is a true friend she didn’t just pat my arm and give me sad eyes when I said that.  She told me the truth……the hard truth……the honest truth.  I have so much to be thankful for, even in this terrible and dark season of my life.  And she is right.

For starters, I have been blessed with not one amazing and true ride or die friend, but two.  That in itself is pretty amazing I think.  These two girls came into my life at different times but have both loved me through so much in our years together.  This last year all I have to do is call and they are there, no questions asked.  They have seen me at my absolute worst this year.  Crying, snotting, cussing, yelling, belligerent, delirious, insane, angry, bitter, and let’s not forget drunk, because yeah, I’ve done that a time or two this year.  One sat with me and loved me while I watched the love of my life take his last breath and I can’t imagine a more helpless position she was in that night, but she did it so very well.  The other has watched me have a complete and total breakdown in front of my kids school…..full on screaming, ranting, crying, cussing freak out.  She just stood there and waited for it to be over, which is what I need when these “episodes” happen.  Just wait it out.  (She laughed a bit too, apparently I’m also a hoot when I’m having nervous breakdowns, it’s a gift.)  They have been there through it all and never left. They know me inside and out and all of my ugly truths.  I can tell them anything (and I mean ANYTHING) and not only is it sacred and safe, they still love me the next day.  I’ve had some friends leave since Matt died and that’s always hard…..but it happens.  Once the fan fare dies down the crowds disperse.  Not these two, they are here for long haul and I am so very grateful to them…more than they will ever know.  Joni and Brandi, I love you BIG and with my whole cussing, crying, wine drinking heart.  I am thankful for you.

I am most thankful for my three precious, life giving kids.  Oh when I think of where I would be today or what kind of shape I would be in without them it makes my heart stop.  You know, a week or so before Matt died we were crying and talking how he was dying and it was impossibly hard and sad.   My face was soaked with tears and I looked at him and asked him how I would ever get out of bed and do life without him?  How would I continue without my Matt?  HOW?  He said “our kids babe.  You’ll do it for our kids.”  And he is right, as usual.  Those three kids get me up every single day and I am so thankful for them.  I see so much of their Daddy in each one and it makes my heart soar more than it makes it hurt.  Each one is my daily reminder of what an amazing love Matt and I have together, so amazing that not even death can stop it.  Our story will live on in Jackson, Kingston and Hadley and I will forever be thankful for it.  There are days when having three kids is so hard and I am so angry that I am raising them alone now.  Yet, even on the hardest of single parenting days when I am yelling at them and feeling like I just can’t do this, I can stop and look into their faces and see so much love.  Matt and I made those little jerks!!  (I kid, I kid…..mostly.)  img_4586

Our Thanksgiving selfie….. I gave up getting serious faces out of these clowns.  Gosh I love them.

I am thankful for family.  Family is so hard, isn’t it?  I don’t think I have ever known anyone who said “Gosh, my family is just great.  We all have it together and we love each other and I just love them all so much!!”  I mean if I do ever meet someone who says that I’m going to ask them who their prescribing doctor is, because I need that in my life.  Am I right?  Family is complicated and I think I get why.  We love each other.  Love makes everything more complicated.  When you really, really love people……they can really, really hurt you.  I mean Suzie Q down the street can say something hurtful to me or about me and I might be mad for a hot second but then I’m over it.  Who needs Suzie Q anyways?  But someone you love?  Forget about it.  Now I’m all kinds of fired up and ready to fight.  It used to mystify me, but it doesn’t today.  Love is why we are that way.  My family is far from perfect….I mean, far….but gosh dang I love them.  They are my people…..they have loved me for a long time (like, my entire existence and that hasn’t been easy.) They loved me through my brown vest phase for crying out loud (that’s for my little punk brother, who will never let me forget about my vest phase in life.)  We have fought, quit speaking, started over so many times I can’t count.  Because that is what families do.  We love big, we fight big and hopefully forgive big too.  I’ve always said that if I am indifferent towards someone in my life, that is not good.  Indifference means you no longer love or care about that person.  No bueno.  I have yet to have that with any of my people, thank you Jesus.  So I am thankful that I have this crazy and amazing family behind me in this life.  I am thankful that we love so big, fight so big and always forgive big too. We might not have it all together, but when life gets scary and hard, they are right there.  Loving and supporting and fighting battles.  I love you guys.  (And Chris, let the brown plaid vest go…..it WAS ONE TIME!!!!)

I am thankful for this life I am living.  I am.  I may not be at my highest point right now or at my happiest, but I am still here.  I am still alive.  Losing Isabella and Matt has afforded me a very rare and expensive set of lens through which to view this world.  When you have lived through losses like mine, you really know how precious and short and amazing life actually is.  I know what I should be concerned over and what I shouldn’t give a second thought to.  I learn more and more each day.  As the days and weeks and months pass by I learn more about myself.  About Matt and his death and how it will shape my future.  It can make me bitter and angry and depressed (which is tempting some days, as that is the easiest and most natural choice) or it can change me for the better if I’m willing to get dirty and fight.  I have chosen the latter.  For whatever reason, I am here and Matt is not.  I may not like it and I may not have designed it or had a say in it, but it’s the facts. Is laying in bed, becoming an angry and bitter woman the way I want to honor Matt?  Do I want his death to ruin my life and ruin my kids lives as well?  NO.  So I am going to be thankful for my life.  Thankful for all it.  Not just the pretty parts….all of it.  I am going to put up a Christmas tree.  I am going to celebrate my birthday in February even though I will be a stupid freaking 36 year old widow.  I am going to smile and dance and clap my hands when it snows this winter, like I always do, because I just LOVE snow.  I am going to smell the rain before it comes in the spring and savor it.  I will go to Mexico for what would have been our 15th wedding anniversary in June and celebrate our love just like we had planned. I will keep living.  Even when I feel like dying, I will live.  And I will trust that one day, it won’t be a fight, it will just be my life again.  It will be a life that I love and enjoy and want.  If God has it for me, I will love again one day too.  I’m up for and open to anything.  Cancer stole so much from me this year and it just can’t take anything else.  I am through with Cancer and it’s destructive ways.  So, I am thankful for my life and whatever it brings.

img_4612  See?  I put up a tree.  Cancer doesn’t get to steal anything else from us.

The kids and I survived our first big holiday without Matt.  It was hard and scary and sad, but also so good.  I had so many pouring out love to me that day.  So many texts that made me smile and let me know that we are cared for and loved and prayed for.  Thanksgiving ended well for us, with full hearts and bellies all snuggled together in my bed.  The kids and I are doing new things and creating new traditions and rhythms in this new life.  I think they are pretty happy and I am getting there too. We are in it together and I am so thankful for that.