Wednesday, August 1, 2018

20 Things for the 20th Anniversary...Make it Matter!


I'm not going to lie...Today marks a milestone that is tearing at my heart and it feels a little hard to breathe. Today would have been mine and Bunky's 20th wedding anniversary.

I actually remember so vividly a discussion we had on our honeymoon about how we would go back to Hawaii to celebrate our 20th. We dreamed about what our life would look like at that point. How many kids would we have? Where would we live? What would we be doing? All of those discussions were from the perspective that we would be together...doing whatever life looked like at that time, fast-forwarded 20 years. Never would either of us imagined that one of us would be gone from this earth when August 1, 2018 finally arrived.

So, here I am without him. And while 5 years has passed since he went to be with Jesus, it still feels like he should be here with me. Even though the shock has worn off and many wounds have healed with time, there is still an ache at the core of who I am. A desperation in my very soul. A piece of my heart, hopes, and dreams are gone. It's my reality now and I am learning to live a new life that he is not physically in, even though it's not what I would have wanted. It was God's plan and I have to believe in His sovereignty, regardless of what I see in front of me.

I think one of the beautiful things that happens when someone goes through loss or when tragedy occurs and life is significantly altered...a NEW perspective is gained! Suddenly, things that meant so much, don't anymore. And, consequently, things that were overlooked become more important. The little things really matter.

I have been thinking a lot about some of the things that Bunky and I shared and did that mattered. Things that hold so much more significance to me now. Things I wished that I hadn't taken for granted. Also, some things I wished we did more of. So, I decided in honor of what would have been our 20th Anniversary, I would create a list to hopefully encourage my married friends to "make it matter."

20 Things to Make It Matter:
  1. Write your spouse a love note and leave it on the dash of their car or on the mirror.
  2. Hold your hug for 20 extra seconds.
  3. Give them flowers “just because”…even if you just pick wildflowers on the side of the road.
  4. Go for a walk and hold hands while you do.
  5. Give them a back rub or foot massage.
  6. Send them a random text to tell them something that makes you smile about them.
  7. Dress up and go out for a fancy dinner…then, make sure someone takes a picture of you.
  8. Play a board game or cards together.
  9. Watch a sunset together.
  10. Ask your spouse to share what they are most proud of, most excited for, most concerned about, and most fearful of. Don’t talk. Don’t judge. Just listen. Then, affirm them. 
  11. Get off your phone, iPad, computer and live in the moment with your spouse, even if it’s just for 30 minutes in the evening. Show them what a priority they are to you.
  12. Take a long drive together with the windows down. 
  13. Make a playlist with all your favorite songs and dance together.
  14. Take Pictures together….lots of them and not just on special occasions.
  15. Watch a really funny movie and laugh together until your belly hurts.
  16. Plan a weekend away together…just the 2 of you OR send your kids away with friends and family and have a staycation together alone at home.
  17. Kiss longer.
  18. Tell your spouse the top 3 things you love and respect most about about them.
  19. Make sure you have a Living Will and have talked about your wishes in case the worst should happen…whether you are 20 or 60, it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give each other.
  20. Pray together daily.
We certainly didn't have a perfect marriage. We struggled like anyone else. We had some ugly fights with each other. We had doubts and disappointments. We said things we didn't mean. But, at the end of the day, I always knew I was deeply loved and he knew the same. I am thankful for the peace I have knowing we had something special. Something that was unbreakable, even though we were both broken people. We were in it for the long haul and I'm certain we would be in Hawaii celebrating now.

I know my husband is gone, so it might seem easy for me to say these things now. Marriage is hard. It takes dedication, patience, selflessness, and effort. I think that is what makes it that much more beautiful when you come through the rough times and choose to love each other through it. Take time today to even just pick one thing from the list and then do it. Even if you don't want to. Even if you are mad as hell at your spouse. Even if they don't "deserve" it. You will never regret that you did. The next anniversary may come and one of you may no longer be here. Don't let a simple opportunity pass to make it matter!

Monday, July 2, 2018

The significance of 5 years

To say that 5 years ago my husband took his last breath on this earth and entered eternity in Heaven, seems mind-blowing. To me, 5 years...FIVE...just feels significant. It is a number that carries some weight. A benchmark, so to speak. In the medical world, you hear of 5 year survival rates. I know for our own family, getting to the 5 year cancer free mark for Cooper was hugely significant. I think of other big "5 year marks" that people refer to...like making it through the first 5 years of marriage and 5 years in recovery from addiction...these are milestones to be celebrated and hurdles of great victory!
I wish I could say 5 years since that day I said my final goodbye, I have felt something significant happen in my heart... something monumental to celebrate or like I have really overcome something. In some ways, I have certainly moved forward and have been able to accept the way that things have turned out. There are more happy moments and less sadness and time has absolutely been the biggest factor in that. However, I wouldn't say that the pain is any less or that I feel "cured" of the heartbreak. It has just become numbed with the passage of time. It's still real. Very real.

Life still feels hard. That's the bottom line. The tragedy that struck our family is still something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. There are still constant reminders of what's missing...and well, honestly, it still hurts. It still doesn't feel "right." Every holiday, every "family event", every big decision, every celebration, every disappointment. Every last one of them still feels like it is supposed to be shared with Rod Cook.

Time has healed lots of wounds, but there are scars that will always be there. They remind me of what we have come through. Sometimes they elicit tears and other times joy at remembering what we had and getting to see the legacy he left.

I say none of this for pity or to make anyone ever feel sorry for us. That's honestly the last thing I want. I always want to be completely transparent and work so hard to teach my boys to speak truth, not just what you think someone wants to hear. It really sucks to lose your husband and father so unexpectedly, and that is the reality. There is no proper timeline for when you should be "over it" and as much as I would like to believe that sometimes, it's just not the truth. What I can say, is that we have tried to make the best of our "story", we have tried to rise above, we have tried to glorify God in our circumstances. Sometimes we do that well and other times we absolutely fail. But, we are trying. I am trying. One day at a time.
At the beach in the spring the year their dad died. Carson was writing "RC" in the sand
Most importantly, through it all, I feel so incredibly loved and held. God has fulfilled His promise to be near to my broken heart. He has carried me. He has given me a peace that is truly beyond any human understanding. I am so grateful for that. I have seen His tenderness in a personal way that I probably never would have otherwise. I have the blessing of a perspective that now soaks in the little things, because you never know what can happen. I have experienced true friendship and community in a more meaningful way, because I have had to let go of my stubbornness and let others help me, even when I absolutely don't want to.

The realization that no matter how hard I have tried to keep their dad's memory alive and fully present, the boys memories have faded with time...THIS has probably been one of the most difficult things for me to accept. Cooper is almost the age that Carson was when his dad died. He has now experienced more life without his dad than with him in it. He has very few memories. That is heartbreaking to me. I found this picture that my sister took of Cooper sleeping early in the morning on the day of his dad's funeral. He looks like such a baby to me. He was sleeping so peacefully and had no way to grasp what that day and the days ahead would mean for him.
So, today is a benchmark, I suppose. Five years sometimes still feels like yesterday. I'm thankful to have been loved and given the gift of these 3 boys, by someone so extraordinary. My hope is still in Christ's promises. I will always remember, but I will continue to look ahead to the chapters He still has to write in our book. 

I am truly thankful for the village of people who continue to remember Rod Cook ("Bunky" to many of those) and to those who have come into our lives even after, but still support and love us so well. He would be amazed and thankful for the kindness shown to his family. I can't tell you in words what it means to us and how it has carried us for the last 5 years. God is so, so good! He truly is a Father to the Fatherless and I believe my boys already know that in a way that is real, because of the goodness shown to them by the hands and feet of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When Celebrations are Hard

It's been a while since I have written anything. I will have to admit that this was intentional. It's been a combination of just where we are with life, raising 3 active boys alone, and also not really knowing how to express what's going on in my head and heart.

Blogging has been an outlet for me. A way to share what God is showing me. A place to vent and organize my messy thoughts. It's also very vulnerable. I have been in a long season of not wanting to expose that vulnerability. I can't tell you how many times I have sat down to write and then shut my feelings off because I just don't have the energy to "go there."

Today would have been Rod Cook's 47th birthday. This time of year is difficult for me. It's a cold season of just surviving and full of celebrations that should be joyful, but aren't (aside from my sweet Colby's birthday, which just happened 3 days ago).

Anyone who has lost someone close to them can probably agree...a time that should be celebrating another year of life of someone who is no longer here, carries a lot of emotion. There's sadness that the person is no longer here. There's resentment over what "should have been." A day that used to be filled with balloons, cake, cards, and gifts is now a quiet day on the calendar.

It seems to pass in slow motion, and it's as if you know there is something that SHOULD be happening, but it's not. It almost feels like a date on the calendar that your body knows should have something big going on, but it's as if you missed it, even though you are completely aware of it. The heart just knows, no matter how hard you may try to brush past it. There is also guilt over the fact that you are still here and they are not. It's another calendar year and another age that this person never reached.

And, while I imagine that there must be something special going on in Heaven on this day, I can't help but feel cheated that I am not there to be a part of it. As if I could somehow make that day better for him. As if he would even care in light of eternity and the much bigger celebration of being with His King!

So, in light of what should be a day celebrating another year of life for Rod Cook, we will hold our head high and focus on the years he was here. We will talk about him and hopefully laugh and smile, more than cry. We will remember the man he was and the incredible legacy he left in his short time on earth. We will celebrate his love, his loyalty, and his unbelievable gift of making everyone around him feel special.

Happy Birthday, Babe! I couldn't have been more proud to be your wife and the mother of your boys. We can't wait to see you again, but until that day I am clinging to this:

1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

Rejoice ALWAYS, pray CONTINUALLY, and give thanks in ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

...even when the celebrations are hard!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Remembered

Although this day held tears off and on, there were many moments of joy and thankfulness. Many acts of kindness. Many people who remembered, even after 4 years. I am truly grateful for how others don't forget us or Rod (Bunky).

I know there are probably a lot of people who think after 4 years we should "move on." There have been people say to me that we can't live in the past. It comes from a place of good intention and they are absolutely right. We can't. We can't stay stuck in the past. Taking time to remember and honor a life and legacy is important. It is far from living in the past...it is part of healing and moving forward, in my opinion. It is letting your memories be brought to the surface, so that you never forget the impact someone so special has had in your life. That impact is exactly what shapes a part of who we are and actually pushes us forward.

Remembering is NOT Rewinding...it is pushing pause to take it all in. To reflect. And this "pause" can happen as many times as you need to, in the midst of pushing play, and moving forward with your song!

Rod Cook was remembered well today. I love hearing the impact he had on others and today I got lots of emails and texts, which shared that impact over and over again. We even got a video of some sweet friends whose family released balloons and caught a great sunset to honor Rod. Thank you to those who have shared those things with us. I think one of my favorite texts this morning was, "I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can remember my last conversation with Rod. I will always remember him, always."

Balloons and cards were left by multiple people on our mailbox this morning! Super special surprise to wake up to! Thank you...the boys really loved this!



 The boys and I went to their dad's gravesite to bring some new flowers. It was quick and that was okay. It was the time in the car, as we were leaving, that we talked about how blessed the boys were to have had the dad they did....even if it was for shorter than any of us would have liked.
Then we decided to go see the Cars movie and eat a whole lot of popcorn and m&m's!
Again, I just want to say thank you from somewhere deep in my heart, for letting us remember and joining us as we do! Oh, and we also got some flowers from our neighbor's garden and had several neighbors and friends who came by today. So, to all those who reached out in any way or even just prayed extra for us over the last few days...THANK YOU! We felt the love and it made a day that's hard, full of glimmers of joy and hope. 

Finally, I just want to say that this is not about us. We do not ever want people to feel sorry for us. This is our story. One that I believe God orchestrated for a reason that I may never know. The story is not finished. I am so certain of that. I absolutely want to make sure it is known that we are not strong. We are not to be admired. I hear that a lot, and while it is encouraging, I want people to know there is so much more to that. It is all about God's glory and His redemptive work in and through us. We are only strong because our faith in God enables us to be. Without our belief in Christ and His perfect plan, we would be a crumbled mess...(and still are in spite of that, sometimes; but we are able to get back up). It is only because He died to set us free, that we have HOPE in where Rod Cook's future lies and where ours does. It is only because of Him that we have peace in our hearts that can't be understood by this world. God uses so many people to be His "hands and feet" and that is a big part of where our strength is. I hope to be even 1/2 to others, what people have done for me these past 4 years. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

July 3rd

July 3rd will always be a day that is difficult in many ways. It is also a day that I want to honor and celebrate a life well lived. A day to laugh. A day to remember a husband, father, son, friend, and incredible person, who made his mark on this world in 42 short years.

His heart for others and the way he encouraged others to be the best they could be, continues to be known and shared by those who were fortunate enough to be the recipient of it. I even just heard from someone a few weeks ago who did not know that he died, but shared the impact he had on him, just as they spent time on the Fellowship Bible Church "parking team" on Sunday mornings.

I'm not going to lie...we are sad. We long for him to be here. If I were really honest, I get mad at him sometimes for leaving me alone to raise these boys, while he gets to bask in the glory of Heaven. I need his wisdom, direction, and input on so many parenting issues. Most of all, I just want him here to share in the joy and heartache that comes with parenting our boys. All week we have just been in a little bit of a yucky place. There have been tears, especially at night, and questions of why it has to be this way.

Tomorrow is a day that we hold sacred and our plan is to visit his gravesite. They don't love to go there and I don't force them to go, but July 3rd is a day that we all just sense that unspoken need to go. They actually have asked if we were going. I think being there (even though it is not often) continues to help with closure in a lot of ways for them. Thankfully, we know his soul is not "there."

Rod Cook's greatest wish was to live a life that had an impact between the "dash" of February 13, 1971, and the day of his death. I would say that he certainly did. In fact, in true fashion, he made an impact even after his death to those who benefitted from his organ donations.

(As a side note for anyone who might be reading this....please talk to your loved ones about this. It's so important. I truly consider it a gift that I knew exactly what he wanted and that he made it clear. It is not a decision you want to be considering in the midst of your shock and grief).

I found the letter from Tennessee Donor Services today, and along with sharing information about the individuals who received life-giving organs from him, I was reminded that he made history in the state of Tennessee, as the 1st person to ever donate his lungs after cardiac death. I was also reminded of the many people waiting for lungs on the transplant list and how hard it is to place this. Her letter stated, "Because of Rod's donation of lungs after a cardiac death (DCD), the opportunity to place lungs from DCD patients will now open the door for more lives to be saved in the coming months and years."

Here is what I know of the man whose life he saved with his lungs...he was 69 years old, had 4 grandchildren who he deeply enjoys, He is a retired nuclear data analyst. He also served in the Army and National Guard. I hope one day to meet him!

Thankful that this is NOT our home and hoping for more joy than tears, as we remember him tomorrow! God is still good!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day for the Fatherless. Don't forget the "gift" of your dad!


So, I really wish...like REALLY wish, that I could say that today was something sweet and special for our family, even with the absence of their dad. Unfortunately, I think it was one of the harder days we have had in a while.

We don't like to go to church on Father's Day...it's just a hard place to be, so we don't. Everyone just slept in and there was yard work that needed to get finished before the rain came, so we worked on that this morning. I saw lots of cars drive by on their way to church or wherever they were going as a family. I wished that were us. Truthfully, I felt pretty angry about it.

We had planned to do our "annual" hike, but that got rained out when the storms started moving in sooner than I thought they would, so we ordered food from our favorite Mexican restaurant "to go" because, A) we were filthy from weed-pulling and mowing, B) it sucks to sit there feeling like we stick out like a "sore thumb" amidst all the "complete" families, and C) I didn't feel like answering, "will your husband be joining you or is dad joining us today" which is a typical question on Father's Day when you eat out at a restaurant, believe it or not. So, we got our food and went home with it.

Our plans to take flowers out to their dad's grave got "washed away" too and none of them wanted to go. We ended up watching lots of back to back shows in a series we have been watching together on netflix. Then, the fighting started between the boys so everyone dispersed and I just wanted to cry. We did end up watching an older little video of some slides I made of pictures of them with their dad over the years. Hard....that is the only word for it. It's like they want to see it, but they also don't. It's a mixed range of emotions and I just didn't know how to handle them all today. I know of several friends who were spending their first Father's day without their dad, and my heart was heavy for them. I also feel the kindred emptiness that a lot of my widow mom friends were facing today and thought of each of them throughout the day.

Basically, I have watched the clock tick by and just wanted this day to be over. I couldn't be more grateful for the dad these boys had, but today I just feel sad and pissed off that he is not here with us. I know I sound like "debbie downer" but that is the reality. I know it's a lot easier for everyone to hear how we were "victorious" over the hardness that this day brings. We were not. And, that's okay. Thankfully, tomorrow is another day. I don't want anyone to pity us or feel sad for our situation. I don't! I only hope that people can stop and realize what they have for what it is...a gift. A gift that is not guaranteed tomorrow.

I've been blessed with an amazing father and Rod's dad is here in Franklin and does a lot to help me and remain a part of our lives, so I am thankful for them both. I hope that every dad out there felt so much love and that every mom did all they could to make that happen for them, and so did every child who has their dad around!!

New mercies tomorrow...thank you Jesus!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Update from the Cooks....almost a year later!

It's honestly sad, yet not surprising to me, that I haven't posted one thing on the blog in almost a year! Our reality is plain busy. There is no other way to explain it. Lots has changed and lots has not.

The school year seemed to fly by with Carson finishing 7th grade, Colby finishing 5th, and Cooper finishing 2nd. Sports, sports, and more sports seem to be what consumes most of our time. They love having a basketball, or any ball for that matter, in their hands.
Time with their friends is important to all of them, as well. They all did great academically and I am really proud of how independent each of them are with their school work. I guess they kind of have to be that way, because there just isn't enough time in our day for me to sit down and "help" each of them.

In October we had the craziness of the Cooper Trooper Pumpkin Patch going on, as always. We also welcomed my great niece into this world, which has been such a treat for me and the boys. We love that she lives here in TN and we get to see her often. My niece and her husband, Jordan, named her Olivia Layne...with "Layne" being named after Rod's middle name! She is one adored little angel.
Back in November, we got to take a beach vacation with our dear friends' the Whetstone's! It was a BLAST!
We continued to spend as much time as possible, when we didn't have games, visiting and reading with our refuge friends on Saturdays. 

In May we went to Arkansas to my niece, Alea's, high school graduation and enjoyed visiting family there. Then, the next week, we headed to the beach with my sister, Heather and her family for our annual beach trip with them and also visited the boys' grandma in Alabama.

Parenting alone is not for the faint of heart. It is emotionally and physically draining. I miss Rod every day and try my hardest to continue keeping his memory alive and talked about with the boys. They miss their dad, but sadly this year, I was more aware of how memories of him seem to be fading for them, despite my efforts to talk about him daily.

God has worked a lot in my heart to remind me that it is okay to move forward. I find myself remembering our loss, without it consuming me or necessarily sending me into a place of deep sadness, as it once did. I will always have my heart ache at the thought of what I wish were still my reality. But, this year has been full of more moments of anticipating what lies ahead and being content in where God has me, trying desperately to embrace my story for what it is and not what I had hoped it would be.

One thing that has been especially neat for me over the last few months, is an opportunity I have had to walk with some other "solo" parents in being on a leadership team for a group at my church. God made it so evident to me that He had plans for me to use my story to reach out and help others. I was able to lead a group of widows/widowers each Sunday as we walked through what it looks like to parent after losing a spouse. They even allowed me to call this group "PALS" (Parenting After Losing a Spouse), which was something God actually showed me in a dream, believe it or not. It has been instrumental in healing for me to share and be vulnerable with others who are doing this parenting journey alone.

We continue to have great friends and support from others when needed. And, while sometimes it feels more lonely and like people have forgotten more and more, I appreciate and cherish when someone remembers and reaches out to let me know they haven't forgotten. I think it is just something to be expected as time goes on, and I try hard to keep that all in perspective.

In a nutshell, this past year has been so fast that it feels like a blur. I have sat down many times to write, because it truly is "therapy" for me and I like to record what is going on with the boys, so that one day they can enjoy reading when I am long gone. There just hasn't honestly felt like enough time to do it in a way that I could even get my thoughts together. Hopefully, I will find more time to stay on top of it.

Finally, I'm reminded so much of all the brokenness and pain we have to endure in this life. I have so many friends who are in extremely hard places right now with everything from a new diagnosis of cancer to battling depression to navigating unbelievably hard stuff with their kiddos. So, I continue to question and doubt, but then I dig deep to remember who holds it all. I remember that this is all temporary. I pray and pray and then pray some more that my doubts and fears will be replaced with hope and trust.  I long for the day when the brokenness of this life is no more and all the tears are wiped away! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!