Thursday, July 31, 2014

Our Anniversary- August 1, 1998

Tomorrow marks what would have been mine and Bunky's 16th wedding anniversary. Tears stream down my face as I think of how many more anniversaries I planned on spending with him. At the same time, joy fills my heart, as I remember and cherish the years I had with him. 
We decided before we got married that we would write a letter to each other and exchange them the night before our wedding day. We knew we didn't want to see each other until I walked down the aisle that day, so we just decided that a letter might be something nice to have to read in those last hours before we said "I do." You know... just to calm the nerves a little bit. 

Those "love letters" turned into an anniversary tradition, and each year we wrote each other one and exchanged them on our anniversary. They are still in a shoe box, labeled for each year and I can't bring myself to read back through them just yet. 

In those first years of marriage he worked in a cubicle at State Farm and commuted an hour to work every day, while I continued graduate school. So you guessed it…it was the ONLY "gift" we gave each other on our big day! We didn't have a lot of money. I had no idea then, that those "gifts" we gave each other, had far more value than anything we could have given each other materially. It is such a priceless treasure to have, especially now. Especially in this situation. I guarantee I wouldn't remember anything material we gave each other each year. I will ALWAYS have these gifts though, and I love that! In fact, I would highly encourage you to talk to your spouse about incorporating something like this into your anniversary if you don't already. You will not be sorry!
I wrote in my journal last year on this day and read it tonight. We were supposed to be in Cancun for our 15th Anniversary…instead, I was just shy of a month out from saying my final goodbye. I stated in my journal that I wanted to write one final letter to Bunky, and I still plan to do that. 

I was thinking today how it's easy to glorify a marriage and make it all seem like a fairytale with no bumps, especially when your spouse is gone. That is certainly not what I want to do and would not honor the spirit of transparency I wish to have, nor the honesty that was such a part of Bunky's character. In fact, I would go so far as to say, it's those "bumps," flaws, and mistakes made that can result in a truly happy and fulfilling marriage. It's how you come through those circumstances that build a lasting marriage and respect for one another. While Bunky was absolutely an amazing person, he was imperfect. He was a sinner, just like all of us. He made mistakes, just like all of us. He wasn't always the best husband or father. He didn't always make great choices. Neither did I. Neither do I. 
We had rough times just like every couple does. Our marriage was tried and tested when Cooper was diagnosed with cancer. (Statistics prove that high divorce rates are the norm for married couples with a child diagnosed with cancer, and I can believe it). It is stressful. We fought hard for what we had and never gave up on each other…sometimes it looked ugly and hopeless. There were dark days when he was laid off from a company he had been with for 10+years, due to cutbacks within the company. We went through some low times, but we went through them together and we made a promise to each other that we would not let anyone or anything destroy us or what God intended. 

I feel like in some ways, we were just really starting to reap the benefits of sticking through the "hard" together. Those difficult circumstances only brought us closer to each other and most importantly, closer to God. I think once you make it through the valleys of life (whatever those may be), you are going to naturally share a closeness that wouldn't be otherwise. We had settled into that more and more over the last few years. Things just didn't feel as hard anymore. And when they did…we just knew how to deal with them in a better way. Together.

So, tonight, my words for Bunky are:

Thank you. Thank you for making me laugh. Thank you for loving me without conditions. Thank you for your die hard, relentlessness to be heard and convince anyone around you that you were worth listening to. Thank you for pursuing me and making me feel beautiful. Thank you for being an example to our kids of what being a man of your word looks like. Most importantly, thank you for modeling for them how to love Christ. Thank you for working so hard to provide for us at all costs. Thank you for balancing me in so many ways, so perfectly! Only God could have orchestrated how well we complimented each other's personality. Thank you for believing in and pushing me to always do my best. Thank you for caring more about us and what was important for our family, than what anyone else might have to say or think. Thank you for your love of sunsets, golf, and all things Alabama football. Thank you for your steadfastness and resolve to stand up for what you believed in, even if it wasn't "popular." Thank you for protecting our family time. Thank you for being quick to forgive and quick to ask for forgiveness. Thank you for how you motivated and took time to really get to know those people who were important in your life. Those same people are now who make sure we are okay. Thank you for living fully in the moment, for not taking the little things for granted, and for living so much life in only 42 years. Thank you for making everything, even the mundane, much more FUN. Thank you for having a relationship with Christ, so that there is HOPE and we will see you again. Thank you for so many memories, Bunky! I will always, always love and adore you.

1 Thessalonians 4:13
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Finding Gratefulness in Sudden Loss

Choosing to be grateful. It seems like being grateful or thankful for something shouldn't have to be a "choice." If you are blessed with something to be thankful for, then shouldn't you just be overflowing with gratitude, rather than needing to willfully choose it?

I spoke with my grandfather the other day to wish my grandmother a "Happy Birthday." She turned 88 years old. I couldn't wish her a happy birthday myself, as she is in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. And what a horrible disease that is! All the same, I wanted to make sure HE knew I was thinking about her on that important day.

My grandpa is an incredibly loving and devoted husband to his wife. He has patience like I have never seen. I admire him for his unwavering strength and ability to stay by her side, even though the woman he married all those years ago, is not "with" him, as she once was. She hasn't been for a while now. Yet, he is there with her day after day, in the facility which cares for her. In their "home." I have no doubt, that even though she may never speak it, she somehow knows he is there. He has not left her side. And I can only imagine it must bring her comfort. Still, it breaks his heart to the core, but he chooses to be by her side, just as he promised.

Bunky and I went to Ohio to visit them about 2 months before his death. It was the first time my grammy didn't know who I was. She looked at me so puzzled and with such a blank stare when I approached her in the hall. She really didn't speak much to me at all. To say it was hard, would be an understatement.

I remember the 2 nights Bunky and I were in town very vividly. Bunky spent a lot of time with my grandfather, while I sat with grammy. Then, we would go back to our hotel at night and talk for hours. This visit spurred lots of discussions for us about the end of life, sacrifice and unconditional love in a marriage, and what we wanted things to look like for us as we aged. We talked about how difficult this must be for my grandfather to endure day after day. Bunky had immense respect for my grandfather, and talked a lot about how completely and unselfishly he loved my grandmother. I took this picture, without them knowing, when we were all just sitting in the room visiting one afternoon. What a beautiful representation of unconditional love.
Little did I know that I would hold my own husband's hand for the last time, just less than 3 months later, as he laid unconscious in a hospital bed. I can still remember the way his hand felt holding mine. What I wouldn't give to feel that even one more time. But, oh how grateful I am that his was the hand I held for over 17 years, while dating and then while married.
As much as sudden loss is an indescribably horrible event to experience, I find myself grateful that I or Bunky did not have to go through what my grandfather is going through now. To suddenly and so tragically lose one you love carries a multitude of feelings that hit you in the face. The shock in and of itself, can be paralyzing. There are days that the darkness, loneliness, and pain are so excruciating that I don't know how I can possibly move forward. The regret of things I wish I would have done differently or better sometimes weighs heavy. Then, there are days (and I am finding they are coming more often), that I experience great joy and comfort in the realization of what I was blessed with. Memories of sweet talks, like when we visited my grandparents, come flooding back…and I smile.

After talking with my grandfather, I really thought about how there are reasons to be grateful, even in my loss. Even though it happened so suddenly, and sent my "train" abruptly down an unfamiliar and unexpected track. I knew that Bunky loved me and he knew that I loved him. I have absolutely no doubt in that. I know that I will see him again. I have no question about that. During our final days with each other, we were fully aware of each other. We were fully engaged with each other. We fully understood who the other was in our life.

I think my grandfather would agree…that was a gift. One I will always choose to be thankful for.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A New Calendar

The year mark is over. Part of me is relieved that I never have to go through another "1st" again. And another part of me, a really big part, braces myself for the fact that it's now just every day life without him in it. There's no anticipating or preparing myself for certain dates. How are we going to celebrate this birthday or that holiday? With July 3, 2014 comes a new calendar.  Dates that hold just as much meaning as they did during the first year I went through them, but somehow already going through them leaves me feeling more empty. It's as if there are expectations with everything "post 1 year"…After all, I did it once and got through. Why not again?

I believe time heals. I believe that I will learn to live with this emptiness. I believe that I won't ever "get over it," but will learn how to embrace what things look like now. I believe God has a bigger story and I pray I can be sensitive enough to His calling to live out that story in my life, while bringing Him glory. I'm hopeful for what He has in store.

I will forever be thankful for the abundance of people who have poured out generosity to us this past year. I truly feel an army of prayer warriors surrounding us, even now. Please continue to do this. I can't tell you how much it means. I can assure you that our daily lives are still marked with a great absence. One that is felt in so many ways. One that will continue to be real and difficult.

I would say one thing that has been really awesome to me is to see how God uses people in seemingly small ways. I couldn't begin to tell you the times I have gotten a random text, email, phone call, card, or even Facebook message from someone (even those I may not know or be all that close to) that speaks volumes to me in that moment. I have had lots of people tell me that they hesitate sometimes to say something, even when they feel led to say it. Don't! God uses you. He has been using you in my life. I know that after this year, I will always try to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to reach out to someone. I've seen what God can do with this too many times in my own life this year, and I am a believer.  Even if it's just to say, "I don't have any words, but God put you on my heart and I just wanted you to know."

You may have just what someone needs in a particular moment…and God may just want to use you to comfort someone. Let Him!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

One Year

The day came. There was no stopping it…as much as I wanted to put the pillow over my head and wish it away. The one year anniversary of the death of my beloved, best friend, husband, father to my children came and is now almost gone. The one who not only made me smile, but continually made me laugh. A belly laugh. Like the kind that causes tears from laughing so hard. 

Just to digress a little here. We always talked about how important it was in a marriage that you are able to laugh with and make your spouse laugh. As he always said, when we are old, you won't love me for my looks…it will be because I make you laugh. I have a feeling I will still laugh at some of my many funny memories with him as an old lady, he just won't be here to do it with me, now. Please make time to laugh…really laugh…with your spouse. You won't ever regret it!

The day started with us looking out the window at a bunch of white flags stuck in our yard with "RC" on each one of them. I still have no idea who did this, but it was really cool!

We cried and laughed as we watched a video together that I made for them. I thought about posting it, but I think I will keep that one special just for us. It has a lot of old pictures of them with their dad through the years. Then, we headed out to do some random acts of kindness in honor of their dad. A sonic car hop and a lady selling the homeless newspaper got a surprise tip! We still have a special girl at Sonic we will go visit…she wasn't there today. We gave them a note with their money that explained about Rod and why we were generously giving as he did throughout his short life.

Then, my niece Hannah came and got the boys to go to Chick-fil-A, another one of Bunky's favorite places to eat. They also went and played at Goofballs (a family fun/arcade/bumper car, etc place) for a while. I spent those few hours alone. I went for a jog and sat outside for a while, just talking to God and remembering how He has been faithful over this past year. Also, remembering the deep loss that I have experienced. I sometimes wonder if the pain will ever ease up. I was grateful to have that time alone and for the boys to just go have some FUN.

The boys came home and got to open a surprise package from my dear friend from graduate school days, Rachel. They had a box FULL of Alabama stuff, with a signed football from Nick Saban! They were truly through the roof on this one. 

We dropped a card and some cookies off at their Papa's house and went on to the cemetery. There were some left over lanterns from the birthday celebration we did to honor Bunky, so we thought we would send those off. Unfortunately, the wind was really blowing and we had to nix that. A sweet lady was visiting her husband's grave right next to us and took our picture. We just sat a while. We prayed together. Each of the boys prayed…which can I just tell you, made this mama bawl! There is nothing sweeter than the prayers of children, who are feeling the magnitude already, of their need for their Heavenly Father. Before we left the boys got a hold of the camera and took a few pictures of the sky too.
After that, everyone was hungry, so we headed to Garcia's to have Bunky's favorite Mexican food! I let them stay up to watch a movie tonight, as well. Overall, I feel such sorrow in my heart, if I am being honest. However, I can literally feel that we are covered in prayer, as peace lies in the midst of all the pain. The only thing I can think of to describe it is, the hurt and pain is there (it may always be on some level), but there is this warm blanket of peace that covers over it. It is like being cold and having a warm blanket put over you. You still feel cold, at least for a while, until you adjust to the warm blanket. There has been a "blanket of peace" covering my coldness today.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the texts, calls, cards, gifts, messages, etc. that I have gotten over the last several days. I am just overwhelmed. Completely overwhelmed and grateful beyond words. Thank you for not forgetting. We have loved reading stories of things people are doing to "Remember Rod"…It is making an impact. My prayer is that all of us would incorporate that mindset into our daily lives. Thank you for continuing to think of us and pray. It is powerful and I can assure you it is felt. God is so good!

Lamentations 3:32
"Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love."