One year without Dan.

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”  ~Author Unknown

September 13th is tomorrow and it’s  the anniversary of my husband Dan’s passing. I really didn’t want this day to come. If I am being honest, I wondered if anyone would remember.

On the eve of his passing last year, I went to bed in the wee hours as I always did not knowing if that was his last night with me or not. His hospital bed was next to our bed so I was used to not sleeping. He was unconscious but I still spoke to him as if he was his normal self. His breathing was so heavy and labored so we knew the end was very near. My mom slept with me that night. She knew it was time and didn’t want me to be alone. It was around 3 am when we both woke because it was silent. Yes, we were woken by the peacefulness of the room. I opened my eyes and could see my mom over him, touching his heart to see if he was still breathing. We turned on the lights and kept checking and checking his pulse. Although we knew he was gone, I think we were both in denial. Then she left the room so I could be alone with him one last time. I remember every minute of that day and night as if was yesterday.

And this week, I’ve been keeping really busy because in the moments I am not, I think about this time last year. Although I was surrounded by family and friends, I can’t help but wonder how I might have lived that last week with him differently. Did I say enough? Did I do enough? I know in my heart I had no control and I did all that I could to care for him and let him know how much I loved him, but it’s only human to question yourself. Right?

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind. Some of my feelings include fear, guilt, sorrow, courage, happy, sad, relaxed, crazy, tired, energetic, devastated, content, elated, weak, grateful, strong, and loved…just to name a few!

The anticipation of this day also made me think about what is appropriate to do on the day that marks the death of your husband. I don’t think anyone has the right answer for that one. Who really wants to celebrate a death? And what do you call it? A death-a-versary? An angel-versary? So what I plan to do is to reflect on what I have lost, what I have gained, and what I have learned through it all.

I appreciate the gift of life as I never did before. Since the day that Dan left us, I had no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and live. Live for myself, for my boys, and for Dan. I lost my husband and shortly after, I lost my job. That in itself would send anyone into a dark place but I realized I am much stronger than I ever knew. I made a lot of big changes in the last year like selling our home and cars and starting over. I made new routines with my boys. I played Santa all alone. I celebrated holidays with my family. I laughed a lot and cried a lot, sometimes both at the same time. I spent countless hours on the phone with my best friend talking over our grief or as we like to call it, our good grief. I had to put my ego aside many times and ask for help with the tasks that I could not do on my own. I traveled with best friends. I made new friends and lasting memories. I vacationed with the boys. I tackled many first for the boys alone. I went outside of my fitness comfort zone and completed a 10 mile race and a triathlon. I have become much more spiritual. I experienced things that prove there really is no such thing as coincidences.  And most of all, I have learned that it’s okay to be happy again.

I cried so hard writing this blog that my body ached inside and out. But when I wiped my tears away I remembered what I have today and how much love I am surrounded by and my heart swells with happiness.

And now I would like to ask you a favor. Hold your loved ones close, savor the moments, and that means even the hard ones because tomorrow is never promised.

That’s not all.

Pay it forward for Dan. What do I mean? Do something nice for your friend, wife, husband, sister, brother, son, daughter, co-worker, mother, father, aunt, uncle…or even the stranger behind you in line at Starbucks. It can be as simple as a hug and an I love you. Flowers. A free coffee. Hold the door for someone. Just do something nice for someone today in honor of Dan or a loved one you may have lost. I promise you will make someone’s day and make yourself feel good too.  Oh and leave a comment here (or on Facebook) to let me know what you did. I would love to read about all your gestures of kindness.

I will leave you with a few of my favorite pics. It’s late and I have a ton of pics but here are some of my favorites and how I would like the boys to always remember him since they are too young to know otherwise.

UntitledThanks for reading!

Little reminders.

I often come across things in my house that are little reminders of the past – both good and bad. This morning while getting Tyler dressed he was playing with his photo(20)build-a-bear. I asked him if he remembered when he made it and he said no. I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or sad at that moment. I tried to spark his memory by asking more questions like who was with us and even if he remembered daddy in a wheelchair and he still said he didn’t remember.

Then Carson walked into the room and remembered every single detail of that build-a-bear experience. “We got it a the hospital, not Hopkins though. The one with the robots that carried the medicine to the different floors. We went down from daddy’s room outside and we were there with Pops, Uncle Robbie, and I think Grandma, and you pushed Daddy in his wheelchair. And Robbie helped me pick out my Raven’s build-a-bear and daddy picked out Tyler’s Terps outfit.”

Carson had no idea how happy he made me this morning. He was 100% correct and we shared the same memory. We were visiting Dan at Sinai while he was in neuro rehab and they had a build-a-bear store in the lobby of the main hospital. I was originally sad that Tyler didn’t remember but I knew there would come a time that he would only remember his daddy through pictures and not be able to remember events because after all, he was only newly 3 when he died. His little mind can only remember so much and I guess keeping him naive is probably a good thing.

So whenever I look at these build-a-bears I will always remember that day at Sinai hospital. Even among the sickness, Dan and I always tried to make it fun for the boys and I hope that day is a happy memory for Carson.

Since he’s been gone.

Six freakin’ months. Dan has been gone for six freakin’ months.

I have started this post over and over and couldn’t find the right words to explain what I am feeling. This grieving process really is a roller coaster of emotions. Grief disrupts our lives in so many ways. Grief brings fear. We each handle grief in our own way. Some people withdraw, some cry publicly, some hide their grief and cry in private, and some of us just keep busy and never slow down because when we do it hurts….a lot. I would say that I am the kind that keeps busy. If I didn’t have two little crazies I am sure my grief journey would have been different. But yeah, I may have gone a little batshit crazy immediately after Dan’s death. I put my house on the market, sold 3 cars and bought a new one, sold the house, bought a new one, packed and moved, and many other things that could be characterized as crazy widow status!

Thinking back though, I took the busy route because I didn’t want to even notice that everyone else settled back into their normal routines but my routine was empty. I didn’t want to focus on how to fill that empty space so I filled it the best way I knew how.

I often think back to the beginning of this journey. I remember the day of October 14th when Dan found out he had a brain tumor and how we both thought he would not be a statistic. I think back to October 19th, the day he had his first brain surgery, and how ‘new’ we were to the Hopkins family and how scared we both were when he was rolled away into the OR.  I can recall that entire day and night like it was yesterday. The waiting was unbearable. When I left the hospital in the wee hours  that song “If I die young” came on the radio. I couldn’t even speak or drive after hearing those words. And there is no such thing as coincidences which I now really believe. My gut that day told me that this was the beginning of the end for Dan. And even though I had those terrible feelings I could never ever share, I had to be strong for our family and stay positive until the very end. The only time I cried was in the shower or in the car alone. I also had many months to grieve the loss of Dan before he was ever really gone because quite frankly he was never the same after October 19th.

I know that I will never know ‘why’ he was taken from us so early but what I can do is keep his memory alive and acknowledge my loss and try my best to live each day as best I can. I know Dan would want me to live, laugh, and cry as a tribute to our love so that is what I do with the help of some very special people in my life. I know that Dan is looking out for us and I see the signs to show me that he is with me. I hope with all my heart that I am making him proud.

Moving forward defined.

Does mean: remembering Dan while finding a new direction in life, looking for meaning, and taking it one second, one minute, one day at a time.

Does NOT mean: loss of the years of memories, the relationship, or the love we shared for each other and our boys.

Moving forward does not mean Dan will ever be replaced. The hole in my heart will remain but my heart is growing and open for more.

 

Beam me up.

A friend of ours posted this on Facebook yesterday saying that this song came up on her playlist and she immediately thought of us. I just took the time to listen to it and it touched me so much I had to share it. The song is called Beam me Up by Pink.

My favorite line is “Let me be lighter, I’m tired of being a fighter” because honestly, I was fighting right there with Dan for all these months and had to be strong for him and my kids and to keep us going. Now I feel lighter. Lighter that he is at peace with no pain and suffering. Dan always told me he was sorry I had to take care of him and I always reassured him that there was no apology needed and it was my job as his wife and caregiver. In sickness and in health were in our vows and I stayed true and I know he would have done the same for me.

Take a listen when you have time, and sing along with the lyrics like I did!

Wonderful poem.

I read this poem in the back of a booklet called My Friend, I Care that was given to me from my friend Tracey. I have read it over and over and over. This just really resonated with me and I wanted to share:

Don’t tell me that you understand
Don’t tell me that you know.
Don’t tell me that I will survive,
How I will surely grow.

Don’t tell me this is just a test,
That I am truly blessed,
That I am chosen for this task,
Apart from all the rest.

Don’t come at me with answers
That can only come from me,
Don’t tell me how my grief will pass
That I will soon be free.

Don’t stand in pious judgement
Of the bounds I must untie,
Don’t tell me how to suffer
And don’t tell me how to cry.

My life is filled with selfishness,
My pain is all I see,
But I need you, I need your love,
Unconditionally.

Accept me in my ups and downs,
I need someone to share,
Just hold my hand and let me cry,
And say, “My friend, I care.”

– Joanette Hendel (Bereavement Magazine)

A great read.

I have been doing a lot of reading lately since I have so much spare time (said in my best sarcastic voice) and I just had to share my thoughts on a book I finished last night. And I am not talking about the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy which I’ve been reading too and has taken my mind off cancer! What I do is read a fun book like Fifty Shades and than a serious book like The Anti-Cancer.

The book is called Walking on Eggshells and was given to me two weeks ago from one of the oncology social workers (Amy Sales) at Hopkins. She told me she wrote it for caregivers and handed it to me as a gift and said, “if you like it, pass it on” and well, I really liked it so I wanted to share. While Dan was at Hopkins that week, she came to see us a few times and gave me some great advice like needing to give myself a minimum of 60 minutes of day for “me time” which I have yet to do. I really needed this book. I sat down last night and started at 9 and finished at 10:15. It’s a quick and easy read and I highly recommend it to anyone in my shoes.

I really felt connected to the book and as if Amy was talking right at me and giving me hugs along the way. The book confirmed that all of our feelings thus far are totally normal. It gave me so much great advice on all aspects of dealing with a life threatening illness like cancer and the key takeaways for me were how to handle my feelings and emotions with not just Dan, but also with my friends and family providing support. I also am taking her advice on how best to talk to my children about Dan’s diagnosis. The good news is that it validates that what I have done with them so far is the right way to do it! 

Thank you Amy for your gift. I will definitely need to refer back to it as we head further along on this journey.

Excuse me while I get back to Fifty Shades….I promise when I am done reading it I will update on our last 3 weeks of Dan being hospitalized. It’s been a long road so far and he comes home tomorrow. Woohoo!!