Monday, December 25, 2017

When pain and joy collide

Dear Tony,

Merry Christmas! Sitting here with all the lights off, presents nestled under the tree, children sleeping, I look at our Christmas tree with its quiet white lights. The snow is gently falling outside and all the world seems to be sleeping.

Our second Christmas without you seems like the first. Last year you were gone just a few weeks before the holiday and everything was a blur for awhile. But this year is different. It’s our sweet baby Caleb’s first Christmas yet you aren’t here to share it with us... again. It’s strange how life now feels normal by myself, without you by my side experiencing it all together. Sometimes I really hate that but I know that this is the way things are now and I’m finally at a place where I know it’s okay.

I miss you terribly still. Missing all the little things about you hurts but now there is something new. The other day we were listening to music and I jokingly sang in an operatic voice- just as you did all the time to the kids. Laughing at myself, I asked our oldest kids if I sounded like how you did when you would joke around but they couldn’t remember that about you anymore. A lot of their own memories of you are fading and I am trying to keep those memories alive the best I can. Remember how I promised you I wouldn’t let the kids forget you when we were driving in the car that one chilly day in April? That promise will never be broken, even when a lot of their memories are going to be the memories of stories I tell them.

This Christmas season there have been so so many people who have helped keep that promise to you. One of your talented students made some amazing and absolutely unique memory boxes for the kids and me, just like you wanted. A loving friend spent a lot of time sewing blankets out of your shirts for  the kids to open tomorrow morning— a present to them, from you, just like you wanted. Another former student anonymously spent the past 12 days delivering gifts and a cute nativity set to help remind us about Christ and His joyous birth, just like you always reminded us. So many people have blessed our family with many different types of service to help our family during this Christmas season, and just as you feel, my words fall short of the gratitude I feel in my heart.

The joy of the season runs strong in our home— our kids are sure to make it so!— and this year I’ve felt a deeper connection to how my Savior’s love really works in my life. I still feel such embedded loss and sorrow that you are not here, and although I’ve tried several ways to “remedy” my heart’s pain, I have only found one solution. The pain can’t be taken away but joy can reside right in my heart at the same time. Only this has helped me find peace, and I celebrate the birth of Jesus in a new light this year: grateful that He continues to let me ache for you but that He also helps me to choose joy in my life. It’s a strange but beautiful collision, one that will slowly build a perfect heart one day. And that is what I give to you this Christmas, Tony: a renewed desire to allow myself to feel pain and let myself be happy and have joy as well as our family moves forward together.

I love you, and I hope you get to see the beaming faces of our kids tomorrow morning and hear their squeals as they enjoy a beautiful and joyous Christmas Day.
Love always,

Sunday, December 3, 2017

365 days/ How life has changed

As I lay on my couch tonight staring at our glowing Christmas tree in the dark, I listened to this rendition of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” about half a dozen times (it is one of Tony’s absolute favorites). All my kids tucked safely in bed and with the house quiet, I finally made some time for some deep reflection.

This weekend marked one year since Tony died. We have made it through a full year of “firsts” and now are beginning a journey that really feels like Tony is gone. This will be our second Christmas without him, and all the day to day happenings and even holidays feel different; we really have found a “new normal.” It is so much of a bittersweet emotion: I hate that I know I will never have the past again yet it is good that we are able to continue pushing forward to find a life that will bring us happiness, even without Tony here. Still, one day does not go by that I don’t think of Tony several times. Most of the time I can reflect with a smile but there are days when the pain is still intense. I’ve grown accustomed to feeling this way so that it is now “tolerable.” I imagine it will be a part of my character for the rest of my life.

365 days seems like such a short time period. Looking back, the time has gone by quickly and there has been so much change. Yet even with time passing, it feels as if its been a decade since I last curled up next to Tony, clenching his hand while he took his last breaths. He is so much a part of me and always will remain so, but I find myself forgetting what it felt like to have him here, watching him flourish as a father, as a husband, as a brother and son, as a friend, as a teacher. I hold all my memories of him close to my heart, and I cannot wait for the day when we are together, so that my heart will feel whole again.

365 days also has brought on a lot of change. Widowhood has affected every aspect of my life. There have been obvious hard changes such as being a single parent, changing social circles, making decisions alone, and the plain loneliness that comes at night. But there have also been good changes as well. They are harder to see but when I stop and reflect quietly, they are easier to be found. Above all, I have learned to rely on my Savior, who truly is the only one who can understand and feel my pain. I have learned that He will never abandon me even when the day seems dark and dreary. I have learned in more depth my strengths and weaknesses as a mother, which has allowed me to be honest and forgiving of myself. I have learned that it is not weak to ask for and accept help after I have done everything that I can. I have learned that I need to slow down, to be still and to listen. These lessons will continue to teach me as I strive to improve upon each one.

The most unexpected lesson I have learned is that I now ache in a whole new way when other people experience pain. This has been perhaps one of the best blessings yet hardest trial that has coincided with becoming a widow. Perhaps since I have been pretty open about my experiences this past year, it has opened doors for others to confide in me about their struggles in life. Learning of others’ challenges has opened my eyes and heart to a new level. This has been a blessing because I feel that I am feeling and changing in a way that my Heavenly Father wants me to, yet it is also very difficult to feel so deeply and ache when someone I love is hurting. At night I think about all the challenges people I care about are going through and all I want is to take their pain away, just as I wish my pain could be taken away. My fault in all of this is that I never know how to express my empathy and concern in a way that will be known as sincere. I am still trying to stretch and grow so that I can be our Savior’s arms and comfort others as Christ does. I sure have a lot of work to do.

Lastly, I have learned that there is so much good. My family and I are surrounded by wonderful people who are happy and willing to “bear one another’s burdens” and “mourn with those who stand in need of comfort.” We have truly been blessed during the hardest year our family has experienced. Thank you to all of you who continue to lift me up and care. I truly love you all and aspire to show kindness to others as you have shown kindness to my kids and me. You are truly my examples and the angels that surround my family.