Wednesday, December 28, 2016

One. More. Day.

The last few weeks we had together, I looked at Ryan and asked him what he wanted to do with his time because we both knew we didn't have much more time together.

He looked at me and said,

"I want to go on dates with you, without the kids."

"Done," I told him.

"Anything else?" I asked, like a drive thru attendant.

"Yes, I want to see Pastor Jeff," he said.

And I made it all happen, according to what he wanted.

I believe we went on six dates in less than two weeks.

Seeing Pastor Jeff was the beginning of one of our last dates on earth, but I would say it ranked as one of the best dates we ever had.

As I survey the last two months of Ryan's life on earth and look at how he had closure for so many people in his life, I believe this last date with Pastor Jeff brought Ryan and I closure to our ending marriage.

We had always wanted an extended vacation away from the kids, and kind of joked that his last time in the hospital gave us that time away, with his Mom watching the kids for days on end, as a "vacation without kids" of sorts.

That seventh, extended date was full of grace and truth, two important pillars in our marriage.

Seven.

The number of grace.

The number of completion.

Over the summer on one of our in-house "date nights," I asked him where his favorite place in the world was. When he told me, I cried.

Driving up the winding, canyon road in Kauai was punctuated by one of the worst fights we ever had in our marriage. That whole trip was marred by anger and frustration about money and getting our own way.

Two prideful and angry people were in the car that day, on a vacation we couldn't afford but had received from our credit card points, ironically "earned" from all the debt we both had accrued.

We drove, often in silence, or talking about the beauty that surrounded us, trying to calm the storm inside of each of us.

When we got to the top of the mountain, we were covered in fog. Ryan was driving and I was concerned because he couldn't even see five feet in front of the car.

He told me to, "Relax" as he often said to me in our marriage.

That calmed me down.

(Boy, I wish he were here to tell me that, even now!)

As we pulled into the parking lot, I took out the Kauai Revealed guide and discussed what we were supposed to see.

We trudged up the small hill to a place marked as a lookout.

What a disappointment! There was nothing but cold fog surrounding us and I was wearing shorts. I couldn't believe that you could have so much disappointment packed into a Hawaiian vacation, yet there I was, pouty and miffed at our repeated misfortune.

Another couple came and went when they saw what we did. I wanted to follow them.

As I turned to walk towards the car, Ryan grabbed my hand and said,

"Wait."

"Wait for what?" I protested, sarcastically. It was getting colder by the minute and the fog drifted by lazily, as if to taunt me.

I was mad at the money situation we were in, which I was partly to blame for, and I was mad at the weather.

"Let's just stay for a minute to see what happens," he said, patiently.

We stood there, leaning against each other on the railing, talking about nothing for about five minutes.

Other couples came and went, but we stayed there, on the mountain top, wrapped in each other's arms, and actually enjoying ourselves.

Suddenly, the bad weather didn't matter to me anymore.

I remember looking deeply in his eyes and falling in love with him in that moment.

Then, by divine Providence, the fog lifted, revealing the most beautiful look out either of us had ever laid eyes on.

Ryan beamed, but never said the words, "I told you so."

He didn't have to.

We snapped a series of pictures and basked in the glow of the welcoming sun.

We enjoyed watching dragonflies circling our heads and dancing in the air above us.

But just as quickly as the scene changed, the fog returned and our circumstances changed back to how they were.

That was our seventh wedding anniversary trip.

Seven.

The number of grace.

The number of completion.

I felt the symbolic nature of Ryan's favorite place, a place he went to with just me. It was a time, when it was just the two of us, surrounded by a cloud of distractions, living in a fog, of sorts.

But then, the fog lifted when Ryan got diagnosed with Cancer.

We began to live each day of our marriage and parenthood as intentionally as possible, as though it were our last day together.

We stopped bickering about stupid, little, trivial things.

We put our cell phones down.

We stopped trying to make everyone else happy.

We spent time with the people who God intended for us to be with.

We prayed tremendously and earnestly, for

please,

God

just

one

more

day.

The last few weeks of Ryan's life were spent the way he wanted them to be spent.

Most of Ryan's last minutes on earth were with his wife,

the wife of his youth,

loving her as Christ loved the church.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Best. Christmas. Ever.

After all the presents were unwrapped by our entire family, I dragged a large, awkward box over to Ryan.

"He is going to love this," I thought to myself.

Ryan's eyes were as big as saucers. He looked at me quizzically, as if to ask what I'd done.

"Open it," I told him, a wry smile playing on the corners of my face.

I got him! I finally found the perfect gift!

As he opened the box, he asked me, "What did you DO?"

I just kept smiling.

He pulled out the 3-D printer and was just in awe.

"How did you hide this for so long?" he asked.

I just beamed.

He immediately got up from the couch and set up the printer.

"I am printing you a penguin, as my first project," he suggested.

It took a few hours to set up, but within 20 minutes of finding the proper penguin, he commanded the printer to do it's magic.

It complied.

At the end of the day, the man who had so many issues with every Christmas I knew him due to his parent's divorce, turned to me and said, "This was the best Christmas, ever!"

A year later, I look back at Christmas 2015 and I was a bit worried about how I could possibly top that one...

When I contrast today's Christmas with the one 365 days ago, I simply think that the best analogy would be a contrast between black and white.

Sure, the kids still received a number of lovely gifts, especially from many more friends than is typical.

I received more Christmas cards than ever before.

My door is covered!!!

I love it!!!

I have the tallest tree I've ever gotten... This is why I need Ryan in my life because I can't judge distance or height and accidentally got a 15 foot tree instead of a 10 foot one like last year. I guess that's what happens when you're at the Christmas tree lot, two days after your husband dies and you sob through the whole experience. The guy just didn't have the heart to tell me I was wrong about the height.

I still waited until the last minute to wrap gifts. But I was prepared in advance because I bought the gifts in early October when Ryan was in the hospital the first time.

I severely limited the present opening to a few a day, in order not to overwhelm my kids (and myself, really).

Yet, when I woke up on Christmas morning to my husband's absence in my bed and home...

...I couldn't think straight.

His lack of presence and his presents made my Christmas colorless this year.

After I gathered my bearings, I read my Bible and spent time praying, first.

Then I made a plan to have each child open their gifts from Ryan and I independently, and have the kids open the gifts from my Dad with him there.

Overall, it was a quiet, somber Christmas.

My loved ones asked me how Christmas went this year. I told them that it was a very, very, very, very different than every other Christmas in my lifetime.

Talitha had two ear infections and felt rotten from the moment she woke up. And Joy hadn't gotten over her cold yet. That made things a lot more challenging, as well.

But thankfully I had my Dad and a widow friend of mine to see me through a difficult holiday.

I had some unexpected pleasant surprises happen over the past few days, but overall it was as hard as I thought it might be.

I look back on the pictures from years ago and smile. I remember the happy times with Ryan here, to enjoy the girls and myself. We really, really loved being together during the holidays.

And that sentiment won't ever change.

I cried once all day, three silent tears slipped down my cheeks.

One tear represented a past that included Ryan and all the fun and family time his presence included.

One tear represented the present, a place I could choose to be bitter or better in.

And the last tear, represented my future. From here on out, I can choose my attitude about my situation.

I can't change my circumstances, but I can choose how I respond.

I am so glad that I had 16 glorious years to know Ryan Waters and be married to him for most of that time.

Even though he is no longer here with me, I hear his voice in my head and feel his love in my heart.

Would I do it all over again, if I knew what it meant? YES! Absolutely!

God gave me a gift in knowing my husband for a specific time in life.

I am learning to accept God's will that Ryan didn't leave this earth a moment too soon.

And many other lessons, for that matter.

Overall I wouldn't say that it's the worst Christmas ever, because it wasn't. But I do miss Ryan terribly and wish he could've been here with us to celebrate the birth of Jesus and open some fun gifts from the girls and myself.

Thank you for your unending prayers for the girls and me. We feel them.

And I am praying for you to have an excellent holiday season full of love and laughter as we ring in the new year, focused on what really matters in life.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

16 Years

I looked at the dress lying silently stretched across the floor.

The last time I wore that floor-length black gown,

I was kneeling at the head of my dead husband's coffin.

I looked away from the lifeless dress,

thinking of the grey and black undergarments

underneath.

They matched my mood

internally

as I heard the dripping of water outside,

the storm was picking up speed in my backyard

and

heart.

My chipped blue toenails and

ever-present roots

betrayed my internal imperfections.

Knowing they would show,

I tried to cover my flaws,

somehow

but realized it was no use.

It was only a month ago I asked my husband to go on one last photoshoot

to the place where we met

16 years ago

right now.

My heart twisted in grief,

I didn't even have the tears tonight

because I cried them out...

before.

I decided that instead of weeping over a day that brought much happiness in my life,

in fact, the day that brought some of the best happiness in all my years on earth,

I would return the favor to another

and

another

and others.

The speechless, stunned silence

was thanks enough.

It made my heart glad to see the deep gratitude mixed in between the silent shock.

The rain pounded harder, and my heart beat faster, knowing

my last photoshoot

would contain

one

less.

I miss him, my heart whispered.

I miss the laughter he brought to my life,

the adult interaction,

the private nuances that only we knew.

If I knew 16 years ago, right now, what the next 16 years would hold,

I definitely, without a doubt, would have done it all over again

in a heartbeat.

I am just so glad I told him so

and that he knew how I felt...

the day he died.

The Datsun

Ah, the Datsun!

That good old Datsun 510 station wagon was the car Ryan drove when we met 16 years ago, today.

The day after, we had a date set up to go see Randy Travis at Saddleback Church, December 16, 2000, and he was 30 minutes late.

I thought I had been stood up.

But when he walked in and his crushing, chocolate brown eyes met mine from across the room, my heart fluttered and lifted higher.

I was already in love after just one night of knowing him!

And he apologized profusely, saying he couldn't take a girl out on a date in a dirty car.

We went on many dates in that car, the bass jumping so loud from his custom-made speakers that a quarter could flip on the roof of his car...

enhancing our dating experience

with surround sound.

We went on many road trips together,

Up

and

Down

the coast.

We attached a U-Haul trailer to the back of it, when Ryan moved me up to northern California for a year when I went to school.

But when we tried to rent one again, they thought we were nuts!

We just laughed and smiled as we walked out.

(Ryan ended up buying his own trailer so we could moved my parent's old refrigerator and washer/dryer from my childhood to our new home in Irvine, just before we got married.)

Later that year, on November 1, 2003, almost 3 years after meeting,

we tied the knot.

And guess which car we drove off in??

The Datsun!

Years passed and we still went on dates in that car.

He almost killed both of us going up a steep hill in Norco a few years back, in order to look for a spot to fly his remote control hobby planes.

The Datsun came very close to flipping over and rolling down the hill!

I actually got out of the car and walked down to the bottom because I was so scared.

Later on that date, which took place only a few months after we had Talitha, we hiked up a hill together and I felt like I was on top of the world!

The wind was blowing so hard, it was as though it was blowing through us and it chilled us to the bone.

Yet, even though I was super scared and didn't want to climb that mountain, Ryan went before me and waited at the top, holding out his hand to me and received me, pulling me up to the very top of the mountain where we could see across the entire valley.

Ironically, just below us was a cemetery and it was a sign of things to come.

Ryan and I drove silently out of the cemetery and back to our house, both pondering when the time would come for him to go Home.

We didn't want to talk about.

We just wished Ryan's body would cooperate in the same ways his Datsun would with a few, simple repairs.

Thankfully, the Datsun was always a reliable car, but only ever started up right away for Ryan. He knew just how to finesse it.

Even getting into and starting the car required a special trick, but I learned that one the hard way.

So many colorful memories happened in that car, the car the shade of baby poop brown.

Ryan never took the time or spent the money to fix it up, even though he wanted to.

So as I watched it drive off for the last time with his closest buddy behind the driver seat, promising to fix it up and let our daughters ride around in it someday, I couldn't help but smile instead of being sad.

The Datsun lives!

I will forever have excellent memories in that car, including hearing the roar of the engine with the exhaust leak and the unique smell of the aged interior.

As I watched the garage door close for the last time that the Datsun would ever reside at my house, I felt a huge chapter of my life close, 16 years after it began.

I knew as I filled out the paperwork and handed over the keys that nothing would ever be the same.

But at least I know the Datsun is in good hands, and will continue to drive around, bringing smiles and good memories to another family in many of the same ways it brought them to mine.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Ryan's Last Day at Work

I walked in the door to Ryan's work, completely blindsided by grief.

The secretary took one look at me and asked if I was okay.

I started sobbing into my hands, a big, ugly, uncontrollable cry from the depths of my soul.

She stood in silence and just listened, compassionately.

When I dried my tears, I realized that I was completely prepared for the emotions of Ryan's viewing just a few days before, but was blindsided by coming to his work.

It was because I always went to his shop in order to see him.

But this time...

he wasn't there.

And I wasn't prepared for the emotions that accompanied that tremendous loss.

I needed to work with his coworker to reconstruct an expense report, as well as take care of some loose odds and ends. As I walked toward his former cubicle, I saw a box where he'd written the contents inside.

I came unglued again. Twice in the span of only a few minutes!

I ended up crying my way through that day. I felt bad for Ryan's poor coworkers who had to listen to my sobbing.

It was so cathartic being there and speaking to each of them about their last memories with my husband.

Two days later, I needed to make one more trip to Ryan's work for the last connection I had to it.

But first, I had to go to the funeral home to pick up Ryan's remains. As I left there to drive to Ryan's work, I glanced at the seatbelt clipped in next to me, with my new silent passenger.

"The cremated remains of Ryan R- Waters" the documentation stated. Yet my heart knew him so differently only a few days before.

"We had plans," I said to myself. "We were supposed to go to the hospital for a second opinion, drop by his work to drop off the Christmas cards there, then come home."


But things didn't turn out the way we had hoped they would.


So here I sat, driving away from the funeral home, with my husband seatbelted in the car next to me, in a completely different form.


Grief struck me at my core.


I turned off the freeway and composed myself a bit. Then I made a call.


I asked his coworkers if I could stop by, so Ryan could have his last day at work.


They said yes, of course, and so off we went!


Happily, our girls sat in the back of the minivan as Ryan's remains hurtled toward their destination.


Shortly after our arrival, I plopped the Ryan box onto his desk chair for one last sit.


An act that seems so natural when he was here just a short time ago seemed so foreign to everyone.


His coworkers were few in number today, as well as few in words.


Instead of chit chat, we prayed a final goodbye to the man who lead that company to become what it was today.


His last day of work was profoundly simple, but meant a lot to us all.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pictures

I couldn't look at our lives, at his face, without crying.

Sobbing, really.

So I took the pictures down.

Now there's a vacant hallway, void of all our family history.

It looks like we just moved in.

Well, I did, in a sense.

I moved into this new house,

with one less occupant

and half of my heart...

Talitha is a picture girl.

The other day I found her, stretched out, asleep

snuggling her Daddy's picture in a frame.

I went out and bought her a pillow with the picture of her choice of her and her dad. At the very least, it would be more comfortable to sleep with!

On the vacant walls of my broken heart, there is scripture there. It has been stamped by the Creator of the universe who knew what He was doing to me. And I found new pictures to inscribe truth to the walls of my new home.

He knew full well what I'd go through.

And He prepared me for this.

Unlike many widows, I received almost five years to prepare for these days I see ahead of me.

Long, winding days,

seemingly without end.

I look back on how Ryan responded to everyone, when asked how he was doing.

"I'm okay," became his mantra.

It's now mine too.

But what was behind the "I'm okay," I now wonder.

The last months of his life spent languishing in our bed.

He couldn't eat.

And at the last, he couldn't breathe.

What was tucked away in his heart, he didn't share with me.

He couldn't.

Because he knew what lie ahead.

And he didn't want that for me.

He didn't want it for any of us.

Yet his job here was done. The Boss called him to go home.

And off he went.

Reluctantly obedient, torn between his Lord and his love for his family, here.

I didn't see the moment he went, but I felt it with a cleansing sigh - experienced by my whole being.

Ryan left my presence that day, but he didn't leave my soul.

Just days before he died, he said he had a vision of walking down the hallway, together.

"Tell me more about that," I suggested.

"Well, we walk out of here, together. And leave going down the hall, toward the light."

"Hmmmm...." I said, thinking about all the reading I'd done during my previous life doing hospice research for my doctorate.

"That sounds good, but incomplete," I said. "I think if we are going to bust you out of here, we'll go to Verizon first, and get that Google Pixel phone you wanted. Then we'd go to our favorite burrito place. And last go over to where we met and take pictures."

He grunted at my last thought. Ryan hated all the photoshoots, and didn't want to go on another one.

He never had to...

I will go there, alone.

Without him...

After he died, I sat down to eat the blueberry pancakes I'd ordered for breakfast, even though it was 5:30 p.m.

I sat, eating.

Then once I finished, I picked up everything and walked out the door.

Yet I thought Ryan had this vision of us going out together, walking through the door???

Well, in that moment, I realized that I walked out through the door.

And he was with me, as I crossed that threshold into my new life.

Instead of walking alongside me, however,

he walked out the door, as a piece of my heart...

Ryan Waters won't ever return.

There won't be another picture with him.

He will never smile at his girls and do fun things for them.

He will never be able to look at me with his chocolate brown eyes and stun me with his words of love.

But I will hold all the memories of what we once had in my heart, like a photograph I could hang on my wall.

Nuclear Blast

"I can't find my keys," I told my friend as we were getting ready to go to church the day after Ryan's viewing. "You watch the kids, while I look."

The second service time came and went. I looked for two solid hours to try to find where I put my keys.

Eventually I remembered:

I put them in a coat pocket, which was hanging in the hallway closet.

My memory, normally pretty keen, has been

pretty. awful.

lately.

I lamented to my sister-in-law, "It's like a nuclear bomb went off in my life. And I am just looking around at the devastation, unsure where to start the clean-up, first."

She agreed with me. "Yes, it's true. And you need to be okay with the fact that everything will never be the same...

And give yourself some grace."

As I look back on things I've said, decisions I've made and the future stretched out in front of me, I am at a loss for words and direction.

This wasn't part of the plan I had.

But God had different plans...

Plans to provide a new husband for me and a new Dad for my kids? Perhaps.
Plans to provide the means to survive without changing our lifestyle? Perhaps.
Plans to provide comfort, and daily hugs and kisses in new ways than before? Perhaps.
Plans to provide someone to sit next to me when I attend church each week? Perhaps.
Plans to provide help around the house in ways I have no clue how to maintain a home? Perhaps.

Normally an extreme extrovert with the desire to be around many others, I've tucked away inside my turtle shell.

I don't always text anymore. And right now, the few people I do are ones whom I feel are seriously vested in my general well being, and have brought me much comfort in the few days since Ryan's death.

Phone calls are infrequent, brief, and to the point.

 Eating has lost its luster. Coffee and chocolates, normally two of my absolute favorite things, I can't even stomach.

I've been cleaning non-stop.

Sleeping usually happens only an average of 3 hours a night.

I've taken away reminders like pictures and "stuff," and have packed a lot of it away already so that I can raise my kids with the same intensity and vigor as normal since the kids are doing so well and are acting the same.

I feel absolutely lost, wandering around my house, missing the biggest piece of me who is no longer there to encourage, provide affection, comfort, protection, sharpening conversation, and chasten my rough edges.

Yes, I am reading my Bible and drawing close to the Lord - who said He would do the same.

Yet...

Half of me died that day in November, too.

Please forgive the stupid things I've said.

Please forgive my lack of response.

Please give me time and space to grieve.

Please stop giving me advice about "what you would do if..." or "what you should do is..."

And just stand silently next to me, watching me pick up the remnants of what are left from the pieces of my old life, lying in front of me, charred and smouldering from the nuclear blast that hit me last week.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Untying a life

"He will die in November," the Holy Spirit whispered to me this past June.

I didn't want to think that applied to Ryan. Nor did I want to believe it.

I talked to my friends about the prophecy given to me. They didn't want to believe it either.

Then I talked to Ryan.

He knew it too.

But didn't want to say.

We spent the last six months of our lives together, living deeply and drinking life in.

What do you do when you are told you have Stage IV Stomach Cancer?
What do you do when the treatments stop working?
What do you say when the end draws near at age 40?
What do you tell your children who are ages 4 and 1?
How do you cope with impending doom...

day after day,

month after month,

year after year

for almost 5 years?

What would you do, if it were you?

Well, when I asked Ryan these questions, late at night in June, all snuggled together, thinking of our shortened future together. Then another question summarized my searching...

"What would you change if you knew there were only six months left?" I asked, holding my breath.

"Nothing," he replied. "Not one thing. I love our lives. I wouldn't change it a bit."

That striving for normalcy, consistency, and a sense of status quo drove everything in both of our lives. We focused on glorifying God, drawing close to Him, as well as each other, and raising our two small kids.

We let go of everything we no longer felt would glorify God or draw us closer together as a family. And we stopped running the rat race, trying to keep up with the Joneses, and impress everyone else.

We learned how to say no to even some good things that weren't wrong to do, just wrong for our family's limited time together.

After June, I felt that each conversation he had was like removing shoelaces from his workboots.

As each conversation concluded,

another lace slipped silently out of an eyelet,

untying his life from the work he was sent here to do,

until the laces were separated from the boots that remained here on earth -

an empty shell that had carried him very far in this lifetime.

The other day as I was driving home from church, not long after Ryan went to be with the Lord, a car in front of me made a right turn, and left a plume of black smoke in its wake.

Then it disappeared.

The fourth book of James, in verse fourteen says:

  "....whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away."

Ryan's life touched mine more than anyone else on this planet. We knew our time together was short. We fought hard to make that time as distraction-free and not-taking-anything-for-granted as possible, unplugging from the noise and plugging into the Power source of it all.

My prayer is that as the Lord reveals His will to you for your life, the limited number of hours He has given you, for all of our days are numbered, that you follow hard after Him, so you, too, can fulfill your job here on earth and hear the Lord say to you:

"Well done, good an faithful servant. Enter into the presence of the Lord."

Just as Ryan Waters did, on November 27, 2016 at 5:13 p.m.