Monday, February 27, 2017

3 months later

"So, does it feel as though it's been 3 months...?" a friend asked me at Talitha's birthday party today.

Three months ago today, Ryan died. It feels like a lifetime ago, and yet it also feels like it happened just yesterday.

I definitely want to be in Heaven a lot more now than I ever have in the past. Not that I'm going to expedite the process, but simply desire to be with Jesus and my loved ones more urgently than I had in the past.

I see things differently now.

I am very sensitive to husband bashing, even in the form of "jokes." I just can't stand that absolute disrespect, it makes me crazy.

When people want to discuss trivialities, I shut off. I can't go there anymore.

Just after I got home, the clock switched over from 5:12 p.m. to 5:13 p.m. I remember that minute so clearly 3 months ago.

And yet, I never thought I would feel the way I do today, 3 months later.

In speaking with a family member recently, I realized that it was MUCH different than both of us envisioned. I thought I would be handling it so much better than I am. Somehow, I thought I could cope well.

Yet in all my lack and basic survival mode, I realize that I have loving people around me who truly "get me" and are sensitive, kind and loving enough to keep me around and forgive my moods and recent introversion.

Talitha's 5th birthday party was quite different this year than her party a year ago. Ryan was sorely missed today and it seemed quiet. There were less kids and chaos. But Talitha really enjoyed herself, as well as the play time, cake, singing and crafts with the beautiful Cinderella.

We made good memories with good friends today, 3 months after Ryan's death.

Every month on the 27th has been a difficult reminder, but a blessing as well, because we think back to a time when we had Ryan with us, in so many wonderful ways.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Opposite Direction

"Take the 210 East Exit," I heard my internal GPS voice say as I drove to a friend's house to attend a birthday party.

"But I don't want to go this way," I said to myself.

The 210 West exit would take me back to a time when I drove Ryan to the City of Hope hospital.

But God was taking me in the opposite direction.

I forced myself to go to the party for a friend's daughter and exited the 210 East.

I knew there would be balloons and cake and presents and singing, all things I loved.

But I wasn't worried about any of that stuff.

It was the people I was afraid of.

Would I stumble through conversation?

Would someone ask me how I was doing and I wouldn't know what to say?

Would I be okay sharing about Ryan's death at a party with strangers?

Would anyone even want to talk to me after hearing my story?

I took a deep breath as I pulled into the driveway and prayed for myself.

"You can do this, Anna," I told myself. "With God, ALL things are possible."

I got to the door, but remembered I had to get milk for the baby. The lady at the door let Talitha in and I mumbled something about having to go to the store but I would text my friend that I'd be right back,

I felt relief flood my body as I walked away. I thought about all those people in the house that I had always loved to visit before Ryan died. I prayed against anxiety and drove quickly to the store, with baby girl in tow.

As I walked into the local grocery store, the door opened automatically and I was met with a rushing smell of roses and lilies, the flowers that Ryan always bought for me on special occasions. He broke me of many of my high maintenance tendencies, but my preference for those flowers remained strong throughout all the years we were together, and beyond.

The price was right, so I picked out a delicate bouquet of the gorgeous combination and tucked them safely into my cart.

I thought back to how Pastor Jack had pointed to the thickness of his Bible during the sermon today and said, "And THIS is how much God loves you. The first few pages talks about creation and how the world began, but the rest of the Bible is God's love story, drawing you to Him and telling you how much He loves you."

God had hugged me more than once, today. After the church service, I waited in line to speak with the pastor who loved Ryan and I enough to spend Ryan's last days in the hospital with him and me. When he saw me, he smiled big.

Then I heard the first song on the All Sons and Daughter's Live album play, just as it was about to be my turn to speak to him. As I pointed out the song, the pastor said to me, "See, God hears your prayers. He hears you. And He's listening. He loves you, Pumpkin."

That pastor has become a spiritual Dad to me and his pep talks have helped get me through some of the worst days of my life.

As I returned to the door of my friend's house and entered the party, it was as though the Holy Spirit filled me and gave me my old self back. Normally a gregarious and party-loving person, my typical recent introverted self was checked at the door.

I was able to laugh, enjoy cake and the company of friends who have stood by me through my tragic loss. I even made some new friends today, just like I used to back in the day.

I wouldn't say I'm healed or "over" my grief about Ryan or anything close to it, but today was a big step in the right direction.

Part of me wants to go back to my old life and spend my time doting on the husband of my dreams. But the Lord has said that the time for that is past, and now it is time to go in the opposite direction, toward what He has in store for me during this next phase in my life.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Lumpy

"Oh I feel SO bad!" Ryan exclaimed as he came running into our home from the back patio door.

"What happened?" I asked, concerned because I could hear the upset tone of his voice.

"I was moving the trash cans on the side of the house and a lizard was underneath one of them and I accidentally smashed her head," he told me.

He was holding her in his hand, distraught.

Lizards were one of the reasons we moved to this house. There were a number of lizards playing tag on the back brick wall behind our home when we did our first walk through and Ryan excitedly pointed it out.

As a kid, he loved to catch lizards. He would find a certain tall grass near his old Mission Viejo home when his parents were still together and loved to find the lizards there and catch them with the "lizard catchers" he made with the tall grass.



It was a pretty neat invention of his. He'd slip the grass in a loop and the loop would tighten as you pulled on the end of the grass, where the unsuspecting lizards wouldn't know what was trapping them.

I saw him do it to many lizards over the years. Once he would capture them, they would wriggle and fight to get free, but his invention always held them tightly. Once he was done petting them and examining how cool they were, he would let them go, unharmed.

Unfortunately, the lizard he had in his hand that spring day was in bad shape. It was a female and her head was crushed. Ryan could tell she couldn't see anymore and she barely moved at all. Her breathing was labored and we both just stared at her, crushed ourselves at the sad state of God's poor creature.

"Well, I am going to feed her," he said, emphatically. "I'll put her in a cage and feed her until she dies. It's the least I can do because it's my fault."

"We should name her Lumpy," he said, jokingly. We laughed quickly, but frowned too, because of how she earned her name.

Ryan fed Lumpy for six solid weeks, daily forcing her jaw open and shoving in crickets so that she wouldn't starve to death.

But one day she lay lifeless in her cage, freed from her broken body.

When I think back to how Ryan lovingly cared for Lumpy, I think of the scripture that talks about how God knows what happens to each of the sparrows in this world, and that when each one dies, He cares about their ownership
or demise.

God is a loving Creator who cares about all of His creatures, even down to the little smashed lizard in our backyard.

And Ryan's love for God moved him to care for God's creature enough to spend the time to take care of it during her last days on earth.

I was married to a man who cared about the big and small details in every area of life and that love was demonstrated even in this simple mistake that made a huge impact on a creature who could never thank him for what he did for her.

But when Ryan stood before God on the day he died, God thanked him instead, for being such a good steward of the life he had been given.





Tuesday, February 21, 2017

So in Love

As I watched Ryan pick at his food the third week after we met, I asked him about his strange eating habits.

"So, you're a big guy, how come you eat so little?" I inquired.

"I don't know. It's a recent thing, normally I can eat a ton. This not-eating thing happened after I met you," he said, sheepishly.

I didn't know how to respond, but I thought it was completely adorable.

It was funny how it effected him, because it did the opposite to me.

I ate my way through house and home when I was with him, and especially indulged in sweets.

As the years rolled by, our weight gain and loss as a couple, ebbed and flowed. Sometimes we were diligent about going to the gym, going on hikes at the park or walks on the beach, and riding bikes together. Other times we were lazy.

But the last five years of our lives together were different. Ryan got winded very easily. His chemo made his skin sensitive, so he couldn't be out in the sun. His tastes for certain foods waned, and his mouth sores changed every day, which dictated what he could and couldn't eat, the entire time he had Cancer.

Basically, we were forced into a lifestyle lacking exercise and limited culinary experimentation.

As I survey the last part of our time together, I realized that our relationship ended, the way it began. I gained quite a bit of weight, as I watched Ryan unable to eat and lose weight rapidly. It was almost as though I was eating for him or something.

Since his death, however, I've been the one unable to eat.

Eating used to be a source of pleasure and comfort.

It provides neither of those things anymore.

It's a necessary chore.

A duty.

A painful part of my day.

I don't want to do it anymore and wish I didn't have to.

I've slowly begun to cook for my family and make the old dishes we used to enjoy together.

But I miss cooking for my food critic.

As I lose weight and begin to build in a lifestyle of exercise into our "new normal," I see changes in myself that I haven't seen in years.

I see changes in Talitha too, from her exercise class -- good and healthy changes.

Certainly exercise makes the good, old endorphines kick in and that helps everyone to feel a bit better.

But when I sit down at each meal, and just pick at my food, I can't help but miss the man who shared my current eating habits, so many years ago, unable to eat because he was so in love.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day, part 2

"Will you be my Valentine?" she asked.

The love in my heart swelled, as my sweet widow friend in her 70's had called to encourage me on my first Valentine's Day without Ryan.

"You know, Valentine's Day isn't what it used to be," she explained. "It's not all about marriage. It used to be focused on St. Valentine."

My heart was so full, and we had barely just started talking. Then she added, "And I want to come over and help with the kids so you can run some errands, alone."

This sweet woman just lost her own husband of 50+ years of marriage, and she wanted to help me. I always tell people when I introduce her to others that I want to be her when I grow up.

She always laughs and sees the glass as half full. And in fact, she would say it just keeps getting more and more full because God keeps filling your cup.

I just love her.

So her thoughtful gesture of kind words and the promise of quality time was too precious.

A short while later, as I am putting the sheets on Joy's crib mattress (after she puked all over it in the morning from having the stomach flu), I hear the dog barking his head off because someone's at the door.

All flustered, I looked in the peep hole to see a new friend of mine, holding flowers, a present and some groceries.

Again, I just smiled at God and thanked Him for His many blessings.

"Oh, my husband was working late tonight," she said to me, "and since he wasn't going to be home and the kids were with my extended family, I just thought to myself, "Oh, Anna is alone tonight." "

So she got in the car, loaded up with a bunch of goodies, and showed up on my doorstep.

I put the baby to bed right away, then gave Talitha the EB (the Electronic Babysitter, as Ryan called it).

Hours later, we were still chatting in the brown couch room, and I was so appreciative of her listening ear, kind heart and good (adult!) conversation.

The hardest part of widowhood, in my opinion, is the night time. The time after you put the kids to bed and then you have all this think time to yourself.

Well, tonight I didn't have that. I was too busy laughing and chatting to think about my situation. It was such an enjoyable respite from my typical evening routine.

As she was leaving, she put her hand on my shoulder and prayed a blessing over my family and I, in such a way that it brought tears to my eyes.

"Thank you, God, for this woman," I prayed in my head. "Thank you God, that you care about me so deeply that you would send someone so I didn't have to be alone with my thoughts on Valentine's Day night. Thank you God that you love me so much."

She stepped onto my driveway and I waited to hear her car start before I shut the door and I prayed a little bit more:

"Thank you, God, for all the people who are loving on me tonight. I feel it. And I don't feel alone."

Deuteronomy 31:6New King James Version (NKJV)

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid...for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day

I felt my chest tighten and the desire to run away became intense and strong.

I turned to my friend and whispered, "I have to go."

"What? Why?" she whispered back so as not to disturb those around us watching The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman video in our Mom's group at church.

Gary, the speaker had just gone over the three questions exemplary husbands ask their wives frequently, in essence paraphrased below:

1) What can I do to help you?

2) How can I make your life easier?

3) How can I be a better husband?

I couldn't hold in my sad emotions anymore because when Gary said these questions I heard from Ryan almost daily, especially the last five years of our lives together, I knew I was going to come undone.

"Because I'm going to cry," I told my friend.

"Don't leave," she said softly. "Just cry."

And with those words she put her head on my shoulder, and her arm around me and let me sob silently in my black chair.

I didn't want to be sitting there in the darkness, watching a video about how to improve your marriage when my marriage partner died.

I didn't want to be going home to an empty home that day, afraid to face my first Valentine's Day without Ryan in 17 years.

I didn't want my heart to ache anymore.

Two days later, Talitha, Joy and I were in the car and talking about Valentine's Day coming up.

"Dad isn't going to buy me a balloon this year," I told Talitha, trying to help her understand my sadness.

"Why not?" she asked, her 4 year old mind trying to figure out my predicament.

"Well, he's in Heaven and he isn't here to buy me one," I told her, plainly.

"Then you should just buy me one!" she exclaimed. "I love balloons!"

When she said that, I thought about how I felt after my Mom died and all the fun gifts I used to get for my Mom that had "Mom" on them, but I couldn't get them for her anymore.

Ryan told me, "Well, you can't get them for your Mom anymore, but you can BE the Mom you need to be for your own daughter and make the memories and fun things special for her, instead."

I resolved to stop looking at the deficit in looking to the older generation who had gone before me and instead decided to spend my time pouring into the next generation and try to be the best Mom I could, given my circumstances.

When Talitha suggested I buy her a balloon instead, it snapped me out of my funk and made shopping that night, without her and Joy, fun. I spent some of my free time lamenting over my loss with Ryan, but then went to a few stores and bought her and Joy balloons, cards, stuffed animals, and activity books.

I also knew I wouldn't be getting the typical, amazing flowers Ryan always bought me so I bought some cheap roses for myself.

(Incidentally, a friend of mine saw me a few days ago and handed me 2 pounds of See's Candies. She told me, "This is because you're God's Valentine AND Ryan's Valentine." I felt super blessed by her thoughtful gesture.)

I had been praying this morning because my heart hurt and I was missing my Valentine.

"Lord, I wish I could hear Ryan tell me 'I love you' today," I told Him.

Flipping through my Bible, a note fluttered out onto my shirt, one that Ryan had written years ago, just after my Mom died.

It ended... "Love you... Love, Ryan"

The God of the universe is the God who hears the prayers of a lonely widow on her first Valentine's Day alone and cares enough to send the words of affirmation she needed, straight from her late husband's pen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Open Doors

We were in the middle of worship rehearsal. I had my violin out, mid-way through the song "Above All" and my friend was singing vocals with her beautiful soprano voice, when all of the sudden the church doors swung open.

And then Ryan walked into the room, beaming a smile like I had never seen before.

Suddenly, I didn't care about being in the middle of the song and just couldn't wait to finish it!

I was so surprised at his visit. As soon as the song ended, I ran to hug him!

He had told me the night before he had to visit a client that was out of town that day and would call me later that night after I was done with worship practice at my friends' church in the east bay. Little did I know he drove 500 miles to come visit me spontaneously.

That little stinker!

Back in early 2003 I was getting my doctorate in Medical Sociology at UC San Francisco, with an emphasis on hospice care research. I moved 500 miles away from Ryan and that decision didn't come easy. But Ryan supported my lifelong dream to become a professor and he said he would be willing to wait for me to finish before starting our lives as a married couple.

It was the first decision where I submitted to Ryan.

I completely allowed Ryan to make the decision about whether or not I should accept the offer to UCSF. In the fifth book of Ephesians, the Bible says for believers to submit to one another, and for wives to submit to their husbands.

I was raised as a very independent woman and never submitted to others in making decisions when I became an adult (and, incidentally, had a difficult time submitting to my parent's will when I was being raised by them). But when I became a Christian at age 24, I submitted my life and decisions to the Lord. And when I met Ryan nine months later, it took a few years, but I decided that if our marriage was going to work well, I would have to learn to submit to Ryan, even while dating him.

During the year apart, we spoke on the phone every day and took turns visiting each other once a month for a weekend. We both had a difficult time coping with the separation because we loved being together every day.

About eight months into my doctorate program, I felt pain in my abdomen, only like I had felt the year before when I was required to have major surgery and Ryan took care of me for my 10 day hospital stay and the weeks after that required me to have round the clock care. The doctors had told me that 2% of patients ever had a problem after surgery, and only 2% of those patients required an additional surgery.

Unfortunately, I was part of the 2% of the 2%.

As soon as I told Ryan about the pain, he was very, very concerned. I went to the ER at the UCSF hospital and they sent me home, telling me it was bad Chinese food. I asked them what to do when the pain persisted, and the personnel told me after rolling his eyes, "Well, you just need to come back here. But that won't happen."

That night I went home and stayed up all night, in intense, excruciating pain.

Finally, at 4 in the morning I couldn't stand it anymore and I woke up my roommate to drive me back to the ER because I was throwing up and super dizzy.

When I told Ryan, he jumped into his car and drove straight to be with me. Little did I know in May, 2003, that it would be the trip when he bought my engagement ring.

My body started to shut down over the course of 5 days. I couldn't eat, couldn't pass anything, and had vomited whatever was left previously, including all of my stomach acid.

At the end of the 5 days when no doctor believed me when I told them my issue was a complication from a previous surgery, and no scans showed anything wrong, I felt my life slipping away from me. And in that moment, I thought to myself, "Do I have any regrets?"

I wanted to talk to my childhood best friend again, and apologize to her for not being a better friend when we were growing up.

Then I wanted to know, "If you only had 6 months left to live, what would you do with your life?"

I knew the answer instantly, I would quit my doctorate program, move back down to southern California and enjoy the rest of my time in life being Ryan Waters' wife.

Later that day, the CT scan showed a blockage and within 30 minutes, I was rushed into immediate, emergency surgery.

When I awoke out of the anesthesia, I looked at Ryan and told him I was quitting my program and moving back home, to be near him. I told him I wanted to be his wife and nothing else really mattered to me anymore.

We got married six months later.

Sometimes I feel as though I am standing with friends, having fun and worshiping the Lord but aching to be with my man because he's so far away.

Just waiting for Ryan to just show up spontaneously like he did so many years ago.

But for now, I know all too well, those church doors here on earth

will remain shut forever.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Phone Call

I opened the laptop and there sat Ryan,

arms crossed,

staring grumpily (is that a word?) at a work computer he was fixing.

It was almost as though I could reach into this technological window

and touch my husband, again.

The other day I was visiting my Dad at his house and missed a call.

Caller ID said it was from:

"Ryan Waters."

I stared down at my phone in disbelief.

Not only did my husband call me, but I missed it!!!

I saw my voicemail icon and called it, not sure what to expect.

What would I hope to hear?

What would I say if I had the chance?

What wouldn't I give to hear his voice again?

The voicemail played and it was simply Ryan's coworker from a work phone line.

I reminisced to the time when my heart would quicken upon seeing my husband's number

show up on my phone.

This time, two months after his death, I felt nothing but emptiness.

It made me miss him.

It made me miss our life together.

It made me miss the old me.

Upon the death of King David's son, King David said,

"But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."

I will never be able to reach into Heaven and hug my husband, while I am on earth. Eventually, I will get to go to him.

But Ryan will never return to me.

Running Away

My feet hit the treadmill for the millionth step and I kept thinking I could run away from my life.

But the same part of the belt would loop over and as I looked down, to watch it on repeat, I thought about my recent thought pattern.

He's dead.

What am I going to do?

This is my life now.

Nothing is the same.

I have to learn my "new normal."

How am I going to keep going?

God, help me....

He's dead.

And on the treadmill goes...

A few short days after the funeral, I thought that running away to the house I grew up in would help.

I only planned to be there for a day, but the 1,000 mile trip didn't deaden my sorrow.

In fact, it only exacerbated it because I was reminded, intensely, that my Mom isn't here either.

I can't shake my sorrow.

It clings to me,

saturating my soul with tears of sadness.

It follows me everywhere I go.

He's dead...

Everyone has given me advice to get a therapist. So I did.

Her name is Retail.

On my latest session, I bought a house decoration that says:

"Hope is an anchor for the soul."

The hope Jesus Christ gives is what anchors me now.

I can't outrun my sadness, nor my life.

But God has a plan for all of this.

And I will trust Him and follow the path He has set before me.