Thursday, March 30, 2017

An Evening of Remembrance

"I'm going back there," I thought to myself as I clipped in my seat belt.

"I haven't been back since the day Ryan died."

I drove silently with my thoughts, headed toward the looming snow dusted mountains before my phone rang.

It was Ryan's sister.

I had missed her call, but returned it. We chatted about life and I told her what I felt God had planned for the Evening of Remembrance event at City of Hope.

"I hear joy in your voice," she said, happily. "I'm elated you sound so full of joy. It's been a long time."

I felt the joy in my heart, too, as I drove toward my destination.

I told her it's because I knew I had to go to work.

I was doing God's work tonight.

"I sometimes talk to Ryan's picture, as though it's him," I told my sister-in-law.

She laughed at me, and said, "I love you for that. You know, you're famous for the one way conversation."

I didn't know if I liked that, and I knew instantly I didn't like that I was forced into nothing but one way conversations with Ryan. But this is what I told him, anyway:

"God is going to use your legacy, Ryan, to touch other people's lives. Even if one person gets saved, or heck, many, many people, you'll never even know it."

But then I stopped myself, mid-sentence. I thought about where he was, and what he was currently doing.

"No, that's not true," I told him. "You will immediately know because you'll SEE all those people in heaven after they die and they're going to thank you for your legacy and testimony to God's love poured into you and likewise how much you loved me throughout your life, as well."

"God will still use you, even though you died. Much like millions of people read about Paul's amazing testimony each day, I pray that millions of lives will be changed forever because of your life here on earth Ryan," I said.

As I picked up the 8 x 11 picture frame, I hugged it to my chest to carry it out into the car. I laughed, thinking about how much he would have loved doing that in real life. I would have loved it too.

Ryan's sister and I laughed, and said our goodbyes. When I hung up the phone, I switched back on the stereo, and there it was again, the songs Ryan was listening to the two hours before he passed away.

During the two months after Ryan died, I listened to the album relentlessly. And wept with the same frequency and intensity each time.

But today, something was different.

I felt a peaceful euphoria. I smiled as I listened to the songs which sang truth.

Sadness was replaced with remembrance.

As I pulled up to the gas station adjacent to my favorite coffee shop, I stopped to snap a picture.

The mountains looked like rumpled green quilts, snuggling their hidden, warm and cozy occupants.

They were a picture of how far away I felt from Ryan and how much I wanted to lift up the covers and go snuggle next to him, like old times. But he's too far away to do this now, and I know I just need to wait until I see him again in heaven someday.

 As I lined up my cell phone to take the photo, a church steeple cross fell dead center in my photograph.

I smiled as I thought of the central place the cross had in both of our lives, and how apt it was placed in the frame of the picture.

I drove through the drive thru, and the attendant had a radio quality voice.

"I need to tell you why I'm here tonight," I told him. He listened with fervent attention.

I told him about Ryan, and our family. But then I asked him something,

I asked, "So, if you were to walk out of here tonight and get nailed by a car and die, you'd immediately be standing in front of God."

I still had his gaze.

"When you stood before God, would you be happy with the life you've lived so far?"

He looked away from me, and kept his smile, and agreed he would.

I wasn't so convinced by his half-hearted answer.

He said his friends took him to church with them sometimes, and I told him I'd pray for him to go.

As I looked at his name on his name tag, I even told him that my entire religion shared his namesake.

He smiled.

I drove the few blocks to the cancer hospital, and turned in just past the beautiful rose garden. The blooms were prolific, as were the Silk Tree blooms.

Ryan always loved those gorgeous blooms carpeting the City of Hope sidewalks and parking lots.

The memory of his admiration made me smile, big time.

I pulled into the familiar parking lot, the one I'd left just four short months ago, husband-less.

"Lord, I pray for Your guidance and direction for tonight, for each person I will meet. I pray for peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding. But also, help me to grieve tonight as I remember Ryan's memory," I prayed. "Please give me the courage and strength to go in there, alone, and step onto this campus without my husband. You put the right people in my path and give me the right words to say. In Jesus' name, Amen."

I walked onto campus with purpose. Immediate I saw a woman I had visited many times, but she acted like she didn't know who I was.

Losing one eighth of my body weight in a few months has made me look different.

I gathered my belongings after checking in, and when I walked into the event, I wanted to run out of the doors, screaming.

I'd always coveted the swanky gatherings I saw from a distance in the rose garden.

"I want to go to one of those special events," I told Ryan years ago after he was done with his chemo treatment and he met us out on the lawn adjacent to the building I was standing in. "It looks really fancy and I love events like that."

Little had I known that the only event I'd attend on campus in that swanky venue was for the purpose of honoring my dead husband, I would have dreaded, rather than coveted that honor.

I placed his pictures on the table and walked across the room to find  seat in the busy, bustling room with hundreds of people milling about, stumbling through the grief of each losing a family member or friend at City of Hope, like I had.

As I went to take a seat, I was perpendicular to a man in mid-stride, not holding back his grief.

"May I pray for you?" I asked, not wanting to intrude or pry.

He agreed and we shared stories of loved ones lost. But I was more concerned about his eternal destination than the ones we'd left behind. He introduced me to his mother, weeping at the loss of her very young daughter. As we embraced and I prayed, I thought of my mother-in-law and her grief, as well.

And there we were, families united because of death's parting.

We took our seats, and that family was gracious enough to let me not sit alone.

But as the event unfolded, the young couple in front of me decided it was an opportune time for gratuitous PDA (public displays of affection).

I came really close to saying something to them about their oblivious distractions because of my heart ache and lonely state. But then I thought I'd be no better than the older gentleman that came running down the aisle at church many, many years ago to chastise Ryan for rubbing my neck and back during the sermon. I was so ashamed in that moment that I didn't know what to say to that man. And Ryan took it as a lesson, to not do that so often in front of other people who may be hurting because their relationship wasn't as strong as or in as good of a place as ours was.

As the speakers poured out words of affirmation to the backdrop of a violin quartet, I unfolded my grief like a gentleman unfolds his handkerchief. My silent, streaming tears ran down the trenches of my cheekbones, betraying my internal war with exterior ammunition.

An onslaught of grief pummeled me as I watched the vast number of names listed on the powerpoint slide, scrolling continuously through while two nurses read the names aloud like a graduation ceremony which no one wanted to be a part of.

"Ryan Waters," the nurse read, and it ripped a hole in my heart the size of Montana,

Up, up, up the screen his name scrolled, until it disappeared from view.

Much like he did four months ago when he died and went to Heaven.

I wanted to chase after it and bring it back down again.

Couldn't it just linger a little longer?

Couldn't Ryan just stay and be with me, another moment more?

I looked over at his picture, his smiling face perched atop his wedding tuxedo, barely able to hide his desire to be done with the pictures and spend time alone with his bride.

I felt the empty seat next to me and immediately missed the feeling of his arm around me. I craved the familiar touch of his draping arm, my hand held tightly, with squeezes at just the right time. That vacant seat, was filled instead with a poor substitute, that of my penguin purse.

I started to look for an exit, even thought I was dead center in the crowd. I scanned for empty seats, to run away from the PDA couple and the fact that I was sitting without Ryan.

But changing seats wouldn't have changed my circumstances, so I decided to stay put. I remained present with my sad feelings, and, as a friend told me to do, "Worked through it."

I prayed silently for what I'd say to people as we munched on the fancy food in the next room, as they dismissed us somberly.

I thanked one of the speakers and hugged Ryan's pain doctor, who were one in the same.

Then I saw his clinical trials' nurse with another widow who hugged me tightly.

"She is young," the woman said to the nurse. We were both widows because of Stomach Cancer. When I told her how long Ryan and I got together post diagnosis, her response floored me.

"It's not fair!" she exclaimed loudly. "I didn't get that much time with my husband."

Instantly I was angry, but instantly I was heart checked.

"Um, how old was he when he passed away," I asked kindly and graciously, as though I hadn't heard what she said earlier.

"68," came the reply.

"Oh that's how old my Mom was when she died," I told her. Then, with grace, I said to her, "So, my husband may have lived longer after his cancer diagnosis, it's true. Yet, he died at age 40 and will never see his kids grow up."

As she continued to complain, I noticed a small crowd gathered around our picture on the display table and several people commenting on it. I excused myself and told the ladies I'd meet them at the food table in a minute because I genuinely couldn't wait to eat dinner.

"Oh, he was so young," they were whispering. When I walked up, they looked at the picture, then looked at me and clung to me.

"How are you doing?" they asked, concerned, grabbing my hand as though we were long lost friends, putting their arms around me. I told them, what I tell most people nowadays:

"I'm surviving."

But then the Holy Spirit took over, and I was revived. I shared about Ryan's life and legacy. Then I asked about their losses, and there were too many to remember. The heartache at hearing their stories of love lost and what Cancer took was almost unbearable. But then I told them I would pray.

We linked arms, that small group of us, all united in Christ. We were part of the family of God. And in that moment, our chain of love linked us together, touched by the Cancer death of many family members, and there was a completeness that I rarely feel in the depths of my sorrow.

One of the speakers really said it right when she told us that there was healing in sharing our stories with one another, and speaking of the people who had gone before us.

Our linked arms and prayers bonded us for eternity.

We all missed our dearly departed loved ones. Yet, they were there in the midst of us, with all the stories we told and memories that were shared.

One of the beautiful flower arrangements were still on the tables as everyone was trickling out of the building to go home. We were allowed to have them, and it was so nice to have those beautiful yellow flowers because they were so cheerful.

As I walked into the chilly night towards my car, I ran into some ladies I'd met earlier in the evening, their bouquet dwarfing mine by 10 times the amount of flowers. I smiled at myself, proud of the lesson contentment had taught me, by way of Ryan.

They decided to take the shuttle and I joined them, in order to help make their presumably last visit to City of Hope a sweet one. I got their names and told them I'd pray for them.

The kind shuttle bus driver was a believer too, and he said he'd pray as well. I told him he had a tough gig and I would pray for him as well. He told me that humor is what helped the people get through it, but I didn't find his jokes very funny. In fact, it was more like Marlin on Finding Nemo, at the beginning of the movie. But it's okay because we're all a work in progress.

I left the shuttle and sat in my car, grateful for the amazing years I had with Ryan. I turned on a song from his dying day, strengthened by its anthem beckoning me to wait for what's next, to hold onto the victory I have in Christ, and that I still have a reason to sing.

I called my pastor and he prayed over me before I drove off the City of Hope cancer hospital, for the last time I'd be there to share about my husband's death.

As I drove under the dark night sky, with the stars twinkling brightly  against the dark back drop, I thanked God for all He had done in our lives, through Ryan's Cancer diagnosis and up to his death and beyond.

And I smiled big, all the way home, because I had the assurance that one day I'd see Ryan again, Cancer free in his new body.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Watts O Fun

As I drove down PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), there it was on the bright marquee, the Duffy Boat Name of the Week:

"Watts O Fun."

I laughed out loud and kept smiling as I thought of the cute pun and how much Ryan would have rolled his eyes and laughed with me, had he been in the car too.

It was Friday night, and before he got sick, he and I would occasionally drive down to Newport Beach and spend some quality time together, walking parallel to the waves.

He was with me the last time I was here.

I promised the kids we would go to the beach together today, and yet the dipping sun and racing clock made it seem impossible to make it there by sunset.

"If the president can run the country in twenty four hours, then you can keep your room clean," Elizabeth Elliot's Mom would say to her teenaged brother as they were growing up, I read in her book titled Discipline earlier in the day.

I ruminated on her words as I tucked blankets and zipped up coats on the kids to ward off the chilly beach head wind that whispered Ryan's words of advice in my mind, with gusto:

"What are you thinking, Sweetie Pie?" he would have asked me.

"Well, Sweetie Pie, I want to keep my promise to the kids to go to the beach today, even though it's close to their bedtime and it's cold and dark," I'd tell my husband. "Besides, that's what coats and blankets are for! I'm walking around Newport Beach. Come on, where's your sense of adventure?"

"Sweetie Pie," he'd say, almost bordering on being condescending, but stopping just short, at a concerned and convincing tone instead, "There's something to be said about planning ahead, and safety and warmth. Come on, Sweetie Pie, you're by yourself now," he'd say, looking away from my eyes, then down at the ground, sadly. "I want you and the kids to be safe. There are dudes out there, and you're beautiful, and alone. Guys are pigs. And I'm not around to protect you. I know God will be, but use some common sense, Woman."

I'd start crying, thinking about his extreme desire to keep me and the kids safe. I'd apologize to him, and wait for his big strong arms to wrap around me. I'd bury my face in his warmth, and cling to his broad, strong shoulders I've missed for months now.

"Well, what's really going on, is that I'm trying to fill in your gap, Sweetie Pie," I'd tell him. "I don't know what to do with myself on a Friday night, being single again. I don't want to sit at home, day after day, with too much time to think. I need daily exercise, and when I do that, I just feel better about your absence."

"Well, you have good judgment now," Ryan would tell me. "You've learned it over the years. Exercise your discernment over your desire to run away from your problems. You and the kids need to keep safe and that's your job now. Don't mess it up because you're being selfish."

I heard this conversation in my head as I walked briskly Friday night, edging closer to the illuminated water pillars, battered by the waves of the sea.

A stream of giant clouds wrote mathematical equations in the sky and it reminded me of a bumper sticker I just adore:

He > I
(He is greater than I)

I had to stick in my ear buds in order to silence Ryan's protests at my early evening stroll. I turned on the app to the Christian radio station, Air One, and pulled one ear bud out to still be aware of my surroundings.

I heard the pounding waves crashing at my side, their ebb and flow reminiscent of the memories of Ryan and I, walking hand in hand there, together. I thought about talks we had about scientific discoveries he'd read about or some Biblical passage I was interested in,

Our deep and meaningful conversation was always as steady as the waves.

I miss it.

I looked up at the silently twinkling stars, their vast distance felt so much like how distant I felt from Ryan in that moment.

I want to go Home. 

I want to be in Heaven, with Ryan, Lord. 

I don't want to do this without him.

I can't do this anymore.

"I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me," came back the Lord's immediate reply.

As I got to the pier, I made an offhand remark to someone and it made them laugh.

That made me feel good.

I walked onto its boards, dusted in silky sand grains that shimmered in the night time street lights.

I looked over the edge, as the ocean thundered.

I heard a sermon earlier that day from Levi Lusko. "Thunder always marks the presence of God," he preached.

The raw power ran through me as though God's voice spoke and I felt eternity grab me, pulling me out like a rip tide.

Ryan's death has completely loosened my grip on this world.

And now that I'm a heavenly minded person, I can spot others like me, as though they're bright blips on a radar screen.

I returned to my previous path, circling the world and passing the chiseled surfer.

A man juggling fire dazzled a few onlookers and Talitha stared at him as she asked, "Mom, is he not getting burned because he's being careful?"

"Yes, Talitha, that's right," I said.

But consuming love is like fire. How can you possibly let it ignite you and yet keep it only so close so that you won't get burned?

I am a candle whose flame is the Lord and I ask Him to burn me down to the end of my wick, so that I may spend all, as well as my last minutes on fire for Him.

When He allowed the equal flame, as I also burned for my lover, now gone, it accelerated my burning for the Lord.

But I find in Ryan's absence, the flame for my Lord burns ever stronger now, but sometimes recedes, like the tide. I once told a friend who told me my candle burned bright, that I was just an ember anymore because I felt snuffed out.

"Ah, but an ember just needs a spark," she reminded me.

I walked faster, as the moon rose higher.

I passed beach front condos and without fail, the majority of occupants I saw were engaged with their cell phones or televisions, rather than their surroundings and serenity.

"Why not stay home if you're just going to check out on a screen?" I thought to myself, wanting to ask each of these people who paid a lot of money to be on vacation from their typical routines at home, ironically without changing their mental state or daily habits.

"Social media is a false reality," the preacher had said earlier in the day. "People only present their good side on social media. Do you think they're going to post a picture of their bad hair and no makeup, after they got into a car accident or their kid threw up all over the kitchen floor?"

"All of these people are trying to fill their God void with social media and television, being entertained to death," I thought to myself.

"Yes, but you're trying to fill the void of Ryan's absence with exercise and keeping busy," the Holy Spirit nudged me.

"When really, all any of you need, is more of My presence," He said.

My fast pace produced beads of sweat down my back and I thought about the peace I had in my heart from God's presence being such a big part of my life. My frantic midnight calls to friends dwindled in their numbers and calls during reasonable hours replaced unplanned emotional emergencies four months after Ryan's death.

I was always grateful for midnight friends, but I knew it had to come to an end at some point and Ryan would've reminded me to stop putting people out so much. Everyone needs their sleep, and I just need to get through my grief after some good rest.

As I rounded the 15th corner to go to my car, I thought about how I kept reminding myself, "I feel better, now that I have a plan."

When I told a friend this comfort I had, she reminded me, "Yes, but sometimes God changes our plans."

My heart's smile instantly shut down. I went to a dark and stormy place in my mind, haunted by the death of my plan A. But then the sun peeked through the clouds, revealing a silver lining with Plan B.

"When we get home, can you please read me Beauty and the Beast, Mom?" Talitha asked once we were well on our way home from the beach.

"Of course, I would love to!" I told my loving five year old in the back seat.

The love story between Beauty and the Beast reminded me so much of Ryan's and my story, each of us being Belle and the Beast at different points in our relationship. It was Belle's vision of love, seeing past the gruff exterior to the heart of the other person that made the beast go away and the true colors of that character emerge, like a beautiful butterfly out of an ugly cocoon.

Ryan's vision of love towards me, made the beast in me evaporate and transformed me into who I was meant to be. He saw my kind heart inside, and his love tugged on me, chastened me, and chipped away all those rough edges to expose a person inside I never even thought I had in me.

I laughed as I though about something I said to him, shortly after we started dating. We were standing in the doorway of his Foothill Ranch apartment, and I had a star struck look of love on my face. And this is what I said:

"We're like two rocks, coming together," I told Ryan.

He looked at me surprised, because he thought I was going to say something totally romantic.

But then, as Ryan and I were smashed up against each other at the bottom of the rushing river of life, those rapids that were overhead, causing us to tumble and hit against each other and others, smoothed us out and rounded off all of our rough edges.

I just wish Ryan could see me now, I thought to myself. I wish I could thank him for all he's done to help me grow into a better person. He helped me so much and I wish he could see all the fruits of his labor.

As I drove our family toward home, the bedtime clock chimed loudly in my ears.

I miss Ryan, but I am moving onto Plan B, I thought. And I will have Watts O Fun while completing it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sunsets, Boogers, Perfect Lemonade and High Maintenance Sandwiches

As I packed away the 3D printer I bought Ryan two Christmases ago,

I thought about how I no longer live under tension.

I folded up the last of his shirts in the closet,

leaving the spaces of the remnants of his material possessions in the house,

vacant.

I don't have to think incessantly:

"Is he going to die from this?" or

"When will he die?"

anymore,

because he's already gone.

Now, I have a new question that's swing dancing in the inner recesses of my mind:

"What's next, Lord?"

Possibilities tumble all over themselves in my brain

like couples dancing the Jitterbug.

Prayer, exercise and survival are a daily given.

With everything else, all bets are off.

For the past 24 hours I had a Mommy's helper,

to enjoy some quiet time with friends,

get chores done

and

breathe a little easier.

But when I thought about the peace in my brain

during my quiet moments in the past day,

it caught me by surprise.

"How did you do it for five years,

living in the tension of not knowing when your husband would die?"

asked a new friend whose young husband is dying now, too.

I told her the same advice that I'd heard for years from so many widows

when Ryan was dying:

"Take one day at a time and learn to live in the moment."

I've recently updated my resume, applied for some work and revived old dreams about new possibilities, all between making meals for the kids and I each day.

The weekly lunch routine still includes "high maintenance sandwiches" on a smaller scale, with no less crunch than before.

And I laugh and cry all at the same time, thinking about how I used to complain that Ryan demanded that I make his sandwiches right before he'd eat them because he didn't like soggy bread from the rinsed romaine lettuce, tomato slices and paper-towel dried pickle slices, hence the nickname for his lunch fare.

Random memories about his childhood pop up sometimes as I am performing these mundane tasks, such as his utter horror watching a girl in his preschool class sneeze and have a long, stringy booger shoot out of her nose still connected, only to pull it out of her nose and eat it.

I heard that story no less than 25 times in the 16 years we were together because something disgusting would come up in daily conversation about the news, or at his work and he'd remind me of that memory to make the connection.

Or as I'm making Country Time lemonade, I'm thinking of the times we got into fights in front of his Mom (how embarrassing!) and also alone because I didn't make it right.

My Mom used to make the frozen canned lemonade and that stuff is a $1 a can. Ryan wanted lemonade every time he worked in the garage or yard, so he didn't want the cost of his lemonade to run us into the red. So he bought the big container of Country Time powder for less than $10. He claimed we would get at least 600 drinks out of it - a cost savings his father would be very proud of him for.

The last fight we had about the lemonade made him so passionate, he raised his voice, ever so slightly. "This really isn't right, can I just show you how to do it right?" Ryan asked gently as he rushed back in the house from the garage after my "lemonade genie" delivery.

He was working on replacing the brakes on my mini-van,

But I wasn't in a teachable mood.

I instantly got insulted. I fumed. I ranted. And I didn't want to hear any of it.

So he asked me, "Are you going to regret how you're talking to me after I die from Cancer?"

His words arrested my heart and mouth.

Quietly, I watched what he was doing as he talked me through his preferences.

And every single time after that, he said I made it "perfectly."

Yet why didn't I just get over myself and learn how to do it better, without the fuss?

Why didn't I follow his leadership about getting more exercise and caring about my appearance more?

Why did I have to be such a stubborn wife instead of a loving and kind one in those lemonade moments?

My lack of teachability was a window in my soul.

I was prideful. 

I thought I knew how to do something better than I did. And when my flaws were exposed, I covered up by making lots of noise to distract everyone away from my deficiencies.

Life will always hand us opportunities to learn how to love our spouse better, serve them a special meal or drink a certain way, be in better shape or wear our hair with a certain style,

Life is short.

Cut your hair and dye it blond if that's what they want 6 months before they are going to die.

Make the lemonade their way, and do it over again, without argument, if you mess it up.

Cut the cantaloupe the long way so they can eat it in slices.

Make the high maintenance sandwiches in the morning before they leave for work so it isn't soggy when they eat it at lunch time.

Buy the Monster energy drinks and Diet Coke and Twinkies they like, even after a terminal Cancer diagnosis.

Give them time to visit with their friends to blow off steam and play with their hobbies during their free time.

Stop signing up for every social event they wouldn't want to attend.

Stop worrying about "what if" and start to pray, silently instead.

Use a kind tone in your voice, even when he does something you don't agree with.

For the last four years of his life, Ryan took a picture of almost every sunset. He started doing that, or at least noticing when the sun was setting, because he said it was an opportunity to thank God for the gift he got:

The gift of being alive another day.

Enjoy the sunset, every day, like it might be your last one.

Because we aren't promised tomorrow.

Life is a gift.

Love your spouse well...

I don't know what's next in my life, but I do know this:

I am super grateful

for becoming a much better person

than who I used to be,

before I knew Ryan Waters.

And I get double bonus points for knowing how to make lemonade perfectly, too.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Frog Love

As I walked by the claw game on the way out of the grocery store, I looked at the inventory of toys displayed inside of it. There were very few stuffed treasures left inside, but a lone green and cream stuffed frog sat in the back right corner, beckoning me to rescue her from the confines of the glass rectangular prism. The embroidered heart over her right eye sealed the deal.

I stopped the cart and Talitha asked what I was doing.

"Mommy is going to try to get that frog for you," I said.

"Daddy always won the toys at this game, but Mom's going to try it for once, even though she never wins anything," I told her.

Sure enough, it was one of the games I was doomed to fail at because of my inability to judge distance and measure the geometrical space in front of me.

It brought me back to the time when I told Ryan we couldn't move one of my bookcases because it was over 10 feet tall. He'd shown up with a rented pick up truck and I asked him about the tie downs for the bookcase.

He looked at me, with a knowing but condescending look as though I didn't know what I was talking about. I was adamant that I was right, arguing with him vehemently about his mistake, waving my arms and expending a lot of hot air.

When he walked up to the bookcase in the rented room I had in San Francisco years ago, he was taller than the bookcase.

"You mean THIS 10 foot tall bookcase?" he asked with a goofy expression on his face.

Exasperated, I crossed my arms and admitted I was less right.

It became a long-standing joke throughout our entire marriage and I took the mocking well throughout the years.

"Oh, is THAT 10 feet?" he would ask with a wry smile playing on his lips. I would pester him and flash an angry grin at him, with fire in my eyes mockingly warning him that he was using fighting words and he'd better proceed with caution.

"You look so hot when you're angry," he'd say. Perhaps that's why he repeatedly antagonized poor, innocent me.

I put the quarter in the slot and did my best to line up the claw over the prize, attempting to maneuver the claw the same way Ryan would have done it.

As I pushed the button to potentially receive my frog, I prayed out loud, "Dear God, please let this work." It was an arrow prayer I heard Ryan frequently reference when doing a project at work that was difficult.

Amazingly, it worked! I couldn't believe it! My prayer should have gone along the lines of something like, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief!" I actually grabbed onto the little yellow elephant right next to the frog and the claw returned to home, in order to deposit my winnings in the trap door.

I was so excited I clapped and jumped up and down.

Talitha, however, wasn't so thrilled.

"I wanted the frog, Mom," she said in a glum, low voice with a frown on her face. "Dad liked frogs, not elephants."

It took me a bit to convince her to like her consolation prize, but she eventually came around to appreciate it.

Her frown turned smile and her genuine ability to make the best of the situation made me exit the store, only to return again, right away.

"Mom, what are we doing?" she asked as we entered through the automatic doors.

"I'm going to win you that frog because you took losing so well," I told her.

I began to pray silently about how it would happen because I was so crummy at these things. It seemed like an impossible task for me given my spatial limitations.

"I only have 4 quarters, so we can only try a few times," I told her.

Talitha became more excited as I pushed the quarters the slot, in an attempt to win her beloved amphibious friend.

Four quarters later, I still had no frog, but I had some loose change in my wallet. We walked over to the poor cashier who didn't see my sob story coming.

"I'd like to get quarters with this change, please," I told her. "My husband just died but he loved frogs and I have to win the one in that game over there for my daughter," I told her, as I pointed.

She couldn't look at me as she mumbled a half-hearted, "Good luck."

The next two quarters still brought no rewards to all my diligent work.

I was out of money and out of options.

I started to ask people walking by for quarters. Some said no but a sweet lady and her daughter gave us two more chances.

When the first one yielded no fruit, I asked Talitha to pray.

I didn't expect what happened next.

Talitha got down on her hands and knees and bowed her face to the ground.

"Lord, you can do anything," she started her prayer. "Please, Lord, let Mom get this frog for me. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Wow! It took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. My daughter's faith in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds against us winning made me determined to do my best. And I knew that God could work miracles so I put the last quarter in the slot and saw the machine roar to life.

As I prayed fervently for it to work, I thought of Ryan's work robots, running in 3-D space and his engineeing eye always guiding them so precisely to where they needed to be in each industrial environment. Once, he programmed a robot to be accurate enough to cut a client's product to the length of the width of a piece of paper, repeatedly.

How would Ryan do it? I asked myself. He'd do it like this. I moved the claw to a totally different place than I ever normally would have and Talitha pushed the button to drop the claw.

I held my breath.

And like Moses parting the Red Sea, the claw came down decisively on that frog and carried her safely home to the loving arms of my little girl.

I was astonished at the blessing of God answering the faith-filled prayers of my four year old to overcome her mother's deficiency and inability.

"I will name her Frog Love," Talitha told me, as she looked with adoration at her beloved frog.

"And here, Joy, you can have my elephant," Talitha said as she handed her the elephant.

Ryan would be so proud of me, I thought to myself.

"Thank you, Lord, for hearing and healing us in the big and the little things." "Thank you," I told the Lord as I walked out of the store for the final time that day.

We all felt a lot of frog love that day from the blessing of answered prayers, cheering us on to smile big in the middle of our sorrow.

Single Mommyhood

"Daddy just gave you a hug," Talitha said to me as she prayed over me in the car.

Tears formed in my eyes, as I felt Ryan's hug through our daughter's prayer.

"What else, Sweet Pea?" I asked my daughter, egging her on to continue her sweet prayers.

"In Jesus' name, Amen," she said in her cute, high pitched toddler voice.

"I'm going to draw a picture of Daddy, and you and Jesus and me," she told me from her carseat.

"And Joy too," she added 10 seconds later, as she started in on her drawing.

About five minutes later, Talitha finished the first part of her picture.

"Look, Mom," she said. "Look what I drew!"

"Oh, who is each person?" I asked her while smiling a toothy grin, as I looked at the adorable figures that represented our family in highlighter pink.

"That's Dad and you," she said. "And there's Jesus, right in the middle of you two."

I loved the fact that she drew Ryan and I very close, holding hands, and Jesus poking his head above our clasped hands. Even my five year old clearly saw Jesus in the midst of her parent's loving marriage.

I also loved how Talitha was holding my hand this time, whereas in most pictures she is typically holding her Dad's hand.

"What do you miss most about Dad?" I asked her in the car, earlier that day.

"I miss him cuddling me when I'm scared," she said matter-of-factly.

That was for you, Anna, the Holy Spirit whispered.

That's your job now, He told me.

An arrow of ache shot straight to my heart as I thought of the many times I'd missed that opportunity to comfort our hurting daughter in her fear and sorrow because of my own self-consuming grief in the almost four months since Ryan's death.

"This is your job," my pastor told me at the end of the day. "Doing an incredible job of raising those two precious girls of yours."

I had many people remind me that my work was at home, and yet I'd been fighting the importance of it.

"You're a writer, Anna," he continued to tell me over the phone. "You need to make a contribution, you are one of those people who needs to make a mark on the earth. And you have something to say. Everyone says that they need to write a book. But God gave you a gift. Your book, and your blog -- keep doing that. God has given you something to say. You're doing a fine job of it. No, it's excellent."

As he listed off my spiritual gifts and continued to speak words of affirmation over me, I felt the need to receive it elsewhere, melt away. My Mom and husband were both my sources of this in the past, but without their presence, I have struggled with that word silence.

But God has provided an unlikely set of people in my life to guide my steps as I walk away from my old life with Ryan and towards the unknown.

In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom, the Bible says.

"You have been taking baby steps up to this point," he continued. "But now it's time to take some adult steps. And grow into the woman God made you to be."

It amazed me how the same God I'd been praying to about what to do was using the words of my prayers to speak back to me through my pastor and friends.

I had prayed the night before because I couldn't get ahold of anyone on the phone and was in a desperately sad spot, sobbing on my knees, telling Him, "Lord, I can't do this!"

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength," came back the scripture I'd read on the grief class handout. I even saw it in the grid it was printed on, in my mind's eye.

I laughed as I was crying (yes, even thought it felt ridiculous, I realized that I wouldn't pop at my simultaneous emotional dichotomy). And I was able to go to bed that night okay, even without talking to someone in the middle of that emotional crisis because God had soothed me with His words, immediately.

The next night, my daughter prayed over me in the car as we drove home from a long day, her time spent with her sister at the sitter and my time sifting through a mountain of legal papers sorting out my life without Ryan.

"And Lord, be with my Mom," Talitha prayed. "Oh, and did you know that Bun Bun whispered to me to have joy last night, Mom?"

My title was upgraded immediately the day I gave birth to Talitha. I didn't need a piece of paper on the wall for some of the most important work I'd ever do.

But the day my other important title died along with Ryan in that hospital bed, and I became a single Mom instead of a married one, I changed jobs dramatically. Ryan's death didn't diminish the importance of Mommyhood, in fact it elevated it to the forefront of all other duties in my life.

Being a Mom is more than a title, or duty or chore, however. It's a rare privilege, one that some women aren't given the opportunity to have. And the fact that every day my older daughter is praying for me, forgiving my mistakes after I apologize to her (sometimes several times a day) and loving me by telling me so with lots of hugs and kisses, says something huge.

As I wade through the grief waters that hinder my speedy progress to being a much better single parent, I am constantly reminded of one word by those around me and the black and white typeset I frequently read: grace.

Today, I will choose to give myself grace as Talitha, Joy and I figure out how to continue on without Ryan, moving forward into the great unknown that is already known by the One who knew all that would take place in our lives before the foundation of the world was made.

Life Detour

"My Mom just had a heart attack and they rushed her to the hospital just now," my friend said.

"I don't think I can keep our plans tonight, I'm sorry," she apologized, as her voice wobbled with worry.

"Uh, that's okay," I told her. "I completely understand. But before you go, let me pray for you."

I prayed for my dear friend of decades, prayers I wouldn't have had words for unless I had walked a difficult road myself, pot holed and marred with the very same worry about my loved one's fate.

Part of me was happy I knew what to say because it meant I could help her focus on what mattered and deal with the practical side of a depressing hospital visit, but the other part of me was completely dismayed by my prayers for God's will to be done, no matter what He chose.

This was my third phone call about my sweet handful of prayer warriors being attacked in the heart, in the past twelve months. I'm angry about heart attacks, but glad that the Bible gives clear instructions about how to be heart healthy, by keeping wisdom tucked into our hearts:

My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Do not let them depart from your eyes;
Keep them in the midst of your heart;
22 For they are life to those who find them,
And health to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.

I ran inside the restaurant we were meant to eat at and got my order to go. After getting my meal, I wandered over to the front of the building meant to deepen the hues of our friendship and plopped down in very comfortable outside seating.

I ate my sushi, alone, and just watched people.

It brought me back to my undergraduate Sociology days, when I was required to do social experiments against society's norms, to document how others would react.

As I sat alone, I thought about the path my life had taken since those previous single days. My heart ached for the people in that place. As I listened to the Doppler effect on their conversations, I didn't hear His name. As I prayed for them, I thought about my own choices back in those days, choices that didn't include Jesus in my own life.

Until one woman talked about healing because of Jesus. I rejoiced!

"Excuse me," I called to the woman, insistently. I beckoned her to come near me.

"I heard you talk about healing because of Jesus. That's awesome!"

She waved her hand as she heard what I said and turned on her heels to dismiss me decisively.

"How will they know?" I asked her, quietly out loud, now talking to myself in the wake of her absence. "If you talk about Jesus and you dismiss them when they want to talk to you about Him, how will they know Him too?"

I gathered the remnants of my solo dinner, chopsticks I once toasted to with Ryan by my side.

I miss you Ryan, I thought to myself.

Recently, I'd been pondering the path of my spiritual formation, and in my reading was told that silence in the presence of God is a key factor in it.

The silence of my dinner and the one interaction I had with another person was like the time Ryan and I were stopped at a light, and he looked down in the center median to see a tomato plant, struggling to grow between the cracks of concrete.

Of course Ryan decided to take it home with us.

As soon as Ryan tried to uproot it, he couldn't get enough of the roots below the surface to help it survive at home and it only lived a few days before dying.

Ryan and I both liked to rescue plants, but that one refused to flourish.

It was the same with this woman and her shallow faith.

Determined to redeem my time last night, just before I reached my car I stopped a man who had important initials embroidered on his scrubs, rushing to get to a social engagement.

"I have a question for you. But first, are you meeting someone?" I asked. "Yes, but what's your question," he asked me, curious why I stopped him in a breezeway with perfect landscaping and pavers underfoot, turning his broad shoulders towards me.

I decided to jump in with both feet.

"What's your worst case? What's the worst thing you've seen?" I asked him, searching for just the right way to get at my point, wondering if he would answer me.

"In terms of what?" he asked, compassion tinging his eyes and words.

I had his full attention.

"Suffering," I retorted to the much taller man, with kind, brown eyes.

"Well, do you mean in terms of death. Then, I see that every day," he said, but couldn't hold my gaze as he spoke the words.

"Take for example, a woman I met three days ago with metastatic lung cancer," he began.

"It's everywhere," he admitted.

I flinched as he said those words.

"Is she dead now?" I asked him.

"Well, no, I just met her, But it's bad," he said.

"My husband just died, from Cancer," I said. "It was gastric cancer that spread to his lymph nodes in his abdominal cavity. It was everywhere, too," I stated as I tried not to choke on my words because I knew I had a job to do.

His compassionate reaction was well rehearsed, but genuine.

"I'm sorry," he said, and again, looked away

"Thank you," I said as I cleared my throat and continued. "But the doctor, when he diagnosed my husband, asked me if I went to church. Because at that moment, if I didn't already, I would need to make a change in my life. Do you offer that to your patients? Do you go to church?" I asked in rapid fire succession.

"Well, yes of course I do. But I find that most people are religious anyway, Take this woman I met three days ago, she's very religious. She works in a group home. And helps a lot of people. She cooks for 27 people a day!" he explained, as he deftly changed the subject.

"Wow, I have a problem only cooking for three," I said, as my mind thought of Tabitha, a well-beloved saint who spent her time doing good works for others.

"Well, I found the opposite," I told him. "My husband and I went to City of Hope." When I said this, he nodded towards me, listening, encouraging me to continue. "And I conversations with a lot of people there. Many people I spoke to didn't go to church."

I looked at his well-guarded, chiseled face, with not even the slightest change in expression. But I still had his attention because he never moved.

"Well, when my husband got diagnosed and the doctor offered me hope," I continued, "It was truly what I needed. Do you specifically tell your patients to go to church when they are sick like this and about the hope of Heaven?" I asked him, getting back to the point of why I stopped him in the first place.

"Well, no, I'm Hindu, so I go to Temple," he said.

"Then I will pray for you, sir," I said, emphatically. We shook hands and as he offered me his first name, I studied the importance of his name on his clothing and thought of all the hard work it took in order for him to earn the right to wear that title. And, giggling to myself, thought about how that poor man had a lot of bubble sheets that needed many more bubbles filled that I wouldn't ever have to deal with because of my short names.

As we walked away in opposite directions, I thought about the conversation I never would had if Ryan hadn't been sick with his own metastatic cancer. Perhaps in the past I wouldn't have felt I had grounds to stop him, nor a connection point to share about the importance of offering hope to dying patients, even though I naively once thought I knew more when I only studied death and dying in books.

Then I stopped myself and wanted to give him a Bible, to show him the truth, but realized I didn't have one to share with him and had left it in my car.

I kicked myself.

So later, I prayed to the Lord above, to let that woman filled with Cancer and good works, to share her faith and a Bible with a man entrenched with incense, tradition and rituals, instead of the hope of heaven, only found in Jesus Christ.

"Everyone makes mistakes. We just have to learn from them," I told my students frequently in the past and now repeat that motto to my kids and myself, when needed.

It made my heart happy to know the God of the universe heard my prayers and would provide where
I fell short.  And I made a mental note to carry a Bible with me at all times in order to be ready for my next life detour.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I Have a Job to Do

The faint beginnings of a migraine played on the back of my brain, as I smelled the interior of Ryan's car.

I need to sell it.

I had to clean it out in order to get the paint redone after a small munch on the back bumper, just before Christmas and right after Ryan died.

I'm going to miss you.

I looked at the bag of contents stuck in the back of my closet.
A toothbrush, for cleaning various items.

A perfectly folded Rice Krispy treat wrapper.

A package of half empty Fig Newtons.

So many various electronic gizmos and gadgets.

Pens.

An All Sons & Daughters CD I bought him the day it came out last year.

Two receipts for Ryan's last trip to the post office, shipping quad copter parts halfway around the world.

I thought about the parts of Ryan that flew away and the parts I was left with that stayed.

I knelt on Ryan's side of the bed and could feel my tears burning the back of my eyes.

I miss you, Ryan.

I put the CD in the CD player in my bedroom and the first song reminded me about surrendering all.

As the tears and sobs came in waves, I opened my new chocolate and teal ESV study bible.

Picture this:

Jesus, asleep in the boat, at perfect peace in the midst of a storm.

All the disciples FREAKING OUT and even waking Him up to yell at Him, as though He doesn't know what's going on.

"Peace, be still," is all He has to say.

What the disciples didn't realize is that not only the wind and waves obeyed, but so did each of their hearts.

"Be still and know that I am God," says Psalm 46:10.

I remind myself of this, over and over again, daily.

Especially as I look at the pictures of us, smiling during our last family photo shoot.

The tears come harder, as I'm alone, on the floor of my bedroom.

I pour my heart out to God, there.

I want relief, there.

I seek His peace.

I tell Him so.

My heart is a whisper now...

 "What am I going to do?"

The voice of my five year old breaks through my deep grief and answers:

"Mommy, I NEED you."

I am going to keep going.

I will keep moving forward.

I will not come undone.

Ryan's death will not undo me.

The Lord will hold me together.

"I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken," says Psalm 16:8.

I think about the late night phone call, another time,

more sobs, less coherent thinking.

"How did you know?" I asked my pastor.

"It was real, Ryan loved you, Anna. And you loved him. It was real," he reassured me.

I will remain, until I am called home.

I will endure this.

I have a job to do.

I won't quit.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sunset Pruning Work

As the sun set in the distant west, I set out the trash cans next to the curb in front of our house.

That was Ryan's job.

The third can, otherwise known as the "green bin" for yard waste, was empty. I looked just past it to see Ryan's grapevine and thought about how I hadn't trimmed it yet before it blossomed.

I saw sprouts of life.

I decided to get trimmers out and hack the heck out of the vine that was connected to a trellis Ryan built with Talitha last summer just before he got really, really sick from his treatments that weren't working.

That was Ryan's job too.

Pretty much all the outdoor chores were Ryan's and the indoor jobs were mine. That's how we split our labor.

As I stood up on the raised bed and began to cut the smaller branches, I thought about how this related to my life.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser," says the book of John, chapter fifteen.

So, in a sense, I was playing God tonight. I chuckled at the thought.

2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;[a] and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

I couldn't breathe when I thought of this part of the verse.

My life has felt desolate without Ryan's presence.

A gaping void.

A tangible emptiness.

I've attempted to fill the void with good things, but the emptiness persists.

And yet, as I cut each of the branches off and thought of how empty the vine looked now, I remembered back to last year when Ryan pruned the grapevine and just how many grape clusters on numerous branches it produced. 
It was absolutely amazing to see the transformation!
I also thought about the fact that I'd bore fruit, from the rich legacy of Ryan's love for me in our marriage. And because He wanted MORE fruit, he had to prune me back and not hold back, in order to produce even more fruit in my life.
Isn't there another way, God?
3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

I couldn't believe how focused I've become on abiding in the Lord as Ryan was actively dying and afterwards. People thought me to be nuts before from my excessive amounts of time in the word, but now I realize that I just can't get enough. And since I don't have a husband to love on and serve faithfully, half of my ministry is gone and again, I am reminded that I have this gaping hole in my life.

Right now I'm abiding in Him as I bide my time to see what God has for me next.

5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

I don't know what the future holds. But I realize I can't keep moving forward and pressing on without help from the Lord.

As I thought about this passage in John 15, I trimmed those branches off the vine, some of them right down to the end of where they began.

That's what I felt like God had done to my life because he completely removed my marriage from me.

But even though I had always asked God that He be glorified in everything we did in our marriage, I didn't realize that this request didn't have to change once Ryan died.

Fruit bearing can still take place, even with Ryan's heavenly departure.

I finished putting all the broken branches into the green bin to be put out to the curb. I looked at one of the branches that had just begun to sprout on the vine, and noticed 7 little sprouts formed in a small succession, just past where the vine and the branch joined together.

Seven is the number of completion.

Seven is the number of grace.

Our marriage has completed here on earth. Our marriage was full of grace.

A family member had called me after I'd gone inside, done with my sunset pruning work.

Right before she called, I was staring at Ryan's ashes, sad beyond measure at the silence of the house and the absence of my husband.

She listened to and prayed for me. And this is what she prayed:

"Lord, fill Anna's home with the love Ryan had for her and the love You have for her. Wrap her in a loving hug that all of her family wants to give her now. In Jesus' name, Amen."

I felt a warm hug in that sad moment.

We cried together.

We remembered Ryan together.

And we felt God's grace in the pruning stages of our lives without Ryan.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Rising Son

"As I stood on the path as the sun was just coming up, I could see the velvety green hills from the glow of the sunrise," Pastor Jack said.

"And I saw the Lupins and Poppies blossoming, and the sun peeking over the hills," he continued.

"The God of the universe made all that,"

"And I turned to Pastor Jeff and said to him, "Remind me of this moment when I have moments of doubt,"" he said.

I could almost hear the recoil of the congregation at the thought of their beloved pastor doubting God's word.

But Pastor Jack continued, "You're surprised that I doubt? We all have moments of doubt," he said, firmly grounded in his message.

I thought back to Ryan's moments of doubt. He never doubted the existence of God Himself, Ryan questioned his reasoning behind why He was orchestrating events in our lives as He had.

What is going on, God? he'd question.

I remembered the times thinking of Ryan, laying in the darkness of our bedroom for hours, lit up by the glow of books downloaded onto his cell phone. I would wake up several times in the middle of the night to him, reading all night long, searching for answers to his questions through his chemo and Cancer-induced insomnia.

But then, Pastor Jack's voice changed, and he talked about the promises of God.

He told us that God's promises are true, and that will knowing them will undo any doubt we may face.

"People may promise things to each other. But we can't deliver because we don't know what will happen in the next five seconds. And death undoes our human promises," he said.

Immediately, I started crying.

I thought of the promise of our wedding vows, undone by death that late November day.

As the tears fell, I started to chastise myself internally.

Pull yourself together.

Stop losing it in front of all these people.

What's wrong with you?

I thought back to a time when I was at a friend's funeral and I had mistakenly put my hand on the thigh of a mutual friend of ours because Ryan wasn't at the funeral and it was such a habit of mine to do that when I sat next to Ryan anywhere we went.

I was so upset that my beloved friend had committed suicide at age 34, partly because of her depression and partly because she wanted to meet Prince Charming and hadn't yet. I wanted to reach out to Ryan as I always did for comfort. But when Ryan wasn't there, I did what I always used to do, without thinking.

Yet even though Ryan had to work, both of these friends of mine grabbed each of my hands and held them tight, all three of us saddened by the loss of her death. We held onto each other's hands for a long time.

Why is today any different Anna? I gently asked myself.

I wanted to reach out to Ryan for comfort at the thought of his death making me so sad, but he wasn't there, as he had been for the past 16 years.

I'm missing my church buddy.

So I wrote out a prayer request to the woman sitting next to me, to pray for my kids and alleviate their sadness from the loss of their Dad.

It instantly made me feel better. It was like getting another one of the many hugs I collected on my way into the sanctuary from new and old friends today.

I was able to do something to help others with their grief, which helped me with mine.

When I handed her the paper at the end of the service, she told me she would pray. And I could tell she was serious because of the compassion and experience of her own losses in her eyes that looked straight into mine.

On my way out, I thanked an usher for helping me to find a seat. I told him about Ryan's death and he said he'd remembered him. He offered to help me find a seat every week, in order to make me feel better about coming to church alone.

"I get it," he told me. And he did. I know their family.

He gets it.

"And please don't bury your sadness," he told me, with compassion.

His words gave me permission to be okay to be sad.

I walked out to go pick up my kids, but first went straight over to the Grief Share table to sign up for the class in a week.

The leader left his post from behind the table and hugged me. He remembered me from three years ago when my Mom died and I was in his group.

"I got upgraded to the other small group," I told him, in tears. (The Grief Share small groups at our church are divided into a group of spouses and the other group is every other kind of loss.)

"I never wanted to be upgraded to that group," I said, sobbing. "But I knew when I was sitting in the other group that it would only be a matter of time."

"Yeah, the only time you should be upgraded to another group of seats is on an airplane," he said softly.

I left the Grief Share table with minimal collateral damage on my face from mascara.

I picked up the kids and went to our third birthday party in a week.

Every single detail was planned out completely when I walked in, as though the girls at the party were princesses in a fairy tale. I almost felt as though I walked into the Cinderella movie.

It was a pleasant way to end the day, surrounded by old friends and even making a few new ones too, talking about topics that mattered and sharing the importance of Jesus Christ guiding our every step in each of our lives.

My Prince Charming (Ryan's name actually means "Little Prince") has ridden his white horse over the velvety green hills, with the blooming Lupins and Poppies, racing towards the rising Son. I know that I am being prepared to go there too someday soon, and will follow in his footsteps, with a beautiful gown, adorned as a bride to be reunited with my bridegroom once again in a place where tears, turmoil and tragedy are replaced with the peace of the presence of the Prince of Peace, and my prince as well.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Regrets

"No, I do NOT need hospice," Ryan said to me after a few days in the hospital in early October.

I was stunned at his response to the level of care he needed, care that I clearly couldn't provide him by myself at home.

"No, I won't be on hospice," he said, emphatically.

Usually that ended any sort of conversation that we disagreed upon, but this time was different.

Ryan was dying and I simply didn't have enough knowledge about wound care to know what to do as he healed at home from his heart surgery. I had a background in hospice from my research days in my 20's and knew their services could help both of us on a number of levels, but Ryan said no to hospice.

I didn't know what to do.

I asked the hospice people about home health care, because although it was a slight nuance, it still would provide the nursing staff and 24/7 phone support I was looking for as his Cancer progressed.

"Patients on home health care cannot go to work," they told me.

So I did what any good wife would do in such a situation.

I called the care he would receive at home, "Home health nursing care" even though I was signing him up for hospice.

The first time I called it something different, I winced to see if we would have another fight on our hands, but surprisingly, Ryan went along with the title change.

I knew Ryan well, and I knew that he wasn't really into titles. I found some of his old business cards over the years recently, cards from each of the building changes when they would move locations, and his title wasn't even on some of the cards because he didn't care about what people thought about his role in his company.

Yet he didn't want the title "hospice patient" and made it very clear he felt that way.

Another reason I wanted hospice was because they would transport him home from the hospital. After the pain management woes, oxygen dips and wound care during his hospital stay, I felt completely unequipped to care for my husband on the 60 minute trip from the hospital to our home.

But my lack of expertise should have led me to rely on and trust God to help me, instead of being anxious and too nervous to drive my own husband to his own bed in our family car. After hearing about his pain crisis before visiting him the day before he was discharged, I didn't want the responsibility of him having one in the car, in case his medicine wore off and the traffic came to a grinding halt.

It was one of the biggest regrets I have to this day.

The pain he experienced from being in a gurney in the back of a transportation van, facing backwards, on a hot day with no air conditioning, and conversation between the staff members about gory details from hurting patients was unbearable for Ryan.

By the time he got home he was in some of the most amount of pain I ever saw him in, in his life. Typically quiet about it, he let me know just how much that van ride did to him.

And I immediately felt terrible regret for my shortcomings.

The hospice nurse told me it would have been better for me to drive him. Or if that wasn't possible, to have him in a wheelchair, facing forward. And ask them to put the air conditioning on to cool it down before he got in and stayed there.

Thankfully, I never had to make that decision again and I always drove him to the hospital when we needed to go because I never wanted to see him that miserable again and be part of the cause of it.

He figured out that "home care" was still considered "hospice" because I simply couldn't hide it. Frankly, it was all over the paperwork (that I signed on his behalf because he didn't like to deal with paperwork stuff) and the paperwork was in various places in the house.

Not to mention, I'm married to a pretty smart cookie.

We finally agreed that Ryan would stay on hospice while his wound was healing but then would get off of it before going back to active treatment.

But his oxygen had been dropping and he was on oxygen whenever he was at home because he would spend most of his time in bed.

"It doesn't help anyway," Ryan said, referring to the oxygen tube stuck in his nose, when I told him that if he got off of hospice he wouldn't have access to oxygen freely anymore.

I threw him a condescending look, and he shot back a look of disapproval.

We were at odds with one another because I felt as though he needed oxygen and saw the effects from when he didn't use it, especially on his trips up and down the stairs in our two story home.

He didn't want to be tied to an oxygen tank because he saw, first hand, what it did to my mother for the six years she had it before she passed away.

He ultimately agreed to have his oncologist sign him up for a sleep study, "just in case he qualified to have our regular insurance cover the cost of it."

And amazingly, hospice agreed to leave their equipment over the weekend (even though we discontinued their services) so that he wouldn't go without an oxygen tank while he was evaluated.

I received the oxygen reading bracelet in the mail earlier in the day on a Monday, and told Ryan about the instructions that night. I was told by the company that Ryan had to be below 88 for his oxygen saturation for at least 5 minutes continuously in order to qualify for oxygen from his regular insurance plan. And he had to wear the bracelet over the course of 2-3 hours, without having oxygen on.

Incidentally, hospice doesn't have a stipulation for oxygen requirements. They just allow patients to have it in order to make them more comfortable for the last days of their lives. I told Ryan to just stay on the hospice service for that reason alone, but he refused, so we had to go the at-home sleep study route.

Monday night rolled around, and after putting the kids to bed, I decided to do some writing. Typically at that point at night, Ryan was already asleep and out for the night, but for reasons I couldn't figure out, Ryan decided to stay up during his sleep study.

He admitted something to me before slipping on the clunky plastic "watch" that documented his oxygen levels.

"I know I'm going to qualify," he told me.

I looked at him quizzically, and asked him how he knew that because every time he showed me his oxygen levels from the cheap finger sensor I bought him on Amazon, they were always well over 90, for extended periods of time.

He was faking it.

He knew how to make it appear he had more oxygen than he did.

And since we had been in a battle of the wills, my arguments fell on deaf ears up until that point because it appeared he was right and I was less right.

Ryan stayed up for two hours that night, chatting with me, and looking at forums for his new 3-DR quad copter.

But by 1:30 a.m., I was pretty tired and I told him I was going to go to bed.

The sleep study had been going on for 3 hours by then and I had no clue  just how tired he was by this point because his lungs weren't functioning properly.

I didn't notice it at the time, but he had been sitting up in bed up until that point. And when he went to lay down to go to sleep, he couldn't breathe.

But he didn't want me to ever know that.

So about two minutes after we went to bed, he said breathlessly to me, "So, is this sleep study thing over?"

Immediately, I jumped out of bed and ran to his side. I told him it was. I turned on the oxygen machine for him and handed him the tubing.

"Good," he struggled to say in a quiet, uncomfortable, breathless voice.

It broke my heart.

I went back over to my side of the bed.

Why did I not clearly see my husband's pain?

My tears came easily.

I fell asleep in a puddle of tears on my pillow that night, sad for the pain in my husband's chest, for the impending doom that lay just around the corner and my powerlessness to stop any of it.