March 5, 2017

Our Story Chapter 7 -- Last Few Years Together

When Daron said he wanted a divorce at the end of 2013 & beginning of 2014, life really wasn't the same. Our marriage wasn't really the same either. I tried to convince myself that he didn't know what he was saying & he didn't mean it. But it didn't work. Whenever we talked after that I could sense the strain. I had to try & put it behind me.....easier said then done. Daron said he wanted the divorce for financial stability for me. He said that the only way he could think of to take care of me & Taylor was to divorce me. He said he had talked to another resident who had a divorce for financial reasons & it sounded like a good idea to him. He didn't understand how much that crushed me emotionally & mentally. He couldn't comprehend how much that hurt me. He couldn't see past wanting to help me & he couldn't see how it wouldn't help me.

What a way to start a new year......

This talk went on over the course of a few months.....he brought it up during every phone call. The hardest part was that he wanted me to find the attorney & file for divorce since he was in the nursing facility. He got incredibly angry with me every time I said I would not do that. I told him that if he wanted the divorce he had to figure out how to file on his own. It got so bad that I had to stop all communication with him for awhile. I had to block his number so I didn't know when he called. He could leave me a voicemail & then it was up to me to call him back - which I usually didn't do. I did this as a way to protect myself emotionally & mentally. I did start returning his phone calls & I always reminded him of the boundaries - if he mentioned divorce, I would hang up on him. I knew that he couldn't focus mentally & that things just come out without him realizing it, but I had to place boundaries. This was at the advice of the psychologist & doctors.

A few months of peace went by & I felt like I had a piece of my husband back. Then the MS caused another turn & the man I married disappeared again. Daron began blaming me for him being in the nursing home. He told me that I abandoned him & that I was telling the staff to not let him do certain things. I know that he couldn't mentally understand that what he was saying wasn't true, but that didn't stop the hurt the words caused. It became very draining emotionally & mentally to visit with or talk to my husband. Taylor & I made semi-regular visits to Battle Creek. As Taylor got busier at school & I had my job, it was harder to make weekly visits. I do regret not visiting Daron on a more regular basis, but life at home got in the way. That's how things happen I guess.

2015 brought about more health declines for Daron. It also brought the start of 4 years that Daron was in the nursing facility. Each day it was hard to believe that Daron had been in a nursing facility for that long. Taylor & I did our best to carry on each day. Taylor started 6th grade - Middle School - & I felt another year older. In November 2015 we got a glimpse into how much of a decline had taken place. Daron was sent to the Hines VA Center outside of Chicago, IL for testing that couldn't be done locally. The staff at the Battle Creek VA were noticing that Daron was loosing weight, not eating, choking on his medications & food, running into walls or people in his wheelchair & loosing coordination. They were concerned & wanted further tests done. Because Daron was still in charge of making his own decisions during this time, he asked the staff to not tell me. He was in IL for a full day when we found out. He was talking to his parents & mentioned that he was in Chicago. They called me & I had no idea what they were talking about. I called the VA social worker in an angry panic & was told that Daron told them not to tell me.

I decided to drive to IL to get more information directly from the doctor. I got there in the evening so the doctor was gone. I was able to get some information from the nurses, but not a whole lot. They were still waiting on some tests to be run. I went into Daron's room & woke him up to let him know I was there. I was absolutely shocked to see how much of a decline he had taken. I had visited him a week or so before & he didn't look that bad. He parents saw him a few days before they sent him to IL & they didn't think he was that bad either. The person I saw in that hospital bed looked like my husband, but it wasn't my husband - if that makes any sense. Daron couldn't see me unless I was super close. He was pretty much legally blind. He couldn't eat solid foods anymore. He couldn't hold onto his phone by himself. He was at the mercy of the staff.....

My plan was to stay in the the guest area of the VA Center, but Daron told me to leave. He told me he didn't want me there. So I turned around & drove back home. I should have stayed, but I know how Daron's temper was at that time & I didn't want to do anything to cause him to take it out on the staff. I did get a phone call from his doctor a few days later & was told that they were waiting on test results. The doctor said that his MS was progressing & was now Malignant MS. I had never heard of that form so I spent hours looking it up online. Everything I found said that this was a rare form & that he might have 6 months left. I went numb.....

Daron was released back to the Battle Creek VA on November 12th. Taylor & I went to visit Daron on November 13. I had tried to prepare Taylor the best that I could, but you can't really prepare a child for that sort of thing. Taylor did his best to stay present during the visit. He answered his Dad's questions about school & gave him a hug. About 15 minutes after we got there he asked to leave. I could tell that he had mentally checked out so we said bye to Daron. Taylor was able to stay composed until we got down the stairs.....then he just clung to me & cried. I cried right along with him.

On December 2, 2015 Daron's parents & I attended a care conference to get a better understanding of this new Malignant MS diagnosis. I went into the meeting with at least three pages of questions. I left the meeting with a lot of information & had to take time to process all of it. Malignant MS is a very rare & very aggressive form of MS. It is so rare that the staff at the VA had never heard of it. They weren't sure what was going to happen with Daron or how quickly things would happen. Daron was placed on a nectar thick diet, had a new wheelchair ordered & had to see the low vision center. We were also told that Daron might have 6 months (more or less) left on this earth. That was tough to hear & we had to remind ourselves that only God knows the exact time frame for Daron's life. I had a meeting with the care team on December 9, 2015 to discuss end of life decisions so everyone was on the same page.

Everything from that point on came at a fast pace. I felt like I was in a whirlwind & out of control. Some times I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I had to write everything down because I was afraid I would forget something. This also led to some very emotional moments & some very emotionally out of control moments.

On March 3, 2016 I fell on some ice while at work & injured my back. I was told to take the next few days off work & see the doctor again on Monday. On March 4, 2016 my niece was born. On March 7 I see the doctor again.....long story short, I end up missing the remainder of the school year. I had to have a bone scan & an MRI done. I went to PT & then to a specialist. He sent me to PT that focuses on getting you back to work. It was a crazy few months, but I was able to visit Daron during the day while Taylor was at school - if my back wasn't bothering me.

In April 2016 I was informed that Daron needed a feeding tube or he would have to go into hospice care. At the time, I was given the impression that it was life or death. I was kept up to date on how things were progressing so I could help make an informed decision. On May 4, 2016 I had a very tough conversation with Daron's doctors that led to a moment I kind of regret......I stormed out & slammed the door. At this meeting I was told that Daron was not ready for hospice & I felt completely betrayed by the doctor who had given me the wrong impression. After I calmed down it was decided that Daron would be moved into palliative care with the understanding that he could move into hospice at anytime. We had reached the beginning of the end of Our Story together & I was not ready for this next turn in the journey.

On July 8, 2016 I was at my church getting the decorations in place for our VBS program when I got a phone call that Daron hasn't been eating & he has lost about 12 pounds. I wasn't completely worried because he was still heavier then he had been in the past. The doctor & I decide to wait & see what the weekend brings. On July 11, 2016 our church started VBS & I basically left what was happening with Daron at home (as odd as that sounds). I was glad I had a distraction during the day. I got a phone call after I got home that pretty much shattered my was time to move Daron into hospice care. I made the decision to not say anything to the VBS staff - I only told the two other directors so they were aware in case I had to leave at a moments notice. I am still incredibly thankful that VBS was happening that week. If I didn't have that distraction, I don't know what I would have done.

From July 8 until July 27, 2016 life was crazy busy. I spent the week of July 11-14 going to VBS until noon & then trying to make sure things were in order for when Daron passed away. I wrote the obituary, I wrote the outline for the funeral service, I took Taylor to say his goodbye to his Dad (thankfully my brother went with us). I tried to prepare myself & Taylor for this next step.....easier said then done. On July 27, 2016 Daron's Mom & I went to what would be our last care team meeting. Since it is still so fresh in mind & I am not ready to go over everything that took place again, I am including the links for a few of the posts I wrote while all of this took place. I encourage you to read them if you haven't already.......

Saying Goodbye - It's Not For the Weak -- This was written a week after Daron was placed in hospice care.

Final Goodbye -- This was posted a few days after Daron was called to Heaven. It covers the last few days we spent with him here on earth.

Thoughts & Ramblings of a Grieving Widow -- This was written two days before Daron's funeral.

It is still hard to believe that the Our Story has reached the end so soon. There are days when I feel like Daron & I just met yesterday. We didn't have a lot of time on this earth together, but I am grateful that we will have an eternity together in Heaven. Some days that is the only thing that keeps me moving forward.

Thank you for reading Our Story. It was something that I never thought I would be ready to share, but I am glad that I did. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments below......I'm glad to answer anything that you want to know more about. I will never tire of talking about my beloved husband Daron & the life that we had together!

May God bless you as you have blessed us! Cathy

February 20, 2017

Our Story Chapter 6 -- A Slowly Changing Journey

After we celebrated our first wedding anniversary & the birth of our son, life decided it wanted to get even more interesting. Daron had another minor flare up (if you can call it that) in the spring of 2004. I think it was around this time that the doctor changed his medication. Some of the MS meds stop being effective after a few years.

In September of 2004 I saw my OB/GYN for a regular check up. That led to an ultrasound followed by a laparoscopy. That showed that I had severe was recommended that I have a total hysterectomy. We had to spend a lot of time talking about this decision. I wanted to have another child, but it would be difficult with the endo. Daron was concerned about finances & saw this as a way to handle that. We decided that I would have the surgery & it was scheduled for a week or two before our 2nd wedding anniversary.The surgery went well & I accepted that this was God's plan for my life.

I loved being a mom to Taylor. Daron & I loved watching him grow up. Each day brought a new adventure into our lives & we couldn't wait to see what would happen next. We just carried on our lives as best we could. I started working part time at a local Christian bookstore to help bring in some extra income. That lasted about a year or so when Daron needed me home more.

I had to say goodbye to my Grandpa Orr in October 2007. That man was like a second father to me & I still miss him terribly. I am thankful the wonderful memories I have to time spent at my grandparents home while growing up. In February 2008 I had to say goodbye to my Uncle Jim. That one was completely unexpected.

In 2009 we had a crazy year. Daron's MS really flared up - twice. Having two flare ups a few months apart really took it out of him. If my memory serves correctly, Daron was hospitalized over Mother's day weekend during this time to help with the second flare up. We were able to get a walker, a motorized scooter & a van to handle the scooter through the help of the VA. We also received the blessing of a ramp for our home from a few guys from our church. From this point on Daron's health was never the same. He started seeing a new doctor at the VA in Ann Arbor who specialized in MS. He started getting PT at the local VA clinic. He started new medications to help with different issues the MS caused.

Daron stopped working in either 2009 or 2010 (I can't remember when exactly). He couldn't keep up with everything going on there & his health declining. That meant that I became a 24/7 spouse caregiver. I didn't mind though. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later - of course we prayed for later. Since he stopped working we had to get him on disability benefits which meant a lot of paperwork. When all was said & done, we were grateful to receive a check to help cover costs of living. We were even able to take a long past due honeymoon to Hawaii. Here are a few of my favorite pictures from our time there in February 2011.....

We made flower lei's on our whale watching didn't quite fit over his head. 😄

We loved just sitting at the beach in Waikiki & looking at the ocean. So peaceful!

View of Diamond Head from the cruise. 

View from our hotel room balcony. We were just a short walk to the beach. He loved every minute we were there!

From our whale watching cruise!

We really enjoyed our time in Hawaii - even if it was just a few days. We didn't know it at the time, but it was the last time we would be able to do anything like that. On July 5, 2011 the rug was pulled out from under us & life hit us square in the face. I had to have Daron admitted to the VA Medical Center in Battle Creek, MI. His health - mental & physical - was to the point that I couldn't care for him at home anymore. The Daron I married was slowly slipping away because of the MS. Having him admitted led to some crazy visits. Because he was admitted for physical safety concerns, Daron was placed in the psych ward to start. That was a locked down facility & the only way Taylor could visit was under supervision from the staff. Our visits always had someone sitting right outside the door.

He was in that ward for the first month he was there. Then we had to figure out what the next step would be. I knew he couldn't come home for safety (his, Taylor's & mine) & talked to them about long term nursing care. At first they were reluctant until I basically told them they didn't have a choice. I could not care for him at home anymore. They agreed to admit him to the CLC ward (their long-term nursing ward) until I could find a closer facility that had a contract with the VA. I went back & forth with the staff over this for months.

In February 2012 Daron was finally moved closer to home! He was transferred to the Laurels of Kent in Lowell, MI --- a 30 minute drive from home. I was happy that he was closer & he was too. Taylor & I got to spend more time with him on the weekends. It was easier all around & he seemed happy with the move. At least I though he was. He started to stay in his room & never spent time around the other residents. Thankfully, that didn't last long. He was paired up with a great guy & the two became fast friends.

During this time, I started working at the end of October 2012. I have been a lunch lady ever since & I have enjoyed it. Granted, it does have it's ups & downs, but so does every job. Working during the school day did make visiting Daron tougher & it took away my alone time......but I was thankful to be working again. It helped get my mind off things & keep me distracted for a few hours a day.

In March 2013 Daron made a big decision. He decided to stop his medication infusions. This decision was made because the medication had a big side effect -- a brain disease that was lethal. We did talk through the decision & made it together, which I was thankful for. We knew that this would cause an issue with his doctor, but we didn't care. This decision had to be made for Daron's health.

In October 2013 Daron moved back to the VA in Battle Creek. He made this decision because they had more activities to offer. He enjoyed his time in Lowell & being closer to home....but he was bored. He needed more activities to do during the day. They found a place for him to work & earn a little bit of money that he could spend at the canteen store there. He had fun going to bingo, bowling, other activities that they took the veterans to. That was the last move that Daron made. Granted he talked about wanting to go back to Lowell, but that conversation never ended. Same with the wanting to come back home conversation. With his dementia the conversations repeated themselves almost every day.

To me it seemed like time flew by after this move. We entered 2014 in an odd way....Daron told me he wanted a divorce. I still think that he didn't know what he was saying, but he said it multiple times over a few month stretch. This did put a strain on me mentally. I wasn't sure what was going on & I could only cling to God & beg Him to help me deal with everything. After that life just wasn't really the same. I worked, Taylor went to kept going.

May God bless you as you have blessed us! Cathy

February 10, 2017

Our Story Chapter 5 -- First Year Married

When we got married on October 26, 2002 we had no idea what was going to happen in our lives. Only God knew what was going to happen. Shortly before we got married we started looking for a home. I can't even remember how many homes we looked at. After we got married we continued to look & decided on a manufactured home & started the process of finding a mobile home community to live in. It was a crazy process for sure. We found the house we liked & a community to move it into. That process started around the end of November (if my memory is correct) & the house was moved into the community. We started the process of packing up the apartment & getting some of the larger items into a storage unit.

Also in November of 2002 I started having abdominal pain. I saw my doctor who did multiple pregnancy tests - all were negative. I was tested for UTI's & all sorts of other things. Since everything came up normal, she sent me in for an abdominal ultrasound - it showed nothing. I was then sent for an abdominal CT scan. That scan showed a large mass behind my uterus. No one knew what it was & if it was attached to anything specific. So I was sent to a surgeon to decide the next step. Through all of this Daron was trying to keep me calm because my first thought was that I was going to have to have a hysterectomy before I could even have a child. He kept reminding me that God was in control & we would face everything together. By Christmas of 2002 I had a surgery date scheduled for the beginning of January 2003. It would start as a laparoscopy with the knowledge that it could turn into an open abdominal surgery depending on what she found. I had to inform my boss at the time that I needed 6-12 weeks off work which he did not take very well.

Daron & I spent that first Christmas as a married couple with both of our families, as well as spending some time alone. He knew I was scared about the upcoming surgery & I'm pretty sure he was scared too. I mean, we still had no idea what was going to happen. We entered 2003 with the hopes of getting to move into our home shortly after my surgery & I helped get everything else packed up since I wouldn't be able to do much the unpacking after surgery. When the day of surgery came, Daron went to work & my mom took me to the hospital. I am still torn about this & I have struggled to let it go for awhile. I mean, my new husband chose to go to work while I went to the hospital to have major surgery. But, it is in the past & I have come to terms with that.

Anyway, I went in for surgery not knowing what was going to happen. I was told later that the surgery took longer then expected & the surgeon would explain things to me later. All I remember is waking up in immense pain, not being able to roll over without screaming, Daron sleeping on a cot in the room, not being allowed out of bed for anything & not being able to eat or drink anything. The surgeon came in when I was fully aware of what was going on to tell me what she found. She found something that no one had seen before -- a large, odd shaped mass that had grown through the wall of my bladder. I was shocked & so was she along with everyone else who had been in the operating room. Thankfully, I did not have to have a hysterectomy.

A few days later I was released home with a bladder catheter & my new in-laws drove me home since Daron was at work. Having to deal with a catheter was insane. Daron was constantly having to pay attention to what side of me he was sitting on so he didn't catch it or something. We were still living in our apartment & had a date of when we could move into the house -- 2 weeks later. Just before we moved into the house, I was able to get the catheter removed since my bladder had healed properly. I became the moving supervisor & just told people were things went. I was able to do light work around the house & so I spent my days slowly unpacking.

I am still amazed by how much happened in the first few months of our marriage. I am also amazed by what all of that did in the way of strengthening our marriage at that time. We spent a lot of time unpacking & setting up the house. We went furniture shopping together & enjoyed putting our purchases together. I can still remember exactly what we were doing when we heard that the Columbia shuttle exploded on re-entry on February 1, 2003. We were in the process of putting our entertainment system together & had the TV on for background noise. Since I am still living in the same house I can replay that memory like a silent movie each time I look at that area of our living room. The same thing happens with numerous memories all over the house.

I went back to work, but didn't stay there long. My boss was not understanding of my restrictions & I kept having to take time off to deal with post surgical issues. I finally gave my notice after talking to Daron about our options. We both agreed that it would be best if I left & I did. Shortly after I stopped working, Daron had another flare up. These happened every year in the spring & it was almost good timing since I was able to drive him around without having to take time off work. The neurologist ordered his usual - a burst of steroids followed by a taper to wean him off them. This always seemed to do the trick & get the flare up under control.

Easter rolled around on April 20, 2003. I had been feeling off for the week leading up to Easter. I was worried since it was just a few months after my surgery, but I was happy to spend time with my family. The next day, while Daron was at work, I went to the store & purchased a pregnancy test. It came back 100% positive within 5 seconds. I was happy, shocked & amazed. I was also worried since I wasn't that far out from my surgery & I still have internal stitches. But I started telling people anyway. The first person I called was my Grandpa Orr. When he answered the phone I said "Guess what" & he said "You're pregnant!" I was shocked that he guessed it. He was shocked that he was right. He & my Grandma were so excited to become Great Grandparents. I told Daron & he seemed happy. I mean, he did have two children already & I'm sure he was as shocked as I was. We decided that I would not return to the workforce so I could be a stay at home mom.

When I was 20 weeks pregnant we had our ultrasound to see the baby. I was excited & ready to find out if we were going to have a boy or a girl. Daron was hoping for a girl & I just wanted a healthy baby. We found out we were expecting a baby boy! We had already decided on a name, Taylor Austin, after Daron's Grandpa George Austin Taylor. We started looking forward to meeting our son in December (my due date was December 27).

Shortly after that Daron lost his job. I remember going with him to file for unemployment & state health benefits. It wasn't the greatest time to be jobless, but we knew God was in control. Looking back, it was another time when our relationship was tested & it helped strengthen it. Daron applied for work through a temp agency & was given different jobs. He finally was sent to a factory by the airport who fully hired him after a few weeks. We were so thankful for this job & thankful that God provided it just in time.

We celebrated our first wedding anniversary by recreating our first date. This kind of became a tradition for us every year. We ordered the same pizza & the only thing that changed was the movie. With me being 7 months pregnant, I just wanted a quiet night at home & Daron was okay with that.

Daron was working at his new job for a few months when I went into labor (or thought I did). He took the day off & took me to the hospital. We found out it was a false labor & sent me home. On the way home Daron ran into a curb (the roads weren't the greatest). We joked that he was trying to jostle Taylor out. A week later we were back at the hospital at 4 am & this time was the real deal. We got settled into the room & tried to sleep some. Around 8 am we started calling family & our church to let them know what was going on. Around 9 am my doctor came in & apologized that he wouldn't be able to deliver my son. It was his OB/GYN surgery rotation day & he was booked solid. So one of his colleagues would be delivering my son. I was bummed out but I understood. Since I wasn't progressing like they wanted me to I was talked into starting Pitocin around 10 am. That really kicked things into gear & Taylor entered the world at 2:16 pm on December 16, 2003. Daron & I were in love from the start!

Daron's parents arrived, my brothers came to visit, our pastor came to visit. I couldn't wait to go home & just be a family. Daron stayed with Taylor & I until around 9 pm, he had to work the next day & needed his sleep. Two days after Taylor was born we were able to go home. Since Taylor came earlier then we expected, we decided to travel across state for a family Christmas get together. We wanted to show Taylor off to the rest of Daron's family & they were excited we were going to be there. After sitting down to eat, we found out that we made a good choice by going. Daron's oldest brother & his wife (who lived Hawaii at the time) surprised the family by walking in the door. We were happy that they were getting to meet their nephew a lot earlier then we had planned. It was a blast spending time with family & watching them love on little Taylor - who slept through all of it of course.

It was nice to be able to spend out first Christmas as a family surrounded by our extended family. It was also nice to have our son arrive healthy & a little early. Taylor was a happy baby & he was easy to take care of. He only cried when he was hungry or super sleepy. I loved being a mom & I loved taking care of Taylor. I had follow up appointments with my surgeon to track how things had healed over the year. It was interesting to take a baby to those appointments, but worth it. Life as new parents was filled with the normal ups & downs. With not knowing how long Daron's job would keep him employed, that added stress to our already stressful life. Our life sure kept us busy & we enjoyed every minute of it.

We had a crazy, stressful, fun, annoying, amazing first year of marriage. We couldn't wait to see what else God had in store for us in the years to come. Little did we know the craziest times of our lives was coming right around the corner. Thankfully, God wasn't surprised by what was to come.

May God bless you as you have blessed us! Cathy

February 8, 2017

Our Story Chapter 4 -- Our Wedding

Here goes the next chapter for Our Story. Picking up where I left off in the last post....

Daron proposed after he took me skydiving. We joked for years that he scared me into saying Yes. Since we had already been going through marriage counseling & slowly planning the wedding, it was just time to put plans into motion for our October 26, 2002 wedding date. I asked my friend Angie to be my Maid of Honor, my sister Christi to be my Junior Bridesmaid & my sister Becca to be my flower girl. All of them said Yes & started looking for their dresses. I decided to just give them the colors I wanted them to wear & let them choose their own dresses. Daron asked his friend Dave to be his Best Man, his brother Bryan & my brother Jon to be our Ushers. I decided to give them something easy to wear -- a white or cream shirt with khaki pants & a tie.

I started looking online to get ideas for my wedding dress. I found a lot that I like, but ended up finding my dress in the most unusual spot -- the clearance rank at Banana Republic. It was a simple white sundress that I fell in love with. My friend Angie mentioned that she had a white lace shawl that I could borrow. I found my jewelry at Wal-Mart - a sapphire (my birthstone) & diamond (Daron's birthstone) heart necklace with matching earrings.

I spent a lot of time at Michael's picking out flowers for boutonnieres & corsages for the Best Man, Ushers, Daron's parents, my parents, Daron's grandmothers, my grandparents & my Aunt Karen (who played flute for the ceremony). I also got the flower girl rose petals & basket, my bouquet & the bouquets for the Maid of Honor & Junior Bridesmaid. I found the paper for the invitations as well as the programs so I could make my own.

We decided that we would do a buffet style reception. We had a turkey & a ham in our freezer from Daron's work that we would use. Daron's mom offered to make sides & two women from his parents church offered to keep the buffet table filled. Another woman from their church offered to make our wedding cake (which was amazing). Another woman at the church loaned me her wedding decorations since they were the same colors that I was using - Red, White & Pink. When all was said & done, I think Daron & I only spent about $300 out of our pockets for the entire wedding. It was going to be a simple wedding, but we were couple with simple taste.

I spent the week before the wedding getting everything together & packed for the drive across state. I double & triple checked everything. We pack everything in my car & Daron's car on the 24th of October. On October 25th, we started the two and a half hour drive to Utica, MI (near Pontiac) & only stopped to pick up my Maid of Honor. My mom, Angie & I drove in my car & Jon rode with Daron in his car. We got to Daron's parents house & started unpacking so we could jump right in on decorating & setting up. I had the guys set up the tables in the basement for the reception, while Angie & I decorated the sanctuary. After the guys told us the tables were set up, Angie & I went downstairs to decorate them -- once we had rearranged them to meet my plan. Once everything was done, Daron went to stay at his Best Man's house for the night & I went out to eat with Angie. After we got back, we started putting the silverware together & wrapping it in napkins. Remember how I said that I double & triple checked everything I packed? Well, I discovered that I still forgot something -- all 100 programs I had printed for the ceremony. I realized it at 10pm the night before the ceremony. I laughed about it & still laugh about it.

The morning of our wedding was crazy busy. I had a hair appointment which ran longer then it was supposed to. That led to me frantically running around to get the rehearsal going - we just did a super quick run through so everyone had an idea of what was going on. After that, I had to get dressed for pictures. Daron's Uncle John was willing to be our photographer & we were grateful for that. Daron had his pictures first & then we had our first look pictures. I love those photos of Daron tearing up when he saw me for the first time. We had our wedding party photos, our couple photos, family photos, grandparent photos, etc taken. I was so thankful that my grandparents were able to be at the wedding. I found out the night before that my Grandpa Orr had a stroke & we weren't sure if he would be able to make it. The smiles in all of the pictures with him are precious to me because of that.

When all of the pictures were done, Daron & I went to different parts of the church before the rest of our families started arriving. My dad & I spent a little time talking & I touched up my makeup. Then it was time for the ceremony to start. I still remember how I was feeling while waiting to walk down the aisle. My heart was racing & I had butterflies in my stomach. I was so happy to be marrying my best friend & I couldn't wait to get to the front of the aisle. My aunt starting playing & everyone was seated. My sisters & Maid of Honor walked down the aisle & then it was my turn. As my dad was walking me down the aisle, I locked eyes with my Grandpa Orr. He was tearing up which made me tear up. I whispered I Love You & he whispered it back. I am the oldest of the grand kids & the first to get married. Plus, I always had a special relationship with my Grandpa & Grandma Orr.

My Dad gave my hand to Daron & his Dad began the ceremony. We exchanged our vows - I still have the book that our vows are in - & rings. We lit the unity candle & were pronounced Husband & Wife. There was one thing I missed when we decorated the sanctuary -- a small piece of carpet that covered a plug on the stage. Because of his MS, Daron's foot caught this piece of carpet & he almost knocked me down when we kissed. When we watched our wedding video we both laughed about it. He said he was just trying to show everyone that he was literally head over heels in love with me. I told he was just trying to see how if I was really going to hold me up & take care of him. Either way, it led to a fun part of our wedding ceremony.

After the ceremony, we greeted our family members & had a full group picture taken with everyone there. Everyone went down to the reception so Daron & I could take a few more pictures. When we got to the reception & everyone had gotten their food, we showed the video of our skydive where Daron proposed. Everyone loved watching it & we enjoyed sharing it with them. Because I forgot the wedding programs, we introduced the wedding party to everyone. We cut the cake & smeared some on each others faces & laughed about it. We spent time mingling with everyone & then decided it was time to leave for the hotel. My mom, brother & Maid of Honor drove my car back home that night & took all of our wedding gifts with them.

The next morning, we started off our marriage the right way -- in church. We went to his parents church & then had lunch with them after the service. We then headed back home & stopped at my mom's to pick up my car & our wedding gifts. Since it was October 27, our one year anniversary, we decided to recreate our first date. So we got Hungry Howie's (Hawaiian pizza) & a movie (The Mummy Returns) & went back to our apartment. We opened wedding gifts while we watched the movie & laughed about funny things that happened over the last few days. I even laughed about finding all 100 programs still sitting on the computer desk where I left them. I took Monday October 28 off so I could get something done - go to change my name at social security, secretary of state, the bank & then write out all of our thank you notes so they could go in the mail right away. We didn't go on a honeymoon right away, but we were okay with that. We knew we would take one at a later time when finances allowed.

Like I said, our wedding was simple, but we were a simple couple. All that mattered to us was that we were surrounded by people who loved us. We talked about having a vow renewal later on & having a larger wedding then. Once again, looking back, God's hand was in everything we did. Our plans were not part of his plan & that's okay. I'm going to take another break from the story. I'm including some of my favorite wedding pictures....enjoy!

Our Wedding Party
L to R - Angie (Maid of Honor), Christi (red dress, Junior Bridesmaid),
Becca (pink dress, Flower Girl),
Dave (Best Man), Jon (my brother, behind Daron & I)

I wanted a crazy picture & told my Dad & Daron to pretend that my Dad was "forcing" Daron to marry me. This is what I got. 😂

I hold this picture close to my heart these days. Daron & my Grandpa Orr are both in Heaven.
It is one that is hard to look at without tears.....knowing that half of this picture is in Heaven now. 

I don't remember what Daron was telling me, but it must be something funny considering the giant grin on his face. 

The look of love

Everyone who attended our wedding

Being polite with the wedding cake.....but not for long

I smeared the cake first & then he smeared it on me. We couldn't stop laughing after this.

Bye everyone!

May God bless you as you have blessed us! Cathy

February 5, 2017

Our Story Chapter 3 -- Engagement

I was asked about a few things that I haven't put into the other posts. So I thought I would cover them here before I tell you about our Engagement.
--The church I attended that Daron started to attend was not Good News Baptist - the church we go to now. I won't mention the name of this church for privacy reasons (you'll understand when you read this post).
--Daron does have two boys from his first marriage. He did tell me about them prior to us meeting face to face (if I remember correctly). I do not talk about them in my blogs for their privacy. This was a decision Daron & I made we talked about starting this blog years ago. They are part of our family & our story, but Daron wanted to protect them.

Now that that is out of the way, I'll continue Our Story. A few months into our relationship we faced a pretty tough time. Looking back, this helped strengthen our relationship & brought us closer together. Let me share that with you to help you understand Our Story a little better.

Between the time we started dating & the time we moved in together, our relationship went through a huge testing period. I don't remember the exact time frame for this, since I try to keep it blocked out. The church I had attended since I was in 6th grade started to not feel like home to me anymore. Daron wanted to be open & honest with the pastors of the church as much as he could. So we made an appointment to meet with the pastor of discipleship & his wife who was my accountability partner. The four of us met in the pastors office & Daron told that he had been married & has two children. The pastor offered to find a man in the church to be Daron's accountability partner & Daron thanked him for that. A few days later the pastor & his wife took me to dinner & told me that if I stayed with Daron I would be sinning. I was told to run away from the relationship as fast as I could & not look back. I was stunned by this & really hurt as well. Daron had been open with them & they couldn't be open with him by saying this to both of us during that meeting. These issues with the church continued for months. In March 2002 we moved in together. He had an apartment on 32nd St. & I moved in there with him. A few weeks later I received a letter from the deacon board asking me to meet with them so they could point out my sins from the Bible, which I refused to do without two women there with me for obvious reasons. When they refused that request, I refused to meet with them.

This is why I wanted to point out that I do not encourage Christian couples to live together before marriage. We knew that living together before marriage was not encouraged. There are numerous reasons we went ahead with it that I do not feel comfortable sharing (No I was not pregnant or anything like that). We prayed about this decisions for months. We went to the Scriptures looking for answers. We talked non-stop about this decision. We both agreed that we would move in together after talking about all of the pros & cons of doing so. Neither of us regret making this decision. We just didn't realize that my church would do all of this because of our decision to live together. Looking back later, we understood why they did what they did. It was hurtful at the time & I lost numerous friendships from it. Thankfully I have been able to reconnect with some of those friends over time. It is still a sore subject & a tough part of Our Story.

In April 2002 Daron had an MS flareup & this was what solidified our relationship. The week that he was on his IV meds for the flareup really brought us together when it could have easily torn us apart. He couldn't drive during that time so I had to take him to doctor appointments & to/from work each day until he was stronger. At the time it scared me & really made me rethink our relationship. Looking back I see God's hand in it & I am thankful for that time. My best friend got married during this time & I was excited to be one of her bridesmaids. There was a tough moment with the senior pastor of the church (that I don't want to relive) during her rehearsal that led Daron & I to start looking for a new church together. We spent the next five months visiting & revisiting different churches in the area until we found Good News Baptist on September 22, 2002. We have been there ever since.

We also spent the next few months talking about marriage. Part of our talks about moving in together centered around marriage. I flat out told Daron that I would not live with him if he was not going to marry me. I did have standards for myself & he needed to know what they were. In May 2002 we started wedding planning, even though he had not proposed yet. I wanted to get ideas of things together so we could easily plan our wedding without a lot of stress. In June 2002 we picked out wedding set & started making payments on it. In August 2002 we started meeting with his Dad for pre-marital counseling. Even though Daron still had to propose, we picked out October 26, 2002 as our wedding date - one day before our one year anniversary of our first date.

On September 8, 2002 Daron took me to Skydive Hastings for my first skydive. I thought he was crazy, but I was one to try anything once. It was after church that day & it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The sun was shining & there really was not a cloud in the endless blue sky. His skydiving buddies were having fun picking on me for being a newbie to skydiving, but it was all in fun. I think we were there for about an hour or so before we finally got in the plane. I was part of a tandem jump with one of his buddies & Daron was going to do a solo jump. We had another one of his buddies filming the whole thing. When we reached altitude & the door opened, that's when the nerves set in for me big time. I could barely get my feet out of the plane & get ready to fall out. The free fall was intense with all of the wind rushing past me. When the parachute opened & we were under canopy, the view was amazing! Being able to see for miles was breathtaking. Daron landed & was able to get his rig off before we landed. He met us when we landed & asked about my thoughts of the skydive. He was acting a little off, but I figured he was just excited about being able to share this with me. I was still sitting down trying to get my bearings & Daron was encouraging me to stand up. What he didn't know was that when we slid to a landing some of the pea gravel went up my shorts & I was trying to be modest about getting it out. I still laugh about that fact to this day & Daron didn't have a clue. When I finally stood up Daron gave me a big kiss & dropped to one knee. I was worried that his legs had gone out from under him because of his MS & this is evident int he video. It took me a few seconds to realize he was proposing. He had my engagement ring in his pocket the entire time. Of course I said Yes! They announced it over the PA system & everyone clapped. We were congratulated as we walked back to the hangar & then by everyone inside. I'm so thankful that I have this part of our story on video. Maybe after I get it transferred to DVD I will try to post some of it. To think, Daron had originally planned to propose on the beach in Grand Haven at sunset. I'm glad he went with something out of the normal since neither of us are normal. 😄 Any other type of proposal probably would not have suited us as a couple.

I love our engagement story so much. We had to jump over some tall hurdles in the process of getting engaged, but they were worth it. Those hurdles made us stronger as a couple. Looking back now, I can see that those prepared us for some tough times later on. They made our foundation stronger & they made our faith stronger. We really had to rely on God to get us through & He never gave up on us. He was there all the time. I am reminded of that over & over again as I am sharing Our Story with you. God has a plan for everything we go through. We can't see that plan when we are in the middle of a tough time, but His plan is working for our good. God knows how each of our life stories will play out even before we are born. He knows the choices that we will make (good & bad, right & wrong) before we can even think of them.

May God bless you as you have blessed us! Cathy

February 3, 2017

Our Story Chapter 2 -- Dating

Okay, I'll pick up where I left off.....

We talked on the phone often & for long periods of time. About a month after our online connection, we decided it was time for a first date. He asked if I wanted to go out on a date on Saturday, October 27th. I was kind of bummed because I had to work until 5pm that day. But he figured out a solution. He would pick me up & give me a ride to work & then pick me up after work. Okay.....I know it sounds crazy. I was willing to get into a car, alone, with a guy I had never met in person, in 2001. But, I felt like we had a real connection (& I didn't want to take the bus to work again). I was nervous about it, to be completely honest. But I could tell God had something in mind through all of this.

So Saturday rolled around & I got ready for work. I'm pretty sure I dressed up a little more then usual (I worked at a Christian bookstore & had to dress in business casual). Then I watched for him to drive up. I really didn't know what to expect. I didn't even know what he would look like. Since dial-up was so slow back then we didn't send each other a picture of ourselves. We just did the best we could to describe ourselves. His description was pretty good. He had a military style haircut & a lean build. He was wearing jeans, his black work jacket & sunglasses. He had two earrings in his ear & one in his tongue. When I saw him, I had to remind myself that he said he was 29 years old because he looked younger. He picked me up on time & even got out to open the car door for me. I was impressed & I thought he was just trying to show off a little.

Anyway, the ride to my work was a little awkward. Even though we had connected online, it was still first date jitters. We just chatted & carried on a small conversation. We talked about what we would want to do that evening - we decided on pizza & a movie. When he dropped me off he said he would be back at 5pm & I said okay. Honestly, I didn't think he would be back. I made sure I had money for the bus just in case. When 5pm rolled around I looked outside & he was there waiting for me. I was kind of surprised. We decided to get Hungry Howie's (Hawaiian pizza) & rent the movie 'The Mummy'. We went back to his apartment & started to watch the movie. I think we had to watch it again at a later time because we spent the night talking instead. Next thing we knew it was 7am & I needed to get home to get ready for church. We made plans to hang out again that afternoon. It was during this second date that I found out his had Multiple Sclerosis. An alarm went off & he had to excuse himself to take his meds. I asked what the meds were for & he told me. He apologized for not telling me sooner. He didn't want that to scare me off. After that first date, we spent time together as much as we could. He started coming to church with me on a weekly basis & getting to know my friends & family.

He was a really nice guy with a caring heart. He didn't want me to have to take the bus, so he helped me take my road test for my drivers license & he even bought me my first car (3 actually)

Here's a side story to explain the three car purchases. 
He as a mechanic & worked for Grand Auto at the time. When I got my license I found out he had been making a deal with the scrap guy he worked with. He was able to get a decent car for cheap & so he bought it. It needed some work & he did that himself on the side. That car lasted about a month I think. So he talked to another coworker & was able to get another decent car for a good price & sold the first car back to the scrap guy. It didn't need as much work, but again it only lasted about a month. Finally he found a third car that was in the best shape of all three & he was able to make a deal (he also sold the second car to the scrap guy). This car lasted a good long time.

Okay, back to the main story....
I invited Daron to spend Christmas Eve with my extended family & then he invited me to go to his parents with him. We spent the evening at their house & then had our own little Christmas back at his place the day after Christmas. He gave me a promise ring for our first Christmas together & I gave him some Christian music CD's. We spent New Years Eve with the college group from my church & had a fun time. We just really enjoyed spending time together. It didn't matter what we did, we just wanted to be together.

In March 2002 we decided to move in together. most people don't know that part of our story. I don't regret any of the choices I made, but I might reconsider this choice. Living together was tough. I think we almost broke up five times between March & October of 2002. We really got to know each other & I do think it gave us a steady foundation. I was there when Daron had a flare up in April & spent an hour of each morning giving him his IV meds for a week. It was at that point that I realized I was either in it for the long haul, or I needed to get out right away. We started talking about getting married around this time. I think going through that brought us together in a way neither of us could have imagined. The months between moving in together & getting married were crazy, stressful, fun, annoying, irritating, full of laughter, full of love, best times of our lives. We really learned who each other was & what made them tick. We also learned what drove the other person completely crazy during that time. Looking back, it was nice to have that time together before getting married because we would need that foundation later on. It was like we got to have our first few months of marriage without being married. Once we got married, life took a few surprising turns & I think our marriage would have ended if we had not lived together first. Please Note that I am not encouraging couples to live together before marriage. Like I said, God had a plan in all of this & I didn't see that part until I could look back at it.

Time to take another break from the story. I can only handle so much reminiscing at a time. It's fun to look back & it is healing. But at the same time the memories are making me miss Daron more then I have been lately. I promise, it is going to get interesting in the posts to come.

May God bless you as you have blessed us! Cathy

January 31, 2017

Our Story Chapter 1 -- How We Met

Our love story is one of my favorites. I'm sure all couples say that, & it is true for each couple. I enjoy telling our story to anyone who will listen (or will read it). I decided to break it down into a few different parts since there is a lot to tell. So, here is how Daron & I met each other.

Daron & I met through an online dating website (I don't even remember the name of it) in September of 2001. I can't remember the exact date, but it was after September 11th. We began by writing emails back & forth. They weren't anything special. Just the kind of things you start of with. Each one was a series of questions that we wanted to know about the other. I found out he had been in the Army, he found out I was a military brat. We talked about our likes & dislikes, our faith, what denomination church we went to. We talked about our families, how many siblings we each had. You know, the normal get to know you type of stuff. We also talked about September 11th because it was still so fresh for everyone.

After a week or so of emails we decided to instant message each other.....using AOL messenger (does this even exist anymore? haha). Daron wasn't the fastest person on a keyboard, but it was faster then waiting for emails to send back & forth. Plus, each of us still had dial-up Internet so it was really slow no matter what. A few days into messaging we moved to voice chat over AOL which was really annoying because we would end up talking over each other. So Daron decided to give me his phone number & leave it up to me to call him. I waited about an hour (long enough for each of us to log off the Internet).

When I called him it was kind of odd. I mean, I only knew him through the computer screen. Now I was hearing his voice & actually talking to him. Jokes were actually funny now, we didn't have to type out that we were laughing. We could actually carry on a normal conversation. We would talk on the phone for maybe an hour twice a week. We probably talked for about two weeks before one of us finally asked out location. We knew we were both in the Wyoming/Kentwood area, but we had left that vague for a reason. We were shocked to discover that we only lived a few miles from each other. I went past his house on my way home from work occasionally. That was unbelievable to both of us. From that point on your phone calls would last for hours (it was a good thing my house had two phone lines) & we would also talk more often. I am pretty sure I drove my mom & brothers crazy with how much I was on the phone. I know that we would stay on the phone until one of us started falling asleep most nights. I felt like I was back in high school, it was crazy.

I think I'll stop there for now. Like I said, our story is my favorite & I could go on forever telling it. I will continue telling our story in another post, I promise.

May God bless you as you have blessed us! Cathy