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.

January 29, 2017

Six Months Already....

It is so difficult to believe that it has already been six months since Daron went to Heaven. Although I am not completely ready to share the final moments with Daron, I feel like I should share them sooner rather then later. I just want to warn you that you will want some tissues handy while you read this.

Go ahead & grab some....I'll wait....Ok, ready?

This is going to be a very, very, very long post. Please keep that in mind as you continue to read.

I feel like I need to share the final moments I had with my beloved husband & why they are so precious to me. I feel like I need to open up that part of my heart so people can understand what I experienced & how it has changed me. I have made myself transparent on this blog for a reason - partly because it is one place I can share my thoughts & feelings openly. I know that if people have an issue with what I say, they don't have to read my blog anymore.....I won't be offended by that. I have also made myself transparent because I know there are others going through the same things that I have gone through, am going through right now & will go through. I feel that God has given me this platform as a way to reach others for Him, point others to Him & glorify Him with what I say. I am also transparent as a way to keep myself accountable for my words, actions, behavior, etc. Yes, I can go back & delete posts that I feel shine a bad light on me or something, but that would be untrue. I want to be open, honest, raw & unfiltered to keep myself on track.

With that said, let me start at the beginning of the end.....

On Friday, July 8, 2016, I received a phone call from Daron's doctor. I remember that I was at church setting up decorations for VBS which was starting that Monday. The doctor wanted to let me know that Daron's nutrition intake had declined quite a bit since April & he was having more issues swallowing food - he had gone from taking in 70% down to about 40%. Because of this fact he had dropped 12 pounds since April. I wasn't too worried since he had put on some weight over the years & was still at a healthy weight. She was thinking of starting him on a steroid burst to see if that would help & wanted to get my opinion on it. I told her that I would be ok with it as long as she kept an eye on his behavior & alerted the staff to how the steroid would effect him. But as we talked more we decided against putting him on the steroid & would see how he did over the weekend.

On Monday, July 11, 2016, the doctor called me again & said that his nutrition intake had declined even more over the weekend & that he was only taking in about 5-20% each day. That was a huge drop in 2 days. He wasn't even eating a full meal & was maybe only eating one meal a day. She said she was ready to put him into hospice care if I was ok with that. This would give them a little more freedom when it came to oral medications - they could switch them to injection form & remove the ones he didn't really need at this point. I took a deep breath & agreed to that decision. When we got off the phone I called his parents, our pastor & my brother to let them know what had been decided. I remember that after the last phone call I took a deep breath & prayed "Ok God, please let Daron hold on until VBS is done." I know it was a selfish prayer, but I didn't know what else to pray at that point. I sat down at my computer & made sure that I had everything printed off & ready for the rest of the VBS week just in case I needed to leave at a moments notice. When I got to church the next morning I didn't say anything to anyone. I had put it on Facebook & decided I would wait to see if someone said anything. Since no one did, I kept the information to myself. I did talk to the other VBS directors & showed them what I had put together so they were prepared. That was it. We didn't discuss it further & we let things happen as they would. I did fill in the VBS staff on Friday when everything was done so they could be praying over the days ahead.

My in-laws & I went to visit Daron throughout the week. My brother went with Taylor & I one day as another source of support so Taylor could say goodbye. I didn't like that I felt I was forcing him to say goodbye, but I didn't want him to regret it if he didn't. Each visit was bittersweet as Daron became less verbal. I waited until his brother here in town could go see him while he was still alert & for his brother in Florida to talk to him on the phone. On Friday, July 15, 2016, I asked the doctor to fully medicate him so he was comfortable & relaxed through the end. She agreed that it was a good decision & put the order in right away. That was the last time any of us heard his voice this side of Heaven.

I continued to go to Battle Creek with my in-laws through the next week so we could all see how he was doing & get regular updates. Taylor & I went to visit on Friday, July 22, 2016 & it wasn't a pleasant experience due to the way one of the nurses interacted with us. Taylor wasn't bothered by seeing his Dad again since Daron was sleeping & he didn't seem to be in pain. Thankfully I have blocked out the details of the visit, but I remember it wasn't a pleasant one.

On Wednesday, July 27, 2016, my mother-in-law went with me to a Care Team meeting for Daron. It wasn't a normal meeting - but it was nice to see all of the staff & hear from them. We were told that Daron had a slight fever, his heart rate was very rapid, but he appeared to still be hanging on & doing well. I thanked the care staff for all that they had done over the years he had been there. After the meeting we went to see Daron again. This time, for some reason, I couldn't hold the tears back as well as before. I think at that point I knew something was going to happen sooner rather then later. My mother-in-law & I headed back home & then got lunch with my father-in-law, Taylor & my nephew. When I got home my gut was telling me something that I needed to listen to. I was trying to fight the feeling to go back to Battle Creek as soon as I could. I called the doctor & asked if everything she had told me that morning meant we were coming to the end. She said she was just about to call me & tell me I should return as soon as I could. She didn't expect him to go more then 48 hours at that point. The next hour or two are still a blur. I called my sister-in-law to see if Taylor could stay with them, packed a bag for me & a bag for Taylor. Talked to my friend, talked to my mom, talked to my pastor, talked to my mother-in-law again. Just after I got in the car to take Taylor to my sister-in-laws I got a text from my mother-in-law asking if I wanted her to come with me. I picked her up after I dropped Taylor off.

We got to Battle Creek to discover that the staff had set up the room with a fold out bed & a comfy chair. We settled in & passed the time talking that night. My father-in-law came a few hours later & then my pastor came around 9pm. We all talked & laughed for awhile before the two guys headed home. I slept in the chair next to the bed with my hand on his chest all night. His breathing was rapid & shallow & his heart was racing. I wanted to be able to feel his chest rise & fall. The next two days, Thursday, July 28 & Friday, July 29, 2016, were filled with staff coming in to say their goodbyes to Daron & talk to us for a little while. It was a blessing in disguise as I look back now. It was wonderful to hear how he touched so many different lives in the 5 years he had been there. After the third person came in, I wasn't sure how I would be able to handle anymore, but God gave me the strength I needed. Each story has stayed with me & I am grateful they were willing to share. The staff was amazing during this time as well. Each person who stopped in asked if we needed anything or if they could get us anything. I am so thankful for each person who worked with Daron over the years.

Thursday also brought a visit from Daron's two older boys so they could say their final goodbyes. They stayed for about an hour & we just talked about random things. Friday brought a final visit from Daron's older brother & sister-in-law who live in town. They brought supper & we talked, laughed & remembered. Daron's dad decided he would stay that evening (he had been going back home each night so he could get a decent night sleep & then coming back the next day). Since we thought he might pass soon, he wanted to be there. The next morning, Saturday, July 30, 2016, he went to get breakfast from McDonald's. We had noticed a slight change in Daron's breathing, but it wasn't drastic. After breakfast, one of the nurses asked me if I wanted to take a shower. I jumped on that offer quickly & was thankful to be able to step out of the room for awhile & clean up. Daron's dad decided he was going to head home & get a few things just in case we needed to stay a few more days. His mom & I sat & talked some more, read our books & she made a few more phone calls.

During a phone call to Daron's oldest brother, we saw his breathing really change. It went from shallow to really paused in between breaths. I asked her to hit the call button so we could alert the staff to the change. I knew there wasn't anything they could do, but I asked anyway. They got him some medication to help calm him just in case. We were worried that his Dad wouldn't make it back in time when he called to say he had just pulled into the parking lot. His mom went to meet him at the door & I had a few moments alone to tell Daron I loved him, he could let go, I would take care of everything, that Taylor loved him, that we would be ok & I would see him at the Pearly Gates. I raised the bed up as high as it would go so I could lay my head on his chest & listen to his heart beat. That was something I had missed doing for 5 years. I always fell asleep listening to his heart beat. I just wanted to be able to hear it again so it would be fresh in my mind.

Daron's parents came back into the room & I think we got 5 or so minutes with him before his final breath on this earth. I kept my head on his chest, asked God to take my heart beat out of my ears, & I listened to his heart slow down. I heard his heart beat for the final time & his parents saw him take his final breath. I didn't move for what seemed like an hour just to make sure his heart was done beating. We pushed the call button & informed the staff that Daron was gone......2:27pm July 30, 2016....

Things were a blur again. His parents & I made phone calls to let people know that he had passed. The Medical Officer on Duty came in to pronounce & ask the questions that needed to be asked. The chaplain came in & asked if we wanted a verse read & then prayer. We asked him to do what they normally do when a veteran passes away. He excused himself & went to gather the staff so they could say their goodbyes. The staff each shared something they would miss about Daron or a good memory of him. We cried together & laughed together. Then they played Taps on the CD player......I couldn't hold it in anymore. The wave of grief that crashed over me was to much to contain & I sobbed from the depths of my soul. I collapsed & thankfully the bed caught me & I sobbed. When Taps was done, the wave subsided & we thanked the staff for everything. They told us to take as long as we needed with Daron, but we were ready to leave. We said our final goodbyes & I gently caressed my husbands arm for the last time on this earth. The sound of that door closing behind us seemed louder then usual. To me it sounded like it was slamming shut on my life with Daron. It sounded like it echoed down the halls & to the very depths of my heart. I gave hugs to the staff as we left & thanked them all again for everything.

Leaving Battle Creek that day, I was numb. I remember leaving the grounds, yelling at the radio when they played 'Just Be Held' by Casting Crowns - I was only 5 minutes from the VA -  & then I was pulling into my driveway at home. I don't remember anything about the hour drive back. I went into auto pilot on the drive home & thankfully arrived safely. I got changed, let the dog out & then went to my brothers house. I cried on the shoulders of my brother & sister-in-law & received big smiles from my nephew & niece. My sister-in-law made sure I ate something & we got to talk for a little bit before Taylor realized I was there. They offered to let us spend the night, but I just wanted to be in my own bed & so did Taylor. I was pretty weepy that night at home. Taylor gave me lots of hugs & we snuggled for awhile. When I knew he was in bed, I cried myself to sleep. I cried myself to sleep for the entire week between Daron passing & the funeral. I still have nights where I dry myself to sleep.

The week between his passing & the funeral was intense. Thankfully I had already pre-planned the funeral, so I just had to go in & sign papers. Taylor & I got new outfits & he got his hair cut before the funeral. I went in to church & got the photo boards ready on Thursday, August 4. My brother helped me set up for the funeral on Friday August 5. He made sure Daron's uniform looked it's best & was properly displayed. We laughed at the pictures & I shared some memories behind some of them. I remember that I didn't want to go to sleep that night. I thought that if I stayed awake the funeral wouldn't happen......it didn't work.

On Saturday, August 6, 2016, we had Daron's funeral. Taylor & I had a few moments alone at the front of the church to just be together & calm ourselves before what was about to happen. I remember looking at my son, looking so grown up, & telling him that he didn't have to be the man of the house. I told him it wasn't his job & that he just needed to be a kid. Then we went out to meet with family & friends. I was amazed at how many people came to say goodbye to Daron & to be there for us. There were just over 200 people in attendance that day. We held a visitation before the funeral & then the family went to pray together five minutes for the service started. I still remember that when my Pastor said Amen my body froze & the tears hit me. I didn't want to get out of my seat, I mumbled "I don't want to do this. I'm not ready yet." Everyone waited on me to get up so we could go in. I didn't want to.....I didn't want to say goodbye.....I didn't want this to be the end already. I wasn't ready. But, ready or not, I had to force myself to stand up & walk into the sanctuary. My brother held my arm & stayed next to me the whole time. We had a lovely service for Daron - most of it was a blur & I have a CD recording of it if I want to go back & listen to it. People came up & hugged us during the luncheon. When everything settled, Taylor & I packed up & went home to change. Then we went to my brothers house for the afternoon. We had one more thing to do before our goodbyes were over.

The Military Honors burial service was held on Monday, August 8, 2016, at Fort Custer National Cemetery. I asked that just family be there so we could grieve privately together. We met with the cemetery escort who explained a few things to me that I had to do over the next few days. Then he talked with my pastor about how things would go. When he got back to his vehicle, my heart tightened up. The cemetery sounds bells when a procession is coming through to let others know that there is a service taking place. That sound is still fresh in my heart. Seeing the flag at half staff still brings me to tears. We were led to the committal shelter where the honor guard was waiting. A gentleman approached me as two men in uniform carefully removed Daron's urn from the hearse. He told me his name, but I don't remember, & he was my escort into the shelter. I was seated in the middle of the bench - Taylor was on my left & my brother was on my right with the rest of the family surrounding behind me. The military honors service started - kind words were said, the 3 volley gun salute took place - shaking me to my core - & Taps was played. It was during Taps that I realized Taylor was crying next to me - I put my arm around him & gave him a big squeeze. After Taps, the two men in uniform unfolded & refolded the flag which was then presented to me. I was also presented with three gun shells & a scroll with the history of the flag on it. It was then time for my pastor to say a few words -- I still don't remember what scripture he read or what exactly he said. My brain & heart had gone numb. We were then led to the site where Daron was to be buried. His urn was carried to the workers & my brothers surrounded me to hold me up. When he was placed in the ground my heart sank to my feet & I couldn't breath for a few moments. I'm certain that half of my heart is buried with Daron. The sound of them tapping the dirt into place still haunts me. They let us approach the grave & my brothers led me there to make sure I could walk. I crouched down & touched the dirt covering my husband & said one last goodbye. When I stood up, Taylor wrapped his arms around me, buried his face in my chest & cried. I just held onto him for I don't know how long.

I remember hugging my pastor & our new youth pastor, both of Daron's brothers, his parents, his older sons, my step mom & both of my brothers. Daron's mom wanted a photo of the grand kids since they were all there. Then we decided to go to a restaurant that had Pasties from the UP. Daron loved eating those growing up. We enjoyed some time together & then we headed our separate ways. Taylor & I spent some time at my brothers place that afternoon just to get our heads back on straight before going back to all the memories at home.

That day closed the book on my life with Daron. It is still so surreal to think that he is gone. I still find myself thinking that I should go visit him. I have found myself heading to Battle Creek when I go to run errands. Thankfully I catch myself before I get to far from home. Over the past few months, we have taken a few trips to the cemetery. Here are a few of those photos & memories......

Taylor & I went back to the cemetery a few weeks after the burial to make sure his headstone was in place & put flowers on his grave. We didn't plan on bringing flowers. We had to run to the Meijer a few miles away to get them once we saw the headstone was in place. Taylor picked out this beautiful orange roses.

The VA held a Memorial Service in honor of the veterans that had passed recently. Below are a few photos of the program & bookmark we received. There were not a lot of people there, but Taylor & I were grateful to have the chance to go. The VA did so much for Daron & they continue to check on us regularly to see how we are doing.

I went to the cemetery for a little while when I was at Gull Lake for a Widows Retreat. I was thankful for some quiet time on a beautiful fall day. There are quite a few trees around Daron's resting place, but this one tree was absolutely beautiful with the changing colors.

We went the day before Veterans Day to place flowers. The red & white roses were a nod to our wedding & the blue flowers were part of the floral spread at his funeral. It was odd to see the start & end of our marriage together in one floral arrangement, but the flowers were perfect.

In December, we went with his parents to place a wreath for Christmas (I didn't get a picture of it). It took us a little while to find his headstone under all the snow. We also stopped at the VA before placing the wreath to take them some fudge (inside joke).

Thank you for reading this long post. I know it was super emotional. I hope it made sense considering I am writing with tears streaming down my face. The emotions surrounding this time frame are still at the surface 6 months later & they come without warning when I talk about it. Thank you for reading my raw, hidden moments. Each day gets a little easier & I know that is only by God's grace.

January 16, 2017

New Year

We made it through Christmas & into the New Year.....sort of.

I think my brain & heart want to stay in 2016 for a little while longer. That is because they want to stay closer to Daron. They want to stay closer to the time he was last with us. They want to stay in that moment & keep everything alive for just a little bit longer. Yes, he will always be alive in my memories, heart, mind & dreams; but 2016 was the last time he was physically with us. The last time I could hear his voice, see the twinkle in his eyes when he laughed or was about to crack a joke, the last time I was able to kiss him or touch him, the last time I was able to hear his heart beating in his chest, the last breath.....All of those are now part of 2016 & I can only carry the memories with me into 2017.

To be completely honest, I am really struggling with the start of a new year.
I am really struggling with....
....being alone.
....being a single parent.
....being a widow.
....things that people say without thinking first.
....being told to move on with life already.
....being told that I am sinning if I don't move on withing a certain amount of time.
....feeling like I need to make others happy & comfortable by moving on from my grief.
....feeling like I can't be my true self around others because it makes them uncomfortable.
....feeling like all eyes are on me & how I am coping with each day.
....feeling like I need to put on a fake smile so others can think I am doing ok.
....feeling like I should be stronger then I really am for the sake of those around me.
....being told that I should be used to being a single parent.
....not being able to pick up the phone & call my husband.
....not being able to drive to Battle Creek every week to visit with him.
....trusting God to continue to carry me through this.
....attending church on a regular basis, I don't feel like I belong in that church family anymore.
....reading my Bible & praying on a daily basis because I don't feel comfort like I used to.
....listening for God's still small voice to quiet the storm I am going through everyday.
....letting God have total control of my circumstances.
....trusting God's plan for my life.
....giving up control to God, even though I know He has a perfect plan.
....knowing where I fit into Daron's family now that he's gone.
....knowing where I still fit into my own family.
....wanting to be transparent in my walk as a widow without feeling like a burden or an annoyance to those around me.
....being a good mom.
....being a good employee.
....being a good Christian example to my son & those around me.
....being a good friend.
....being a good sister & sister-in-law.
....being a good aunt to my nieces & nephews.
....being a good daughter & daughter-in-law

I am really struggling with all of those things because they are harder now that I am a widow. I don't know why so I can't explain it. That is just how I feel right now. I have been reminded over & over again that grief is like a yo-yo, full of ups & downs. Grief is not a straight line, it has many twists & turns. Grief can feel like taking one step forward one day & then 2 steps backward the next. Grief is now a part of my daily journey. I can't leave it at home when I go somewhere. It is always with me. It is always sitting on my shoulder waiting for the most inopportune time to bring a memory to mind. It is always there when I go to sleep & when I wake up. I trust that as time goes on the grief will shrink a little bit. I trust that each day further into this new journey I go my grief will not follow me. I trust that some day, with God's help, my struggles will become fewer & fewer each day.

God, please help me through this new year. Please carry my grief on the days when I am not strong enough. Please carry me when I can't walk due to the weight of my grief. Please give me the hunger & thirst for Your Word that I used to have. Please remind me that You are still beside me every day. Please hear my unspoken cries for help, comfort, peace, grace, strength, love, mercy, forgiveness. Thank You for being my Father!            In Jesus Name, Amen.

Two Years...How Is That Possible?

How is it possible that two years ago today Daron left this earth and entered Heaven? It still feels like it was yesterday at times. This y...