Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fatih Hope & Love

There are moments that will come in our lives when we feel as if there is no possible way to recover or move on from the adversities or hardships before us. Moments when waking every morning brings us back to the painful realization that whatever trial you are facing is indeed happening and not just a nightmare. These crossroads are inevitable and unfortunately can derail the peaceful and perfectly planned out lives that we are in the middle of living. In these moments it is so very easy to be blinded by the pain and flood of raw emotions that tend to consume us. I was there for a very long time and struggled with the very simplest of decisions and in all that I did. Completely consumed and drowning in the pain of it all.

March 30th, 2012 I stood beside the woman that I loved so dearly and made a promise. The promise to stand by her side through the good times or the bad, through the sunshine and the rain until my lungs no longer had breath left to give. We stood side by side at a beautiful fountain in Savannah GA as all our loved ones watched and shared this beautiful moment in our lives. This is a moment that I have relived in my mind time and time again. The first kiss, first look, first dance, every bit of it and every second of it are moments that will never be forgotten as they are forever etched in my memory. Cloud 9... We road that all through the honeymoon and as newlyweds the world was at our fingertips. No goal unachievable, no mountain un climbable & no obstacle we could not overcome together as a team. Life in that very moment, was beautifully perfect... 

April, 2013. Just over a short year later. As I sat in a classroom at work I heard the aggressive vibration of my silenced phone going off in my book bag, Once it rang, then a second time & finally a third with no breaks in between. At this point I realized that there was something wrong so I stepped outside to check who was so anxiously trying to get ahold of me. My heart sort of stopped when I saw that it was my beautiful wife that had been calling me repeatedly, as she knew I was in class and unable to answer. When I called her back I could hear the pain, hurt and confusion in her voice as if she tried to get words out to form a sentence. My Adrienne was so strong so hearing her scared voice on the line really made my heart sink and beat out of rhythm as I waited for her to get her sentence out... She was finally able to tell me through tears, that her Dr. Had called with biopsy results on tissue they had gathered just the week prior. She said the results tested positive for Melanoma, a word that I have grown to hate and makes me cringe just typing it... Inside I was scared and confused but dared not show it as I tried to calm her down and talk through what was to come next. This is the day that our perfect little life was derailed and completely scrambled in utter chaos. 

The appointments were frequent from here on out, starting with the first surgery that landed on my 29th birthday. I still remember her saying "Baby, I am sorry that we have to spend your birthday in the hospital." That girl, in the midst of this darkness was still concerned about me... The Doctors Office and hospital became a home away from home for us in the months to come as we seemed out answers and cure to this horrible disease. Through it all we both stayed optimistic that she was well on her way to being healed and that our normal life would soon return. So badly I wish that this was the case... 

Adrienne qualified for a trial immunotherapy treatment that had shown some positive results with other patients. This had to be it! Finally this new treatment, it had to be what would make my sweet Adrienne better once again and remove us from the nightmare we were living in. I remember every single detail about our breakfast date prior to going in for her first treatment where we watched the Princess Bride side by side. Sitting there hand in hand as this new drug flowed through her veins, so many thoughts and emotions went through my mind. Our life together, the beautiful moments, the struggles or fights for no reason, the dreams and wishes we had for our future & everything else in between. I felt so ashamed for taking any moment for granted in the years that we were together. This journey opened my eyes to many things that I have since promised I would not be blind to again and changed my outlook on life tremendously.

October 2012. After the completion of treatments it was a waiting game as we had to allow adequate time for the therapy  to work before returning for a scan to see the results. The anxious feeling was eating me up inside every day leading up to this and I can only imagine what my dearest wife was feeling as I only saw the strength and beautiful smiles that she wore throughout the majority of this fight. She had a few moments behind closed doors where she broke down and opened up to me but for the most part she showed more courage and strength than anyone I have ever known. If I broke down or had moments of weakness they were in solitude behind closed doors so that she did not see. I owed that to her, to support her with at least half the strength & courage that she had. That all went out the window on the day we all gathered in that tiny hospital room to meet the Dr. and see the scan results. That is another day that is forever etched into my mind as it was probably one of the most difficult since this all began. After a very brief greeting, the Doctors facial expression quickly changed as he told us that the scan results were not good at all and in that very moment I lost all control of emotions as I looked at my bride and the tears streaming down her face. The tears never seamed to end and my heart felt as if it was out of rhythm leaving me trying to catch my breath. We prayed that day as tears were still pouring down, we prayed through the tears and through all of the fears that were drowning us.

In November Adrienne and I were off to stand beside my little brother and our college friend as they were married. The two of them met at our wedding just a short year and a half ago. I remember how hard it was to try to hide all of the emotions of what was going on in our life and truly be there emotionally for these two on their wedding day. As I watched Adrienne walk down the isle as one of the bridesmaids, tears flooded my eyes and I flashed back to our wedding day thinking of the joy that we shared that day and then wondering how we were in the current situation just a short time later as we had barely started our life together as husband and wife. Wes and Emily had a beautiful wedding day and many of the final happy memories I shared with Adrienne were from this weekend with family and friends.
We were in and out of the hospital frequently for overnights and more appointments seeking out other options and other doctors still in hopes of finding something to cure her. By this time we were staying with Adrienne's parents so that we could all help and support together as a team and family. Between working and rushing home to take care of her I also spent hours packing up our personal belongings from the first home be bought together. This was a painful task and brought me to tears nearly every night, something that I never shared with anyone as it was my alone time to vent and breakdown without showing my weakness.
December. This month brought many sleepless nights that were interrupted by pain and tears and a sense of helplessness as I tried to comfort my wife... To watch someone you love so much go through so much hurt and pain without being able to do a thing about it is nothing I would wish upon anyone. Our last week together was spent in a hospital room... As peoples lives were going on with the flowing lights outside of our hospital room, ours had come crashing down before us and all that we had known was no longer our reality.
Visitors came and went as did the last precious moments that I had left with my wife. I fell asleep playing "Feel your Love" by Adele as I lay by Adrienne's side for what would be the last night, on December 12th. That was the song that played during our first dance as husband and wife in that beautiful little courtyard lit up by the smile of the most stunning bride there ever was. When I woke that morning I instantly knew that she was gone and my heart sank to the floor as did I, into a puddle of tears.
For the days to come I felt as if I were an emotionless corpse just wondering from place to place and going through the motions. I did not want to do life, I did not want to speak to anyone as I could have curled up in bed for days and nights hiding from reality. Somehow, with the help of amazing loved ones, we managed to plan a ceremony to honor Adrienne and say our final goodbyes. The lives she touched were never ending and the love she shared with the world will never be forgotten.

Now what. Where does one even begin after such a devastating event in their life? I feel like the first year and a half I was still so lost that I cant even recall everything that happened other than I stayed busier than I ever have burning the candle from both ends trying to hide from what my new reality was as 29 year old widower. If there was a day without plans, I made some, a family member to visit, I went... It didn't matter to me, I just had to be gone, had to be busy and could not allow myself to sit still. Every night ended with tears in a lonely bed as I listened to our songs or watched our movies until finally falling asleep for a few hours. This went on for 7 months as I stayed with my amazing in-laws for a while until we all could make baby steps in the healing process.

Eventually I bought a new home and moved in which started a whole new process of grieving and healing... The boxes of our belongings that I had to unpack and go through was so very painful for me. This new quietness and loneliness was something that I had never felt before. I went right back to staying so busy that I was rarely home sometimes and if I was I was doing a DIY project to stay busy there! I took up running and that soon became a very healthy addiction and form of therapy for me. It was so cleansing and helped me in so many ways. Days came and went and some of them felt like I had made progress but then others felt as if I was back to the very day I said goodbye so consumed in grief that breathing was a monumental task. The waves came and went without warning, rhythm or rhyme. Looking back I honestly cannot even grasp the events and the confusion that took place. The broken road that lead me to where I am today.

I knew Augusta was always going to be Adrienne and I. That was us and I would never truly be able to move on there which is something that took me a while to figure out. I struggled so much with making this decision even though I know what my heart was telling me. How could I just quit my job of nearly 7 years, leave my in-laws, my faithful friends and Adrienne's resting place? A leap of Faith... one that has since proven to be blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I never thought I would open my heart again enough to let anyone in. I never thought it would even be able to love again, and if so, it wouldn't be fare because Id always be comparing the new love to my old love with Adrienne. right? Thank God I was wrong in believing any of this at all.
So much has changed...

Shortly after moving back near where I grew up, I proposed to an amazing and beautiful woman. She has been a friend of mine for some time and one that in the last few years grew closer and closer slowly opening my heart again. 6 months after Adrienne passed, she lost her husband unexpectedly... We shared stories about things that helped cope and get through and lent an ear for a venting session on the hardest of days. What started as a friendship has grown into a love that I could have never dreamt of. When she finally snuck into my heart enough to make me open up and let my guard down, this beautiful love flourished. Two broken hearts that healed together have been joint as one and it is something so beautiful that it could only be planned by our two angels watching over us. For the first time, in a long time the future isn't scary, it is beautiful and we are so very blessed as we live our lives forever honoring memories of our angels and creating new ones together.

On your darkest of days, know that the sun will shine again.
When you feel like giving up, take one more step forward.
When the pain of grief is consuming you, know that it is temporary and that it is molding and pushing you into being who and where god wants you to be.
And three things shall remain, Faith, Hope and Love but the greatest of these is LOVE.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Broken Road

Through out the duration of the grieving process I have found it difficult to allow myself to truly be happy. Not fake it, but just let my heart feel that true pure joy. At times I have felt incapable of such. 

If God brought someone into my life that opened my heart again and let that light in.... If... What if... What would I tell my dearly loved in laws knowing without a doubt that they want me to be happy I still worry so much about them. I know when they see me all they see is their precious daughter. Thoughts of the words to tell them if this day were to come have crossed my mind many days. Long story short, I sat down to write a letter. This is what I gave to Adrienne's parents, my in laws and forever second set of parents. 

Walter & Jackie, my second set of parents 

Walter & Jackie, I just want to start this letter off by letting you know how much I love and look up to you both. You will forever remain my beloved in-laws and I am so very blessed to have you both in my life through all that it brings, the ups downs and in-betweens.  Wherever this journey should lead just know that you’re family and always will be. The support the two of you have shown me over the years is something that I am forever grateful for and even more so knowing that I will always have you both by my side. 

These last few years have been extremely difficult for all of us as we went through something that no parent, brother or newlywed husband should ever have endure.  I absolutely adored Adrienne and promise to love and honor her memory for the rest of my life no matter what it brings my way. She will never be replaced and will forever be a part of me in all that I do. With that being said, this journey has been very hard for me realizing that I am not as good at living on my own as I thought and I don’t think that I want to do it alone. The entire “dating again” idea is not something that I have taken lightly at all and it’s such a delicate step in my journey and I understand this so it brought me to writing you this letter. 

Out of the tremendous respect that I have for you, I wanted to be the first to tell you that I am seeing someone and her name is Ali. There are actually two people involved, you see because Ali has an amazing little boy named Brady that looks just like his Father. Unfortunately Brady’s father & Ali’s husband Drew, was taken to heaven shortly after Adrienne so they have been through a great deal in the last few years just like we have. They are nothing short of amazing. 

Ali and her family have been friends of mine over the years since High school but as life becomes busy it sort of sends us all separate ways so we lost touch for a little while. When we lost Adrienne they reached out to me offering support & love which was the first I had talked to them in quite some time. Just a short 6 Months later Ali & Brady had to say goodbye to their everything, their father, husband & best friend. Just having gone through something all too familiar and painful I could not understand exactly what she was going through, but I could offer support and share testimony’s of what had taken place over the last 6 months in my life. What started as friendship years ago has now become something more that we have just recently talked about sharing with “Our In Laws.”  She too has forever in-laws that she is writing a letter to because she shares the same love and respect for them as I do for you. 

We do not know what tomorrow will bring & this is something that we have learned firsthand but one thing I am certain of is that I want to be happy again but also want to share that happiness with someone again.  
Love Unconditionally, 

I do not know what the future has in store but this is the first time I can truthfully say that I in this very moment I am happy and willing to accept it with open arms & heart.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dear Adrienne,

Dear Adrienne,

I'm finding it difficult to place words in order to compose this letter, as my mind is flooded with all the thoughts and events that have taken place over these last two years. Since you've been gone life's been a crazy whirlwind, at times spinning out of control, at others abnormally calm changing from one extreme to another day after day & without warning. Two years feels like an eternity to go without seeing your best friend, wife & partner through every decision, hardship or celebration. Its best described in a quote I found, "Grief is like an Ocean, It comes on waves ebbing and flowing. sometimes the waters calm and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim." 

Looking back through old letters, posts and memories helps me put a lot into perspective. From when it all started, December 12th 2013. I crawled into your hospital bed made for one, playing songs by your side all through the night. I had an indescribable feeling come over me that night, almost like you were trying to tell me something. Maybe it was one final I love you or maybe you were trying to say goodbye. I find peace in knowing that the last night I had with you, we were side by side & with your hand in mine. Looking back now, there are many things that I can find peace in that I was incapable of before because I was blinded by grief and for that I am grateful.

Very frequently I find myself wondering what life would be like if I still had you here to share it with. Would we have bought a home in a totally different neighborhood, had your father build us one like you always dreamt about, or would we have moved somewhere far off new & exciting? Would we have been blessed with a child, and if so, a girl with your eyes or a boy to follow in my footsteps. Would your dream of becoming a PA have come to fruition and if so, how many more lives would you have touched with this new profession and that smile of yours? Undoubtedly many more...

All of these holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, child births and other milestones keep coming and going without fail, but they never feel quite the same without that beautiful smile that was capable of turning a rainy day into a thing of beauty. What we all wouldn't give just to see that smile once again or just to pick up the phone and hear your voice on the other end. We will forever cherish those milestones that we were fortunate enough to share by your side & know you are smiling down over those that continue on since you went away. With each day that passes and every New Year that begins, your memory will be shared, cherished &  honored until one special day when we meet again. Until that day, Ill be missing you.

"Love you to the moon & back"

Monday, November 2, 2015

Moving forward vs. Moving on

For someone who has lost a significant other, moving forward can easily be mistaken for moving on. Moving on is leaving it behind you and forgetting it, the raw emotions the emotional baggage, the memories and just acting like it never happened. Moving forward to me, personally, is pressing forward day by day with these experiences (good or bad), memories, scars and life lessons at my side, in my heart & forever helping guide my future decisions.  These will forever be a part of you for the rest of your life molding you and influencing your every decision. What kind of influence they have on you... well, that's entirely up to you. I have experienced both sides.

Adrienne with her bridesmaids
I choose to move forward not only for me but for my family, my friends and for Adrienne because I know that this is what she would want, as it is what I would want for her. Moving forward does not mean in any way, shape or form that I am moving on, leaving everything behind me because this simply is not the case. For the rest of my life I will carry that label "widower," as well as the scars it came with, but also the priceless lessons it has taught me. Many times I have heard it said that " A person who has found their way out of the darkness of  trials, hardships, loss & heartbreak has a view or outlook on life unlike any other person who has not experienced such heart wrenching pain." This has proven to be true in my life without a shadow of a doubt. All of our pains and afflictions are not meaningless and for nothing, they will forever be inside of us influencing every single decision we make in our futures.

When is it OK to take that next step or leap forward. A huge and uncomfortable topic.... "When Can I or Should I start Dating again?" Wow, it was hard to even type that out... It is extremely difficult to understand or figure out the thought process on this topic but as of late I am starting to feel a little more comfortable with the thought of it as well as finding joy in the possibilities of a future filled with that same love and happiness that I shared with Adrienne. There is no time frame for this, no right or wrong time but it will be much different for all circumstances. It has been very hard for me to open up fully to anyone since Adrienne's death and I have struggled with "survivors guilt" or whatever you want to call it, a great deal. I want to know that I am not only ready for but also deserving of that love again, to know that I will be capable of whole heatedly loving again without holding back, no limitations or restrictions. Through out this process I at times can be my own worse enemy, overly heard on myself & over analyzing every situation. I do know one thing though, the mere fact that I am writing about this shows that I am that much closer and this brings a smile to my face.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Scattered Thoughts On a Thursday Night

I feel like it has been forever since I was capable of transferring thoughts to pen and paper. Time has continued to move swiftly on by without hesitation. The waves of grief have still reared their ugly head but not quite as frequently.

This weekend marked 1 year 9 months and also kicked off the beginning to another football season which was one of Adrienne's favorite times of the year! The cool crisp Fall air, the smell of meat on the grill and cheers echoing through out  the house while everyone supports their favorite teams. Everything about Fall reminds me of her especially since that means the holidays are fast approaching! This is so damn scary to me and I cant even grasp the fact that this will be the 3rd Christmas without her, the second Thanksgiving and the Second full calendar year since I have seen or touched that beautiful face.

So much has happened since she left, yet at times I feel like time has stood still and I've been left confused like a dog chasing his tail. At times I've tried taking it all on solo, others leaning on friends for help and others taking any sort of support that I can get. I feel as if there comes a point when everyone expects you to be normal, act normal and be totally comfortable in this new skin or life so to speak. How in the world can you put a time frame on something like losing a wife, a husband or any other person near and dear to your heart? I've become increasingly better at not caring what others think about me or whatever actions I choose to take in this walk.
Just recently I had a lunch date with my in laws and had to share this photo. At random we each got a diet coke to go with our lunch. As we sat there eating and talking I noticed pops' can said DAD on it. I smiled and continued on with my meal. I noticed that mine said MOM on it. I looked at Mrs. Jackie, smiled, and said, "I think that I got your can."  She had no idea they even had the writing on them until I mentioned that. She took a look at hers and it read, SOUL MATE... I will never get tired of seeing these signs that make me feel her presence.

I want to share this reading that a friend recently sent to me. It really hit home and was very meaningful to me.

"Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see."

"As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

This photo is of a post that Adrienne made the day she was diagnosed with melanoma.
"In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life."

"Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out."

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dinner Date With the In Laws

The last month and a half have flashed before my eyes and I have been left with this massive feeling of guilt for not seeing so many people that are so important in my life. Tonight I went to dinner with Adrienne's parents and my forever second set of parents, my amazing In Laws.

With all of the traveling and visiting trying to please everyone or see everyone I have not spent as much time with them as I would like to. We met tonight at a Mexican Restaurant for dinner... Adrienne's favorite next to Japanese or Chinese takeout. Every time I see her mom I see Adrienne's beauty and every time I see her dad I see her strength, determination and stubbornness. Seeing them now like any other night is just like meeting family for dinner but for some reason tonight hit us all a little harder than normal. The unpredictable waves of grief had struck at a moment that we did not expect... at all... It has been over a year and a half since we lost her but that does not mean that anything is easier. There may be longer periods between the waves of grief but when they do hit, they seam to hit extremely hard and full force.  Its almost as if I feel guilty for not having had a cry session or breakdown for a longer period of time. Like I always said, when that wave comes, embrace it, breakdown, cry, let it out and ride it out until you are able to feel a sort of piece again.

After squeezing my in laws goodnight I left for home, knowing exactly what kind of night it was going to be. I grabbed all of our photo albums and plopped down on my bar stool and after staring at them for a brief moment, I opened and began flipping through, page by page. With each page came another memory, with each memory came another tear, one by one they fell like rain until I felt as if I could not cry anymore. After a phone call to one of my amazing brothers to vent a little more and get some things off my chest I was finally able to feel at peace enough to get some rest. Though these moments suck, and are full of pain, embracing it allows me to get it out and afterwards I feel much better. One more wave overcome with my head still above the water. One more step... 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sorting Through Memorabilia

Since moving into my new home just over a year ago, I have had an entire closet of boxes that I avoided opening and sorting through due to their contents and the pain it could bring. These were assorted items from our wedding day, from our first home together, pictures from the many years we spent together and other assorted memorabilia that I had not found the strength to go through since I lost Adrienne. These items to me represent our entire life together, from movie ticket stubs I saved from our very first date up to some of the last notes that I received from her.

Somehow this evening I mustered up the courage to dive into this closet of towering boxes, opening them one at a time. While listening to music I slowly sorted through each one, reading old cards, looking at photos and trying to relive some of those moments or memories that we shared together. We looked like babies when we first started dating and what started as a puppy love developed over time, into something very special that I am forever grateful for having had the opportunity to experience.

I found an old visor CD case with Adrienne's personally created play lists and started listening to them. Just about every CD contained a song or two from Incubus, Graham Colton Band and Lady Antebellum. These songs took me back to one of the very first nights we hung out together, sitting in the car listening to her music and talking for hours. I also came across some old notes and even some poems that I would text her throughout the day just because she was on my mind. I did not know it but she wrote them on post it notes and I found a handful of them mixed in with her college study material. All of these moments and all of these memories up to the very last time that I held her hand will forever be burned into my mind. Although it has gotten a little easier to find joy in all of these sweet little memories it is still so very hard to keep going on without the one person I needed by my side the most through this journey of life. One day at a time, One step at a time. Focusing on each baby step prevents becoming overwhelmed so this is what I will continue to do for as long as it takes.