Day 365: One Year

It’s about here now. This stupid one year “anniversary” of Vance’s death. What a weird word to use for something so devastating. Anniversaries are supposed to be happy things, where you celebrate making it one more year together. Instead, here I am, marking one whole year apart. It feels like there should be another word for that. Hit me up in the comments if you have a better word, because I could really use one.

The last 12 months have been full of grief. There is no way around that. I have cried more in the last 365 days than in the entire 15,681 days before that. I’m not done with crying or sadness. I suppose that I never really will be completely finished grieving this loss. Love doesn’t just stop because someone’s heart no longer beats.

Grief, yes, but these last months have also been so full of grace. Sometimes, so much so that I hesitate to share for fear of sounding boastful. But I promise, if I boast, I boast only to speak of the goodness of God. It feels unfinished to tell you only about the grief, when there really is so much grace.

There is grace in the amazing Father’s Day gift our friends gave the kids. In the secret Valentines and the random cards that have come on just the right days.

It’s in the last minute beach get away another friend included me in. Cause seriously, if you’re going to have to be a widow, you might as well have your toes in the sand, right?

The four hours of prayer and fellowship my spiritual sisters and I were able to have together, praying for our marriages, our children and our grief were so full of grace. Bearing one another’s burdens in the way of genuine love.

Grace is found in the big things, like life insurance that has allowed me to continue being a homeschool mom, not having to disrupt our lives even more in this first year by me having to search out a job. It won’t be that way forever, but for now, it’s been nice to be able to breathe without worrying too much about the finances.

God’s favor is also in the little things, like the Uber driver I was able to find at 3:45 in the morning, when he was the only one in the area at the time, and I had failed to realize I was using an old card number when I tried to book the trip early, thus never actually completing the transaction. And yet, there he was, choosing to do the regular Uber, not the XL, at exactly the time I needed him, even though that was not his normal routine.

There is grace in finding a new band, whose music speaks to my heart in almost every song, just when I need it. (Rend Collective, if you’re wondering. I recommend their Good News album as well as their recent release, Sing It From the Shackles. You’re welcome.)

Grace has been found in the plethora of messages I’ve received in the past week, saying how loved ones are thinking of and praying for me and the kids this week, as this anniversary looms. And in the scores, if not hundreds of messages I’ve gotten in this year, just checking in, making sure we’re hanging in there okay.

It’s finding a Christian therapist who not only lets me talk things out, but who prays with and for me.

The letter I received from a teenage girl named Abby who was able to pursue her dreams of dancing after an injury because Vance was an organ and tissue donor was packed full of grace. God’s hand was so obvious in that. What more would Coach Crutchfield want than for a young athlete, named Abby, to pursue her dreams?

It’s found in grandparents who step up and fill the holes. Aunts, uncles and cousins who refuse to let us give up on the hard days and laugh with us on the good ones.

You guys, “grace in the grief” is more than a catchy blog name. It’s truly becoming a way of life for me. I’m searching for – and finding – God’s favor in the middle of this mess. Three hundred sixty-five days ago, I had no idea how much, if any, I would find. There were moments, days, weeks, when it alluded me, but ya’ll, I have found it. God is good, a true refuge in times of trouble. May I keep searching for his hand in the days ahead.

Day 351: Nahum 1:7

The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust him.

Nahum 1:7

This is what Vance called his “life verse.” If you’re not up on the churchy lingo, that simply means that these words stood out to him among Scripture. That he took comfort and guidance from them often.

If you look back to Day 3, you will see that this was also our first day VBS Bible verse last summer. I’m still wearing that bracelet much of the time. I still look at it all the time. In fact, I have a few friends and family who haven’t taken theirs off for almost a year.

Notice what Nahum 1:7 doesn’t say. It does not promise,”The Lord is good, he takes away trouble. He does all the work for those who trust him.” That’s actually not it at all.

This verse actually tells us that, yes, trouble is coming. You can count on it. And when it does, you’ll need a place of safety. A refuge. Because that trouble isn’t going to always be the kind you can just wave off or even put off until the next day. Trouble is going to come, stare you in the face, punch you in the mouth, then kick you in the crotch and laugh while you’re writhing on the ground. The only way to avoid it is to find a sanctuary; a safe place where trouble is not welcome.

That safe place has got to be in Jesus. He doesn’t leave us to fight on our own. He upholds us with his mighty hand. He fights with us, for us.

God is good, sweet friend. Always. Always. Always.

This is the best part of Vance’s legacy. The other stuff is good. I mean, really, really good. But this. This is eternally good. This is what made the man I love the man he was.

Day 350: Man of the House

At the hospital, right after Vance died, there was a plethora of friends, family and coworkers. Our people had heard and they showed up big. It was unexpected. Overwhelming.

At the time I just couldn’t comprehend everything. I’m still not sure who all was there that day. Some faces stand out. Others are just blurs. So much was happening.

I spent a ton of that day watching them try to save Vance and I missed a lot of what was happening in the waiting room. Even after he was gone, I stayed with the body for a long time.

In the meantime, my kids were left with their grandparents and other family members and friends. I just could not deal with everything and everyone at that moment so they stepped up and stepped in and filled the holes. I’m so grateful.

The people that showed up said all kinds of things. Mostly good. But there was one phrase that I heard at least twice that made my skin crawl. Well meaning, good, godly men shook my oldest boy’s hand, looked into his barely 16 year old eyes and told him he was now “the man of the house.”

Um…no. This isn’t 1814. We don’t need a man to own land or pay the bills or run the farm.

Let me be clear: Eli is not “the man of the house.” Eli is now just barely a 17 year old boy and I will not let that be stolen from him.

He is not responsible for our family. I am. He will not pay the bills, parent the children, or make the hardest decisions. That is my job. I’m still the mom. I’m the head of household now.

Please don’t think that I’m angry with the people who said this to him. They meant well. I know that. I love them. But it was the wrong thing to say. Eli and I continue to have many conversations about his role in our home. As the oldest, he has a natural bent towards protecting and caring for us. He is man size. But he is not yet a man. Soon. Sooner than I might like, he will be a man in his own right. But not yet.

When he becomes man of the house, it will not be in my home. It will be in his own. When he’s ready, he’ll be an amazing leader of his family. I look forward to that day but it has not yet come.

Day 348: Changes

Lately I’ve been changing all the things.

New paint in basically the whole house and even a new room for Eli.

Flowers in the front yard and funeral plants all over the house. I think I’m up to eight in the house and a butt-ton outside. Feel free to go ahead and pat me on the back because it’s been almost a year and I’ve kept all but one alive! Abby says I’m becoming a plant lady. I blame my plant lady friends for their bad influence. (I’m looking at you Amanda and Melissa!)

New clothes. New hair color. Mani-pedis. I’ve done them all this year.

I’m thinking about going back to work or starting work on my master’s degree. I’m prepping for Praxis tests and trying to figure out the best way to get the job I want.

You’ll find me teaching the middle school youth group on Sunday nights. I was planning to teach an adult study, too, until all this pandemic madness hit.

All the things are changing.

Some of the changes are just distractions. Others though, they’re more…concrete? Maybe? I’m not sure what the word is. I just know that I needed them. Honestly. Not just wanted, but I needed these tangible changes.

I had to replace the mattress and then even move the bed to a different wall. Sleeping on the same sheets in the same place, knowing that nothing was really ever going to be the same was just too….too everything. Too hard. Too many sleepless nights. Too many tears. So I got a new bed, rotated it 90 degrees and picked up a new comforter set from Wal-Mart. I found an inexpensive curtain and hung one of those new plants in the window. Vance always thought decorative pillows were stupid, so I got a couple of those, too, because, well, I wanted them and they came with the comforter set.

And you know what? Sometimes it really does help. Coming home into a more inviting place can make things a little more bearable. Right now, our home is often chaotic. With five people, of five ages, all dealing with life and grief in their own ways, there’s rarely a 24 hour period where all of us are having a good day at the same time. There are big feelings and big blow ups and big everything. Surrounding myself with green plants and pretty things makes me a little less crazy. That’s a change I need.

Day 347: 16 years

My oldest is turning 17 today. He’s the one that made us parents. His is the last of these “first” birthdays without his dad. With the exception of the actual anniversary of his death, this is the last big “first” without Vance.

Seventeen years ago, someone took this picture, just eleven minutes after Vance officially became a dad. I’m not sure who it was, it for sure wasn’t me. I was still in recovery after the emergency c-section. But someone, maybe my mom, took this shot.

It’s one of my favorites because it sums up so much of what Vance was about in just one picture. He’d been a dad for less than a quarter of an hour but you can see in his eyes that he had waited his entire life for just this moment. The moment he was able to hold his own child in his arms.

He looked at all four of kids like that. He mourned the loss of the one we never got to hold after I miscarried. Vance was born to be a dad. It was his very favorite thing. Just ask anyone who spent more than five minutes with him. They’ll agree.

I will never understand why he only got 16 years as a parent. I’ll never understand why our kids no longer get to hear his giant voice telling them “Happy birthday!” or reminding them of just how much he loves them.

I keep telling myself that “God is not surprised.” He knew this was how things would play out. He knew the number of Vance’s days on earth even before he was born.

So in that, I trust. I trust, but I do not understand. As an old friend told my mom upon hearing the news of our losing Vance, “Why can’t the a****** dads die? Why does God take the good ones?” It made me laugh that first time she told me and it makes me laugh now. But it also makes me wonder why the “a-hole” dads get to stick around while my kids will never see their dad again. Why a man made for such a time as this is gone before we are ready to say goodbye.

Day 337: ‘Til Death

You know that part in every wedding when the preacher is having the bride and the groom repeat after him and they say, “‘Til death do us part?” Four times, they say that. Twice when the officiant is leading and once each from the bride and groom. Four times.

I’ve been to four weddings in the last year. That’s 16 times I’ve heard those words.

I’m not gonna lie, it hits different hearing those words when the one you said them to is no longer living. Actually, at our wedding we said, “until we are separated by death,” but it’s the same idea.

My brother’s wedding was hard because it was the first big family event on my side that he wasn’t here for. At that point, I still thought of myself as married.

The couples dance where the DJ asks all the married folks to come to the floor, then dismisses them by how long they’ve been married? Those were hard. We were just shy of twenty years when Vance had his heart attack. I really, really wanted to be dancing much longer than that.

Then a few weeks ago our niece got married. It was the first major family event on his side since his death. Thanks to the pandemic, it was a very intimate affair. I think that made the Vance shaped hole even bigger.

The words, “Until death do us part,” hit different that time, too. They hit harder.

Death has parted us. We’re not married anymore.

Can I tell you that just writing that makes me cry? Big, ugly, 1:30 in the morning, alone on my bed tears.

I quit wearing my ring sometime over the last couple weeks. I took his off, too, and the VBS bracelet and the thumbprint necklace. I think I just needed a break from the constant reminders. A week later I put his ring back on. I think I still need to carry a part of him with me.

For our niece’s wedding, I put my ring on a chain along with his thumbprint and wore them under my dress. It was a little way to bring him with me, I guess.

I am at a place where I’m recognizing that this is my life now. Vance isn’t coming home.

Death has parted us.

****To be clear, this isn’t a statement of my singleness in the way of announcing I’m ready to move forward with someone else. I’m not there yet. Please don’t try sliding into my DMs like the creepy guys who stalk widows groups. (But that’s a post for a different day.)

Day 272: Coronavirus

So I was talking to my therapist last week about this whole Coronavirus thing. She and I had to meet via Zoom, because you know, COVID-19 and social distancing and all that.

Anyway, she was asking me how I’m doing with the whole thing and we ended up talking about how in a really weird way, it’s kind of nice to have the whole world in crisis. That sounds horrible. Please, hear me out.

It’s not that I want the whole world to be in crisis. Goodness, no. This is a big deal and things are getting ugly around the globe. People are dying. That means there will be more widows. More orphans. More grief. More pain.

I don’t want that.

But in a really weird and maybe twisted way, it’s nice to be able to focus on something else. On something that everyone is experiencing together. We all know what it’s like to live this new “alone together” normal. There is solidarity. There is focus. I am not alone in this struggle. And I’m embracing that. The normalcy of this abnormal time. The idea that I am not the only one. My kids are not the only ones. People get this.

And my perspective is different now. Yes, my kids and I are driving each other crazy and there is no doubt at all about which one of us is one hundred percent an extrovert! But in that crazy, I am cherishing this time. I’m finding ways to connect, be it binge watching Stranger Things with Abby or reading a chapter a day in a new book with Asa, I’m making an effort to really be here. Now. Present.

And then I escape to the bath with a book and some chocolates, because…balance, people.

I miss Vance in all of this. I wonder what his take would be. How his job would be effected. Where he would draw the lines and set the rules. I think about how he’d like that I’m cooking and how he’s the only one who ever ate the leftovers.

photo credit: cdc.gov

Day 271: Strawberry Wine

This morning I stood in my kitchen, making sausage biscuits (which was my go-to for Vance to take to work for his crew/class) and listening to Kenny and Dolly sing “Islands in the Stream.

Without thinking, I started dancing around the kitchen, something I used to do all the time but haven’t done for a while. As I caught myself spinning to the music, I caught myself remembering myself catching Vance watching me with a smile. I saw that grin and felt that strong presence come up behind me, putting those arms around my waist, hips swaying with mine.

And then Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” came on. It was released in 1996, shortly after Vance came back to Kansas and noticed I wasn’t a kid anymore. I was 19, not 17 like the girl in song, but I was certainly “caught somewhere between and woman and a child” at the time.

One restless summer we found love growing wild. On the banks of the river, on a well beaten path. It’s funny how those memories they last.

…The hot July moon saw everything…

The song certainly doesn’t parallel our relationship in any other way, but as I sang along, I caught myself struggling to breathe. Suddenly there were just these giant sobs that caught me off-guard as memories of us in our youthful, head-over-heals days flooded over me.

It’s not fair when they do that. When the sobs just come out of nowhere.

It’s been 271 days and they. just. keep. coming.

I knew it would be this way. I even told you it would, right at the beginning. My head knows but my heart…my heart says, “ENOUGH ALREADY!” There’s only so much it can take and it’s weary from taking so much.

I knew that it would still hurt nine months later. I knew. I just didn’t know how much.

Day 258: COVID-19

Today the governor shut down all brick and mortar schools in Kansas for the rest of the year.

The rest of the year.

You guys. It’s March 17. That’s a good two months.

I’ve spent the last thirteen years at home, eleven of them homeschooling. But this year I sent two kids to the local high school. I guess it was just too much, because the state just sent them back today! (I’m kidding. You have to keep a sense of humor in these situations or you seriously will not be able to cope.)

As much as I love having my kids home, I am not prepared for this. I don’t have high school materials on hand. But as a homeschool mom, I can figure it out I mean, I don’t necessarily want to, but I can.

A lot of parents finding themselves in this crazy place and time aren’t so lucky. They haven’t trained as teachers or spent the last decade navigating the homeschool world. They never, ever, not even last week, thought they would have their kids at home (literally, not going anywhere, not even the library, which is the homeschoolers second home!) for the next five months.

So what do we do?

Well, obviously, we keep calm. I mean, there are all kinds of memes about that. But beyond that?

First, take it slow. No one expects you to become an expert teacher overnight. The state and local districts are working on a plan. They will contact you in a few days. Maybe next week, but they will not just let you drown out here on your own. It’s not how we roll, at least not in my town.

So just relax. Finish Spring Break without stressing too much over what next week brings. Next week? Make your kids read for a while. Twenty minutes to an hour, depending on how old they are. If they’re still little, like elementary school age, just let them play. I’ll say it again.

LET THEM PLAY!

Give them. the best two weeks of their childhood, Let them run, jump, skip, build, destroy and get bored. You’ll be amazed at what they come up with to do.

Find the balance between tech free days and binge watching days. Have some of each.

No matter what you do, it’s going to be okay. Your kids will learn. I promise. Read. Play. Interact. Put together puzzles and play games. Bore them until they learn how to entertain themselves.

Day 253: Rain

As I walked through Hobby Lobby today, this caught my eye. A simple little sign, nestled amongst a million other little signs.

No rain.

No flowers.

The enormity of that hit me like a brick wall.

For many months now, I have felt the rain. It’s flooded my life, destroying all my plans, my hopes, my love. Waves of grief crash over me on the regular.

But even in the midst of the rain, I can see the small glimpses of green. The beginnings of sweet smelling, beautiful, calming, lovely flowers are coming up through the rough ground.

And the rain. Well, that’s what makes the flowers grow. The sunshine isn’t taken for granted on the cloudy days. The rain makes us appreciate the joy found in the blooms all the more.

No rain. No flowers.