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.

Day 244: Insomnia

I’ve always been a night owl. Always. When I was a kid, my mom stayed up late and we slept in. It’s where I’ve always found my rhythm.

Lately, though, it’s been impossible to sleep. I’m exhausted even more than usual. I find myself wide awake at 2:28 am. Unable to stop watching videos, playing games, listening to books and podcasts. Because if I stop those things, the silence comes.

Right now, silence is unbearable.

In it comes doubt. Fear. Anxiety. Depression. Anger.

So often the emptiness becomes filled with weeping. Weeping for what was. For what is. For what will never be.

So I avoid the quiet needed to sleep because so much else creeps in there.

I’m doing my best to fill it with hope. With love. With good. Sometimes that wins. Other times…. Not so much.

I’m not sleeping much but I’m not giving up either.

Day 243: Paper Cut

As human beings we tend to compare ourselves. We want to see where we measure up in relation to everyone else, be it about our bodies, our finances, our homes, our test scores, or even our grief.

When you go through something really difficult, like the sudden death of your person, your friends tend not to want to tell you about their hard days anymore. They think that they’re not entitled to hurt because it’s so minimal compared to what you’re going through. They think that in this comparison, they lose.

Losing your dog is not the same as losing your husband but it’s still loss. A stomach bug is not the same as stomach cancer but it still makes you feel miserable for a time.

Just because my arm got cut off doesn’t mean your paper cut doesn’t hurt.

Pain is pain. Hurt is hurt. Feel it big or feel it small, but feel it. Don’t deny your paper cut, letting it fester and get infected. Acknowledge the pain and do what you need to heal it. Don’t compare it to an amputation, especially to an amputee, but you are allowed to say “ouch.”

There are days when you just have to suck it up and get over the little nicks and bruises. You don’t get to scream “ouch” over and over about your scrapes while someone else is bleeding to death from stab wounds. That just makes you a jerk.

Needle prick or lumbar puncture, no one likes to be jabbed with needles. It all hurts. Acknowledge that but don’t try to make the two equal. One obviously feels worse.

Yes, the new widow should take priority over the bereaved pet owner. But that doesn’t mean the later should be ignored. Grieve your loss because you loved your love. If the love was real, so is the mourning.

So please, don’t be afraid to tell me about your small cuts, your fights with your husband, your hurts when he forgets your anniversary. Yes, there is a chance that there will be some memory that it triggers that is hard for me, but losing my friends as well as my husband, that…that would be too much to bear.

Day 237: Bath

The bathtub is one of my happy places. That’s not true. The bathtub is my happy place.

At the end of long day, more often than not, I find myself soaking in water so hot I can hardly stand it. Letting the pressures of the day be washed away. Sitting in the quiet and reflecting. Sometimes with a book, more often with an audiobook or a podcast. It’s my “me time.”

I struggled with migraines for several years and sometimes a hot shower/bath was the only thing that helped. I’d use every bit of our hot water and still not be ready to get out. The dark, hot, quiet place provided much needed relief.

Vance liked to check in on me and would often come sit in the bathroom with me while I bathed. A little weird, maybe, but with four kids and only 1,500 square feet, we took our privacy where we could find it. He wanted to make sure I didn’t fall asleep and well…he liked to see me naked.

One such night he noticed I was out of hot water. Without me asking, he put two giant pots on the stove. A few minutes later he brought them to me, filling the tub with warmth. It became a thing. He’d come in, we’d talk, I’d get cold. He’d put a pot on the stove. I’d be warm again. He’d go to bed. I’d soak for another hour then join him.

I never really thought too much about it. It was just a thing he did. A way he showed his love for me. A way he saw what was important to me and met my need. It’s funny how it takes on so much more significance now that he’s gone. How I miss, but also how I am so much more grateful for, all the little, everyday acts of love.

Day 235: Regionals

Friday and Saturday I spent on the bleachers in a high school gym. Eli competed with his team at regional wrestling.

He went one and one on Friday, which put him in a long climb up the back side of the bracket. He picked up two great wins Saturday morning but fell just short in the “blood round,” left once again just one match from qualifying for the state tournament.

It was, as always, a tough loss. Five of his teammates had made the cut. He was the last member of his squad to wrestle in the qualifying round. We were so wanting to join the state bound team.

This season was tough. He’s wrestling up a weight class again, because he just happens to be on the same team as one of the very best guys in the state, who happens to be a senior and who happens to weigh the same as Eli again this year. But what a great thing to get to train with such a teammate.

Then we took our vacation and he missed a week. Then snow and ice cancelled our home tournament. Then a concussion from a match took him out for several more weeks, including one of the biggest tourneys of the year and the league meet. He’d really wanted to compete in both of those but we know that brain injuries aren’t to be messed with. He took the necessary time to heal and then worked his booty off to get back in shape for this weekend. And he was so very, very close.

Regionals was hosted by the same team that hosted cross country league, which means the easiest way to get there is once again driving down the road Vance wrecked on. So I drove past it four times in two days. There are still cones up. Apparently they have a plan to replace and upgrade the entire railing but haven’t yet gotten to the project. (Could you go ahead and get on that, Coffey County? Please and thank you.)

So that got me all up in the feels early. It’s just hard to pass that spot in the road, knowing that was the last thing his amazing blue eyes ever saw.

But I was mostly over it. Just able to concentrate on cheering on this amazing group of kids I’ve come to love so much. This is the hardest weekend, emotionally, for many of these kids. It’s do or die time. You qualify or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re done. The highs and lows are huge for the boys and their fans.

To keep track of who is up next, the event organizers project upcoming matches onto the wall of the gym. It’s actually very handy to be able to see who is coming up.

But I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw when I looked up to check which mat Eli was on.

A kid from another town, who wrestled the match right before my son, had the surname “Vance.” So looking up, I saw “Vance Crutchfield.” My heart. I think it stopped for a minute. I made my friends beside me look. One said, “Take a picture.”

I don’t think I cried then although I was close.

I sent the picture to a couple friends. One of them told me she’d been looking through pics and had found some from last year that she thought I would want to see. I told her to send them. She sent two pics of Vance and I in the stands, watching our youngest wrestle. I was sitting in front of him, leaning against his knee, while he had his hand on my shoulder. (If you’d like to see that photo, I’ve added it to my “Touch” post from a couple days ago.)

I cried then. Thankfully, God had let me sit next to some amazing people in those bleachers. I showed one of them the pics and was able to lean in for a really long hug. After a minute, a friend sitting behind us wrapped his arms around us both and asked to be in our group hug. It was exactly what I needed at that moment.

When one of Eli’s teammates won his qualifying match and came up into the stands to hug his dad, who was the one sitting directly behind me, the tears just fell from my eyes again. It was beautiful. Those two have an amazing relationship and I truly love watching them. The love they have for each other. The pride in the dad’s eyes. The respect and honor in the son’s. But as I watched the father-son embrace, my heart longed for that for my own son and the tears just fell. Eli hadn’t wrestled yet, but win or lose, I knew he wouldn’t get that moment with his dad.

When he wrestled his final match of the season, it seamed to last forever. The other kid even got a nose bleed, which stretched it out even longer. E didn’t get pinned and he never gave up. He just couldn’t quite get the best of the other guy and ended up with less points on the board. As usual, he walked off the mat with his head held high, knowing he’d fallen short, but also that he’d given his all.

I’ve learned over the years to give him space after a match. Win or lose, it’s best to let the adrenaline go down a little before we talk about it. I’ve let him lead most of the time. He’ll come to me when he’s ready. So I didn’t talk to him for quite a while. I did send him a text, letting him know that I was proud of him and that I love him and I was there when he was ready.

That time came after all the matches were over and awards were given out. Then, before getting on the bus, Eli came up and gave me the longest, most amazing hug. He talked to me about his day, his season, and how very much he’d wanted it. I cried again. Not because of the loss of a match but because of the heaviness of the day.

But God is good and he’s given us so many great people at just the right times. On the way out, Coach (who just happens to be the same guy who led the team back when I was a manager, so we’ve got history) wrapped me up in a great big hug and shared some encouraging words. He’s a big guy and when he hugs me, I just feel safe. Just what I needed.

On the way home, I called my sister and she helped me work though the emotions of the day. Once again, the right person at the right time.

Then today, literally as I am writing this, a text comes from out of the blue about how even after his death, Vance encouraged a friend to keep doing the “next right thing.” How his life made a difference and how that hasn’t ended just because he’s no longer breathing.

How we live matters. Our legacy lives on. May we all live lives that reach beyond the grave and make a difference long after we are gone. Just like Vance.

***I’ve tried really hard to tell my story here, not other people’s. Thus, I usually leave out names and try not to talk too much about other people. But life isn’t lived in a bubble, so sometimes my story is also a part of someone else’s, and it can’t be told without that. As this is one of those times, I had Eli read this before posting and got his permission to share it. I’ll try hard to do that with anyone named in any post before publishing.

Day 234: Valentine’s Day

I don’t know how it is after the first year, but the “special” days, they hit hard when they’re the firsts.

February 14. The dreaded Valentine’s Day, when couples are supposed to show their love for each other. When Facebook posts are sappy. When date night is expected and maybe even a little grown ups only time afterwards, if you get what I mean.

I dreaded this day coming just like I dreaded our birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and New Year’s. Because for the first time in a couple of decades, I didn’t have a Valentine.

Sigh.

I decided to just make the best of it and hung out with the kids, like a regular Friday. As I was in the shower, Asa came banging on the door. Ugh. What is it with kids and interrupting Mom in the bathroom? But I digress.

Anyway, he comes to the bathroom door and yells, “Mom, there’s a bag of stuff for you.”

“What? What bag? What stuff? Where? What are you talking about?”

“Valentine’s stuff. At the front door.”

And there was.

A beautiful dozen roses, which are exactly what Vance would have sent me because he was very traditional about such things. A thoughtful card with a wonderful personal note (not shown here, because well, personal, you know.) and a bag full of many of my favorite things.

You guys. I have the best friends. The very, very best.

The card wasn’t signed but I have my suspicions about which friend was sneaky enough to drop it at my door and run.

Can I just say to you one thing? Be the kind of friend who, seven months later, remembers. Be the friend who sends the flowers on Valentine’s Day or the card on their anniversary or his birthday. Be the friend who sends the text on a Tuesday, just to check in. Don’t forget. Don’t think it gets easier, because it doesn’t.

Knowing your people have your back, that makes it bearable. It gives strength and hope and just might be what gets a widow through the day.

Did I mention that I have the best friends? Because I do, you know?

Day 233: Touch

A while back I was talking to a friend who had recently gone through a rough break-up with her significant other. While our stories are not the same, we both found ourselves unexpectedly partnerless and agreed on the sucky-ness of that. (I’m not sure that’s a word but I’m totally using it anyway.)

In that conversation, she brought up just how much she misses being held. I couldn’t agree more. Vance’s primary love language was physical touch, so there was rarely a day when he wasn’t holding my hand, snuggling into me on the bed, or (to the utter embarrassment of my children) grabbing my butt in the kitchen.

Not too long before he died, we were in the kitchen, him standing behind me, with his arms wrapped around me, while I was fixing dinner. One of the kids told us to, “Get a room!”

Vance’s reply, “I got a room! Boy, I got an entire house!”

I laughed so loud. The kids just groaned and mumbled something about not needing to see that from their parents.

Sometimes the constant need for physical affection drove me crazy. My love languages are acts of service and quality time. Physical touch is pretty far down the line for me. But over the years I came to expect it.

And now I miss it. I miss secretly grinning when he would sneak up behind me and kiss my neck. I often swatted him away, as I was almost always in the middle of some project. But now, now I’d gladly give up any project for just a hug.

I long to be held. Not just by anybody, though. I long for Vance’s arms. The ones that knew every curve and every flaw and still reached for me.

Day 232: Cigarettes

I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life. Not a single puff. I think they’re gross. Trust me when I say that I have plenty of addictions and things I need to give up in my life. They’ve just never taken the form of nicotine products.

Vance, on the other hand, struggled with this addiction for almost 30 years. He started smoking to help him stay awake in submariners’ school. After that, the habit was formed and he was never quite able to shake it, despite trying many, many times.

In our relationship, smoking was often a point of contention. He’d promise me he was done but he never quite could give them up for good.

I hated those cigarettes. So much.

On an official death certificate, there’s a box that asks if this is a tobacco related death. The box on my husband’s is checked “yes.” All those years of smoking Marlboro Lights contributed to his heart attack.

I really, really hate those cigarettes.

When he died, I immediately collected them from around the house and gave them away. I didn’t want them in my house. Ever.

But a while back it snowed and my little guys wanted me to take them sledding. So I put on a pair of Vance’s coveralls and there in the pocket was an almost empty pack of Marlboros. I shoved them back in the pocket and held back my tears in front of the boys.

At our house, these were exclusively Vance’s. No one else smoked. So finding this pack, that was like finding a little piece of him. I didn’t give them away or throw them out. This little pack of cancer sticks, they were a connection to a life that’s gone now. And right now, I’m holding on to every bit of connection I can find.

Over a month later, the pack is still in my van. Just hanging out in the door, waiting for me to decide its fate.

I still hate these cigarettes.

But I can’t throw them out, not just yet.

Day 220: Strong

I can’t even tell you the number of well meaning people who have told me how strong I am this past seven months.

You’re amazing.

I don’t know how you do it, getting through every day. You’re so strong.

You’re stronger than I ever could be.

I’m proud of you. Stay strong.

Like I have a choice.

Like not getting up and getting through the day is an option.

Like I’m not hiding in the van, driving in circles, crying my eyes out on the regular.

Like I don’t turn into a puddle every time my kids fight or scream, “I hate you!” at me because they also have big feelings and I’m their safe place and while they don’t really hate me, they hate hurting and I’m their best outlet.

Like I don’t break down at least five times a week.

Like I can actually finish a single thing I start lately. Like it hasn’t taken me three months to paint one wall in my bathroom. Because I. just. can’t.

Like I don’t hide out, curled in a ball in the bottom of the shower, so my kids can’t hear my sobs.

Like my hair isn’t falling out.

Like I can get through a single day without wishing things were different.

Like I haven’t downloaded so many stupid “merge three” apps on my phone and spent hours escaping from this life by crushing candy and merging dragons.

Like I’m not overeating.

Like I don’t miss Vance more than I ever thought possible.

Like this is the life I dreamed of. Widowed and single parenting in my forties. Livin’ the dream right there, folks.

Like any strength that I might possibly have is my own. Like I’m not just barely holding on to Jesus these days.

Strong.

I’m so tired of hearing people use that word to describe me. It’s not accurate. Strong, I am not.

I am weak.

So weak. So desperately clinging to hope and God and the promises in the Word. So desperately repeating to myself, “In my weakness, he is made strong.” Singing out loud, under my breath and in my head, “You’re gonna be okay. Hold on. Don’t let go.

So please don’t tell me I’m strong. I’m simply surviving.