Our visit up to Canada happened to fall on Canada’s one hundred and fiftieth birthday. We had a great time playing on the slip and slide, eating way too much barbecue, and visiting with family.
Our visit up to Canada happened to fall on Canada’s one hundred and fiftieth birthday. We had a great time playing on the slip and slide, eating way too much barbecue, and visiting with family.
“Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence.” -David A. Bednar
Nothing about meeting this man was coincidential. Though I didn’t know it when we first crossed paths, Ryan was placed in my life at the exact moment I would need him most. We became fast friends, a friend that I so needed during the darkest days of my life.
He was the shoulder that I cried on regularly. He was the understanding and sympatetic ear that allowed my broken heart to say it all. He was patient when I would feel guilt or shame because I had let another man into my heart–a heart that still in many ways still belonged to another. He was there through the pain, but he was also the one who could make me smile and feel alive again. He was my constant.
I remember reading the quote above on a particularly hard day, and sending it to him in a text message. I cried as I wrote the words, “Thank you for being my tender mercy.”
Such eloquant lovely words, with an even more beautiful meaning.
“The Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.” -David A. Bednar
Blessings like him don’t happen mearly by coincindence. I have never felt as guided or as taken care of by my Father in Heaven as I have in the past two years.
If I have ever felt forgotten, if I have ever felt abandoned, or if I have ever wondered if God truly cares about my broken heart, all I have to do is look over at my best friend.
He is living proof that my Father is aware of me and truly does want me to be happy.
I will be forever, inexpressibly grateful for the tender mercy that he is in my life. ❤
Hearts are funny things.
A heart is capable of many emotions.
It can love fiercely, it can hurt intensely, it can break into a thousand pieces, and it can feel so much joy that you might wonder if it might burst.
The best part about a heart though, in my opinion, is the way it has the ability to grow and change.
There isn’t a limit to the amount of people you can hold in your heart. Your heart has the ability to love as many people as you choose to let in, without ever being too full.
Your Daddy has such a special part of my heart. The part of my heart that he fills is large and it is eternal. He holds such an important place, that I could never forget him or replace him.
I miss him every day.
Sometimes my heart feels like a piece is missing. Taken with him, when he left this side of the veil. I can’t wait to get that part back one day.
I know that you hold your Daddy in your heart too. Protected and sacred. He is part of you and you are part of him.
I see how your hearts break when you think of how much you miss him. I know he misses you too, although I truly feel that he is near.
I see how you wear his t-shirts to bed and how you treasure his belongings.
I see the pain that you try to hide when I ask you how you are doing. “Doing good mostly, just missing Dad a little.”
I see the way your eyes light up when someone tells a story or recounts a memory of your sweet Dad. You soak up every little ounce of him that you can get. I wish we could do more than just talk about him, I wish you could be making new memories as well.
However, I see the way you love your new Dad too. He hasn’t been in our family long, but he has taken on his role beautifully. He loves you, and I see how much you love him. I love watching you read, swim, play, cuddle, and spend time together. He cares so much about you. We are lucky to have him.
Your second Dad has filled a beautiful place in my heart too. He filled a hole in my heart that I didn’t even know I had. He makes me feel alive and happy.
I know that feelings are confusing sometimes. I see you struggle to make sense of the way that your heart loves your Dad. I know that sometimes worry that you are forgetting your Daddy or betraying him by allowing another man to take care of you and be your parent.
Each time I had a baby, I thought I could never love any more than I already did. I was always surprised at just how much more love I felt with each addition of our family. And just like the way my heart grew each time I had one of you, I know that your hearts have grown to fit Ryan. He doesn’t replace the Dad you love so much, but he can take an important place in your aching heart, and he can give us another reason to feel joy. There is enough room for your Daddy in heaven, and for Ryan, so you don’t have to worry about picking which Dad you want to give a spot.
I was proud of you today.
I was proud of the way you bravely sang, “Families can be together forever.” It made me cry.
I was proud of the way you made Father’s Day cards and pictures, and how you were so excited to give Ryan his first Father’s Day gifts ever.
I was also proud of the way you listened to “Daddy songs” and wore your Daddy in Heaven’s baseball hat. I was proud of the way you remembered your Daddy in Heaven, but still celebrated your Dad on Earth.
You love so purely, and so fiercely.
I know that it is strange to feel sad and happy at the same time. Two conflicting emotions that don’t make sense in the same space, can both be felt so intensely at the same time. You have handled a complicated situation with strength that I struggle to find at times.
I am so blessed to have children who love so much.
And we are also blessed to have not just one, but two Dads who love us. One walking beside us, unseen on the other side of the veil, and one helping us to grow here on Earth.
That is definitely something that makes MY heart grateful. 💙
Two years ago, RJ lost his tape measure.
We were in the middle of a project, and after hunting through the whole house and garage several times, he finally was forced to purchase a new one.
A couple of months after he passed away, I found it. It had been tucked away in an unlikely spot, probably by little fingers.
I tenderly held it in my hands and touched every scratch and dent on its surface. It had been well used, and his name has been written in black marker in the grooves on the side. The familiar handwriting brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes.
It was just a silly little thing, but one that made my heart hurt because I missed him so much. I so wanted to text him, and to let him know, and I missed being able to tell him even the smallest most insignificant things– like the finding of a lost item.
Today I came across it again while I was cleaning.
Once again, I held it in my hands and looked fondly at its imperfections.
Then, the thought came firmly to my mind, “Even though I couldn’t see it, it was there all along.”
I have no doubt that there was a reason we couldn’t find it years ago, and that it was instead planted where I would come across it at a difficult time in my life.
I’m so very thankful for little reminders and for tender mercies.
This tape measure is one for me.
I know that though I can’t see my RJ, he isn’t lost forever. 💙
I’m mentally bracing myself for the upcoming week. Of all of the milestones and holidays that we went through last year, Father’s Day was the hardest. Honestly, if it were just me that was grieving, my anniversary or the anniversary of the day that RJ passed away would have been the worst.
But when my kids grieve, it takes my pain to a whole new level.
Last year, we skipped church completely. I couldn’t bring myself to put my children through singing in church with the primary, or the inevitable making of Father’s Day cards.
Instead we had a picnic at the cemetery. We wore his things, sprayed ourselves with his cologne, looked at pictures, and had a little graveside Father’s Day program. I was so proud of my kids for singing the sweet songs they had been practicing, and for sitting under trees while they wrote cards for their Daddy. We prayed together, cried together, and laughed together, and it was really a beautiful way to spend such a hard day.
But was just heart wrenching to watch them grieve. I tear up instantly when I think of just how much my kids have gone through in the past 19 months. It all has been difficult, but that day was just indescribably hard. I wanted so badly to fix everything. To mend their broken little hearts.
The only thing I could do, was to hold them and to cry too.
This year will be different. We can’t visit the cemetery, but we will remember their Daddy all the same. The kids are excited to celebrate their second dad as well. To have a special day being thankful for the father who chooses love and each one of them everyday. It will be Ryan’s first Father’s Day.
In some ways, I think that this year will be even harder than last. We will be attending church, singing with the primary, and making all of the Father’s Day gifts. It will be a day of many emotions I am sure.
But I am thankful that my children have not only one, but two amazing men to look up to.
We can do hard things. 💙
Such exquisite torture.
I don’t know why I do it to myself.
But give me some quiet time to think, and it is bound to happen.
My two youngest are tucked away asleep in their beds, my oldest is at an activity for the girls in our church, and my husband is out doing neighborhood visits with members of our congregation.
I should be enjoying some rare and precious moments of quiet and solitude.
And yet somehow, like every other time I am left alone for any given period of time, I find myself pulling an oversized men’s large cotton t-shirt over my head, listening to songs of nostalgia, flipping through pictures of my past life, while draped in the fuzzy blanket that kept my husband warm on his final day.
It hurts so much. And yet it feels so good. Bittersweet memories flow down my cheeks in the form of rolling tears.
I took it to another level tonight when I searched my old Idaho address on Google Earth. There, on the screen, was a clear view of my life five years ago. The flowers I planted, the kiddie pool on the back patio, our old pop up camper in the driveway… I felt sure that if I could jump into the picture, I would find myself inside rocking a chubby baby girl, and chasing after a tutu obsessed toddler. I was probably sleep deprived and worn out, and I absolutely was counting down the minutes until the garage would squeak open, and my RJ would walk in the door with a healthy dose of back up.
I was happy. And blissfully unaware.
How I miss being unaware.
I would be lying if I said that seeing my old house didn’t add a bit of salt to my already festering heart wounds. I really am happy with where I am at now, with the way that God has led me to where I am supposed to be. But as much as I am thankful for my new path, I also find myself grieving what used to be my reality, and what never got to be. I long for the picture I have in my mind of today, for the plan that never happened and the life we didn’t get to share.
The tired mom in that pretty little house could never have guessed how different life would soon be. How much harder it was going to get.
Now, the dark days are especially bleak, but the the bright ones are vibrant and more beautiful than before. Walking through the dark really has taught me to appreciate every drop of light.
So here is to the light.
Let in the good, keep out the bad.
It is the way that I function most days.
But for me, the bad isn’t something that I “let in.” The pain already exists within me.
My battle is internal. I know that I have to allow myself to feel all of the good and the bad to experience true healing, but more often than not, what I feel really hurts. It takes such an emotional and physical toll on me that I have become an expert at trying to ignore anything that isn’t conducive to my emotional stability. 😉
I was explaining my avoidance techniques to a friend on the phone today. I do everything I can to feel “normal” (or at least the new normal I have created) until a huge wave of grief is triggered, and then I find myself thrown back into the darkness and the pain. It is, after all just waiting beneath the surface. And each time I feel the true extent of my grief, I have to claw my way back out of that difficult place. It is exhausting and overwhelming to feel such a significant amount of heaviness and grief again and again. I told her that I sometimes I have to take a day only minutes at a time, and that when I am in “the dark place” it is impossible to function or to see beyond all of the grief.
Her advice was to repeat a phrase to myself, a mantra if you will. Something that would help me remember how far I have come.
“I am a survivor, and I’m still here.”
She had no idea how her words would transport me back in time.
Suddenly in my mind’s eye, I was holding my sweet husband’s hand in the emergency room as countless doctors and nurses scurried around us. I saw him emphatically tapping his chest with his hand. With a look of pleading in his eyes, and with a great amount of effort he vocalized, “I’m still here.” He must have repeated himself at least ten times as the scans were taken, and while the many tubes and wires were attached to his body. Over and over again.
He was desperate to let me know that he was still inside of his broken body. That he was more than what the doctors were seeing. More than a stroke victim or the symptoms that were so horrifying and humiliating for him. More than the broken man that he knew he must seem to be.
He wanted me to know.
HE was still there. My best friend. The father of my children. He was still himself on the inside.
Of all of the traumatic moments that I try to avoid, that scene in the emergency room is one of the hardest to remember. But what I would give to be able to relive it. I would gladly take all of the fear, shock, and heartache just to be able to hear him tell me one more time:
“I’m still here.”
And yet I know that he is.
Though I can’t hear his voice, I know that if I could get a glimpse of the other side, I would be able to see him holding me when it all is just to much, walking beside me as I make difficult decisions, smiling as our children grow, and cheering for me when I make progress in this new journey. I’m sure that he is here with me more than I will ever know.
I miss him.
But I know, he’s still here.
And so am I.
Have you ever had a nightmare about death–either your own, or someone you love?
I remember one night, only a few years ago, I woke up to my husband sobbing in bed next to me. He’d had a dream about me being sick. In his dream, he had fought to save me, but his efforts had been futile, and I had passed away leaving him alone to raise our children. It had been one of those dreams when it is difficult to distinguish subconscious thoughts from reality, and he was so relieved to find me sleeping next to him when he finally woke from his nightmare. I remember hugging him and telling him that I was fine, and that I wasn’t going anywhere.
I know that I have also had times, when I have heard heartbreaking true stories or have watched movies like “P.S. I Love You” and I have become absorbed in the “second hand heartbreak.” I have wondered what I would ever do if I lost a spouse, a child, a sibling, or a parent. The pain, even with an imagined loss was heart wrenching.
But why? Why do we as a culture feel so drawn to sad stories?
I think the inevitability of loss makes us curious. We all know that at some point in our lives, we will experience grief. No one is immune to mortality or heartache. It makes us wonder what it really feels like to lose someone dear to our heart. It was always something that I was intrigued by, and something that I wanted to understand better.
Until it actually happened to me.
For those who are new to this blog, let me give you a quick overview of my story.
My name is Monica. I married my husband, Ryan J Bell (RJ), on February 22, 2007. We were married for almost 9 years. In that time, we had 3 beautiful children, a house, a great career path, dreams, and that best friend kind of love that I had dreamed about as a girl. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was wonderful. He was my best friend.
My husband woke up one morning (October 15, 2015), and while he was getting ready for work, he had a few seconds where he was “seeing spots”–just for a moment. As he sat on the edge of our bed, I tried to talk him into staying home and resting. He was convinced that he was fine, and that the spots were due to a mild headache that he was experiencing. He took an Advil, dropped our first grader off at school, and started his commute to work.
Ten minutes into his drive, I got a phone call. He’d had an extreme wave of nausea, and he was vomiting violently on the side of the road. He was unable to drive. I hurried to where he was waiting with a police officer on the side of the interstate, and took him home to rest in bed. We assumed at that point that he had food poisoning or a horrible virus.
About an hour later, he was complaining of severe head pain, dizziness, and was vomiting uncontrollably. I left my children with his parents, and took him to the emergency room. After a few hours of waiting, IV fluids, a CT scan, and some medication we were sent home with a diagnosis: an inner ear calcification. We were instructed to take some prescription medication, and to come back if it didn’t improve in a few days. He was extremely ill by this point, and he wasn’t able to walk without assistance because of the severity of his dizziness and pain. I took him home, tucked him in, and after turning on a movie for my children and in-laws, I ran to the pharmacy to get his prescriptions. He would be due to take within a short time, and I didn’t want him to experience more pain than was necessary.
While I was gone, RJ got up to go to the bathroom and fell. When I called to check on him, I was confused at the news–he wasn’t making any sense. He was having a hard time talking.
I rushed home and found my strong, capable, healthy, thirty one year old husband struggling to form words. His many symptoms were horrifying, and I knew immediately that something was seriously wrong. We called 911 and were taken by ambulance back to the hospital. He received more scans and tests, and my worst fears were confirmed.
A massive stroke in his cerebellum.
I was handed a cell phone by one of the doctors. On the line was the lead neurosurgeon that would be taking on my husband’s case. I remember only snippets of our conversation as I heard the worst imaginable news. It was the stuff of my worst nightmares coming true.
“The area where Ryan has suffered this stroke is very difficult to operate on.”
“We will do everything in our power to save him.”
“We will use extraordinary measures to preserve his life.”
“This surgery has a 90 percent mortality rate.”
I sat on the floor in an empty hospital room and sobbed. My husband had a ten percent chance of living. TEN percent. And even if he did survive, there was no telling the effect that the lack of oxygen would have on his brain. He was taken to a hospital better equipped to handle such a surgery.
With a stroke, seconds matter. It took hours to get him where he needed to be, because there wasn’t an available helicopter in our area. And when it did finally get to us, there wasn’t room for me to go with them, because my husband required too much medical equipment to keep him alive. My in laws and I made the excruciating drive to the hospital where my husband was receiving surgery. I was afraid of what I might find when I finally got there.
The surgery truly was a miracle. Ryan made it through, and he was one of the ten percent to pass that crucial point. I was filled with hope, and for a short time believe that he would recover. I remember sobbing on his surgeons shoulder, hugging him, and thanking him profusely for saving my husband’s life.
And then he became unstable. Severe swelling in the brain. A second surgery.
And then we waited.
“He should wake up in a couple of hours.” He didn’t.
“His brain has experienced severe trauma. These things can take time.” Still no change.
I laid in the bed beside him and held his hand. I begged him to wake up for days. I cried, and told him that I loved him. I told him that his children needed him. I told him that I didn’t know how to live without him. I shook uncontrollably, cried off an on, lost my appetite completely, and threw up anything I did manage to get down. I called friends and hugged family. I listened to the never ending beeps, to the clock ticking, and to the machines that filled my husband’s lungs with air. I memorized every part of his face. And I waited.
I will always remember the neurosurgeon’s pained expression when he sat down to tell me his recommendation: to remove life-support. He told me that Ryan wasn’t going to wake up. His brain stem was too severely damaged to be able to survive without the machines that were only prolonging the inevitable.
It was too late.
Five days after his initial stroke, our families and friends gathered together to say goodbye. I gathered my children in a small meeting room, and forced myself to talk calmly when I told them that their Daddy was going to heaven. I held them while they said goodbye to their Father. I watched the man I loved more than anything take his last breath. My heart felt very literally ripped from my chest when I finally left his body. It hurt to breathe, I was devastated, numb, and in shock all at the same time. It was like living in a nightmare, and not being able to wake up.
My husband passed away on October 19, 2015.
I know how it feels to lose someone who I love more than my own life. It truly is indescribable. But I will do my best, to bring a better understanding of grief, for the sake of any of you who are just beginning your own difficult journey through grief. If my experience can help bring clarity or hope to anyone who is going through what I have, for me, it is worth every second of sharing my story, and I will happily relive the pain. You aren’t alone.
I had heard about the “Five Stages of Grief” before experiencing loss. The stages denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance make grief sound so cut and dry. It makes it seem like a neat little process that is very linear. That grief is something that one experiences, that is passed through in sensible phases, and then after completing four messy phases, one is finally able to accept their loss and move on.
But there is no “moving on.” And I have found grief to be anything but neat and tidy. It is anything but predictable. Grief is feeling every single emotion imaginable, and having your body completely shut down because it is too much for it to take in all at once. Grief is feeling like you are literally going crazy, only to be told that you are completely normal. Grief is feeling incomplete, like a piece of yourself is missing. And it is. You have to find a new you because so much of your identity was linked to the one that you loved.
Grief isn’t a process that you pass through, but a painful awakening that becomes a part of you.
Although grief is volatile and the emotional rollercoaster IS very real, there has been a general movement through some stages (especially initially) in my experience. My loss was an unexpected one, and though I can really only speak for myself, I imagine that others going through similar experiences can relate to some extent.
The first “stage,” for me, was disbelief. I watched my husband in the hospital, but couldn’t believe that it was actually happening could possibly be real. My life had turned into a sappy Nicholas Sparks novel…my reality made absolutely no sense, and honestly it still doesn’t sometimes.
Next came shock. Shaking, loss of appetite, anxiety, confusion, insomnia, disorientation, panic attacks, vomiting, walking around feeling dazed…the reality and pain of it all was just too much for my body or mind to process. The initial shock took months to wear off. I remember sitting on the floor of my shower trying to cry so that I could feel some sort of relief, knowing that I should be crying…because crying is what we DO when people die. I felt like a horrible person when tears wouldn’t form. I have come to learn that there is no “shoulds” in grief. There are no rules. You only get to choose whether you succumb to the pain, or if you distract it away.
After a few months, the shock began to wear off, and the reality of my loss became apparent. I was so completely devastated. I felt pain emotionally, and very physically as well. I still was unable to eat or to sleep. I would lie awake late into the night sobbing and the tears that I had wished would flow in the beginning were impossible to hold back. Sometimes it all would be too much and I would find myself either completely exhausted, angry, or numb. I would relive the trauma that I had witnessed again and again, and my brain would try to make sense of my reality.
Honestly no words can even start to express the pain. It really is so all consuming. It feels oh so heavy. You constantly have a pit in your stomach, and your heart and chest feel tight and completely broken all at the same time. The intensity of it all has literally knocked me to my knees at times.
Its the type of emotional turmoil that leaves you surprised that your heart is still beating. And some days you almost wish that it wouldn’t. I was never suicidal, I promise. But I literally didn’t understand how I could possibly live without my husband. I expected to die of a broken heart. Dramatic? Probably. But it just hurt SO much. I understand now why when one elderly spouse passes away, it often doesn’t take long for the other to follow behind.
Grief just takes so much out of you. I have had newborn babies. I have been sleep deprived. But the word tired just doesn’t do it justice…feeling so many conflicting emotions at at once, puts your body and brain into overload. The result is a complete lack of energy and complete exhaustion.
The numbness that followed was a blessing. It was what I needed to function. I was a grieving widow, but I was also a mother of three, and I had to be able to take care of my three young children.
It has been nineteen months since my husband passed away.
Today, I go through phases of feeling normal (or at least the new normal that I have created since losing RJ), feeling guilt for feeling “normal,” feeling completely numb, or at other times I find myself swept away by a wave of grief.
But I also am learning how to let grief and joy coexist. I am feeling again. I am eating, sleeping, and I don’t cry every day anymore. The waves don’t stop, but you become stronger and you learn to live and to be happy despite the grief that is still a part of your every day. Most days, the pain is more manageable, and though in the beginning I could never imagine feeling happy again, the joy is real too. I feel hope again.
I know that I will see my RJ again. Even through all of the grief and the anger and the darkness, I know that “the end” really isn’t the end.
I’m not sure that in this life, I will ever truly accept the fact that he isn’t here with my family–that he isn’t helping me raise our children. There will never be a day when I don’t think of my RJ. Even after remarrying, and finding love again, I still feel like there is a special part of my heart that is incomplete. I will forever ache when I think of how much I miss him.
It still hurts, but I have come to feel differently about the pain associated with grieving now…it is a beautiful heartbreak in a way. The grief I experience shows just how much I loved my RJ. It shows just how much I still love him. It is a sacred pain.
Because, “Grief is love with no place to go.” -Jamie Anderson
The best way I have found healing, is to just allow myself to feel it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. All of the pain, all of the heartache, all of the heaviness.
So cry, scream, yell, sleep, spray your in your husband’s cologne and wear his t-shirts to bed while eating tubs and tubs of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream (this is a trademark Monica move), pray, and then wash your face, stand back up, and keep moving forward.
You will never forget. But you WILL get to the point where you can think of your loved one without tears running down your cheeks (at least sometimes). You WILL get to the point where you live your life to honor theirs. And one day you will think less about the way that you lost your loved one, and you will think more about the blessing it was to have the memories you do, and will look forward to the reunion that is to come.
Hang in there. ❤
May used to be one of my favorite months. I find that it is now full of “all the feels.” With Mother’s Day, RJ’s birthday, my birthday, Memorial Day, with the approach of Father’s Day looming, May has been an emotional roller coaster for me, to say the least.
I have been thinking so much about my RJ. About the full life he lived in such a short 31 years, about the things that I wish we could have experienced together, and about the best way to honor his legacy now.
Last Sunday, I had such an overwhelming feeling…I need to live.
Like REALLY live. Not just exist and go through the motions of every day life, but to flourish and thrive and enjoy the beautiful life I have been blessed with.
I need to make the most of the precious moments I have been given. I need to continue dreaming and experiencing, and growing. This life truly is a gift. I feel strongly that the best way to honor my sweet RJ is by remembering him, by following through with the dreams that we had planned together, by making memories, by learning from the loss and treasuring the people that I love in my life, and by being unopologetically happy.
So I have spent the last week typing out this bucket list. It will probably change as I change, but for now, these are some goals that I have set:
I think death is awkward and uncomfortable. People don’t know what to say to a person who has lost such a significant part of their heart. They don’t want to ‘bring up’ any pain or trigger hard memories about the loved one. So they say nothing, or avoid the topic all together. Others try to sympathize and end up talking about their cousins best friend who went though the same thing. Awkward. It just is.
But as one who has experienced significant loss, let me tell you, it doesn’t hurt to hear others speak his name. I love talking about him. I love when others remember him too. It makes him real. It reminds me just how loved and wonderful he was and still is. Speaking his name doesn’t bring up anything that isn’t already there, because I feel it all whether my loved one is talked about by others or not. There isn’t a day that passes that he isn’t on my mind. It is such a gift to my grieving heart when friends or family send me pictures or a text or anything that reminds me that I’m not alone. That he isn’t forgotten.
It’s ok to say his name.
I am missing my RJ today. 💙