Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Decision

As many of you already know, I have been faced with a decision. A scary, gut-wrenching, life altering decision. Let us recap: 40-40-20. Those are my statistics. I can either have surgery and, A) have a 40% chance of a successful tumor removal and valve replacement, B) a 40% chance of the surgery being deemed inoperable, or C) a 20% chance of a permanent colostomy bag, or death. OR I decide against the surgery, and walk away from it all and live my life to the absolute fullest until I can no longer do so, which I have been told may be around five years or so. That is the decision that I have been faced with. Scary, huh? Over the past six weeks, I have spent a large amount of time in a little place I like to call, "denial." I try my best to completely forget about "the decision" unless I am ready and prepared to put some serious thought into it. Otherwise, I stress, I cry, I worry and I eat chocolate. None of which are good things.

 After many days of denial, numerous emotional breakdowns, inappropriate death jokes and long talks with family and friends, I have decided to take a risk with the 40-40-20, and have the surgery. I think I always knew that this is how I would decide; I was simply not ready to say it out loud. Because in reality, this surgery is life changing. I either leave the hospital cancer free, leave the hospital to live my life because the tumor was inoperable, or I leave the hospital for a funeral home. Harsh? Of course. My reality? Unfortunately. These are the thoughts that run through my mind twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And until the surgery, this is what I have to worry about.

 Another thing I will worry about? What if things do end badly? I am extremely OCD, and want things done a certain way. That being said, I will also spend my time planning. Planning what you may ask? My funeral. I have been in the position of picking out caskets, picking out funeral music, picking out burial plots, and it is not fun. It is emotionally exhausting. If things end badly, I do not want my family to have to make these decisions. So I will make them for them. I will tediously write down every minute detail. It will not be enjoyable, but it must be done. And I will write letters. Just in case things end badly, I will write my family and loved ones letters to share my heart with them, and to say goodbye. Dad, Mom, Breanna, Nick, Justin, Gracin, and a few others. Writing these letters will not be easy, but it is something that I must do for myselft, and for my loved ones. I want to tell my sister that she was such a great role model to me growing up; always doing everything first so that I would know the correct path to follow. To tell my brother that although he is my younger brother, he has always made me feel so protected and so taken care of. To tell my nephew that he brought light into my life in the darkest of times. There are so many things I want to tell people, and I fear that I will not have the words, the time, or the strength to put it all on paper. But I will try.

I am sure many of you are wondering why I chose to proceed with the surgery. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, my friend told me, "If you choose to walk away, you are choosing death." And he is right. Having the risky surgery and taking a chance at being cancer free is choosing life, and I chose life. There has to be a reason for all that I have endured in my short life. There has to be a reason that I lost my wonderful Husband at the age of 25. There has to be a reason that I have had cancer twice in three years. I am meant for more than dying at 27 on an operating table, or in a hospital room. I truly believe that I can make an impact on those around me once this is all said and done. I want to encourage. I want to inspire. I want to look back at my life in five years and be so grateful that I walked through the darkest of times because the life I will have then will be so amazing and blessed. I want to be past this. But, in order to be past this, I must walk through this. I must go through the fear, the anxiety, the emotional pain, the worry. And I am ready to do so. I am ready to be cancer free. I am ready to start a new chapter of my life. And I will cherish every moment from that point on. I will encourage others with my story. I will spend more time loving on my family and friends. I will take more risks. I will fall in love more passionately. I will praise God with all that I am. I will honor Dan with every day of my life. And I will make a difference. This, I am sure of.

So, THANK YOU to everyone who has encouraged me and prayed for me during the decision making process. Thank you to my family who has sat by patiently as I shut them out and snapped at their opinions. Thank you to my friends who have laughed with me, cried with me, and simply spent time with me knowing that I did not want to be alone. I would not have made it this far without the amazing and loving people that I am blessed to have in my life.

I am not sure what the future holds for me. But I am sure of my decision. I am sure that I want to live. I am sure that I want to hold my nephew in my arms again. I am sure of my faith. Faith that God has a bigger plan for my life.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My First Widow Encounter

I have belonged to numerous "groups" over my lifetime: girl scouts, soccer teams, tennis teams, youth groups, Bible studies, study groups and many more. I have always enjoyed being a part of a team or group. There is a sense of camaraderie and unity unlike any other. And the newest group that I belong to… by far my favorite. I belong to an amazing group of women and men that we refer to as "military widow(er)s."

One week ago, I was fortunate enough meet my first military widows since Dan's passing. Taryn, the founder of an amazing organization known as the American Widow Project, and Sonia, another awesome widow, and myself, all had the opportunity to get together in Santa Paula, California. We got to take part in a great adventure. We spent the afternoon triking, which is much like a seated hang glider. It was one of the best things I have ever taken part in. As we were soaring over the ocean with the sun setting in the distance, I couldn't help but sense Dan's presence. I felt so at peace at that moment, so connected to my lost love. It was one of the most exhilarating and relaxing days that I have ever experienced, and I will never forget it.

But aside from the thrills of triking, I experienced something even more real and more amazing, a connection with two widows. When you lose your husband in your twenties to war, those around you offer you countless words of solace and comfort, but very few can actually relate. And those words are comforting, don’t get me wrong. However, when I had the chance to look into the eyes of two other military widows who know exactly what I have been through and exactly how I feel, there are no words. I realized that day that we are all so similar, yet so different.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but many people think that there is. Over the past almost twenty-one months of widowhood, I have often thought, "I am doing this wrong." Did I laugh too soon? Did I pick out the right casket? Would he approve of his headstone? Should I have already gotten rid of his belongings? Should I take off my wedding ring? Should I NEVER take off my wedding ring? These thoughts and thousands of others have plagued my mind, causing me nothing but stress and unnecessary sadness. It wasn’t until I met these widows, when I realized, we all do things in our OWN time, and in our OWN way. Some widows date instantly, and some take years to even consider looking at another man in that way. Some widows quit their jobs and take some time to travel, and some immediately jump into the routine that she knew before her Husband passed. Some widows leave their Husband's belongings in the closest for years, and some clean it out within a few weeks or months.  Every single decision that I have made since Dan's passing has been right for ME. That doesn’t mean that other widows are doing things wrong. My grieving is going to look much different than every other widow's grieving process. Dan's belongings are still in his closet, his body wash is still in the shower, my rings go back and forth from hand to hand. That is what I need to do, and no one has the right to judge those decisions.

Regardless of what I do and when I do it, I have a connection with other widows that I will never have with anyone else. We all received that dreaded knock on the door. We all were handed a folded flag in our Husband's honor. We all now have to check the "single" box when filling out various forms (I choose to create my own “widowed” box if it doesn’t exist!) We all had our lives changed in an instant. We are a sisterhood. We don't judge each other, we support each other. I will continue to reach out to my friends and family when I need support and love. But, I also know that when I am around other widows, I can ask the crass questions, discuss the innapropriate thoughts that have crossed my mind, and be completely, 100% MYSELF. And THAT is something that I will forever cherish. Thank you to all my fellow widows and widowers who share in this sad, depressing, crazy, life changing experience with me! Much love! xoxo

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

From "Hello" to "I Do"

Two years ago today, I had the immense privilege of marrying the love of my life. Two years ago today, I stood face to face with my best friend as we joined our lives together in front of our families, and our friends. Two years ago today was the beginning of the rest of our lives; or so we thought.

When my friend and co-worker, David, told me that he had someone that he wanted to introduce me to, I was excited. I had never been on a so-called "blind date" before, so the thought was slightly terrifying. However, I agreed that if he didn't tell this person that it was a set-up, that I would agree to come to his Bible study and meet this mystery man. And I did. Upon first impression, I did not think that Dan was someone that I could see myself with. He was shy, quiet, and seemed completely NOT interested in me whatsoever. I left the Bible study that evening not knowing if I would ever go back. It wasn't until the Friday that followed where I felt the spark.

My girlfriend and I were attending a country concert at the Santa Barbara County Fair, and there he was, cowboy hat and all. I followed him, yes followed him, to the men's restroom, and acted very surprised when we "ran into" each other as he was exiting. We exchanged numbers then, and made plans to get together after the concert. From that point on, I was hooked. We spent nearly every single day together following our "chance encounter" at the concert. Seven months into our relationship, Dan was deployed to Iraq. My best friend was leaving me for seven long months, and I was devastated. And to make things even worse, three months into his deployment, I was diagnosed with cancer. Not having Dan around during what I thought would be the most difficult time in my life seemed impossible. But he made every ounce of effort to be there for me as best he could. He talked me thru every single chemo session, sent me encouraging emails and Bible verses, and never failed to tell me how much he loved me and how special I was to him. He was my rock, even from thousands of miles away.

His homecoming in September was amazing. It was so nice to have him home with me. Everything felt right with the world again. I had the love of my life back, and I was ready to take that next step. A few months passed by, and we fell back into our dating routine, and it felt so right, so perfect. We agreed not to exchange Christmas gifts with each other because we had spent quite a bit of money visiting his family after his return. So when he handed me a large wrapped box on Christmas eve, I was bewildered. As I opened the large box, there it was. A small, perfect velvet box taped to the bottom. And in front of my entire family, he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. Overcome with emotion, I found a way to say "YES" thru the sobbing and shaking. I was engaged to be married to the best man I had ever met. I was ecstatic.

We knew we wanted a quick engagement. I had spent seventeen months dating this man; I was ready to be married. We planned our wedding for June 5th 2010, and the planning frenzy began. I, being slightly OCD, took charge of every minute detail. Dan, bless his heart, tried to help where he could. We often found ourselves arguing over the littlest details such as ribbon color and the flavor of our wedding cake. But, it was all in good fun. The five months flew by, and June was here before we knew it.

Our family had come from all over to be with us on our special day; Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Washington, Florida. The two days before the wedding were a complete blur; last minute details, meetings with the event planner, dinner with the families. Looking back now, I wish I would have taken the time to truly embrace those few days. To enjoy the petty arguments about music. To enjoy the hustle and bustle of family dinners. To enjoy my last night in my parent house. To enjoy the nerves that came with the entire experience.

My alarm went off bright on early on the big day. I woke up to my sister lying next to me, and my girlfriends sleeping in the adjoining room. I was so relaxed, so at peace, and SO ready to marry my man. The morning was just as I planned. Breakfast, champagne, and all my favorite girls with me to help me get ready. I felt so beautiful, just as every bride should on their wedding day. My nerves were growing with each passing minute. Minutes felt like hours, and hours felt like days. Waiting to walk down the aisle seemed to take an eternity, but the time had come. With my arm wrapped tightly around that of my fathers, I began to walk down the aisle. His handsome face is all that I could see. The lights, the music, the people, all seemed to fade into the background. He looked so wonderful. His slight smile put me at ease instantly. Finally, we were face to face, hand in hand. We were both so nervous. Our palms were sweaty, and our voices shaky. I distinctly remember him rubbing my hands with his thumbs throughout the entire ceremony. The ceremony went perfectly as planned, and we were husband and wife. I was Mrs. Daniel Johnson.

The reception was a blast. We danced, we drank, we laughed with family and friends. I was literally on cloud nine. During our first dance as man and wife, I felt as if I was floating. Everyone in the ballroom disappeared, and it was just me and him. As the night went on, bouquets were tossed, cake was smashed, and memories were made. Memories that to this day, are as vivid as if it happened just yesterday.

"They" always say that your wedding day should be the happiest day of your life, and for us, it truly was. I was so extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to know perfect love, if even for a brief time. Dan was truly my partner. He was my equal, and my best friend. The memory of our wedding day is bittersweet. Today, I will look back at photos and videos and I will smile. And I will also cry. We should be celebrating tonight with flowers, dinner and each others company. Instead, I will go to the cemetery and visit my Daniel there. I will take him flowers, lay on the grass, and daydream of our perfect day.

To my Daniel, thank you for the best four months of marriage that anyone could ask for. Our time as Husband and Wife was brief, but so full of love, life and laughter. Being your wife will forever be my greatest honor. I will love you, Forever and Always. -Your Wife. xoxo