It's been almost exactly 9 months since Jared's December 2nd of 2020 open heart surgery to repair a large aortic aneurysm. As I write this, I am sitting in the recliner in our family room that we bought just after we found out Jared would need heart surgery, his "recovery chair", drinking a glass of ice water, watching our baby sleep on the video monitor. Listening to the same Lauren Daigle album I played on repeat as I wrote my last 2020 blog post. The one I wrote while staying at the rental home in Ann Arbor, during Jared's U of M hospital stay.
As the days pass, you sometimes forget what you went through and where you came from--the challenges you faced, together...the hard days, the good days, the struggle, and the blessings. And all the moments in between.
My last post left off while Jared was halfway through his U of M hospital stay. In that moment, all I had to bring me comfort while being separated from Jared during the most challenging week of our marriage (no visitors due to hospital COVID restrictions) was a screenshot I took of him on my phone while we FaceTimed--during one of the few moments he felt up to it that week.
My week was spent in crippling anxiety. Being pregnant, I couldn't take or do anything that might help me relax. No glass of wine, no using the hot tub on the back deck. No anxiety medications.
As someone who spent years in the past on medication and seeing a therapist for anxiety, not being able to take anything during one of my most anxiety filled weeks was...brutal. To say the least. I honestly have PTSD if I even think of sitting in that rental house. Waiting. Worrying. Praying. Crying. That beautiful home built with exquisite carpentry. With a wintry, frost covered backdrop in view through the many high end windows. It should have been beautiful. But I hated it. I hated being anywhere but with Jared.
Well, that week, with the days dragging, staring at my cell phone waiting for calls from the hospital...staring at the time and counting down each second until I might see Jared again, finally came to an end.
I FaceTimed with Jared and his telemetry unit nurse to go over his long list of medications, limitations, home care and wound care. I listened, took notes, and asked Jared what he thought he might need help with at home. When we finished up, I packed the car and left. Finally.
I was so nervous that 12 minute drive to the hospital, I was practically shaking. The last time I saw him was when we said goodbye in the waiting room at the cardiovascular center as he walked back to pre-op. Just before his surgery. What would it be like to finally see Jared after this week? What would he look like? Would he be happy to see me? Would I be happy to see him? Would I cry? Did my baby bump get any bigger this last week? I was officially in the second trimester now.
As I pulled into the pick-up lane at the U of M main hospital, I saw Jared waiting for me near the entrance in a wheelchair. I pulled the car up beside him. Anxious, scared and excited, I got out. There was my beautiful, warrior of a husband. In just 6 days he was more tired, thinner and paler than I had left him. Bruised and scarred. He and his body fought like hell this last week. It took everything in me to shove my emotions as deep down as they could go so I could be strong for him. That day. And the coming days and weeks. It was a gift to be able to be there for him. In sickness and in health.
After taking a quick second to soak everything in, I hugged him quickly before packing the car. I made sure he was comfortable, with pillows and a blanket, and off we went.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't spend half the drive checking on him to make sure he was okay. That his breaths were steady as he slept in the passenger seat beside me. My beautiful, sweet husband. Thankfully, he was okay during our hour long commute home. And, after stopping to the pharmacy to pick up all of his prescriptions, we did make it home. At last.
I helped Jared out of the car, and once we got in, I got him situated in his recliner. Cranked up the heat. More pillows and blankets. Then unpacked the car and heated up some dinner. Gosh, I was so tired.
Fighting sleep, we watched some television to help keep Jared awake a little longer. It is common for patients who were under anesthesia so long to get their days and nights confused.
The first night home was long. I don't think either of us slept much because of the amount of pain Jared was in. I guess that's something all the binders, research, and conversations about open heart surgery can't really prepare you for. The pain. The physical pain. Sternum and rib pain from being cut open. Back and shoulder pain from lying on a operating table for so long. A disadvantage that night was that Jared had just started on a new pain medication that very evening, so we were still trying to figure out the right dosage and timing that worked for him and his changing pain level.
In moments of intense pain, while waiting for medication to take effect, I didn't know what else to do but rub his arms and hands. I guess I ended up doing that most of the night to hopefully try and bring some level of comfort to him. Even him just knowing I was close and cared for him had to be sufficient for me when nothing seemed to be helping as quickly as we needed it to.
I think I had slept a few hours when early morning came. Jared woke me up to tell me that something was wrong.
We used our home EKG monitor, which told us Jared was in atrial fibrillation. His heart rate was jumping between 160 and 180 beats per minute. We had him take his morning medications, drink some juice and take deep breaths before I decided it was best we take him back to the hospital. This time, he would at least be close to home, at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, where his cardiologist was through. And again, no visitors due to COVID restrictions.
I pulled up to the emergency center doors. He got out, with his U of M heart pillow in hand (the purpose of a keeping a pillow close after heart surgery is to support the sternum when coughing), and for the second time in a week, I had to watch him walk away from me, not knowing when I would see him again. But, at least he would be a short 12 minute drive up the road from our house.
I spent this week in better communication with Jared, as he was starting to feel more alert and had more energy to have conversations. I also spent that week cleaning the house when I had the energy.
At this point, at week 14 of pregnancy, I had lost about 10 pounds in 2 weeks. Small to begin with, even my leggings became baggy on me. Morning sickness and fatigue, combined with a long recovery from COVID (it took about 3 months for me to be able to take a deep breath again), combined with the stress of everything, and then needing to pick up the slack around the house...was a lot on my body. But I did it. I was doing it. And I would have done it over and over again if I needed to. It really tested what my body was capable of. Growing a human, while recovering from illness myself and then taking care of my sick husband.
Eventually another week apart passed, and on Jared's 6th day at St. Joe's, a Sunday, I was able to pick him up and bring him home. Again.
This time, I hoped and prayed he would be home for good.
The first few mornings home felt like a victory when Jared woke up in sinus rhythm. Any little thing, especially having an irregular heartbeat, feels scary after the type of surgery Jared had. Who would have thought a regular heartbeat would be something we no longer took for granted in our house?
Once Jared was settled at home, a nurse started coming out to the house twice a week to check Jared's vitals and make sure his incision and the small incisions where his chest tubes were inserted were healing correctly. She reminded us that all of Jared's pain was normal...We anticipated him having pain at the site of the incision, but what we didn't anticipate were the fractured ribs that crackled when he would breathe, the popping collar bones, and intense shoulder pain.
Recovery from open heart surgery definitely isn't for the faint of heart. The recovery, though brutal, is a necessary part of the process.
The long nights, the pain of getting in and out of bed, the pain of turning from side to side, the middle of the night pain meds and water refills, the pain while taking deep breaths and coughing, coughing up blood, daily stretches to loosen the chest muscles, using the lung exercising tube to decrease risk of pneumonia, the timed daily walks around the house, was all worth it in order for Jared to continue to live a long and healthy life.
One night, as I was massaging Jared’s back to help alleviate some pain, he said to me, “I don’t see how someone could get through something like this without a spouse.” Another affirmation that, although the days were challenging, we were supposed to be together during this very time.
One thing about this whole experience that is still mind blowing to me is that Jared has a new heartbeat.
I'll never forget the first time we cuddled on the couch to watch a movie in the fall/winter of 2016. Naturally, I laid my head on Jared's chest…and immediately noticed that his heartbeat sounded louder and faster than anyone's heart I had heard before. But because comparing his heartbeat to less than a handful of other guys I had dated wasn't a big pool to draw from, and Jared being so young, healthy, active, and strong...it didn't alarm me. In hindsight, it should have rung a bell or signaled to me a red flag, but it just didn't.
I was startled to learn, 4 years later, that what I was actually hearing the entire time we were together thus far was a murmur caused by a large aortic aneurysm. This is something I will probably always carry with me...think and wonder about. What if I had taken his "different heartbeat" more seriously? What if I had encouraged him to see a doctor sooner? I was literally the one person in the world hearing the impact an aneurysm was having on his heart each and every day, and yet, I didn't know anything was actually wrong. I felt relief when finally, on October 2nd, an urgent care doctor told us Jared had a loud murmur. One so loud he even called his assistant in to take a listen. I should have seen that relief as a sign that I should have made Jared get his heart checked out sooner. Much sooner.
But thankfully, Jared's aneurysm was repaired before it even showed signs of dissecting... Thankfully, our story isn't one of loss, but one of hope.
Our story could have been different. In fact, it should have been different based on the amount of heavy lifting Jared has done through the years, working on our house. He was even lifting hundreds of pounds of leaf bags weeks before his aortic aneurysm diagnosis. We've read stories, and we know not all aortic aneurysm stories end like this. In fact, most don't. At times, when I think of all the suffering in the world. I feel undeserving of the blessings in my life. I don't take it lightly how fortunate we are.
Now, after an aortic aneurysm repair, Jared has a new heartbeat. His heartbeat is smooth. It's quiet. It's healthy. He's here. And we are forever changed. I'm forever changed.
On December 30th, 4 weeks to the day of Jared's open heart surgery, we celebrated his 36th birthday. Although quiet, this birthday meant more to us than any others. He was finally feeling some relief from the pain. Getting in and out of bed became less of a chore, and coughing wasn't so dreaded. We had made it through the hardest days of his recovery and were looking forward to the year ahead.
The remaining winter months and spring were met with more healing and more appointments, for both Jared and myself, while also getting back in the swing of both working full time. Jared saw his cardiologist, Dr. Degregorio, a few more times, as well as had his follow up scans and meeting with his surgical team at U of M in March. As my pregnancy progressed further, my own appointments became closer and closer together; including a fetal echocardiogram done by a cardiologist through Children's Hospital as precautionary.
Jared, being the driven, strong man that he is, even started work on the baby's nursery.
In April, we received a call that Jared's surgical team wanted to explore a pelvic aneurysm that showed up on his November and March CT scans. This aneurysm was likely not related to the one in his ascending aorta, but was rather a birth defect--an arterial venous malformation (AVM).
We were soon set up with a radiologist from U of M. Because of Jared's history and recent heart surgery, his radiologist wanted to see if this pelvic aneurysm was putting any strain on Jared's heart. So on May 24th, Jared was back at U of M for a heart catheterization.
Thankfully, this was a short procedure. And thankfully, everything looked good from this new surgeon's standpoint. We would just continue to monitor at the same time Jared goes in for check up CT scans on his heart.
We grabbed lunch in Ann Arbor, and celebrated that we were finally, hopefully, in the clear regarding Jared's health.
The following week, I celebrated my 31st birthday on June 1st, as Jared put the finishing touches on the nursery.
2 days later, my water broke.
On June 4th, at 5:20am, together, we brought our son, Noah William Grabill, into the world. A 6 pound, 12 ounce miracle. The baby who was with me when we lost our grandparents. The baby who was with me when Jared called me after leaving his first cardiologist appointment to say he had an aortic aneurysm 2 cm larger than the threshold for surgery and would need immediate open heart surgery. The baby who was there with me during Jared's surgery and when I met with his surgeon after. And who was with me throughout Jared's recovery. I don't think Noah will ever know how special he is to us and our families.
Noah means rest and comfort. Our peace, our calm, after the storm of this last year. He is also a reminder of God’s faithfulness in and provision over our lives. William, not only is my late father Kevin’s middle name, but it also means warrior. We hope Noah grows up to be a warrior, just like his daddy.
Childbirth is a very humbling experience. The intense pain. The beauty. The rawness and vulnerability of bringing a human life into the world. And what a blessing it was to have Jared by my side the entire time. My husband, whose life was spared, was there to welcome new life into the world. Our son.
The first few days, after Noah's birth, in the moments of quiet, I cried. I felt completely overwhelmed. How could I suddenly shift my focus from Jared to this baby? My whole world, the past 6 months leading up to delivering our son, was Jared. How could I share my time? My heart? All I now knew was how to take care of Jared. I struggled to make the mental, and physical shift. To find that balance those early days.
So watching Jared care for both me and our son when I felt like I should still be taking care of Jared...it was overwhelming. It was beautiful, but overwhelming.
After a couple days in the hospital, the three of us came home. But as the days and weeks passed, I felt myself slip further and further into an anxiety induced depression. I naturally thought I was struggling with some postpartum depression due to the drastic change in hormones. It took months to realize what I was feeling, wasn't actually depression--it was grief.
I spent many nights during night feeds, holding Noah close and crying. Staring at this helpless baby who needed me. And yet, I grieved. I grieved Jared's health before his surgery. I grieved that we thought he was healthy in every way, but yet, he wasn't. I grieved I deep down knew something was wrong with his heart from the moment I first listened to it and yet, didn't think to push further. I grieved that our world this last year was consumed with doctor's appointments, and worrying about Jared's heart and his arrhythmia. I grieved what I thought our life would be like, without any health complications. At least not this young, anyway. I grieved Jared needing to be on daily medication for the rest of his life… I even still grieved Jared waking up from open heart surgery alone, spending those first days post op alone, and not being allowed one single visitor the entire 2 weeks he was in the hospital. I realized up until this point, I never really grieved anything. There just wasn’t time to even stop and catch my breath until now. And in the quiet of the night, rocking our sweet baby in his newly finished nursery, all these emotions that I shoved down the moment I picked Jared up from U of M hospital trickled in and finally surfaced.
The nights, again, were long. And the pain--the grief--I allowed myself to feel was necessary, to be able to begin making peace with everything...make peace with our new normal. And be okay with it. Jared was okay. Noah was okay. We were okay. Maybe we had made it to the other side after all. Or maybe I had?
What I am realizing now is that grief isn’t a straight path--it’s cyclical. It’s messy. It’s an ever revolving door of denial, anger...sadness...all heading towards a space of acceptance. The biggest thing I am learning, along with being a new mother, is that I need to be gentle with myself in the process.
This year...this year for us was monumental. Contracting COVID, multiple deaths in the family, emergency open heart surgery, pregnancy, delivering a baby...becoming parents.
As much as I want to sit in my grief some days, Noah (and Jared's constant sense of humor), keep me pushing forward. Some moments are still hard for me--some days are still hard for me...but then the next day? Is sometimes so much better, and I can feel the sun and see the light again.
Holding my sweet Noah. Loving my sweet husband. My miracles.
Life doesn't stop moving and all we have is today. Hopefully with many more, bright, tomorrows.
I open up my blog website in hopes of putting words down to describe the last few months of our lives. I sit here in a recliner, against a long row of floor to ceiling windows, at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center waiting room, staring blankly at the screen in front of me. I'm trying to find the words, but I don't even know if words can do the last year, let alone all that has happened since October 1st, 2020 justice. But, I will try.
The year that everyone hoped for that nobody saw coming. My husband and I rang in the new year on our living room couch among a small get together at our house. We "cheersed" to a year of new possibilities. We hugged. We kissed. We said this would be the year we would get pregnant and/or have a baby. And again, like everyone, we felt confident that 2020 would be our year.
The new year began during my most challenging school year to date. I was stuck in trauma mode everyday at work. My job caused me great anxiety due to the unique challenges I faced each day. I would get to work, immediately get triggered, and spend the entirety of my work day in survival mode. I would come home completely exhausted and go right to the couch to lay with our dog, Abbie. I prayed for reprieve for the school year. That if it was a possibility that it could get better, that it would.
Well, then coronavirus happened. The world as we knew it changed drastically. The evening of my most challenging school day yet, I would find out that not just my school district, but all schools across Michigan would be closed indefinitely due to this pandemic.
Amidst the uncertainty, I enjoyed the break from work for my mental health. I tried to make the best of quarantine by focusing on my diet and exercise, baking, spending lots of quality time with my husband, and cleaning and organizing the house.
4 weeks into my workout program, around the beginning of May, to our surprise and after over a year of trying, we found out we were expecting. This news excited, yet terrified me. (I share an entire blog post about our first pregnancy experience here).
The anticipation of wondering what it would be like to finally have a baby came to an abrupt end just a few weeks later when we found out the pregnancy was not viable. It was a blighted ovum -- meaning, I was impregnated, but it was not a good embryo. There was no baby growing inside me.
After how long it took to conceive the first time, this felt like a huge let down. I felt angry with God. I couldn't understand why God would allow a pregnancy to happen in the first place if there wasn't even going to be a baby.
I spent my 30th birthday on June 1st with Jared at my in-laws' cabin up north in Alpena. Sick because I was still technically pregnant. And waiting to miscarry. Wondering if it would happen. And when. While grieving.
Well, because my body wouldn't miscarry naturally, I ended up needing a procedure on June 16th to remove the pregnancy. I got to the operating room and stared up at the bright lights, grieving what I had so hoped this pregnancy would be for us. Grieving that this embryo never had a chance. Thinking of my husband, and wondering what the future held for us.
The rest of the summer was spent healing for us. We finished up our basement to make a nice home office space. We finally got the exterior of our house painted; something we had been wanting to do for years. We stained our back decks to coordinate with the new house colors. We also took a trip to the Smokey Mountains for the 4th of July. It felt so good to hike 5 miles to a waterfall with my husband just 3 weeks after suffering such an unusual pregnancy loss and surgery. Although we still grieved, we looked forward to what was to come.
October 1st: I woke up in the morning with a light fever. At the time, I was also nearing the end of my cycle, so even though I was concerned, I didn't think too much of it, as my temperature tends to run higher at this time of the month. I took the day off work to be safe. The protocol for COVID testing at my work was a temperature of above 100.3, or if I was showing any other symptoms. At this point I had not been showing any other symptoms. I just had a low grade fever in the low to mid 99s.
October 2nd: I received a text while at work from my husband that he was not feeling well either. Panic immediately set in, and we both scheduled COVID PCR tests together for later that day at a local urgent care near our house.
We sat in the waiting room together filling out paperwork as we waited to be called back for our tests. At this specific urgent care, you see a doctor who exams you if you go in for a COVID test. The last question on my sheet was, "Are you pregnant?". I leaned over to Jared, and we met eyes as I checked the box that said, "unsure". I knew we would find out soon enough, either way.
We were called back to the same room at the doctor's office. Jared got checked first. He sat at the edge of the table as the urgent care doctor listened to his heart. "Did you know that you have a heart murmur?"
I immediately blurted out, "Yes!" I always knew Jared had a loud heartbeat. I knew it sounded different than mine. He was so young, active and healthy though, that even though I had some concern about it, I knew given his age and health that it most certainly was not serious.
Jared got down from the table, sat in the chair beside me, and said, "I think I am going to throw up." I assured him that murmurs are common, but that it would be a good idea to set up an appointment with a cardiologist soon to be safe.
October 3rd: Jared and I were having a decently normal morning as we spent the weekend awaiting our COVID-19 PCR test results. While he was busy on the main level of our home, I went upstairs to use the bathroom, and thought, "Hell, I will just take a pregnancy test real quick to get this over with." Although I expected it to be negative, a part of me was hopeful for a positive. So I peed on the stick. Waited. And then within a few short seconds that second line began to appear.
I grabbed the pregnancy test and ran downstairs to Jared. The test was still changing, but it was a clear positive. We threw our arms around another, and I burst into tears. Pregnancy after pregnancy loss is a strange thing. You feel equal amounts of joy, with equal amounts of fear. I kept saying over and over, "I wasn't sure if I could get pregnant again!" I called up my mom crying. It was unbelievable. In the midst of waiting for our COVID results, there was joy. An unexpected joy. We were so happy.
October 5th: I awoke early that morning to a text that my grandfather, my grandpa Mario, had been admitted to the hospital. He was having concerns about his blood pressure, and while there, he received a positive COVID test result. My heart sank, and I felt like I was going to throw up.
In the meantime, I checked my email to find that I had new test results awaiting me from Beaumont Labs. When I opened them, I wasn't surprised to find that I too had tested positive for COVID-19. My husband began losing his taste and smell the day before. The first thing I did that morning when I woke up was shove my face into the tropical candle on my nightstand to find that, I indeed, had lost my smell completely. As a pregnant woman, I knew what this meant.
Jared and I spent the day making phone calls to work, speaking with urgent care, as well as officials from Oakland County. Up until this point, we thought we had been so careful. Never going out to eat to local restaurants, only doing carry out, and if we saw people, it was usually just a group of 2. When the weather permitted, we were of course outside. How could this happen to us??
We spent the following week tired, with aches and pains, dealing with cold like symptoms, on and off low fevers...Jared even began noticing heart palpitations for the first time. I prayed that even though the baby was teeny tiny, that it would not be affected by this virus.
October 9th: We found out that Jared's grandma Ann, whom we all call Nana, who had been on hospice care since the end of May, was not doing well. She was no longer eating or drinking, and was beginning to swell all over. Even though we were apprehensive to tell anyone about this pregnancy so early (because of how our last pregnancy went), we knew we had to tell Nana about this baby. She felt so badly about our loss over the summer, and each visit she would ask me if I was either feeling morning sickness yet, or when my next period was due to begin. I would smile and assure her that I would keep her updated.
Well, the time came for me to give her that update. We Facetimed Nana with the help our cousin Katie who was visiting Nana to tell her that were pregnant again. With this news, her face lit up, and I could hear her say, "How wonderful." We knew Nana didn't have much time left. You could see she was tired, at peace and ready to go home. We told her how much we loved her. We waved and blew kisses over Facetime. "Goodbye Nana, we love you."
2 days later, on October 11th, our dear and beloved Nana passed away. We grieved, but in ways that grief was cut short when my grandpa was readmitted to the hospital with more significant COVID-19 symptoms on October 13th.
I was back to work that week, as my quarantine had ended. I was on pins and needles, praying for my grandpa's health. Praying with all of my being that he could make a recovery from this. He had pre-existing health conditions which made COVID hit his body so much harder. We were all so scared, but I tried to remain hopeful.
October 16th: Although Jared and I, again, had apprehension about telling too many people about this pregnancy too soon, we felt it was time to tell my grandpa that we were expecting. We called him on his hospital phone. With an IV beeping in the background, I told him I was pregnant again. He was so happy that he thought I was joking. He felt so blessed by the beautiful news, as he said. He told me that the baby would either look like my late father, Kevin, or myself (I look like my dad, so he seemed pretty confident this baby would look like a Shalawylo). He thanked me over and over for sharing this news with him. It brought me joy to hear to hear his joy.
October 19th: I woke up and was getting ready for work like any other day. As I was packing my lunch, I got a severe pain that went searing through my entire abdomen. I curled over in my kitchen over my lunch box on the kitchen island and knew something wasn't right. I didn't have any bleeding or spotting thankfully, so I wasn't too worried about the baby. But still, I knew something was wrong.
I felt so badly about possibly needing to miss more work after my COVID leave, that I took a couple Tylenol and tried to push through the pain and attempted driving to work. I barely made it a few miles from my house when I felt like I was going to pass out from the pain. I called my principal to let her know what was going on and turned around and went home.
I climbed into bed and the pain was so bad that I couldn't even turn from my right side to my left. Jared and I decided it was time to take me to the hospital. Based on the location of the pain, we were thinking either a ruptured ovarian cyst or appendicitis.
We got to the hospital, and I had to spend the entire day at the emergency center alone. They did the first ultrasound and found free fluid in my abdomen. I felt less worried about this once I saw the tiniest little baby and the flicker of a heartbeat on the screen. I was only 6.5 weeks along, but I cried hearing the sound of the heartbeat for the first time. I texted Jared from the hospital bed and said, "There IS a baby this time! I even got to hear the heartbeat!" Even though we were separated in this moment, we felt a new connection knowing we were quite possibly actually going to have a baby this time.
The rest of the day was followed by a series of ultrasounds. They couldn't do a CT scan on me because of the pregnancy, so ultrasounds were the only way to rule out appendicitis. After meeting with a surgeon who examined me and felt my belly, they felt safe enough to say it more than likely was a ruptured ovarian cyst and that I could go home if I was able to keep down food.
Jared picked me up from the hospital that evening, and I spent the next several days, including our 2nd wedding anniversary on October 20th, lying on the couch or in bed, recovering from the severe abdominal pain, while also battling a debilitating migraine and early stage morning sickness. I was in such a state where I wondered if I would ever be able to feel normal and walk around the house again.
Jared, being the amazing husband that he is, took such good care of me. Encouraging me to eat and drink, even though I had gotten to a point where I couldn't even hold down liquids. Eventually he put in a call to my doctor who prescribed anti-nausea medication. This helped combat the migraine and morning sickness and I started to turn a corner in my health by the end of the week.
October 25th: A couple days prior, my grandfather had been moved to hospice at Troy Beaumont. His health, although not getting worse, wasn't getting any better. We felt the best way for him to heal would be if he was able to see family. As a COVID patient, the only way to have visitors was to be in hospice. We were thankful that my mom, a healthcare worker, was able to find this loophole.
The morning of the 25th, I received a devastating call from my mom that my grandpa was not doing well. He spent the evening prior visiting with my brother and talking to him about the last political debate. As Colin was leaving, he asked him to shut off the lights so he could sleep. My grandpa did get the sleep he so desperately needed, but to our shock and sadness, he greatly declined that night. His oxygen levels dramatically decreased from being in the high 80s the day before, to the mid-60s. He didn't have much time left. In a panic, I threw on clothes, brushed my teeth, and Jared and I rushed to Troy Beaumont.
I had to wait for special clearance to be able to go up to my grandpa's room to see him. When I got to my grandpa's bedside, all I could think about was how special this man was to me and how thankful I was to have been able to live with him for 7 years. He and my grandma filled a special and stable role in my life while I was going through tough family changes in early-mid college. They provided me with a home, love, meals, and lots and lots of joy. I wasn't ready to let go of my grandpa yet, but I knew his body ready. I touched his hand and said goodbye.
30 minutes later, as soon as we got back to my car in the Beaumont parking structure, my aunt called to say my grandpa had passed away. I couldn't believe the legendary grandpa Mario was actually gone.
October 30th was to be the date of Jared's original cardiologist appointment with Dr. DeGregorio, who came highly recommended to us by my grandpa. My grandpa suffered a major heart attack in 1990 and had the utmost respect for this doctor. But, in light of my grandpa's passing, this ended up being the day of my grandpa's funeral. We were both so nervous about needing to reschedule this important appointment, but we didn't have a choice.
We spent the days following my grandpa's funeral grieving the loss of our dear grandparents who passed away just 2 weeks apart from one another. We had finally made to it November though. After how October went, just surviving the month felt like a victory. We knew that November HAD to be better for us.
November 9th: It was finally the day I could have my first ultrasound with my OBGYN. My first one was cancelled, since I had been in the hospital that day for the ruptured cyst. I prayed so hard for this appointment. We needed good news.
After our first pregnancy loss, ultrasounds can be nerve wracking for me. I laid down on the ultrasound bed and held my breath as the tech began looking for the baby. I turned my head to the left, and there it was on the screen. A happy, bouncing baby at just 9.5 weeks gestation. The baby was so active that the ultrasound tech was having a difficult time getting some clear images. I didn't know a baby so small could be so active. I needed this joy, and I know Jared did too.
As soon as I finished, I texted Jared the ultrasound photos and a video of the baby where you could see the heart beating. I couldn't wait to get home to show him the photos.
When I got home, I ran up to his office and handed him the ultrasound images. We hugged and kissed and my eyes welled up with tears. After a year and a half of trying with a pregnancy loss in-between, we were FINALLY having a baby together. We felt so blessed and so happy to be able to share in this experience together. Finally. What a gift. A gift we knew we needed. A gift that would help get us climb our biggest mountain yet.
November 20th: Jared's rescheduled cardiologist appointment with my grandpa's former cardiologist, Dr. DeGregorio, was that morning at 10:00am. On his way out, Jared came down to the basement to let me know that he had made a fresh pot of coffee upstairs. I was on a virtual meeting with my principal, so I smiled, nodded and waved goodbye; not really giving it too much thought. It was just a normal work from home day for us. We were both so oblivious to what would be coming.
2 hours later, Jared texted me: "Are you on your lunch break?"
"I will call you in a bit."
And 2 minutes later, he did.
I held my breath upon answering Jared's call. I had a feeling after reading his text message that something serious had happened. He told me that the cardiologist listened to his heartbeat and sent him for an immediate ultrasound of his heart. He said that his ascending aorta of his heart should be 3.5cm. If it is above 5.5 they recommend surgery. His was over 7, so Dr. DeGregorio had already put in a call to his friend, a top heart surgeon at U of M, to meet with Jared that evening. Jared had a severely large aneurysm in his thoracic aorta. "It sounds like I may need surgery today or in the next few days. U of M should be getting in touch with me shortly."
With my lunch starting to burn in the toaster oven, I leaned against the kitchen counter in complete and utter disbelief. It knocked the wind out of me. This was the very last thing I expected.
My husband. My sweet, sweet husband who came into my life at the most pivotal time to help me heal from the death of my father just 4 years ago has a fatal aneurysm in his heart and needs almost immediate heart surgery? How could this be? How?? This isn't right. This isn't supposed to happen to him. Jared. This isn't supposed to happen. How could this be happening? We just found out less than 2 months ago that we are finally having a baby after a devastating pregnancy loss over the summer. The father of my child. Our child. My love. My sweet, sweet love.
As I waited for Jared to get home from the doctor, I made some phone calls: to my work, to my mom, to my best friend. I also threw on comfy clothes and a pair of tennis shoes. We didn't know what that day or the coming days would bring. Through the tears and uncertainty, I knew that I needed to be strong. I needed to be strong for my husband who has always been so strong for me.
I saw Jared pull up in my car on the driveway. For the first time in a long time, I had butterflies in my stomach seeing Jared step out of the car. Everything changed in a matter of a phone call for us. I knew we would never be the same after this. How could we be?
As he approached the back door, I thought, "What do I do now? What do I say? Do I just hug him? No matter what I need to be strong."
He walked in the door. We met eyes for the first time since finding out Jared would need surgery on his heart very soon. He continued on into the kitchen to put some things down, and I walked towards him. We embraced each other for a long moment. It suddenly didn't even feel like it was our own lives that we were living. I had only just reached 11 weeks of pregnancy the day before.
I asked him if he had called his parents yet. He said he hadn't, so together, we told his parents about his cardiologist appointment with Dr. DeGregorio. The appointment that I assumed would put our minds at ease about his heart murmur. The appointment that completely broke and would forever change us.
The rest of the day was spent on the phone with U of M. Giving and receiving information. Sending over files. Scheduling appointments.
Our virtual appointment with Jared's heart surgeon, Dr. Himanshu Patel, was scheduled for 4:30 that evening.
At 4:15, Jared got out his laptop and opened the Zoom meeting. I sat across from him at the kitchen island so I could listen and take notes.
Dr. Patel confirmed that Jared did in fact have a very large thoracic aortic aneurysm, that he was recommending open heart surgery in the next week or so (it would be slightly delayed due to the Thanksgiving holiday). Based on the size of the aneurysm and how stretched his aorta was, Dr. Patel also thought Jared would most likely need an aortic valve replacement. We discussed different aortic valve options, mechanical valve or pig valve, and the pros and cons of each. The doctor also mentioned that if Jared needed work on his aortic arch, that they would have to induce hypothermia during the operation. He wouldn't know for sure until they get inside.
I took as many notes as I could, holding back tears. As soon as the meeting ended, we just looked at each other in disbelief, took deep breaths, and I broke down. We hugged for a long time. We just couldn't believe what was happening and so fast.
We called Jared's parents right away to tell them about the consultation with Dr. Patel. Jared felt so overwhelmed and didn't know how to tell his parents about what we had just learned. With Jared sitting across the kitchen island from me with his head laying down on his arms, I told his parents everything Dr. Patel had just told us. I tried my best to just focus on my notes so I could get through telling them about the invasive heart procedure that their son was about to endure.
As soon as we got off the phone, I drove Jared to U of M in Ann Arbor so he could have a CT scan done.
The drive to Ann Arbor felt long. It was dark outside already. I felt so much. So so much. Anger. Disbelief. Grief. Frustration. Hurt. Sadness. Fear. Uncertainty. But beneath that, was love. An undying love that I had for my husband, Jared. I would do anything and everything for him. I would give him anything. I would give him the world. I would do my best to love him and take care of him through this. I would move mountains for him if I could. My love.
When we got to the hospital for Jared's scan, I sat in my car in the parking garage and started making phone calls to update my parents. It felt so surreal to talk about this out loud with people and the mountain ahead of us.
The days following were spent doing research on aortic valves. With lots of hugs, cuddles and massages in between.
On Monday, November 23rd, we received a date for Jared's open heart surgery. It was to be scheduled for Wednesday, December 2nd at 7am. Sitting on the edge of our bed together, I cried. It made this all feel even more real. We spent a long time hugging. I just couldn't believe we were going this.
I spent my nights lying awake watching Jared's silhouette. Watching to make sure his chest and shoulders were rising and falling in the dim light of the window by our bed. Touching him and listening to his heart beating. Touching my belly and thinking of our baby. My beloved. I prayed. I prayed for his health. I prayed for his heart. I prayed he would get through each day leading up to his surgery. That we could get through.
One specific night, I kept having nightmares that Jared was having trouble breathing. He was either near me, and I couldn't do anything for him, or far away calling for me, and I still couldn't do anything. I felt completely helpless. These nightmares kept me up even more than I already was.
While lying awake thinking about how horrible these dreams were, I heard Jared start hyperventilating in the bed next to me. I immediately thought my nightmares were coming to fruition and panicked. I sat up over Jared and started rubbing his chest. "Jared! Jared! Are you okay??"
His eyes opened after a few long moments, and he just stared at me. He said, "Something's wrong, something's wrong." Once we was awake a little more, he realized he had been having a night terror. I put my head on his chest, and his heartbeat sounded steady. He said in his dream, he couldn't breathe. He was trying to call for me and say my name but couldn't. We held each other close as I told him I had been having the same dream he had been.
We were both terrified. I massaged his arms, back and head until he was able to fall back to sleep.
Genesis 2:24. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."
Marriage. Oneness. I never fully understood this verse until we were forced to walk this road. Until we were faced with mortality. While expecting our first baby.
Almost overnight, I understood what it meant to fully become one flesh with Jared. One flesh. His fears equaled my fears. His pain equaled my pain. His sorrow equaled my sorrow. And in the moments of joy, his joy equaled mine. We were one. We were in this together.
As Jared made phone calls to people throughout the week, I would overhear him talking about our CT scan results, our surgery, and later in the hospital, getting our bed moved to a different unit. He knew I was in this with him, every step of the way. His heart was mine, and mine his.
We started praying more together. A lot. More than we ever had before. Before dinner. Before bed.
We prayed a lot for Jared's aortic valve. We knew a mechanical valve would mean a longer healing process, with more long term side effects needing to be on blood thinners forever. More restrictions. We prayed so hard that he would be able to keep his own valve.
November 30th: A day of appointments for both Jared and I.
We left the house around 10:30am to head to my 12 week ultrasound. Leading up to this appointment, I prayed so hard that baby would be good, healthy and strong through everything. We needed the baby to be okay so we could go into Jared's surgery focusing solely on Jared and his health.
On the way to my ultrasound, we received a call from the hospital saying that I could attend Jared's consultation appointments for the day, but that Jared would not be allowed any inpatient visitors during the entirety of his hospital stay. We tried so hard to get me to be able to visit Jared while in the hospital, given our unique circumstances: a young, expecting couple who both already had COVID within the last couple months. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything that could be done. I was devastated. But I knew we did our best.
We held hands as I cried the rest of the way to my appointment.
I sobbed the entire time as I sat in the waiting room at my doctor's office. I could see other patients looking at me. I wanted to be able to just tell everyone, "I'm having a baby and my husband is having open heart surgery in 2 days, and we just found out 15 minutes ago I won't even be able to see him while he is at the hospital."
Still in tears, I walked back for my ultrasound and told the tech I was having a really hard day. I was still crying as I laid down on the ultrasound table. The tech put her probe on my belly. And there was our baby. Bouncing around and happy, as usual. The tears came to a halt as soon as I got to see our baby. Jared and I Zoomed from our phones so he could be there for the ultrasound. Joy in the darkness.
I left that appointment with more photos of the baby. I ran to my car and was so excited to show them to Jared. I got inside and handed them all to him. We looked through them together. We locked eyes and kissed. Our baby. Our flesh becoming one. Our future.
We snapped a quick photo together with an ultrasound photo during a brief moment of pure joy. Then left to head to Ann Arbor for the rest of Jared's tests and the in person consultation with his doctor.
Once the Frankel Cardiovascular Center at U of M came into view, I broke down. I tried to imagine Jared being there alone without me, knowing all he was about to endure. Although we were grateful for the opportunity to have Jared's heart fixed before it got worse, it still felt like we were living a bad dream. We are too young to be dealing with this. We should be focusing on getting ready for our baby. This was all too much.
We parked in the adjoining parking structure and walked into the Cardiovascular Center together. As Jared went back for his tests, I sat in the waiting area and had a phone session with my long time, amazing therapist, Renee. It had been years since we spoke, but it was so good to have her support, words of encouragement, and have all my feelings validated during this trying time.
Eventually it came time for us to meet with Jared's heart surgeon, Dr. Patel. Thankfully, Jared's surgery was scheduled as a thoracic aneurysm repair and valve sparing procedure. The doctor felt there was a 50-75% chance that Jared would be able to keep his own aortic valve. We clung to the hope that his valve would be salvaged. We left hand-in-hand scared, but encouraged. We were so ready for Jared's heart to be fixed. I felt confident in Jared's surgical team to fix the heart of the man who holds mine.
The last couple days leading up to Jared's surgery were spent making preparations. Getting the house ready, doing laundry, packing hospital bags, reading through paperwork, filling out paperwork, mentally preparing for me not being able to be at the hospital, holding each other and praying. My love.
We drove to Ann Arbor the day before Jared's surgery. We were fortunate that Jared's parents booked us a beautiful Airbnb 10 minutes from the hospital owned by their former business partner. Jared and I would stay here together the night before surgery, and then I would stay on here with my best friend while Jared is in the hospital.
December 2nd: 2 months to the day that we took COVID tests and discovered Jared's heart murmur, we left the house at 5am to head to U of M for Jared's open heart surgery. Through the anxiety, we both felt at peace. This is where we were supposed to be. Although the days ahead would be long, at least Jared's heart would be better.
We got to the hospital and walked to the surgical waiting area and stood in line together as Jared checked in for his surgery. We were the youngest ones there. I stood there, a young pregnant wife holding a pile of bags, doing my best to continue to remain strong for my young husband. The receptionist handed me a ticket with Jared's surgery case number and the possible duration of the surgery: 9.66 hours. I glanced at it and slipped it into my pocket, hoping and praying that his surgery wasn't going to last that long.
Once Jared was checked in, we sat for a brief few minutes together in the chairs in the waiting area. Holding hands. At this point, there weren't really any more words that could be said. I told him he would do great, and how much I loved him. I told him I would be thinking of him every second of every day while he is at the hospital; while we are apart.
The nurse came back just a few minutes later to get him. We hugged each other for the last time before surgery. As I watched him walk away, I prayed all would be well. And it would be.
My dear friend Charlotte, who lives in the UK, called me shortly after Jared went back to pre-op. This passed the time leading up to Jared's 7am surgery start time. She prayed over us at exactly 7am. She prayed for Jared, his surgeons, the surgery itself and his aortic valve.
The rest of day at the hospital for me was spent trying to rest on a recliner in the waiting area, attempting to nap, making phone calls, responding to texts, talking to my mom and Jared's parents on the phone, writing and doing my best to nourish my body. I promised Jared I would take care of myself and the baby.
Although Jared's surgery was expected to last anywhere from 8-10 hours, at 1:30pm, 6.5 hours after Jared's surgery start time, I saw Dr. Patel walk through the OR doors towards me. I didn't even have time to be nervous about meeting with him to find out the outcome of the surgery, because it was like he had just unexpectedly appeared in front of me.
Right away he told me that the surgery went well. They replaced the aortic root and ascending aorta.
"Was he able to keep his valve?" I asked. This was one of our top hopes and prayers for this surgery.
"Yes, and it looked really good."
I put my hand on my heart and eyes welled up with tears. I thanked him for being able to spare Jared's valve. "He's going to be so happy", I said over and over.
I asked about his aortic arch, and Dr. Patel said that was fine too. They didn't need to do the hypothermia inducing procedure. It was quite possibly the absolute best case scenario that we could have ever hoped for in this situation. I cried. I felt such relief. My husband's heart was finally fixed.
He said Jared was being kept for observation in the OR for another hour before he would be brought to ICU. I planned to stay at the hospital until I knew Jared was okay and settled in his room in the ICU.
I gave it about an hour and a half before calling back to the ICU from the waiting room phone. The charge nurse immediately reminded me that I couldn't see Jared. I told her, "I know. I have been told this a dozen times this week. I just want to know that my husband made it to his room okay before I leave the hospital." She said he got to his room about 15 minutes before I called. She also said that they were going to keep him sedated and on a ventilator until 7pm before trying to ween him off the sedation meds.
I hung up the phone. The tears welled up. I packed my bag and gathered my things. On the way to the elevators, I walked passed the Cardiovascular ICU. Crying, I paused and just stared at the doors. I felt so close to Jared, yet so far. He was just beyond those doors in front of me, but I knew I would not be allowed back in the hospital or seeing him again until he was discharged. I felt completely broken and helpless. My husband, the love of my life and other half, is sedated and on a ventilator and will be for most of the evening, and I am being forced to leave him here. Alone.
I got to my car and broke down. I cried uncontrollably. I wanted to be strong. But the pain of leaving Jared in this moment was unbearable.
I knew it would be. It was my most dreaded moment leading up to his surgery. I envisioned it over and over. Cried thinking about it. And here it was. I was living my most dreaded moment. I was supposed to be with him. I had to be. I needed to be. I didn't know how I was going to physically be able to drive away from this hospital. Drive away from Jared. After having just gone through the most traumatic thing he has ever gone through.
I called my mom who helped calm me down. She assured me that Jared was right where he was supposed to be. That he was okay. That he would be okay. And that I would see him again soon enough.
Once I was composed enough, I pulled the car into reverse and left the parking structure. I did it. I don't know how, but I did it.
I got back to the Airbnb and spent some time with Jared's parents. Once they left, I took a long, hot shower and attempted to nap.
I laid down in the bed for a long time. The bed Jared and I had just shared the night before. And couldn't nap. Since I couldn't physically be with Jared, all I could do was try and imagine him. I stared at his wedding band on the nightstand beside me, imagining what he may look like in that moment, hours after open heart surgery. So vulnerable. Unable to breathe on his own yet. I felt so sad and helpless.
I knew Jared would be okay. I was thankful the surgery was a success. But all gratitude and praises couldn't make up for the grief and helplessness I felt no longer being able to be there for Jared during the most difficult week of our lives.
Since I couldn't sleep, I got up and paced and walked around the house. I walked in circles, touching my belly and talking to our baby. I told our baby daddy's heart was better, and how I hoped they grow up to be just like him. The bravest, kindest, strongest, most driven and joyful man I know. My gift from God. The light God brought me to see me through my darkest time. I could only hope to match that light during this time in our relationship.
Minutes felt like hours as I impatiently waited for a call from U of M to tell me how Jared was doing. To tell me if he was awake or breathing on his own. I compulsively and incessantly kept checking my phone. Waiting for my phone to ring or vibrate. Waiting for a notification. Waiting to hear if Jared was awake. Waiting. Waiting.
When 9pm rolled around, and I still hadn't heard any updates, I called the hospital. I spoke to Jared's nurse who said they were going to start trying to wake Jared up soon. She said he had a bleeding issue, but that it was okay now. Bleeding issue? Where? I would later find out that he had been having a larger output of blood through the chest tubes than they would normally expect 10 minutes after coming to the ICU. They had to give him platelets to help stop the bleeding. Before getting off the phone, I asked the nurse to call me as soon as Jared was off the ventilator. I didn't care how late it was. I just needed to know that he was okay.
When we got off the phone, I collapsed on the kitchen table. This day. This day was so long. Specifically the last 8 hours. And so very hard. I was so proud of myself for how well I handled Jared being in surgery. But from 3pm on, it was unbearable. I couldn't take it. My best friend prayed with me. I don't remember what she even said. I just couldn't stop crying. I kept thinking of Jared lying there on a ventilator, bleeding. And there was nothing I could do to remedy the situation. I prayed that Jared would be awake and off the ventilator soon. And that he would be able to tolerate breathing on his own. I prayed that he wouldn't be too scared. I prayed for his heart and lungs. That was all I could do. Pray.
The following hours were met with agony with fear of the unknown and uncertainty of what the coming hours might bring. Eventually I laid down on the couch and played ocean sounds to try and relax my anxious mind and heart.
I kept my phone beside me on the couch in case the hospital called.
At 11:03pm, I heard my phone ring and saw Jared's name and photo pop up on my phone screen.
It felt like a dream; I thought I was hallucinating. I answered. And it was Jared. His voice was hoarse from having been on a ventilator for 15 hours. But he was breathing and talking. I didn't know what to say but that I loved him, over and over. I told him that he was able to keep his valve. And that I loved him some more. He told me he loved me too each time I said it. He also said that it was hard to talk and he needed to rest, so we quickly got off the phone. The most beautiful and special 1 minute phone conversation of my life. I will never forget it as long as I live. My husband had woken up and was breathing on his own after open heart surgery. Thank you, Jesus.
Although I had hoped and prayed I would finally be able to sleep that night after hearing from Jared himself, I didn't. I was up all night checking my phone to make sure I wasn't missing any calls from the hospital in case there were any issues Jared's first night post surgery.
The next morning, I put in a call to Jared's nurse around 8:45am. While waiting for the nurse to come to the phone, Jared FaceTimed me from his hospital bed.
Although it was so good to see him on my phone, it was just as hard knowing I couldn't be there. He was pale. He had oxygen in his nose. Had a very large tube with smaller tubes attached to it coming out of his neck. And a pillow in front of his chest. I could see a very large IV pole beside his bed. My poor babe. He had gone through so much. All I wanted to do was hold his hand in that moment. I just love him so much.
By 2:30pm, Jared had already been tolerating both liquids and solids, had gotten his Foley catheter and pulmonary arterial catheter out. It seemed he was getting most of his medication orally instead of through the IV. He was also sitting up in his chair for meals and had gone on a walk. It was so good and assuring to know he was headed in the right direction this early into his recovery.
As the day after surgery went on, I became more and more aware of what my needs were in this situation. I needed some form of communication either from Jared or the hospital every 4 hours. For some reason, on the 4 hour mark, I would start to wonder and worry.
Although I was adjusting to our new normal this week - Jared in the hospital and me at the house with Sarah, it was hard to hear the pain and tiredness in Jared's voice whenever we would speak on the phone. I couldn't be there to comfort him, and there was nothing I could do to take his pain away. I felt so vulnerable listening to how vulnerable Jared sounded.
There were moments when all I wanted to do was hear his voice, but hearing his voice made the separation between us more difficult for me. He could only talk for a few minutes at a time; he was tired and in so much pain from the chest tubes. Our most difficult conversation was when I could hear him whimper with each breath he took. My sweet husband.
We would get off the phone so he could rest. I would lay on the couch and cry. I prayed each day would get better. For him, and for me.
And each day did get better. A little. But better.
More tubes being taken out of him. A little more conversation. A little less pain. We were getting there.
Although I hadn't seen Jared on the phone since the day after his surgery, he finally Facetimed me Saturday morning.
He looked so good in this moment, even through video, it gave me butterflies. His color was coming back. He had a little more energy. He told me his chest tubes had finally come out. I really didn't know what to say to him half the time. All I felt was pure gratitude that we could still have these moments. All I wanted to do was look at him. Not only was he still here, but we were getting closer and closer to seeing one another again. I couldn't believe that this was my husband. My strong, beautiful, brave husband.
If you know mine and Jared's story, you know that we met through mutual friends in 2012. After we started officially dating in 2016, I would always say and write that there was no way either of us could know what we would end up meaning to the other. That his joy and who he is as a person would help me through the tragic loss of my dad after a 13 month battle with pancreatic cancer. Jared gave my life meaning, purpose and something to look forward to everyday while I grieved. I always said that Jared was and is my gift from God. Our relationship was and always has been filled with so much love and joy.
Now, I look back, and it is completely daunting thinking of this road that was laid for us. This road neither of us could have imagined walking. So young. And new into marriage. And that so much would be packed into 4 years together. We didn't know. When Jared made me that first drink at his loft in Royal Oak in 2012, we couldn't know all that lie ahead for us. But God did. And I firmly believe this.
We couldn't have anticipated in the 4 years of being together, that we would get married, and then once we finally get pregnant with a healthy baby after pregnancy loss, that not only would we contract and recover from a global pandemic virus and lose 2 grandparents within 2 weeks, that Jared would then need immediate open heart surgery. But through this, I believe that we could and can trust God's provision for our lives.
It was getting COVID from a small get together at our house that I organized that led us to discover Jared's heart murmur. It was through my late grandfather that we were set up with an amazing cardiologist who happened to be friends with the top heart surgeon in the region that specializes in the specific type of surgery that Jared needed. I would like to think God had a specific plan for me in Jared's life at this very specific time.
I mostly feel so blessed and lucky that I get to be the one to care for Jared and take care of him for however long God gives us on this earth, and carry his children. He is so precious. I could cry thinking of how much I love my husband. He deserves the world. And I hope he continues to experience and receive all the goodness that life has to offer him.
I entered my 30th year in a state of grief and disbelief. It wasn’t what I expected, planned for or wanted. It’s just what it was. And in this season of life, I am trying my best to embrace the bad with the good. This is my journey. This is the path God has called me to, even if I don’t always understand the “why”.
In April, halfway through this pandemic quarantine, I found myself stuck and at a crossroads in my head. I think all the time to myself to sit and reflect and think was really getting to me, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I am sure a lot of people can relate. But then I remembered the thing that has always seemed to “unstick” me in the past. With my 30th birthday fast approaching on June 1st, I decided I wanted to finish out my 20s strong and not stuck, so I committed to working out 5-6 days a week using an app on my phone and making better food choices.
In just a few short weeks, I started to feel better about myself. I felt strong. I was seeing results, and I was excited to enter my 30s confident and proud. It felt so good to take control of my life and mental health (for the millionth time). It felt like a small win.
Little did I know that exercise streak I was on would soon come to a screeching halt. 4 weeks into my workout program, I received the shock of my life.
A positive pregnancy test. The day before Mother’s Day.
I wanted to wait until Mother’s Day to test, because I had a feeling, but I didn’t want to be disappointed if it was negative.
But, to my shock, I got not one, but two strong positives.
Jared was downstairs playing an old Ninentdo game on the Wii of claymation circus animals fighting each other when I ran downstairs shaking and threw 2 sticks at him. Ha.
We both stared at them on the coffee table in disbelief. After trying for what felt like forever, all it took was quarantine I guess.
I entered this new phase of life with great apprehension though. I didn’t necessarily feel excited. I felt more nervous than anything. If anything, I have learned from my life’s experiences to not ever “expect” anything to come easy or go my way, according to my plan. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. For better or worse.
That day, Jared and I continued working on the upstairs hallway--sanding and priming. There is so much to do, especially at our house. A 1920s home with some remodeling between the 1950s and 1990s. Well, now we felt like we had an actual time limit on when we needed everything done by. Yikes!
My early blood work came back great, and my doctor was very happy and so excited for me. I think she was more excited for me than I was for me.
A few weeks passed. I had a 7 week ultrasound scheduled for 5 days before my birthday. I was so nervous for this appointment. I knew at this point the ultrasound should show a teeny, tiny babe and a heartbeat. And for some reason, I just didn’t feel a connection to anything happening in my body. I couldn’t explain it. But surely God wouldn’t let me have a bad appointment just before my birthday. That was the only thing giving me hope, even though for whatever reason I knew exactly how the appointment would go, down to what the doctor would tell me.
Jared drove with me to my appointment, but due to COVID restrictions, he had to stay in the car. I went in alone.
After waiting for what felt like forever to be called back, it was finally my turn. I laid on the ultrasound table, praying for God to give me peace for whatever it was going to show. I knew before I knew, because the ultrasound tech didn’t say a word...only that she was going to talk to my doctor and that my doctor would be in to talk to me in a minute.
When the tech left, I sat up and stared at the ultrasound images on the screen beside me. I couldn’t see anything in the sac. I looked for even the tiniest bit of anything.
The doctor walked in a minute later, and shook her head at me. Her face was mostly covered, but I could see the sadness in her eyes. I knew. There was no baby. A gestational sac, yes, but no embryo growing within it.
She put her hand on my back and looked like she was about to cry. I told her that I had a feeling and that I mentally prepared for it, based on my last appointment. At my 5 week scan, they saw the same thing, but said it was too early to tell just yet.
We talked for a minute about a plan going forward. My doctor and the tech left the room shortly after while I got dressed. I called Jared who was sitting in the parking lot to tell him.
To be honest, I never cried. I felt numb, confused, frustrated. But I never cried.
We drove home that day and I spent that day (and much of the following couple weeks) on the couch.
Jared and I had plans to go up north for my birthday to Alpena to his family’s cabin on a lake. My appointment was on a Wednesday, we left that following Sunday. My birthday was Monday.
There are so many moments I have had in my life where I thought, “Why me?” I felt angry with God. I feel like, for the most part, I have tried to be a good person. I have tried to do good. I have worked hard on my health and overall healing. I have dealt with a lot, and if you know my story, you know.
So this...this just felt like one more, unnecessary blow. I was finally in a great head space and a good place mentally and physically at the time I found out I was pregnant. I would have been glad to remain in that space, not pregnant, if it wasn’t even going to be a viable pregnancy.
I felt defeated. Jared, who doesn’t really let much get to him, also felt defeated.
The hardest part for me was still feeling pregnant. Being sick and fatigued, but for no good reason.
I didn’t really want to face God with this. It felt better to stay angry. But as soon as Lauren Daigle's music began to play in my car on our drive home from Alpena (I swear her music is a true gift from God), it didn't take long for a sense of gratitude and humility to wash over me.
My whole life. God has always shown up. No matter what I was facing and no matter how difficult things got...
He showed up in the form of my grandmas when I needed that extra love growing up with divorced parents and splitting my time between two families. He showed up in my mom who always did her best to care for me. He showed up in Todd who always loved me like his own daughter. He showed up in my grandparents who gave me a stable home when the rest of my world seemed to be falling apart due to both my parents having rocky marriages at that time. He showed up in my mentor who led me to the absolute best therapist who helped me to share my heart with and forgive my dad, just months before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He showed up to help me take care of and love on my dad during his final moments at the hospital where we both worked and spent a lot of time together. He showed up in Jared to help me pick up the pieces of watching my dad pass on from this life and then burying him.
And from the time Jared and I began dating and I healed more from the pain of losing my dad, we had a few great years of peace. I thank God for that space. And I thank Him everyday for that time of growing and loving on each other and wedding planning and getting married and taking trips. Spending time on a tropical island and seeing snow capped mountains.
I know in my heart things will be okay. I know God is still showing up. Through my family and friends who have been loving on me and checking in. Through puppy snuggles and spending this time at home with Jared.
So here I am. In another season of waiting. Learning to embrace the stillness and doing my best to trust God’a plan for my life.
No mud, no lotus.
I posted a vlog on my Instagram recently trying to capture everything that I have been feeling lately. I can't remember the last time I felt led to write or post anything on my blog, but I feel inspired. I want to continue to spread Brittany's message.
I recently lost a friend. I feel fortunate enough to have been able to call Brittany Crosby my friend, even though we only knew each other from Instagram. I came across her account in early 2017, and it took just a few seconds of being on her Instagram to see that she was an inspiration. Brittany had been in the early stages of fighting of Stage 3c ovarian cancer. Since I had just lost my dad to cancer, I was looking for all that Brittany had to offer: inspiration and hope. To my surprise, she started following me back. We connected due to our shared love of faith, fitness and dogs. Brittany was honestly a rock-star and bad-ass. Even while fighting cancer, she rarely missed a workout. Always took every opportunity to travel and climb mountains, all while running a successful Beach Body business. No matter how hard things got, she always gave God the glory and pushed her followers to live out of their comfort zone not just by saying but DOING. I was hearing and reading her messages daily for years. They seemed to almost be daily devotionals in and of themselves.
This last season of life for me has been hard. Fortunately, not due to any trauma, but a lot of small to medium (and maybe some large) sized things that have kept adding...one thing on top of the other on top of the other. It almost felt like life was burying me deeper and deeper into a hole, and I honestly started to struggle to see the light through all the dirt. I kept waiting and hoping and praying for some sort of breakthrough in my circumstances to happen to help me change my mindset about all that I was trying to deal with and process. If x, y or z happen, then I will be able to feel some relief.
Well, a breakthrough happened. But it was not at all the one I had been envisioning and praying for.
The crazy thing? NOTHING about the circumstances that had been weighing me down changed. What did change then? My mindset. But it wasn't by choice.
It was Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. I had just gotten home from an overwhelming doctors appointment. One that triggered my anxiety and left me driving home with a racing heart. Nothing bad or scary...just a lot of information to process.
I got home, told my husband I needed a beer and made lunch. So we sat at our kitchen island together, drank a beer, talked about my appointment...and ate our lunches.
Jared went outside later that afternoon to rake leaves, and I stayed in to finish cleaning up the house from the large Thanksgiving gathering we had just hosted for both of our families.
I got on Instagram like I do so many times throughout the day without really thinking about it. As I scrolled through my news-feed, I came across a photo of Brittany hiking in the snowy mountains smiling at the camera. My first thought was, "that's a really nice photo of her." And then as I read further, I read the words that she had passed away that very morning. I had to read it again...and again...and again. I didn't believe it. It couldn't be true. She was just in Breckenridge, Colorado that week zip-lining and crossing items off her bucket-list. How could this be? Brittany was larger than life and a beautiful soul that God never ceased to use to bring people closer to Him. I thought for sure she had many many years left ahead of her no matter how much the cancer spread. Surely they would keep finding more treatments. Surely one would work.
I felt sick to my stomach, and then I just sobbed. I sobbed on and off the entire weekend following Thanksgiving. I felt lost. How could Brittany be gone from this world?
Then, Sunday night, all these thoughts began to flood my mind of all the earthly things that I have been clinging to, hoping and trying desperately to control. I had been focusing so much energy on carrying with me all these things that discouraged me and left me feeling defeated, daily. But instead of releasing these things, I kept letting this pile get heavier and heavier and heavier. Until I broke. Brittany's passing literally broke me. God used it to break the dam and there I was, on my knees in my bedroom sobbing and praying and asking God to come into my heart again. I cried harder than I had in so long. I kept apologizing for being so self-focused and not trusting God with my heart. With my life...with my circumstances. It felt so good to cry.
I was so hopeful that this would be a turning point for me.
Then the next day, I felt defeated all over again. My anxiety got the best of me. I continued on with the week, doing my best to actually start practicing more self-care...and surprisingly, things actually started to feel better. Things felt better at work all of a sudden. It was also encouraging getting a positive call from my doctor to tell me about the results of a test I just had done. I was like...ok...I think maybe I got this after all.
That Friday, one week after Brittany left this world, was the day of her celebration of life ceremony in Texas. I was at a holiday work party that evening. Luckily they had a live feed on Facebook, so I was able to catch the very end of it on my drive home. Just in time to hear Brittany's amazingly strong husband speak, who did all he could to help her live a full life, on purpose, and check things of their bucket list together one by one. I didn't start crying until I heard them play a Lauren Daigle song to a slideshow of photos of Brittany's amazing and awe inspiring life.
When I got home, I started listening to a Lauren Daigle album and read my daily advent reading and just sobbed. The song "Everything" came on, and I fell to my knees, again. It was like God had taken the wind out of me, and I was just in awe at how my heart was transforming. For the first time in a long time I felt genuine JOY. I was no longer sitting in my frustration and pain. I was no longer letting my circumstances define me. I thanked God for helping me to feel Him and experience his Grace again; I felt like He was revealing within me this deep desire to live out Brittany's message of hope. She never let cancer steal her joy.
Our circumstances may not change. A breakthrough may not come. But we can still find joy in the journey. We can still show up. Now let's all live life on purpose.
A year ago I wrote my last blog post. Since then, I graduated with my masters degree. I got engaged a couple months after that, and married a few months later. I mostly feel nothing but gratitude and want to share with you some moments of mine and Jared's very special day.
It’s safe to say, like all little girls, I spent a lot of time dreaming about my wedding from a young age. As someone who grew up with divorced parents, I knew that day would look a little different for me. I accepted it though, and was excited to see what the future might hold.
For most of my life, while my dad was alive, I always imagined having both him and my stepdad (Todd) walk me down the aisle. I envisioned this moment so many times in my mind over the years. What it would be like to finally experience my wedding day. With both my dads giving me away, who were both so special to me.
When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I would be lying if I wasn't hoping I would meet and marry the man of my dreams while my dad was alive. Somehow. But eventually I accepted the reality of what was. That my dad would likely pass away before every even knowing who would be my husband someday. This made me so sad. I spent a lot of time grieving things that would never happen while my dad was alive. I felt sad that I had "wasted" time with other men and that I had not yet found the "one" before it was "too late". Or what I perceived in those moments as what too late meant.
But as I've written many times, Jared came back into my life less than 2 months before my dad passed away. Not too late, but rather perfectly on time.
At the time of my dad's passing, during the visitation, my godfather, uncle Keith offered to walk me down the aisle when the time came for me to get married. That was the very day that Jared met my whole family after just 3 dates. Even though my life felt so daunting in those moments, I knew Jared would be the way forward. And he was.
A year and a half later, on July 6th, Jared proposed while we were out on his parents' boat on Long Lake in Alpena. We were watching the sunset and drinking wine. The moment was perfect, even though the ring was not ready. Jared asked if I wanted to get married, and I said yes.
At the time he proposed, Jared was in the process of having a ring designed and made for me using the diamond from my grandma Grace's original engagement ring. My grandma Grace gave me her original engagement ring and wedding band set following my grandpa Bill's passing in 2010 for me to hopefully use someday. I didn't truly consider using this set until it came up in conversation during my birthday weekend when Jared took me on a surprise trip to Leland. I told him about it, and he contacted my grandma's jeweler as soon as we got home.
This diamond would then be my "something old", that I would wear on my wedding day. My "something new" was a pair of earrings my mom bought me. My "something borrowed" was a pearl necklace that my dad bought my mom when I was a baby. My "something blue" was the sapphire that Jared and I had put in to my grandma's original engagement ring band.
Jared and I decided to have our wedding at our church, Holy Redeemer. The very place my dad was laid to rest a little over 2 years ago. It was important to me to have my church be a place of celebration and redemption for my family, not just a place of grief and loss. I wanted to celebrate all that God had done in my life since my dad's passing. So we did.
On October 20th, I walked down the aisle to the beautiful music of a string quartet with my uncle Keith and my dad Todd. A moment that was different than I had imagined, but equally special having my uncle step in for my dad.
The ceremony was of course led by Father Kenneth Tanner. Jared and I gave each other communion, said our vows and exchanged rings.
Jared completely changed my life. There are so many times I wish I could go back to the night that we met back in 2012, to remember what I was feeling as a broken young woman trying to figure her life out, but somehow knowing everything I do now. I guess there is beauty in the mysteries of this life. I could never put into words the immeasurable blessings God has brought me through Jared each and every day. Every day I tell him how lucky I am to have him and how much I love him. I wish there were more words than that sometimes. An endless "I love you" will have to do.
The day of the wedding, it hailed and rained. I walked into the church under a blanket of clouds. But as the wedding ended and we walked out of the church, the sun came out. I'd like to believe it was my dad.
Our reception that evening was held at Jared's parents' barn in Metamora.
Another moment I had always envisioned, especially the final weeks leading up to the wedding, is what the daddy daughter dances would be like. What would it be like without my dad?
But sometime last year, before Jared and I were engaged even, my mom had a dream that I did a dance with all of my uncles, my dad's brothers. I believe this was from God, and that's exactly what I would I do.
I always knew what I wanted the song to be though. When I was a little girl my dad would listen to the song "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith and tell me that song was how he felt when we weren't together. So I took turns dancing with each of my three uncles to this song. It was beautiful and sad all at once, but it was one of the most special moments of the evening for me.
I danced my second daddy daughter dance with my dad Todd to a Kenny Rogers song, "Through the Years". Another happy and proud moment.
My sister, Marissa, sang mine and Jared's first dance song, a classical version of "Stand by Me". Something about that song has always resonated with me throughout the years. But even more since Jared and I started dating at one of the most vulnerable moments of my life. "If the sky that we look upon should crumble and fall, or the mountains should crumble to the sea. I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear, just as long as you stand, stand by me..."
At the end of the night, but especially the weeks following, I couldn't help but remember and feel grateful for each and every detail, big and small, that made mine and Jared's wedding day so incredibly beautiful and special. Because of the many trials I have faced in my life, that day felt like more than just a wedding; it was the culmination of every life experience I have ever had being turned into something beautiful and redemptive. All of my families were brought together to celebrate all of God's grace and healing in my life. In the words of Hillsong Worship song, "If the stars were made to worship, so will I..."
My heart has never been so full.
Huge thank you to Rachel Ann Photography for all of the gorgeous photos.
I was overcome with emotion this past Sunday.
For a year my Canon t5i sat on my dresser at my grandparents' house collecting dust. I brought it to Jared's last year where it then sat for another year in it's camera bag collecting dust. I just didn't have the will to use it...actually, I lacked the freedom.
When I was in elementary school, I am guessing around 9 years old, I remember walking out to my dad's car from my grandparents' house. He must have been picking me up for something. As I got into the car, I remember thanking my dad for something. My stepmom then replied with, "you only love your dad when he buys you things."
These words stung. My 9 year old self knew this wasn't true. But if someone else thought it, then maybe it was. I was too young to decipher what was truth and untruth. So there these words sat in the back of my mind for the next 18 years.
Truthfully, I was never able to let myself truly appreciate anything my dad bought me from that point on. Those words stuck to my heart and mind like glue. In my mind, if I enjoyed what my dad bought me, then that would reflect how I only loved him when he bought me things. I believed this to be the truth. The amount of guilt I felt when he bought me anything actually caused me anxiety. In fact, I feel anxiety right now as I write this about how I felt when he would buy me things.
My dad's main love language was without a doubt gifts. My dad struggled to be emotionally vulnerable, but he was always so good at making sure his family physically had everything they/we needed to be taken care of. Even though he would spend his Christmas Eve running around doing last minute shopping, he always made sure we all got that one big gift. And any little accessory that we could ever need or use to go with it. He was so thoughtful in that way. More than.
I do realize now how much I let guilt, or really fear, get in the way of truly appreciating the things he spent so much time and money on for me.
The list of things he bought me that I let sit for months, years, or still to this day goes on and on...an iPad that he bought me for my college graduation, a new cell phone that I held off activating as long as I could, a video camera, a blender for smoothies...
One year for Christmas of 2013 he bought me a 32 inch television for my bedroom. I specifically asked for one after he had asked me what I wanted for Christmas. But still, I let it sit in a box in my closet for over a year. I didn't feel safe enough to take it out and set it up until the very night in winter 2015 that he and my mom forgave each other. My parents' new sense of freedom had also given me freedom. I put on Silver Linings Playbook and sent my dad a photo.
And of course, the most special gift I got from him that I always wanted - a nice camera. He bought it for me for our last Christmas together - 2015.
It had been a few months after his cancer diagnosis, so it was a very sad Christmas. I would say it was bittersweet, but it was more bitter than sweet. I made sure to spend the night on Christmas Eve, knowing it would be the last. It wouldn't be til months later that I would find out that he didn't even remember me staying the night and waking up with him, my siblings and stepmom.
I opened this beautiful camera Christmas morning and all of the accessories. It filled my heart with deep sorrow knowing this was the last thing he would probably ever get me. Not because I only loved him when he bought me things. But because I knew he loved buying me things.
Time passed after Christmas. My dad would periodically ask me how I liked my camera, if I was learning how to use it...or if I was using it at all... He wanted for me to enjoy it. I just couldn't let myself.
Once he passed away I couldn't even look at it. And it broke my heart that he left this earth before I could ever tell him how much I loved using it. Truthfully, I am still learning to.
In the end, I guess it is ironic that my dad's main love language was gifts. He is gone. But he left behind for me all these things he wanted so deeply for me to enjoy. And as time passes, I realize it more and more.
It wasn't until last week that I felt vulnerable enough to take my camera out of its bag and start reading the instruction manual. I posted a photo of this on Facebook and how the words "you only love your dad when he buys you things" really affected me. Someone commented and said, "don't let evil win".
After reading these words, I decided from that point on that I would not let fear or guilt rule my mindset when it comes to enjoying the gifts my dad bought me. These gifts are all I physically have left of him.
It has taken me almost 20 years to break this mindset, but I am being deliberate in breaking it. It is a process, and I am still learning.
My dad loved me. And I loved him. And he provided for me in the best way he knew how because he loved me. Because he delighted in me. It is okay to allow my heart to appreciate and enjoy every little thing he ever bought me.
And so I will.
There was a time not too long ago when I prayed for all the things I have now. It finally sunk in this week that I am not living a dream...all the beautiful things in my life are mine. They're real.
It's also crazy to think that if I hadn't surrendered to God the desires of my heart, then I wouldn't be where I am today. I would be stuck in a place of longing, but chasing the wrong things to fulfill certain needs.
It was sometime in the winter or spring of 2012, I want to say, when I was in a place (one of many) of being on and off with this guy, a long time friend, who had recently moved across the country. My naive self thought things were going well, when one night I found out he was planning on dating someone back at home...who wasn't me. As a 21 year old trying to figure herself out, this devastated me. I had already had plans to go out that night though, so that was at least something to look forward to.
A friend of mine picked me up from my house shortly after and drove me to his friend's apartment in Royal Oak where everyone was meeting before going out dancing. The friend whose apartment we all met at...was Jared.
I remember meeting him and feeling a connection, if you will. I thought he was attractive and funny and nice. He had a girlfriend though. I wished for a brief moment that he was single, but I accepted that he wasn't and went on with my night. And my life...for the next 4-5 years...
I had so much to learn. So so much to learn. And I want to believe that nothing happens by accident. The people God puts in our lives. And when. The situations that we go through, and how we choose to grow through them.
In meeting Jared that night, something I had not really given much thought to until recently, it was like God was giving a sign without me realizing it. In hindsight, it was as if He was assuring me, "you're sad now, but wait til you see what I have planned." A very special plan that only an all-knowing God could see.
But I was too consumed in my own confusion that night. And the summer immediately following. And the failed relationships and other heartache in the years following. All the stumbling blocks building me up for a time when I would be ready and my heart would be open.
The heartache I felt that night with the guy who was out of state, and subsequent continued heartaches from that situation, as well as another long term relationship that would help me in the beginning, but then would go on much much longer than it should have...were because I was searching for a love that I was waiting for my dad to give.
I wouldn't realize until therapy in 2013/2014 that I was drawn to men who were a lot like my dad, so I could fix them...so I could redeem a love that was lost in my childhood relationship with my dad. I knew in my head and heart that I could not change my dad. My heart was tired and burnt out. But maybe I could help men who were reflections of my dad in ways and fill the hole, the longing and sadness, in my heart that way.
The interesting thing though, is that my dad always seemed to be discouraged by the men I chose to date and/or pursue. He knew those relationships left me feeling consistently disappointed and empty. He would always express his desire for me to be happy. "As long as you are happy", he would say. Like any parent's wish for their child. I kept assuring him that I was happy in my own way, and that it was unrealistic to expect me to be in a relationship that was easy. Because relationships were hard. I knew from experiences that this was true. I expected relationships to be hard. So in a way, I was setting myself up for failure.
But these broken relationships that I would pursue over the years excited me. The hope in waiting for these men to change and finally accept and see me kept me holding on. It was like a game that I was consistently losing, but I kept playing for the off chance that I would succeed.
I would never succeed.
And in time, after years and a lot of tears, I learned that that was okay. It would be okay, anyway.
After a failed short term relationship (with someone who wasn't a reflection of my dad) in the summer of 2015, I had a heart to heart with God. I sat with Him for a while at Stony Creek Park. I enjoyed a cake pop. And prayed. I told God that I didn't want a relationship anymore for the sake of fulfilling any desires or needs. I just wanted a healthy relationship with someone normal. I wanted to be with someone where the relationship itself would mean more to me than my own agenda. I told God that if I was going to date someone just to fulfill a need or agenda, then I didn't want it. I would rather be single forever than be with someone for the wrong reasons. I meant what I said too.
Then my dad was diagnosed with cancer shortly after this realization. Which took my life and heart in a whole different direction for a while.
The summer before my dad passed away, I had another heart to heart with God. I was so discouraged that all these people in my many different circles were either married, engaged, in a good relationship, having children...and I was just single. And waiting for my dad to die. I felt hopeless. And sad. Oh so sad.
I prayed that if I was never going to meet anyone, or if I was supposed to be alone, that God would take away the desire to find and be with someone. I just wanted that desire out of my heart so I wouldn't feel discouraged when I saw other people moving forward in that area of their lives. I know the sadness and grief of going through my dad's battle with terminal cancer only intensified my feelings of loneliness.
And then pretty much out of nowhere Jared showed up. The person I felt almost an instant connection to over 4 years earlier the night we officially met at his apartment. The night my confused 21 year old self finally allowed herself to get out of the house and try something new.
Jared added me on Facebook that very summer I prayed to God to help me through my grief and to take the desire to be in an intimate relationship with someone out of my heart. Funny, right?
I've blogged about this before, but it wasn't until spending 3 solid days with my dad at his bedside at the hospital leading up to his passing that I finally experienced the most amount of healing in my relationship with him up until that point. My heart was finally ready for something good.
I firmly believe that through all of my confusion and internal struggles all those years, that only God knew when I would be ready. And once my heart was ready, He showed up on time by bringing Jared back into my life at just the right time. The perfect time.
God always shows up on time. Never too early. And never too late.
Even when it seems hopeless, God is there. And He makes Himself known in all sorts of ways. Bringing unlikely people into your path that you don't even give another thought. Until years later when you look back on God's very orchestrated and specific planning.
My life now is the absolute best it's ever been. All the time, therapy, heartbreaks and heart to hearts with God were worth with it if that's what it took to bring me here.
If you are struggling right now, I encourage you to take heart and keep pushing forward. You never know how God is working and providing for you behind the scenes.
Thank you, Jesus, for the ways You have provided for me...and the ways You were without me even knowing it.
My life changed completely one year ago. But it has only been by God's Love and Grace that I can honestly say that I am in the best place I have ever been - mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
As the 1 year anniversary of my dad's death is fast approaching, it is also coming up on the 1 year anniversary since my old self, the Christina that I was for over 26 years, also left. And in her place was born a woman with an incredible amount of courage, strength, dignity, perseverance, and love. A woman I never knew existed. A woman that I had always hoped was inside me, but I guess it took a very specific set of circumstances to raise her up.
They say that everything happens for a reason. I have always tried to believe this, but the way everything worked itself out this year, I know that it must be true. My dad's dreams, hopes, and prayers for my life started coming to fruition just before and after his death. So in a lot of ways, I feel like I have him to thank. I know life's circumstances are ever-changing and consistently inconsistent, but the security and wholeness that I have felt makes me feel consistently strong and capable.
68 love notes.
The most humbling, yet surprising thing that happened this year. Tucked away in a large yellow envelope in a box of my old belongings from my dad's house were 68+ love notes handwritten from my elementary school age self to my dad. Notes from a little girl to the first love of her life. He had saved every one. These notes saved me.
Throughout my life, my relationship with my dad was unstable. I felt insecure a lot. I always wanted for him to be happy. He was in pain, and I could never change that. Something I know in my heart was never my responsibility, but something I still struggle with to this day...wishing my dad had lived a happier life. I felt that he had experienced a lot of residual pain from the divorce with my mom and not being able to live with me growing up. Because of these thoughts, I partly felt responsible for his happiness, I guess you could say. My emotions towards my dad were conflicted. I felt so much love for him, yet at the same time, I felt like something was wrong and could never really put my finger on it...
But I tried. I tried to be patient and loving. I tried to set boundaries where I felt they were needed. I saw different therapists over the years to try to make sense of my own personal struggles...I tried. Even though many days I wondered if I could have or should have done more.
When someone you love dies, you wonder if you loved them enough. If you told them that you loved them enough. If you really did all you could to nurture the best with relationship with them.
Each note contained an immense amount of unconditional love. Each one read bringing me more and more peace that I had done all I could. That I really did love my dad to the best of my ability. I had no idea that writing so many notes would actually bring me the comfort and peace I would ultimately need to get through the loss without questioning. I didn't know at the time what I was doing. But God did. And I thank my dad for saving them. They mean more to me knowing that they meant so much to him. Enough for him to keep them all. Enough to save them for me.
On my dad's deathbed, 1 year ago today, I had that overwhelming peace that I had done all I could. The last meaningful conversation he had with someone after receiving the news from his doctor that he only had a few days left was an apology to me for everything he had put me through.
With my head in his tired lap and his arm around me he said, "I'm sorry for all the bullshit I put you through. My only regret is not spending more time with you."
I told him that I forgave him.
And shortly after these words, his mind began to drift off to a place far away from here. His soul being held and carried by the Creator of the universe, leading him to a place of infinite peace and love. A place that could offer him so much more than this earthly world ever could.
And less than 12 hours later he was gone. A lifetime of struggles. 13 months of fighting cancer. A life lost. But some peace was found in knowing the pain was gone and the fight was over.
To be honest, I still can't wrap my head around it.
A thought that gives me peace though is that my dad was like the genie from Aladdin...in leaving this world, he was finally set free...free from all the burdens, heartache, and stress from this life. Free to just be. And to be with God.
Despite the intermittent grief that still comes, my life is good. God has blessed me abundantly. So much so that I feel almost no worry at all about anything.
In the spring of 2015, I started taking anxiety medication a few months prior to my dad's cancer diagnosis for a sleep disorder. Something that helped me so much going through all the trials and loss these past couple years. However, I am so pleased to be off medication as of this month. An accomplishment I was complacent to never reach. But it feels good.
Now, to take my mind off the grief, I am beginning to prepare for Christmas and the holiday season. It's actually the first year in almost a decade that I am looking forward to celebrating instead of grieving over the loss of something.
It feels so good to feel so free myself.
It's something a lot of people struggle with, but feel too ashamed to talk about. People who struggle with anxiety tend to get anxious just thinking about how they have anxiety.
Anxiety is something I have struggled with my whole life, but didn't become truly evident to me until about 4 years ago when I started having panic attacks. It was October of 2013. I knew the extreme anxiety I was experiencing was not normal, so I did two things (apprehensively): I made an appointment with my family doctor. And then scheduled an appointment with a therapist. I got to the point where I realized if my doctor had to write me a prescription for Xanax then I probably needed a little more help that I wanted to fully admit.
At this point in my life, therapy was not a new thing for me. I saw a therapist for about 6 months in 2004 (I was only in 9th grade), and then for about 2 years from 2009-2011. But to need to see a therapist again? I honestly dreaded it. And I hated feeling like something was "wrong" with me.
But this therapist came highly recommended from my mentor. They were in a biweekly women's Bible study together. In fact, their Bible study met in a room at the clinic in Lake Orion. Her name, my soon to be therapist, was Renee. And the clinic was called Treeside.
Treeside is a beautiful historic home located on a corner in downtown Lake Orion. As I've said before, I had spent years in therapy prior to this point in my life. But I guess I didn't realize how crucial this very step was for me.
Renee's office was very homey with a comfy armchair and elegant decor in shades of gold and plum. My favorite part about her office though was a beautiful bay window to my left that overlooked downtown Lake Orion. And in this very office I ended up spending one hour a week for two years. Watching the seasons change out that bay window. Through falls, winters, springs and summers. I later would grow to especially love the way the snow sat on the branches on the tree just outside that window.
Renee asked me lot of questions about my childhood. I explained the back and forth that took place as a little girl, starting at the age of 2, from my mom's house to my dad's and vice versa. My earliest childhood memories.
As time went on we began to focus more and more time on my relationship with my dad. At the time, I didn't really see this as relevant since it wasn't a present concern. My main concern was my anxiety attacks. But I knew Renee's prompting served an important purpose. I trusted that even when I couldn't exactly see how.
I took Renee's lead and opened up to her more about this area of my life. My dad. An area that I specifically wanted to keep closed in a box on the top shelf of a closet. I knew there were issues. But it just made more sense to not open up a can of worms and keep things as status quo. I eventually opened up about his drinking. Memories that stuck with me from the time I started to form them.
*I plan to do another post going more in depth about my therapy with Renee at a later date.* But what I want to stress in this post is that our anxiety stems from SOMEWHERE. If we are feeling anxious or experience panic attacks, chances are it is being triggered from a deeply rooted traumatic experience. Some we may remember. Some we may not have any recollection of. Some anxiety may even stem from the anxiety or stress of our primary caregivers during some of our early, formative years.
I don't believe we are born as anxious people. But we are born into a fallen world, surrounded by broken people. The brokenness in humanity is what leads to pain, which leads to anxiety. But it is NOTHING to be ashamed of. And you should never feel ashamed about asking or reaching out for help from a professional.
Even if the therapy proves to be difficult at first, and even if some topics don't make sense initially, I urge you to KEEP GOING. There is a reason to dive deeper into every facet of our lives in order to understand and heal from the very onset of our pain.
Eventually, I learned to have more control over my thoughts just by being aware of what my triggers were. Once I became more in control of my thoughts and how to identify triggers, the triggers seemed to lessen. Through God's grace and the wisdom of Renee, I experienced more healing than I thought was possible.
I allowed God to lead me down an unknown and what seemed like a scary path. But God held my hand through it all, knowing the significance that this therapy would have on my life in my current and future relationships.
You may struggle with anxiety, but it doesn't own you and doesn't make up the very essence of who you are. You are uniquely, wonderfully and fearfully made by a loving God who wants you to heal from your hurts.
I will continue with a few more parts - learning the triggers, medication, and moving forward.
This post is going to take a lot of vulnerability for me to write about and share. But I feel led to do so because of the first part of the message that Fr. Kenneth gave at church yesterday. The topic was inheritance.
Simply put, I did not receive a dime of my dad's assets after he passed away. What I did receive were the things he had already given to me or I to him. This shocked me only because I knew he really wanted me to be taken care of. It was something he had expressed a desire in doing my whole life, before he got sick with cancer. Even if he couldn't at the time, there was always an expressed desire of the ways he would have liked to or planned to in the future. He worked so hard to provide for his family, that I thought I would receive a little something after his passing that I could put towards a wedding or my own children someday.
Months followed my dad's passing, and I never received any sort of letter or phone call from anyone. I would be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that waited to hear from somebody. It wasn't even so much the desire to obtain a sum of money, but I felt forgotten. The money, or the receiving of an inheritance, to me represented one final way of being thought of and taken care of by my dad. It was the idea of being and feeling forgotten that upset me the most.
I struggled with this. I even found myself angry with my dad for a short time. I worked so hard on myself for years to have a healthy relationship with him. Lying to him about why I was in therapy so he wouldn't feel badly about his shortcomings that hurt me. I put my heart and soul into making all the visitation, funeral and burial arrangements for my dad that would honor him the most and bring forth a message that he had been saved and had indeed gone Home. Why was it that I did all this work and in the end he forgot about me?
I have always been very aware of my grief process, so I knew this was part of the grieving. But I also found myself struggling with lies. Lies that I was not taken care of. Lies that I was not loved. Lies that I had been rejected and that my dad did not love me. I was angry with myself for feeling anger in my heart towards him being that he was gone. But I let myself feel the anger so I could let it go. I knew this was part of the process of me going to new levels of forgiveness and healing towards my dad, even though it was hard.
I prayed that God would speak His truth into the situation. Doing this very grieving and praying at Jared's house it hit me. I distinctly remember feeling God saying to me, "But look what I have given you."
My dad may not have left me an inheritance, but the blessings that were brought into my life following his death have beyond exceeded any money I could have received from him.
God brought me love: a man who has done nothing but selflessly love, support, and take care of me since we began dating.
God brought me a home.
God brought me my dream job.
I have been constantly surrounded by loved ones.
And I have always had my faith.
Once I sat back and reflected on this truth, I realized that I wouldn't have traded any of this for any sort of earthly inheritance. Because I am loved. I am taken care of. And I am worthy.
This continued healing helped me to reach even more depths of healing and forgiveness towards my dad. The forgiveness allowing me to grow an even deeper love for him.
The inheritance that we, all of humanity, are called to is one that far outweighs anything this earth can bring us--even greater than our greatest blessings that keep us going and holding on. We just need to keep trusting in the hope of the inheritance of a greater Kingdom and clinging to the truth that such an inheritance is available to us now if we believe.
God...God is everything. His love is everything. And his blessings remind us that there are greater things ahead if we keep holding on.
Hearing Fr. Kenneth preach yesterday morning on inheritance was so affirming to the healing that has taken place in my heart. I could listen to a sermon on it and instead of feeling bitterness, feel praise and wrapped in God's love.
He is calling us to so much more, so don't get caught up in petty earthly things that might drag you or your heart down. And don't base your self worth on earthly things.
You are loved beyond measure.
You are taken care of and have all you need in Christ.
You are worthy.