Tag Archives: prayer

The Song

About a month after Kevin and I started dating, he and his family took a vacation, a cruise to the Caribbean. I can’t say either of us was overjoyed at the thought of more than a week apart, but we emailed daily. Even though we had worked together for almost two years, and had cubicles less than six feet apart, there were still things we didn’t know about each other and this was a great chance to kind of catch up and fill in the blanks.

With Christmas coming, one of the questions I emailed him was this: “What’s your favorite Christmas song?” I laughed when I got his answer back, because, as I’d come to expect (and love), there was a Godfather connection. There’s a scene where Michael and Kay are shopping and Bing Crosby croons “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” in the background. So, obviously, that became Kev’s favorite holiday song.

We started a tradition that year, our first Christmas together, buying a new Christmas CD. As a joke, I got him The Chipmunks Christmas album and, wouldn’t you know…his favorite song was on it. We added to our collection each year and, more often than not, that song showed up on the track list.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
Our troubles will be out of sight

It’s funny how many Christmases we sang along to those lyrics, even in the middle of difficult circumstances. Right after we married, Kevin’s job was eliminated, so that Christmas was kind of hard. By the next year, he was working again, but infertility hounded us when we so desperately wanted to start a family. When our little Bear finally arrived, our hearts were light and we were thrilled and sure that everything was turning around. And it was good for a couple of years, until Kev was diagnosed with colon cancer.

We sang the song with special fervor that year, praying with every sweet note that the lyrics would come true:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay,
From now on,
Our troubles will be miles away.

Chemotherapy kept the troubles at bay, sometimes, but we could never get out from under cancer’s shadow. Some years, he had chemo during Christmas; others, we were fortunate to have a break. Either way, we squeezed every bit of joy from the season of miracles, watching our Bear marvel at the tree and the lights and the nativity and Santa, watching her sparkle every bit as brightly as the decorations. And sometimes, just for a bit, it did seem like our troubles were miles away.

Right after Halloween this year, she asked if we could play her Dora Christmas CD in the truck. I agreed, so we started rockin’ around the Christmas tree pretty early this year, but we needed it and it was good. As November wore on, I added more holiday music to the playlist. And that’s when it happened.

The song.

I heard the opening notes and I froze, hands on the steering wheel, driving down the street, drowning in grief as the music flowed over me. My lips moved, silently singing the words, and tears tracked down my face.

“What’s wrong, Mama?” Her concerned voice floated from the back seat. But I couldn’t answer because my mind was pulling out so many memories, all jumbled together, overwhelming me. So many Christmases, so many years singing this song. So many versions, but all of them beautiful and haunting, lovely to listen to as we drove the dark snowy streets searching for holiday lights.

Here we are, as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

And now. Now he’s gone, but the song’s still here and the lyrics, always so melancholy, are too much this year. I want so badly for all our troubles to be miles away, to be gone – for Kevin to be back with us, gathered near to me, healthy and smiling, secretly loving that The Godfather got all entwined in our holiday.

And I can’t explain to Bear how I’m sad and happy at the same time. That grief doesn’t come and go, but it mixes itself up with the happy and the joy and the hope, and there’s no separating them, and that it’s impossibly possible to be crying and smiling and heartbroken and heart-filled at the same time. That the song will probably make me cry every single time this year, and that I can’t get away from it because it’s included on nearly every Christmas album we own, but that’s okay. I need to hear it, to sobbingly stumble through singing it, because it’s Daddy, little Bear, it’s your Daddy in those words and when I hear it, when I sing it, he’s here with me. It’s every beautiful, magical Christmas moment we shared and I need to feel the pain to feel the joy.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

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Keep On

He sat heavy on the side of the bed, his face grey and drawn in the weak Monday morning autumn sunlight. His beautiful blue eyes, usually sly and sparkling, dully reflected the toll that forty-six continuous hours of chemo took on his body.

“Babe, just call in sick. No one’s going to think anything about it,” I pleaded with him. After I unhooked his pump on Sunday afternoon, he’d tried to watch football, but ended up mostly sleeping, the nausea meds keeping him comfortable but fatigued. “You’ve had chemo all weekend and if you don’t feel good, you don’t feel good. Can you even drive?”

His only answer was to hold out his hand for help getting up. I slipped my hand into his and when I pulled him up, he pulled me into his arms.

“Baby Doll,” he assured me, “I’ll be okay. I’m just making some phone calls today and I promise I’ll come home if I need to.”

I hugged him, then followed him down the hall to the kitchen. He gathered his thermos of herbal tea and a book, then climbed in the truck and backed out of the garage. I watched him until the closing garage door cut off my view.

I knew why he was going in to work, even though he obviously didn’t feel like it. At work, he was more than a guy with cancer. He had a job – one that he was really good at – and he had a purpose and that helped him keep it all together. Working restored normalcy to his life and he needed it after a summer of surgeries and recuperation. Almost halfway through this first round of chemotherapy, he needed to work to prove to himself that cancer wasn’t winning. He needed to keep on.

So he did.

Day after day, week after week, month after month – for five years, Kevin battled cancer and kept on working. Through three different kinds of chemotherapy, each with more horrific side effects than the last. Through subsequent surgery and an ill-fated attempt at a clinical trial. Through more mornings of nausea and afternoons of exhaustion than could possibly be counted.

He kept on.

It was only after the third kind of chemotherapy – a brand-new FDA-approved drug that we’d hoped for and heard good things about – only after that put him the hospital with severe dehydration and kidney failure, only after our oncologist told us time was getting short, only then did he admit it was time to leave his job.

The outpouring of love and affection and genuine caring from his co-workers, from other departments on his floor and in his building, from dozens of grant programs across the state – it was nothing short of overwhelming. When he came home after his last day of work, he sat in his recliner and I perched beside him and we cried over cards completely inked in with beautiful, kind, compassionate words from people who’d been touched by him.

They all had the same refrain: “Thank you for your work. Thank you for caring about our program. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for keeping on.”

Ten weeks later, he died.

He showed us what courage looks like. Faced with an impossible diagnosis, knowing that his time would be short, he woke up every morning and figured out how to keep on going. Sometimes he got grumpy and angry and discouraged and disappointed and depressed, and the endless chemotherapy ravaged his body, but he always bounced back. He relentlessly sought alternative treatments, trying everything he could to stay here longer with me, with our daughter. He nurtured and guided the programs he believed in – programs that provided reading assistance to elementary students, or therapy for families struggling to break the cycle of child abuse, or training for disaster relief, and so many more across our state. He traveled, he laughed, he kissed me, he cheered on his Cowboys and Yankees, he pulled pranks, he took his Bear to the donut shop and the car wash on Saturday mornings.

He kept on.

He lived.

It’s been six months since he left behind his cancer-ransacked body and went home to God. That seems impossible to me; it feels like he was just here. I remember every second of our last minute together. In the days since then, I’ve struggled to gain my footing in this new life. Some days I feel so numb, some days I cry out with the pain of waking up without him. I miss him every single minute.

I don’t know what the days and months and years ahead will hold for me and our daughter. It seems impossible that we have to be here without the person we love most…my Kevster, her Daddy Bear. I feel like I don’t how to do it.

But I do.

Because he showed me.

He showed me that I can’t stop. I have to keep living and giving and laughing and loving. I have to keep caring and sharing and wondering what adventure might be around the corner. I have to raise our daughter to be just like her Daddy. Walking that cancer road with him showed me that it’s okay to be sad and discouraged and angry, but that can’t be all I feel because life has too many beautiful experiences and God has too much planned for me.

Find joy.

Find hope.

Find peace.

Trust God.

Love people.

Don’t stop.

Keep on.

So I stood at his graveside and watched the sports-themed balloon our daughter picked out for him bob wildly in the blustery October wind, the only bright spot on the overcast autumn day. Tears slid down my face and I whispered, “I love you, babe. This feels impossible, but I’m trying. We both are. We miss you so much. Help me find joy and peace while I wait to see you again. For you…I’ll keep on.”

“The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning,
It’s time to sing Your song again,
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes…”

(10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman)

Waves of Grief

I panicked.

Then spent the next hour frantically searching through piles of books and stacks of papers. The office has become my dumping ground – but I knew what I was looking for had to be in there. On the desk. On the table. In the cabinet. Somewhere.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. On my knees in the middle of the mess, I can’t breathe.

I blink back tears. Take a ragged breath. Another. And another, struggling to push back the “How could you lose it?” thoughts crowding me, taunting me.

It’s here; it has to be here.

And it was. Just on its own, without a box, without a label. Just a Sharpie scrawl across the top: “Christmas – 3/12”.

Except I wrote the wrong year. It should’ve read “3/13” and then I would’ve seen it instantly and known that our final months, from Christmas through March of this year, our final holidays and ordinary moments with Kevin were okay, were not lost. The videocassette of our last Christmas, our daughter’s last birthday with her daddy in his recliner and his stocking feet in every shot. The last time I will hear him laugh and tease and love his girls. The thought of losing those moments, when we’ve already lost Kevin…

I prop my feet awkwardly on the edge of the desk, cradle the camera in my hands, little viewing screen popped open. And I watch the moments of three months go by in sixty minutes. The rustle of wrapping paper ripped from Christmas presents. The delighted chortle of our daughter gleefully clutching her very first MasterCard gift card – “I didn’t KNOW seven-year-olds could have CREDIT CARDS!” Slightly off-key “Happy Birthday to you” and chocolate cupcakes. Tricks in the driveway on her Hello Kitty kick scooter; more tricks on the trapeze bar on her backyard swing. Pounding surf on the sands of Orange Beach during spring break in Alabama.

Silent tears slid down my face and raging waves of ugly, raw, I-can’t-do-this, missing-him-with-every-breath grief slammed into me.

I feel like I might drown in the grief. It’s so hard to be here without him. To see our daughter do her fantastically amazing things and not turn to him with a grin and a shake of my head, and feel him pat my back and say, “We did good, Baby Doll.” Loneliness swells and grief breaks over me and I almost miss her words on the video:

“What you do when you can’t run from the waves fast enough is get on your knees and crawl.”

She’s standing at the edge of the vast gulf, playing a game with the rough surf. She wades in, ankle deep, a little more. The endless waves push against her, and she laughs as the little ones press her backward. She balances and watches, eyes in the distance, looking beyond for the big waves, waiting to run shrieking up the beach before they knock her down. But one caught her, and I caught it on camera, and she wavered against its force and fell to her knees, scrambling up the sand before the water dragged her back.

“What you do when you can’t run from the waves fast enough is get on your knees and crawl.”

And the tears came again, because she’s got it and why do so many wise words come innocently through her? She doesn’t even know how profound her words are. I watch it again, the little waves puddling around her ankles, the way she balances and shifts and watches. The big wave, overpowering her; but she drops to her knees and doesn’t go under.

There it is, an image of grieving, playing out six months before I even knew I would need it. When the loneliness puddles around me, when the memories press in, when the pain overpowers, I get on my knees and crawl to God. I can’t outrun it, it’s too big, too much. I get on my knees.

The words of a song loop through my head and the melody flows into the cracks of my heart:

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.
Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.
And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

And I won’t go under. He promised.