Friday, July 7, 2017

I Feel Like I Failed Him in His Final Hours

I FailedI Failed. How could I fail my love in his final hours? You might be wondering what I could have possibly done or not done for me to categorize this act as failure.

Since Joel’s death, I’ve read several books, including multiple accounts of families ushering their loved ones to Heaven, as they’ve surrounded them while they left this life for their eternal one. I’ve also heard countless stories of friends having similar beautiful stories to share about their final moments with their precious family and friends.

In my experience with Joel, it felt way more chaotic, and looking back now…I feel like I should have done so much more for him in those final hours. I honestly feel like I failed him.

In hindsight, the only answer to my failures is this…I. Was. In. Shock.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my last conversation with Joel consisted of him praying over the situation and praying for me and the children. It was so beautiful, and I’ll never forget that moment. Soon after, he was placed on a ventilator, sedated, and I never heard his living voice again.

I always envisioned if I ever had the unfortunate experience of being in a setting such as this, I would hold my loved ones hand for hours (if that’s what it took) until he either came out of the crisis or went to Heaven. I imagined a room full of people surrounding him with prayer and stanzas from various hymns and praise songs. I imagined talking to him repeatedly…encouraging him to fight and not give up, that we were in the fight with him. I imagined reading scripture over him, allowing God’s Word to penetrate the room and his sick body. Yet…it didn’t actually turn out that way.

Instead, I cowered in the corner of his ICU room, often watching the medical staff work hastily to try different medication combinations and various other procedures, to help him try to turn a corner. I tried to stay out of their way, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. In all honesty, I felt frozen. I couldn’t think. I was literally in a place of shock I’d never experienced before.

I would step in and out of his room to talk with the doctors and nurses or to step in the waiting room to share updates with the latest friends and family who had come to be there with us. And, at one point, the shock took a violent and scary turn for me. I completely lost control. I remember sobbing over a trash can, fearful I was on the verge of vomiting over the trauma I was going through in that place. I remember thinking I was losing complete control over my body. I honestly though I was dying. But, God in His infinite love and mercy, carried me through those dark moments.

After the above episode ended, I felt like a zombie again. Unable to think, process, or even pray, if I’m being completely honest. Thankfully, others around me sustained me through prayer.

I watched, with my own eyes, my husband code for the first time on the attempt to move him for transport to a helicopter journey. The horror I felt throughout my body made my knees feel weak, but thankfully I was already sitting. I wanted to run to Joel…tell him to wake up, to breathe, to fight…he was too young to leave us!!! I needed him here with me. And, yet I was frozen again, watching these medical professionals trying to revive him.

His pulse returned. But, not for long.

Often times, as I replay these events in my head, I feel such shame. If I had done more, would Joel be here today? I know what Truth reveals. God’s Word tells me there is NO condemnation in Christ Jesus. I truly believe these are lies of the enemy trying to still take me out. I’m trying to overcome all of this, and yet sometimes…I’m frozen with guilt.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It’s Less Than Six Months Away – Joel’s Tree

Joel's TreeFor those of you who journeyed with me down Grief Road after losing my husband Chris, you might recall the “Chris Tree” we constructed together. By far, it was one of the most memorable joy-filled events of that first year of widowhood. I knew that first Christmas without him would be very difficult, and having a memorial tree dedicated to Chris and all those things which made up his personality, helped to make that Christmas very special to me.

As a result, I knew I just had to do the same thing for Joel! As a matter of fact, I’ll have both trees up these year, along with our family tree (can you tell how much I love to decorate for Christmas?)! Now…this is where you come in. When I did this before, I invited others to participate in the construction of the “Chris Tree” by finding ornaments that went along with a list of suggestions I came up with. I would love to do the same thing for my “Joel Tree”. I’ll provide a list of suggested ornament themes below, and I would love it if you would join us in adorning his memorial tree. The ornaments don’t have to be new. They could be yard sale or consignment store finds. If you’re crafty, feel free to make something. I’m happy to provide my mailing address to anyone that chooses to participate, just drop me an email at leahstirewalt25@yahoo.com letting me know you need it. Feel free to send in ornaments anytime, but I’d like to have them no later than November 1, otherwise the busyness of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons will soon be upon us.

Here is a list of ornament categories (in no particular order), but if God places something else on your heart…that’s okay too.

  • Kayaking
  • Hiking
  • Outdoorsman
  • Grandpa with kids
  • Dad with kids
  • Coach
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Carolina Tarheels
  • High Point, NC
  • Beach
  • Bulgaria
  • Woodworking
  • J – initial ornaments
  • Jesus – Cross
  • Bible
  • Hospital worker (scrubs)
  • Radiation therapist
  • Ping pong
  • Pool table, cue sticks, etc.
  • Horses
  • Horseback riding
  • Cows
  • Cowboy
  • Farmer
  • Country boy
  • Marines (Joel and his dad)
  • Air Force (Joel’s son, Justin)
  • The number 15 to represent his 9 children, 2 children-in-love, 2 grandbabies, Joel, and Leah!
  • Family – names or initials of his wife and children (Leah, Amy, Wes, Noelle, Micah, Justin, Virginia, Caleb, Anna, Aaron, Josiah, Katerina, Benjamin, and Austyn)
  • Skydiver
  • Jesse – baby in Heaven
  • Sports
  • Bible verses
  • Orphans
  • Photo ornaments with his picture
  • Personalized ornaments with his name
  • AWANA (he was AWANA Commander and very active when his bio children were younger)

I can’t tell you how meaningful this will be to my family and me and will help to take the “sting” out of not having Joel/Daddy/Pawpaw with us this year. May God bless you, in advance, for your simple act of kindness to my grieving heart! Feel free to email me with any questions (leahstirewalt25@yahoo.com). Christmas will be here before we know it!

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Why Going to Wendy’s Made Me Cry

Wendy'sJoel and I actually met online (Christian Mingle, to be exact). Yes – we were one of those couples. Wink! Wink! It was a fantastic experience, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Anyway…we actually “met” online followed by emails which escalated to phone calls…before we ever met in person.

I’ll never forget the day we actually met for the first time. Joel gave me NO warning. I was on the road traveling back from work (or some place like that), and he said, “How about now?” I tried to “stall” him by saying I needed a shower, but he wouldn’t accept that answer. He wanted to meet me in my everyday “mom appearance” ragged or not…he didn’t care. He didn’t want some beefed up, made up version of my true self. Looking back, I really respect that. At the time, it made me a nervous wreck. I hesitantly agreed. My hesitation wasn’t in meeting him, I was more than ready for that. It was in the fact I couldn’t go “date ready”.

He lived a little over an hour from me, so we agreed to meet at the Wendy’s in Black Mountain, NC, which would be more central for both of us. From that point, we would decide where to go eat (no…not Wendy’s).

I’ll never forget that day. He arrived first and was pulled into a space close to the drive-thru area. I circled the building and pulled in right beside him. My heart started beating so fast, as I got out of the car to give him a hug and touch him for the first time. (My heart is still beating faster just typing this.). We decided to leave my car there, and he would drive us to the little Thai restaurant down the street we had agreed upon for dinner.

The evening was absolutely delightful, and I could tell he was exactly who he portrayed to be in the emails and phone calls. I always loved that aspect of online dating. By the time we actually got to meet each other, we felt we already knew each other, in many respects. We had spent hours upon hours chatting about those things most important to us, so we had conversation to build upon in person. It was an incredible evening.

After dinner, he drove me back to my car at Wendy’s, where we both parted ways and went back to our homes. It wouldn’t be many more months later before we were Mr. and Mrs. and never had to part ways again (that is, until February 12, 2017).

I’ve been by that Wendy’s many times. Joel and I actually had lunch there with the kids a couple months before he passed away, and we shared that story with them. It was such a special lunch, as we also met a retired Marine veteran who had lost his wife about a year prior. Joel teared up listening to the man’s story, and ended up giving him a little monetary gift before we left. We let him join our family for lunch, and he got to hear the story of the kids’ adoption, our meeting (at that very location), etc. What a treasured day.

Not too soon after Joel died, I drove by that Wendy’s and noticed it had been closed. Torn apart, actually. What?!?!?! I was so heartbroken, at the time. I thought…how fitting…my sweet Joel is gone, might as well take the other things that have meaning to me. I know…a depressing thought, but I just sat there and cried and cried. Seeing our Wendy’s, now gone, brought me to an ugly cry.

I then noticed the sign. While I no longer remember the exact words, I remember it said something about being rebuilt or remodeled and would be back soon. OK…so it was getting a complete re-working, inside and out. Much like myself, in some ways. I was torn apart after Joel’s death, and little-by-little, God is remodeling me, from the inside out. Somedays, it feels like no work is taking place, but then there are those days I can feel His presence so strongly and can literally feel the evidence of His re-working.

As for the Wendy’s, the remodel is complete (see top pic). It’s beautiful, and we’ve recently been back to visit. For me, I’m a much longer ongoing project. I’ll actually be a lifetime re-working, but maybe the evidences of God’s remodeling will start being evident soon to those watching from the outside. Even more…I long for the day I can feel the re-working in myself too!

#HeIsStillGood

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Strange Things I Remember the First 24 Hours After Joel Died

What I RememberMy overall memory following Joel’s death and journey Home to Heaven isn’t the best. If truth be told, it’s really been a bit scattered since becoming a widow the first time around six years ago. Even so, I’ve tried my best to piece through the events that took place that first twenty-four hours after saying goodbye to my precious husband. Those things I remember most vividly are probably not the most important to the average person, but they are the very memories that stand out to me.

  1. I sat in the waiting room with my best friend (after Joel had already breathed his last, and I had spent quite some time with him following). I remember thinking… now what? I honestly don’t know what to do now. Can I just stay here?
  2. I talked to my boss around 2:30 am on my way home from the hospital. I remember thinking two things about this call: 1) who does that? and 2) what a special man to want to call and check in within the first few hours of my saying goodbye to my earthly love. He had already spent the better part of the afternoon and evening, along with his wife, at the hospital with us.
  3. When I walked into my house, I was greeted with a hug by a friend and fellow co-worker. She’d never been to my new home in Hickory before, and she drove the distance from Asheville just to make sure my kids weren’t alone and that all of Joel’s family who were in town and wanted to be at the hospital could be there. I remember hugging her neck when I first got back to the house as a new widow. It felt strange, yet comforting. In many respects, it was like having a strange “out of body experience”. This couldn’t be my life right now, I thought to myself. Sadly…it was.
  4. I remember going to lay down in my own bed soon after getting home. That was strange to me, because I wasn’t able to sleep in my own bed for several weeks after Chris died. This time, the grief was different. I was ready to crawl back into my bed, even with the loss very evident beside me. Sleep? Didn’t happen except for an occasional doze or two. I kept running through the script of how to tell my youngest children their daddy wouldn’t be coming home (in just a few short hours when they woke up to greet the day). How is a mother ever prepared to do that? Especially with my newly adopted children. They just gained a two-parent family, now we’re down to one. What will go through their little minds upon hearing this news?
  5. My crash came later in the day. In my recliner in the living room. I don’t even remember falling asleep, but I remember waking up to many familiar faces around me. Co-workers, friends from my Asheville church, family, and I’m not even sure who else was here. They were entertaining my children, filling my pantry, cooking food, watching me sleep, and talking all around me. And…yet, I slept through much of it, right in their presence. I think my body finally collapsed to the point of no return until it received enough rest to go on.
  6. I remember my next-door neighbor, who I had not yet met up to that point, walking in with a ton of BBQ and all the fixin’s. She was a nurse at the hospital where I just left my husband for the last time.
  7. I remember seeing Anna walk in the door and never being so happy to see my oldest girl. She was with me when I collapsed after Chris died, and it seemed so strange not to have her with me as I said goodbye to Joel. But, she was with me now.
  8. I remember seeing some of the same faces that were in my home the day I became a widow the first time. And…less than six years later, we’re here together again. Mourning another life lost. Celebrating another eternity gained.
  9. And…I remember thinking what is so wrong with me that I can’t stay married? That love always ends so abruptly for me? Why can’t I have the “happily ever after”?

Sometimes, I try to wrap up my posts into a pretty box with a beautiful bow on top. I just can’t seem to pull that off this time. This is one of those raw, ugly, tears-falling-down-my-cheeks-as-I-type posts. As I heal, I need both types. Maybe somebody out there needs the ugly packages too.

Even so… #HeIsStillGood

Monday, June 5, 2017

I Painted a Door!

painted doorWhen Joel and I purchased this home last year, we began driving over on weekends to paint rooms and start prepping for our main move at the end of October. We almost finished painting the whole house before running out of time. Moving day came, followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, January birthday mania, and then Joel’s Homegoing in February. Needless to say, everything came to a screeching halt…at least temporarily.

All I had left to paint was the half bath, laundry room, the foyer area and attached hallways. The trouble was…1) I no longer had the desire to paint, and 2) I didn’t have the tools to paint the height of our foyer. And yet…I wouldn’t hang pictures up in the hallway, because I knew it would be a waste of effort until the painting was done. That tore at my heartstrings, because I really wanted to hang the pictures…especially now that Joel was gone. It may seem silly to many, but it was a huge deal to me.

Precious people from a church we had visited a couple times sent over many people from several of their Lifegroups to tackle many things around the house…including the painting of the laundry room and half bath. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Something as minor as a little gray paint on a wall can bring a whole lot of sunshine into this dismal home. And…it did.

It gave me the desire and motivation to go further. Joel’s death came before we were fully unpacked and organized around the house. Many of our non-urgent belongings still sat in boxes. The basement was a chaotic wreck, until my bonus son and daughter and their spouses got a hold of it. Then, our garage was tackled by a group of men from another local church. Little by little…this house started to feel like a home.

The day came when I finally found someone to paint the foyer for me. It was a “for hire” job, but it was really for very little money and gave me far more joy than the small pittance he took for the work. When the work was completed, I gave him his money, thanked him for squeezing me into their busy schedule, and sent them on their way. I admired their work…such a great job! Something wasn’t quite right though…I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I walked around and kept starting at the paint. They did exactly what I asked them to do, so I know it wasn’t something they did. But…what was it?

The door! I never thought about the inside of the front door! Now, it obviously stood out (and not in a beautiful way). Good grief! Why didn’t I think of that before? I know they would have added that to their list if I had just asked. Well…I’ll get it to…someday…

Each time, it seemed, I walked by that door…it felt like it was mocking me.

Ha ha ha! You only thought you were finished! Now look what you did? It looks worse than before! What are you going to do now Leah?

That dumb door almost felt like the voice of the enemy. Each time I walked by, the mocking felt like the devil himself.

Ha ha ha! You only thought you were living the fairytale life. Now look! Your beloved is gone. Losing two spouses in one lifetime. How often do you hear that? Now what are you going to do Leah?

The last “taunting” came two nights ago. I’d had enough. I felt the voice of the enemy rising up against me with lies again.

So…what are you going to do? You might be making it now, but you’ve had lots of help. What happens when the people are gone? The job is gone? Life returns to normal for them. What are you going to do then?

I’m going to paint the door…NOW!

I promise you, life’s answer to all my problems is not simply in painting a door, but it was…in that moment.

I’ve felt, for quite awhile, the enemy has been trying to keep me down. My health crises following Joel’s death haven’t helped. He’s made sure I’ve felt the sting of everything I can’t do anymore…or at least, he makes me feel I can’t do anymore. I’d had enough of his lies on Saturday evening.

Just as I readied myself for bed, something rose up in me, and said…”Enough!” I went downstairs, grabbed the leftover paint and necessary supplies, climbed back up the stairs and started painting that door. I didn’t stop until it was complete! I took a step back, admired my imperfect work, and simply smirked and said “Hmmmph! I’ve got more where that came from Satan. Be gone from me! You have lost the war!”

So for one day, I felt a little freer, all because I painted a door!

#HeIsStillGood