Monday, July 10, 2017

The Rings

ringsRings. What do I do with my wedding rings? It’s a dilemma I’ve faced before. However, that doesn’t make it any easier this time around.

I know widows who never remove their wedding rings. There are other widows, however, who take them off immediately. I would say the majority (at least in my experience) wear them for awhile following the death of their husband but eventually take them off. Let me first say, there is nothing wrong with any of these choices. It truly is a personal decision, and honestly…it’s a pretty major one for many of us.

When Chris died, I wore my wedding set for a few months and then one day just took them off. I remember grieving his loss all over again when I did that, but I felt it was an essential part to my accepting he was no longer here, and I was no longer married to him.

With Joel, I’ve had to take them off each time I had surgery on my foot in March, but I was very quick to put them right back on. I felt they belonged there. He might be gone. Our marriage might be over, but in my heart…he is still my husband. I also removed them when I went on my Outer Banks trip in early June, but the reason was drastically different (and perhaps a bit silly).

I realized when I went on that little excursion by myself that I would be in tour groups alone, eating alone, and generally sight seeing alone. I didn’t want anyone to look at my hand and see a ring there and think my husband and I were separated or that he left me to do all the sight seeing by myself. Bottom line…I didn’t want to cast an “ugly light” on Joel. I know…I know…it sounds silly, but those really were my thoughts. So, I just didn’t wear them. Instead, for all anybody knew, I’d always been single. As soon as I got home, however, the ring set returned to my left hand.

Sometime over the last couple of weeks, however, I felt a nudging to remove the rings. I honestly felt this nudging was from God, as He whispered something like this to my heart…

Daughter, I need you to trust Me…in all areas. Remember, I promised I am husband to the widow and father to the fatherless. I know you want to honor Joel’s memory in wearing the rings he placed upon your finger the day you united as one. But, Joel is with Me now, and I need you to fully trust Me to meet ALL your needs. Joel can’t do that for you anymore, and I’m seeing that by wearing those rings, you’re still clinging to his inability to be your husband.

Those were the impressions upon my heart. And truthfully…He was right (of course). I guess, somewhere, in the pit of who I am, I still expected Joel to meet my needs. I know he can’t, but my heart still looked for it and longed for it. God wants to do that for me now, and I’ve been hindering Him from doing so. I think His nudging for me to remove the rings was not because He wanted me to stop wearing them necessarily. It was simply because they had become a deterrent to what He’s been wanting to do in my life. It’s not the only deterrent. I’m sure of that; but it’s the first one God has clearly pointed out to me.

And so…I removed the rings. I still feel for them. I still feel “naked” without them. And, the loss is incredibly real all over again. But, I need to trust Abba to meet my needs…physical, emotional, mental, spiritual…all of them. I know He can, now maybe without my “distraction”, I’ve opened the door to my heart to let Him do so.

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Struggling Single Parent

single parent

I’ve really been struggling to post lately. Let me rephrase that…

I’ve been struggling. Period.

This season of my grief journey has blindsided me a bit. I should have seen it coming. Unlike most widows or widowers, I’ve sadly been down this road before. I learned during my first grief episode all about the non-linear aspect of grief (much to my disappointment). I’m the type of person that likes to check a box…that feeling of accomplishment…and then move on to the next task. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way with grief. Just when I think I’ve made some headway, I feel like I’m back to square one. There’s nothing, in particular, which causes that, making it even tougher to predict. Sometimes it can be a series of things that catapults me backwards (or what feels like a backwards move to me). Even so…it’s where I’ve been since returning from my amazing trip to the Outer Banks.

For me, the single parenting aspect of this grief journey has been the toughest, by far. Not only do I still have our four youngest children at home, but we had adopted all four of them within just a little over a year prior to Joel’s death (and the adoption of one wasn’t complete until four months prior to his death, although we had parented him the longest). With adoption, there are significant challenges in and of themselves that often make two-parent families curl up in a ball in a corner at times. It’s tough friends. We were highly educated for this. We knew what we could face, and we had been not only surviving it but truly thriving (even on the difficult days). And, with God’s help…we were doing it…TOGETHER! Now…I’m both mommy and “daddy” to them. And, let me tell you, I do NOT make a good “daddy”.  I know I’m not the only single parent in the world. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children who just lost their daddy too (truly, I’m not). But, knowing that, although comforting in a twisted sort of way, doesn’t take away my real day-to-day needs.

Most of those are needs that can only be met by God Himself: parenting wisdom, loneliness, anger, sadness, confusion, emotional and physical drain, and much more. I am often asked, “What do you need?” Truly…I can’t answer that question most of the time. Due to my physical and emotional exhaustion…I can’t think past the next moment many times. I continue to say the greatest gift you can do is seek the Lord with that question and simply do whatever He instructs you to do. He knows our every need. For example, just two nights ago, I received a phone call from an Asheville friend who felt urged to simply give me a call. That phone call was such a blessing to me. It was simply full of encouragement, understanding, and listening (even through my tears). She didn’t pretend to understand what I am walking through, but she understood pain. She understood grief. She understood parenting challenges. And…she understood in spite of my worst day, God is still central to everything I believe.

Even on these very difficult days I’ve been experiencing lately, I still say with everything in me…He. Is. Still. Good. I’m still waiting for a breakthrough, of sorts. I’m still waiting for come consecutive good days. I’m still waiting for God’s favor in many areas in which I’ve been consistently praying. Even if I don’t see these things for awhile, and even if I don’t see the answers in the way in which I expect them to be received…I believe with everything in me…

He. Is. Still. Good.

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