It has been almost a year since my high school best friend, college sweetheart, first and only man I ever kissed, and my husband of 7 years passed away. Chris died of Stage 4 skin cancer. He fought it for 10 years. He was a fighter, in everything; and he lived life with passion.
Four years into our marriage we were convicted to live differently. We were always taught about God since we were little kids, and we followed God when it was convenient and comfortable. Then we began to learn that what God wanted was for us to love and serve others. He wanted for us to love and serve others even when it was hard and messy and didn’t make a whole lot of sense. So we did. We became a family of 6 overnight by saying “yes” to becoming foster parents to 4 incredible, rambunctious, traumatized, confused but happy kids. This changed our lives in a very raw and non-glamorous way. It was hard, and we had to rely on God for strength but, it gave us an unbelievable joy that comes from serving and loving selflessly.
During the time we were foster parents we had an amazing miracle surprise, I became pregnant. Gabriella Grace was born into an extra loving and wild family. Not only was she loved on by her four brother and sisters, but she was the first grand baby and nothing could hold an adoring Grandma back from her long awaited miracle.
After a year and a half the four kids were able to return back to their Mom. We celebrated how much we had all grown, the kids, their Mom and us. We continued to see them almost weekly but our family of seven was now three. It was not even six months later that Chris passed away, and my family of seven was now a family of two.
I went to grief counseling, I blogged and talked about my story. I talked about Chris all the time. Then I developed a strong longing to be connected again to others who were hurting and struggling. I started volunteering at the hospital Chris was at for the majority of his last couple months. We became friends with a few of the nurses and staff, and the place almost felt like a second home. Before he began hospice, the staff at Sparrow Hospital helped us create a Super Bowl party where many friends said goodbye to Chris for the last time. It was so very special, and a night I will remember forever.
Now, I volunteer on two floors where Chris was hospitalized a year ago. I see nurses who I love and know from when they took care of Chris and I so selflessly. I have a family here, and it continues to grow. It grows when I sit by a patient’s bed and share my story of both pain and joy, it grows when a wife and caregiver sitting by her husbands side and understands me, it grows when a stranger I met a week ago runs up to me and hands me hand knitted washcloths. As I give of myself, I receive so much back in return.
I have countless stories of incredible, ordinary people who I have met. The reason they are so incredible is that they smile in the midst of life being so extremely hard and crummy. They remind me of Chris, strong and at peace. Despite the waves pounding their fragile body, their eyes radiate the sunlight and their mouths speak the promise of a rainbow.
It’s contagious, and I look forward to every Thursday when I volunteer at the hospital. I know the strength and encouragement I can be for others, because I am exceedingly strengthened and encouraged every time I am there.