Personal Learning

Countless Words of Impact

“You must keep writing,” she said. “You have to share your heart with the world,” she would impress upon me. “I’ve never known anyone quite like you Kristen,” she would say after I bounced back from another hit, personally or professionally. “You must write a book… you were meant to,” she insisted in her final weeks. And her “go to” phrase… “This too shall pass, you will see.” The countless words of impact. These are just a few of the words I replay in my mind and my heart each day. These are the words my beautiful mother in law, mother, friend, and confidante spoke to me while she was still here on this earth walking by my side. She spoke these words to me… because she could. Today marks one year that I had to let her go. I wasn’t ready, but I’m not sure I ever would have been. To know Sandy Nan was a joy, and to be loved by her was a gift of immense impact.

Her love had no conditions, ever.

Her love never judged me. Her love always understood me. I never had to find the perfect words or restate the ones I said. She never counted up the moments I gave her, that didn’t compare to the ones I received. She never asked me to give her another minute, nor did she expect it, ever. She never questioned my intent, as she knew my heart guided all my actions. She never needed an explanation, nor did she need me to speak one word, as she always knew what I was thinking. She was my biggest fan and my number one supporter. She spoke words of wisdom and listened with an empathetic ear. She never tried to fix me or the situation, but listened and guided. She held my hand both figuratively and literally, as I stumbled through this thing called life. Oh, how I miss her hand in mine.

You can’t go around it, you have to go through it.

I never quite cared for this phrase, as I have chosen plenty of things to bypass in life… the things that were within my control. But grief knows no bounds. It is a one way lane that you cannot pass on. It is blinded and cannot see… not race, color, religion, ethnicity, social status or bloodlines. You simply cannot go around it, you must go through to find a better tomorrow… the one that brings you joy to know she is with Him. In many ways it reminds me a lot of love. For each day that I have had to go through the grief and loss of my beautiful mother in law, is a day to remind me of the love that we shared… a love so very precious to me. Going through grief has looked differently for me than I had imagined. The loss I felt so great was also my dear husband’s mother, my precious children’s nana, my beautiful father in law’s love for over 50 years, along with sister and aunt, cousin and friend. So many hurt hearts that needed attention. Where did my loss fit into this big picture? I never needed to think about this before… I would’ve just talked to mom and we would have seen it through together, all while holding up our beautiful family. How was I going to do this for them and for her? The one person that held my hand was no longer there to go through it with me and for once I had to be the strength for my family that she had always been… a role I wasn’t prepared for, or at least I didn’t think I was. Faith.

Beyond 365 days of firsts…

I cannot say that time has healed anything for me as this was a year of firsts. The first 365 days without her, not to mention the hours and minutes. Some may think of holidays as the “tough firsts”, but those were oddly okay. For me it was Sunday in church, with too much room in the pew and no one to plan and cook Sunday dinner with me. It was a Monday, when I couldn’t call her for advice. A Tuesday, when the phone would ring and she would start every conversation with a little chuckle after she would say, “Kristen”. A Wednesday, when I just needed to hear her voice. A Thursday, when we would talk about weekend plans. A Friday, when we would just take a deep breath and recap the week. Saturdays, when we jetted down to the Strip District in Pittsburgh for just a few hours and wound up strolling in at 7-8:00 at night. When we would go to Marshalls, grab lunch, a massage, or just run errands together then drive home to tackle the mounds of laundry hand in hand. It was every piece of furniture I sat on that she helped me pick out, the drapes she stitched for me, the pictures full of memories that adorned the walls of our home, the bedding we found for a great price so we bought four sets instead of one, cooking meals she loved or ones we created together. It was setting the table for 5 and not for 6 (I remember the first time I set the table without her and I literally had to put her plate on the table and then take it away before anyone saw it… somehow to acknowledge to myself as it was my first of many moments to endure). The pies that were no longer being baked. The laughter and tears that were no longer there. Each time I hugged my precious boys, I would hug them a little longer just for her. It was Trent turning 16 and not having his Nana there to celebrate with him and tell him how proud she is of the man he is becoming. Jack struggling for the first time with anxiety and she wasn’t here to tell him he was going to be okay. Eric having to grasp a life without his beautiful mother. All while witnessing my father in law gracefully lean into his faith, a place I yearned to be.

Two simple words… “Thank you”

As we gathered around the table on New Year’s Day, we bowed our heads for grace. The table wasn’t full as Jack and pap had been under the weather, so Eric and I sat with Trent ready to bring in the new start that awaited. To hear Trent pray is like witnessing God himself, as he speaks from his heart and always embraces the moment. He went on to say, “Thank you God for this past year.” I could hear the deep breath taken by Eric as I was holding my own in. He continued, “I know it may not seem right to others for me to thank you for the year you took our Nana away, but you also gave us so much. Thank you for being there for us and for helping us through”… and the prayer went on and on. Tears ran down our faces and Trent said, “I am sorry, I don’t want this year to start off sad for us, but I felt that we needed to thank God for all he has done for us.” The countless words of impact. Without hesitation we both thanked him. We both spoke words of humility, love, and grace for this beautiful gift we call our son. This past year has had many firsts. My world revolved around mom in ways that meant I didn’t need anyone else. She filled every role she possibly could and I gratefully embraced every one of them. I suppose in many ways she was a continuous reminder of what joy can bring and that I need to be open to ways I can continue to find it in my life. Time has not healed me, nor did I expect it to. Time has not lessened my pain. What time has given me is opportunity… a chance to refocus, for friendships to blossom, for journeys to begin, to see hands to hold beyond the one that I lost and to thank you for walking by my side through all of it.

Thank you to those who held my heart with the deepest of care.

Thank you to those who had grace on me even when I felt I wasn’t deserving.

Thank you to those that allowed me to feel my own loss.

Thank you to those who placed opportunity in my path and then encouraged me to grab a hold.

Thank you to those who helped to create my new normal.

Thank you to those who didn’t assume or place judgement on me.

Thank you to those who pushed me when I couldn’t push myself.

Thank you God for placing each of these people in my life. Faith

Personal Learning

Because I Can

Did you ever say the words “I wish I would have”?  Like many others, I have too.  Today though, I won’t.  No regrets.  I will say what is on my heart because I can.

I have a very special person in my life.  One that God blessed me with, even when I wasn’t most deserving.  He brought her in my life at the age of 18.  I was so vulnerable to the world.  I had ridden the roller coaster of divorce.  I had been stripped of trust in ways unimaginable.  I had felt defeat.  I had a skewed vision of normal.  I was at the mercy of my own decisions.  I had chosen to take on the world in spite of the statistics that said I would not succeed.  Then the unimaginable happened… I had fallen in love with her son.

I remember meeting her for the first time.  I was in awe of her grace.  She had a way of making me feel comfortable in my unsettling skin.  She struck up conversation, bringing me into her world, and making me feel important… visible.  This woman I would one day call mom because mother in law didn’t come close to the relationship we were about to build together.

God knew I needed her then as much as I do now, but for different reasons.  At 18, I needed someone to believe in me and she did.  I needed a gentle soul to encourage me… and she did.  I needed God to shine his light on me… and so he gave me her eyes to look in.  The ones that brought me closer to Him.  The eyes that told me I would be okay.  The eyes that shaped my heart so that I could love her son… and myself.

Have you ever felt unconditional love?  The kind that supports you through thick and thin.  The kind that holds judgement knowing it will do more harm than good.  The kind that never ever leaves your side no matter how undeserving you may be.  The kind that gives endlessly as if you are all that matters in the world.  The kind that wants “better” for you in every way.  The kind that would go to the ends of the earth to find it for you.  I have… and today I want to say thank you because I can.

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Mom, Dad, and Trent in Myrtle Beach, NC.  2005

Dear Mom,

“Thank you” will never seem like enough… those words are supposed to be so much bigger than they sound, then they look.  They are supposed to tell you that you saved me.  You saved me from being less than what your son deserves.  Less than who I was meant to be.  You gave me an example to strive for as a wife and mother.  You helped me look through the lens of others in place of the selfish view I had come to rely on.  Those words, “thank you”, are supposed to tell you that you showed me how to love with my heart and not my mind.  Thank you for the man you raised to be my husband.  The one who has lived by your example.  Thank you for being you.  You taught me that the word BUT negates everything beautiful one can say in a split moment.  You mom, taught me how to be in the moment and be grateful for what I have.  You showed me that good exists in the world and I can be a part of it if I choose.  You held me when I needed held and pushed me back on my feet when I couldn’t stand on my own.  You have shown me faith.  You have been an example of respect.  You have led me.  You have walked behind and pushed me forward.  You have walked next to me, holding my hand.

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Mom, Trent, Jack, and me on Easter 2009

You have been my friend.  My confidant.  My go to shopping diva.  Our time together has always been chosen.  The kind that can’t be lived without.  How often do you hear that about a mother in law and daughter in law? Oh we know, right… everyone tells us how lucky we are to have one another.  Our time has been filled with endless talks, 12 hour shopping days (using up a personal day for the grand opening of The Mall at Robinson.. who does that?), women’s retreats, babies being born and raised, countless vacations, Sunday football games, beautiful dinners, Broadway Shows galore, sitting poolside, spas, holidays, baking, cooking (remember that time we decided to pull off our best Julia Child’s recipe of beef bourguignon? OH MY!), our trips to Bedford Springs, and the list goes on and on…

Here we are 27 years later.  We have witnessed so much together… sadness and sorrow, disappointments, hurt, happiness, love, and the kind of joy we always have known how to celebrate.  Your love defines all goodness.  Your smile.  Your touch.  Your words of wisdom.  Your uncanny way of saying it how it is… and the ultimate Sandy Nan phrase of “this too shall pass”.  Through it all, when I look into your eyes I still see God.  You are joy mom… the kind to celebrate.

Despite all my imperfections,  I hope I have made you proud.  I hope I have shown you faith.  With each day, I will strive to be an example of respect.  I will lead.  I will walk behind and push others forward.  I will love.

But for now, I am here right next to you mom, holding your hand because I can.

All My Love,

Kristen