Thursday, December 31, 2009

100 days...

As 2009 draws to a close, I am ready to put this year behind me. This year has been bittersweet. Sara and I grew immensely together as a couple, we were in the process of "conquering" cancer, we welcomed our new daughter to the world, and then we had to say good bye to Sara.

On the 22nd of each month, I think, "Well, I made it through another month without Sara." The first few months were very difficult, as I was adjusting to life as a young widower and new father. With each passing month, I would compare it to something known. At the one month mark, I thought, "I have been separated from Sara for one month increments, traveling with work." Now, you could say that I am in "uncharted territory."

After the 3 month anniversary of her death (on December 22), I thought to myself, "Why are you counting? She is going to be gone for the rest of your life...she is gone from this earth FOREVER." Forever seems like a long time, but when compared to ETERNITY, this life we live is "but a blink of an eye." That is hard to comprehend and hurts my brain to think about.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. --Ecclesiastes 3:11

How do I remember 2009? LIFE and DEATH, JOY and SORROW, SICKNESS and HEALTH, PEACE and DESPAIR, FAITH and MORE FAITH...

On this final day of 2009, we have made it to 100 days of life without Sara...but who is counting?

(Yes, those are jewels in her HUGE bow...No, I did not pick it out. Thanks, Angie).

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2010. Happy New Year and God Bless!

Friday, December 25, 2009

What if Christ had not come...

"They will call him Immanuel" - which means, "God with us." --Matthew 1:23

An excerpt from "Streams in the Desert" by L.B. Cowman.

There's a song in the air!
There's a star in the sky!
There's a mother's deep prayer,
And a baby's low cry!
And the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King.

A number of years ago a remarkable Christmas card was published by the title "If Christ Had Not Come." It was based on our Savior's own words, "If I had not come," in John 15:22. The card pictured a minister falling asleep in his study on Christmas morning and then dreaming of a world into which Jesus had never come.

In his dream, he saw himself walking through his house, but as he looked, he saw no stockings hung on the chimney, no Christmas tree, no wreaths of holly, and no Christ to comfort and gladden hearts or to save us. He then walked onto the street outside, but there was no church with its spire pointing toward heaven. And when he came back and sat down in his library, he realized that every book about our Savior had disappeared.

The minister dreamed that the doorbell rang and that a messenger asked him to visit a friend's poor dying mother. He reached her home, and as his friend sat and wept, he said, "I have something here that will comfort you." He opened his Bible to look for a familiar promise, but it ended with Malachi. There was no gospel and no promise of hope and salvation, and all he could do was bow his head and weep with his friend and his mother in bitter despair.

Two days later he stood beside her coffin and conducted her funeral service, but there was no message of comfort, no words of a glorious resurrection, and no thought of a mansion awaiting her in heaven. There was only "dust to dust, and ashes to ashes, " and one long, eternal farewell. Finally he realized that Christ had not come, and burst into tears, weeping bitterly in his sorrowful dream.

Then suddenly he awoke with a start, and a great shout of joy and praise burst from his lips as he heard his choir singing these words in his church nearby:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels,

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!


Let us be glad and rejoice today, because He has come. And let us remember that proclamation of the angel: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).

From our family to yours, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Birthdays...

Sara always amazed me at her innate ability to remember people's birthdays. It would always catch me by surprise when she would wake up and the first words our of her mouth were, "Today is _______'s birthday."

She wanted people to feel extra special on their day. She loved to make a big deal out of birthdays, especially my dad's. Dad once said that "birthdays are like belly buttons...everybody has one and they are not that exciting." That drove Sara crazy. She LOVED birthdays and wanted people to enjoy their day!

As Christmas approaches, I am missing Sara terribly, but know that she is excited to be celebrating Jesus' birthday with Him this year.

"Christmas in Heaven"
by Wanda Bencke

I see the countless Christmas trees
Around the world below,
With tiny lights like Heaven's stars
Reflecting in the snow.

The sight is so spectacular
Please wipe away that tear,
For I am spending Christmas
With Jesus Christ this year.

I hear the many Christmas songs
That people hold so dear,
But the sound of music can't compare
with the Christmas Choir up here.

I have no words to tell you
Of the joy their voices bring,
For it is beyond description
To hear the angels sing.

I know how much you miss me,
I see the pain inside your heart,
But through our memories so dear
We are never far apart.

I can't tell you of the splendor
Of the peace here in this place,
Can you just imagine Christmas
With our Savior face to face?

I'll ask Him to light your spirit
As I tell Him of your love,
Then I'll pray for one another
As you lift your eyes above.

So, please let your heart be joyful
And let your spirit sing,
For I'm spending Christmas in Heaven
And I'm walking with the king.

To read the story behind this poem, click here.

Some updated Chloe pics (and videos)...

video

video
(background music added to cover up my embarrassing "baby talk" voice)


Last weekend, Chloe and I spent some time at the lake. My older brother is getting "artsy" with his photography skills and took this great picture. The dogs and I spent some time on the dock "thinking about life." Good times for me...and the dogs.

Brothers

My family is coming to San Antonio for Christmas, then Chloe and I are headed to Houston the week after to spend time with my dad and Sara's family.

I will also be making a trip to Niles, Ohio (near Cleveland) for my Grandfather's funeral some time in the near future. He passed away in Florida on Monday, December 21. His health had been declining steadily for the past few years, but it was still tough to receive the news that he had passed away. I thought I was mentally prepared for it.

My dad and his sisters flew to Florida on Monday and got to spend a few final hours with their dad. I said a few words to him on the phone Monday evening. Needless to say, I'm sick and tired of attending funerals.

Though this year has been inundated with lots of sadness, it is through the tears that I see all that I have to be thankful for...and refuse to take for granted.

As Christmas draws near, my hope is that you would reflect upon the true reason we celebrate Christmas. Happy Birthday, Jesus, and Merry Christmas to you!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. --Isaiah 9:6

...and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. -- Luke 1:7

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What Happened and Why?

Sara's autopsy report was recently completed. Sara experienced a massive stroke that caused uncontrollable brain swelling that led to cerebral herniation (brain being compressed into the base of her skull) which led to restriction of blood flow which led to brain death.

There was a slight delay in getting the final autopsy report completed because Sara's brain made a trip to Washington D.C. The pathology team at Wilford Hall did not find anything that pointed to a cause for Sara's stroke. So, her brain went to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in D.C. for the "big-wigs" to take a look. Results...inconclusive.

I am okay with this finding and actually predicted that "they" were not going to be able to pinpoint a cause. As Sara was in the hospital for her final days, 100s of tests were run and they all came back normal. This was frustrating for the doctors working the case and, after discussions with the doctor who performed the autopsy, frustrating for the pathologists working on finding a cause. There seems to be no clinical reason for the stroke.

While in Dallas (for the Komen Race a few months ago) I was having a philosophical discussion with my older brother, Jay. We were talking about Sara's life, and the impact she had on so many while she was alive...and that her impact seemed to increase after her death. Jay brought up the fact that it did not seem like the cancer was the cause of Sara's death. We started discussing lots of "what ifs..."

Here are some of the realizations we had that night.

Though the cancer did not kill Sara, the cancer...

- caused us to move back to Texas, near our family and friends, for the last 5 months of Sara's life.

- caused me not to deploy. My squadron in Japan left for a 6-month deployment on the day Sara had her mammogram. I was supposed to be on that deployment.

- is the reason why this blog was started.

- allowed our family (and 1000s of others) to see Sara put COMPLETE TRUST AND FAITH in the Lord.

- allowed Sara's inner beauty to RADIATE more than ever before. When I picture Sara, I see a pregnant bald lady in a hospital bed...not the image of her when she was in her prime health. I love that bald pregnant lady more than the woman I married 5 years ago.

- helped our marriage to become "rock solid." Sara and I had a great marriage from day 1, but over the course of the past year, we grew in amazing ways together...even though Sara was "locked up" inside the hospital on bed rest for a lot of the time.

- allowed me to fall more in love with my wife, as we spent an unprecedented amount of quality time together this past year.

As I was thinking back over "the cancer journey," I thought back to the first morning after we got the bad news about Sara's mammogram. I had a hard time getting out of bed and told Sara to turn on some music. This was my "low point" on our journey into the unknown. A few minutes later, I was holding Sara in my arms as we danced in our living room listening to the song "There Is A Reason" by Caedmon's Call. I had my hand on her belly, praying for the Lord to spare the life of our new baby inside of her. We were both in tears, but truly believed that God had a reason for this trial in our lives.

A few verses from "There Is A Reason" by Caedmon's Call

Late at night I wonder why
Sometimes I wonder why
Sometimes I'm so tired I don't even try
Seems everything around me fails
But I hold onto the promise
That there is a reason
There is a reason

He makes all things good
He makes all things good
There's a time to live and a time to die
A time for wonder and to wonder why
Cause there is a reason
There is a reason

In Ecclesiastes, there is a passage about there being "a time for everything." I referenced this verse previously, but now that Chloe is here, it hits home even more. We had been trying to get Sara pregnant for the 6 months prior to it actually happening. Had the pregnancy not happened when it did, Chloe would not be here. Sara got pregnant on the final opportunity we had before we found out about the cancer. THANK YOU, LORD!

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance... --Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

So, WHAT HAPPENED? We will never know what was going on in Sara's body to cause the massive stroke that led to her death.

WHY? I am confident that Sara died in order for God to receive GLORY through it. Though hard for our "earthly" minds to comprehend, I believe this completely. Soli Deo Gloria!

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. --Psalm 116:15

A few days after our Christmas Tree had been decorated (thanks, Mom), I was looking for something and just happened to open up a random drawer in the entry way table (where we have nothing stored). I found this ornament in that drawer, all by itself. I have no idea who or where it came from or how it found its way into that random drawer in my entry way.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

'Tis the Season...

Chloe attended her first Christmas Party at my squadron last week. This year, Santa ditched his traditional sleigh and traded in his reindeer for turbine engines and jet fuel.

video
"Turbine-Powered Sleigh"

Meeting Santa

Chloe turned 3 months old on December 8. Here are a few pictures from her monthly photo session (thanks again, Dawn).

Best Gift Ever!


Christmas 2009
San Antonio, TX

For the past 2 years, I have taken Christmas pictures in this obnoxious sweater. Though taken with different people, each one is with my favorite lady in life. I am still shocked at all that has transpired over the course of ONE YEAR!

Christmas 2008
Misawa, Japan

Here are a few pictures that I took over the past week...



In a previous post, I talked about "RSVPing for 1" for our squadron Christmas party. The party was last weekend and was a great time. The planners did a great job of remembering Sara. The photo slideshow of all the 435th FTS families was dedicated in Sara's memory. The final picture was of Sara holding Chloe on the day we brought her home from the hospital. I fought back the tears...

Sara and Chloe
Sept 15, 2009

I owe a huge THANK YOU to the "435th Family" for all of their support during the past 3 months. I am forever grateful!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stages of Grief...

As life slowly returns to "normal" and the shock of Sara's death subsides, I can look back and see the different stages of grief that I have been experiencing. Initially, there was SHOCK. Then came the DISBELIEF and now I am going through the FRUSTRATION of living life without my wife.

As I was talking to one of our good friends about the frustration, she said, "I expected that...you were a very "well taken care of" husband." Sara was an AMAZING housewife. She loved being a housewife. She loved to make my coffee. She loved to cook for me. She DID NOT love to clean for me, but did it anyways, because she loved me. I would always ask her if she was having fun while cleaning...she always told me NO! As I find myself doing ALL the jobs around the house (that Sara used to do) I get frustrated. This phase will pass in due time.

Chloe and I enjoyed our time in Houston. As I was driving to Houston, all of a sudden, I thought about going to the cemetery. I called the cemetery and they said that Sara's headstone had recently arrived and had been erected. A wave of emotion hit me as I thought about seeing her grave.

On Thanksgiving morning, Chloe and I headed to Houston National Cemetery. As I was pulling on to the property, another wave of emotion hit...I could not believe that I was about to see Sara's grave. As I was driving through the cemetery, I saw a man kneeling down at a grave. "How sad!" I said to myself. Then it hit me - I was going to be that man in a few minutes...and I had our baby daughter with me.



After we had been there for about 10 minutes a group of 3 ladies walked up and were visiting the grave of their family member (who is buried right in front of Sara). I said hello to them, and then heard them whispering and crying. I turned around and they were reading Sara's headstone. They asked if she was my wife and I gave them a 2 minute rundown of the past 11 months. Tears flowed...

Then, they took this photo for me.


In a previous posting, I said that "firsts" have proven difficult. I now know how it feels to visit the grave of my wife and expect the next time to be easier.

Here are a few pictures from our time in Houston...

Jon (my younger brother)

Jay (my older brother)

Larry (my dad)



Naptime

Sara's Fam

Being with family over the holidays was great, but there was something missing. I recently explained my feelings by saying, "I am content with where I am, but I do not feel complete."

As the stages of grief progress, I have read that there will be a time when 24 hours pass without me thinking about Sara. That is difficult to comprehend because currently, I think about her at least 24 times with each hour that passes.


Grief is a process, not a state. --Anne Grant

Grief is itself a medicine. --William Cowper

He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it. --Turkish Proverb

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. --Matthew 5:4