Shaking the Stench of Death off Our Family

Back when my husband was wrapping up his first round of cancer treatment – so this was before all hope had been lost – we were at the hospital for a follow-up visit after his surgery.

It was a spring day in Michigan so the air was warming up and the ground was thawing, but my husband was moping. I don’t blame him. A year ago, he’d been healthy and whole. Now, he had just brushed past death and was minus an esophagus.

Anyway, we passed one of our favorite people who worked in the hospital. She asked what we’d been up to and my husband shrugged his shoulders to say not much.

“Well go outside and get the stink off you!” she replied.

My husband, taken slightly aback, asked if he smelled. She said no and gave a reply that I can’t quite remember but that was essentially: stop feeling sorry for yourself, the weather is great and you should be out enjoying it.

Sure, it may have been easy for her to say, but it was the tough love comment we needed to hear. We’d been through a hellacious winter and (at least temporarily) hit the light at the end of the tunnel but were still acting like we were living in darkness.

Choosing to be a family not defined by death

For some reason, that “get the stink off” comment has stuck with me. That may be why, within a month after my husband died, that I gathered the kids, told them to think big and write down a destination they would like to visit on vacation.

The slips of paper went into a jar and out came Hawaii.

I really didn’t think we would go to Hawaii. I’m great at ideas, but follow through? Not so much. Still, I thought that after three soul-crushing years spent in cancerland, even the idea of Hawaii would give us something positive to tuck away in the back of our brains.

But then it turned into something real. The kids started conversations that began with “When we go to Hawaii…” So I started saving and planning and wondering if it were insane to take a solo trip across the ocean with five kids.

Last month, we did it. We spent nearly two weeks in Hawaii on Oahu and the Big Island. We played in the waves, saw the turtles and lazed around. We got sunburned, got lost and got plenty of memories along the way.

Even better, as I stepped off the plane coming home, it occurred to me that we were no longer simply the family that had watched their Dad die. We were no longer a widow and fatherless children moving sadly through life. No. Now, we were the family who went to Hawaii. We were the ones who weren’t going to sit at home and feel sorry for ourselves.

It felt like we had shaken the stench of death off our family. We would no longer be defined by what we lost but rather who we are and what our future holds.

Of course, there is a certain sadness in moving forward. Part of you wants to sit and revel in your grief because that’s where your loved one dwells. Putting on a happy face and moving forward seems to imply that you’re ok that so-and-so is dead. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you ‘oh, he would want you to be happy and move on.’ The reality is that being happy and moving on feel like a betrayal.

So I’m working my way through those emotions.

In the meantime, the kids were so excited when we got home from Hawaii that they all had ideas for our next big trip. Again, we put them in a jar and this time, out came Japan. God willing, I should have some rather cool stories to share in 2017.

Have you ever taken a trip that you felt changed your life?

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    1. Hey Mayalene. Just read this blog. Yeah, good for you. Hawaii, I have been there once when I was on tour with a Christian singing group, right out of high school, a million years ago. Lived in Florida at the time. The group was based in Orlando. My tour got to go to Hawaii. So, you are indeed brave to pack up 5 kids and go on any trip. Good job!!! I did the same thing after my husband left me for 3 years. I know this may sound odd, since you don’t know me and I don’t know you(except from your blogs) but I just want you to know you can come to Colorado and stay at our place. I know you would be crazy to go anywhere and stay without first getting to know them. Definitely! So my Facebook is Robin Miller. We live across from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. We, (yes my husband and I got back together after 3 long years) have a special needs daughter who lives about 45 minutes from us, closer to the mountains. She is married and they live with his parents. They have a little 5 year old girl, Bella. She is a delight. Then we have our oldest son who is married and lives in Seattle. His wife Ellie, is Phillipino and they have twin 2 year old girls, Bhumi and Moxie and a 5 year old boy Kaze who is Autistic. Then we have a daughter Sophie Rose who spent 3 years on the mission field with YWAM based out of New Zealand. She went on various trips from that base to Guatemala, Jamaica, Malaysia etc. She is now home and working downtown at a coffee shop. She is our super independent one for sure. She is dating a precious guy who lost his father about 5 years ago and is also struggling with God. Then we have our youngest son Addison, who is a junior at Nebraska Wesleyan University. He is also independent but very sweet and has a wonderful thankful heart. He is going into Sports Psychology. My husband Kent, is a marriage counselor and treats me like a queen. He is sorry for the past and I have forgiven him. We lead worship occasionally at churches in the area who need someone to fill in for a while. I know you aren’t praying much these days, but if you decide you can muster up one prayer…we have a 16 year old nephew whose best friend accidentally shot and killed himself right before Christmas. Around the first of the year our nephew Brady, came down with some hard symptoms. Extreme vertigo, nausea, double vision, numbness in his face. He couldn’t eat for 2 weeks and after losing 15 pounds they took him in for intravenous feeding and took a cat scan. They found bleeding in the brain. He has been at Denver Children’s Hospital for 3 weeks now. They started brain surgery last Wednesday. But 2 1/2 hours into surgery technical difficulties arose…so they stopped. I don’t think they had actually cut the skull yet. They took another MRI yesterday and the doctor said he wasn’t sure they would do surgery. He is scheduled again for surgery today. His parents will make that decision this am. My prayers have actually been that they wouldn’t have to cut on his precious head. My prayers have been for healing. I also know that God’s ways are higher than mine so I add “Your kingdom come Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” to the end of my prayer for Brady. I understand it’s hard to pray after losing someone so precious. My boyfriend(future husband I thought) shot and killed himself when I was 20. I lost my mom to cancer and my dad to emphysema. I miscarried my third baby. I remember when my husband left just sitting on the cement in the driveway and staring at the mountains and asking, where are you God. Your Word says You are a mighty bulwark. I didn’t know what that was but it sounded pretty big. So I asked him to be big for me. There is a verse that says “I look to the mountains from whence comes my help”. I looked at the mountains that day and said,”BRING IT GOD”. I was trying to live on $1000 a month. Our house payment was $500, our utilities were $100. I had 2 babies in diapers. Little by little God did bring it. We had been existing on peanut butter from WIC and ramen and other cheap and unhealthy food. God brought a couple from our church into my life that helped me find a food bank. Then I got to volunteer and they sent me home with 4 boxes of food every week. (Sorry, I just realized that I am writing a book here). So God Bless you for now.
      PS I am starting our taxes today. I watch the DVD Calendar Girls over and over plus some other movies(compliments of Century Link Prism)…so doing the taxes isn’t so bad. It takes me about 3 weeks.
      Signing off–2 feet of snow but a sunny day here in Colorado.

      1. Hi Robin,

        Thanks so much for both of your comments. They are so encouraging!

        I know I am a few days late, but I am praying for your nephew today. I hope the doctors were able to do surgery or find a good course of action to get him on the path to healing. I can only imagine how stressful this situation must be for both him and your family.

        And your story is such a beautiful witness to God’s grace! I love that you and your husband were able move past all that hurt to have a wonderful marriage today. Your kids and grandkids sound like an amazing bunch too. 🙂

        I can see God working in my life too when I look, but I think sometimes it’s easier to wallow in self-pity than to do the hard work of moving forward. However, I like to think that I’m slowly climbing out of the self-pity phase of my life.

        Not sure when or if I’ll ever be in Colorado, but if I am, I will let you know!


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