This One Week in October

(*repost from Caringbridge)

In the history of my life, this one week in October now carries a lot of weight: a proposal, a dreaded suspicion, and a tragic phone call.

I share this to let you in on our story a bit more. And I share it because it helps to grieve – it helps to know others know. These anniversaries stand out on the calendar as a framework for my heart this year. I don’t like it much, but this year the dates matter.

The Proposal

Eleven years ago tomorrow evening (the 23rd), Jeremy and I were walking around Lake Nokomis. We were talking about us – of how our love for one another had unfolded. Jeremy casually led me over to a willow tree, uniquely leaning over the waters. Moments later he surprised me – entirely – as I found him down on one knee asking me to be his bride. I said yes.

I’d say it all over again.

A hundred times over, I’d say yes.

Yes, Jeremy, I want to be yours.

And I want you to be mine.

We were married 10 weeks later.

The Dreaded Suspicion

One year ago this week, Jeremy was inpatient at Region’s Hospital where he had been treated the first time around for cancer. Every time we stepped into those doors we felt as though we were one conversation away from bad news. Fortunately, for the past couple of years it had been good news. Jeremy was sick this time around with a handful of random infections. He was being poked and prodded and looked at with quizzical faces. His blood counts had dropped suspiciously low. Doctors spent a week keeping positive and proposing their theories (while I slowly prepared my heart for bad news). Jeremy was released after a bone marrow biopsy and told to come back the following week for the results. I will never forget walking into the clinic the following week and the receptionist immediately placed a wristband on Jeremy. Our eyes met each other and anxiously spoke the words, this is not good. The oncologist rattled off MDS (what is that?), bone marrow transplant, U of M. We asked for more time, for we were grieving.

The Phone Call

Because a week earlier (October 26th), Jeremy was still inpatient at Regions and I was alone with him in his hospital room. He was feeling alright, all the doctors had completed their assessments with him for the day and the sun was going down, so we decided to take a stroll. A stroll that will forever be ingrained in my mind as beautiful and tragic. These strolls we had become accustomed to years earlier – he in his gown, slippers and mask. His one hand in mine, the other pushing an IV pole down the hallways of the hospital. We walked to the end of the hallway and looked at the colored sky as the sun was setting. It was a beautiful moment. Beautiful because we knew how precious it was – how priceless – for we knew there was a possibility of darker days ahead. We asked permission to leave the floor and we walked to a main lobby where the second level stored a piano. We stopped there for a while. Jeremy played out a melody that had been a song in the making for several months. It was my absolute favorite, and we decided that day that the lyrics would be written and sung by the both of us.

I received a call from my aunt. I expected she was calling to check in on Jeremy, but our moment together was so lovely that I didn’t want to interrupt it by answering the call, so I let it ring.

Jeremy and I shared a few more words.

He played a few more notes on the piano.

My phone rang again – my aunt (again). All of a sudden, concern hit me.I better answer it,  I told Jeremy.

She was the bearer of bad news. She asked that I drive up to my grandparents house before she would tell me more. But I could not wait. I begged her to tell. Did something happen to Grandma and Grandpa, or is it Dad? “It’s your dad”, she said. I hung up the phone and tried to tell Jeremy that something was terribly wrong. He told me we’d find out.They have to tell you, he said, I need to be with you. I called my brother-in-law, because I knew she had talked with him already, and he was weeping over the phone. “Oh, Jenny…” is all I remember. “Oh, Jenny…” – Jeremy grabbed the phone out of my hand and got all the details from Mike. I searched his face for an ounce of hope that what I thought was not true.

He’s gone, I said. He’s gone, isn’t he?

“Yes, Jen, he’s gone”, Jeremy said as he embraced me.

How? What happened?

And I wept. I wept like I have never wept before in my entire life.

I don’t know how we made it back to his room. But he held me up with one hand and pushed his IV pole with the other. I remember him apologizing to people in the hallway – “we’re okay…”. I remember wondering what people were thinking – here Jeremy is all gowned up and pushing an IV pole, while literally holding up the one who looks fine – except for the fact that she’s weeping. And weeping over a sudden death is a weeping like none other, I expect.

I wept because I loved him. I loved my dad. I wept because I had just seen him that morning – he looked great – all dressed up in his hunting clothes, truck loaded, ready to head up north. He was staying with the boys to get them to school while I attended my nursing class and then went to be with Jeremy at the hospital.

I wept because my dad drove the boys to school that morning in the truck that he lost control of six hours later, when a main artery from his heart ruptured. It could have happened then, with them. The boys could have watched their grandpa die. And instead, they got to see him alive and well on his last day of life.

I wept because I needed him – Jeremy was sick – we depended on his presence and his care for us.

I wept because I was running late that morning to get out the door. I gave him a side squeeze – not a real big hug – and I rattled off instructions as I ran out, wishing all the while that I could spend more time with him. I drove off and waved to him while he stood in the front window with the boys waving back at me – the last moment I saw him alive. I will never forget his wave goodbye.

I wept because the accident was so tragic, yet no one else got hurt. I wept for his friend, Donny, who had to watch it all unfold, and yet I was so glad he was there – so glad that dad was not alone – grateful that Donny could tell us what dad had just eaten for lunch and the funny jokes he had told as they conversed.

And I wept for the boys and their love for him (and his love for them).  I wept for their lost innocence.

A year ago, I had never experienced a death in our family quite so close, and now I’ve experienced two (two very different deaths).

It’s possible I wept so hard that day because I had never really known loss to such an extent. And it’s possible I wept so hard that day because it was necessary for me not to linger over such grief, being more was soon coming.

I now knew death. As I watched Jeremy take his final breaths eight months later, I knew there would be emptiness. I knew it would feel so very wrong. But I knew I’d wake up the next day and get out of bed and love my boys. And I knew that the sun would rise and set as it always does…

But a year ago Jeremy was here to grieve with me. Now I grieve without him. This is very evident this week.

My History of Letting Go

The spring following our wedding, Jeremy and I were walking around the same lake were he had proposed just months earlier. We were looking for “our tree” and soon became suspicious. Unknown to us, our willow tree – the one that had sheltered us both as we confirmed our engagement – had been blown down in a storm just weeks before. I remember telling Jeremy after we realized this, I hope that’s not a foreshadowing of what is to come… – he brushed the comment off rather quickly, we chuckled and continued our stroll hand in hand, grieving some that our place of promise was no longer a shelter to us.

Rewind back even further, when our love began – it was a storybook summer romance in 1998. It lasted only the summer. But it was real. And when it was over come fall, it deeply hurt the both of us. Jeremy had his own story for what happened in his life the years following, but for me, I could not figure out how to let one go that seemed to be so deeply mine. My thoughts of him would ebb and flow. Finally, in the spring of 2001, I had come to realize that I loved him so much that if what was best for him was not me, I’d be happy to let him go – I truly wanted the best for him. As I let him go in my heart, I said to God, “If three months is all You gave me to experience life with Jeremy, than that will be enough…”. This is a prayer that forever sticks in my mind – a prayer of letting go. Interestingly enough, after finally cutting the strings that bound my heart to his, Jeremy sought me out again and by mid- summer we were dating.

Three years into our marriage, Jeremy was diagnosed with lymphoma. I knew it was possible that this cancer would be the end of him, leaving me with 18- month old Aedan and eight weeks pregnant with Eli. That prayer quickly came back to my mind – if I once told God three months was enough, then three years will have to be enough as well. I had promised God when I gave Jeremy up the first time (which I now regretted somewhat) but in the depth of my being, I knew I still meant it. I’d take any number of days to be with him…

And of Letting Go Again…

The years following Jeremy’s initial treatment have stories of their own (I will not go into them now).

But as I recount this past year, the joy and love we shared as we awaited his transplant – delay after delay after delay – is rich. It was so very rich. I remember telling someone as I eventually became frustrated by all the delays, that if this transplant was going to work, I wanted to get started on it and get it over with as soon as possible. But if it was going to take his life, I wanted it to be delayed forever. The weekend before Jeremy’s admission, I remember being surprised at how badly I wanted to pack our bags and run far away – to leave this tragedy – to pretend it wasn’t happening (though even if we could have, his body was telling us that it wasn’t going to make it much longer anyway). Deep down, I will admit, I felt the loss coming. I wished it not. I hoped it not. But my heart, now in retrospect, has in some ways been preparing for this for over a decade – hasn’t it? That prayer of letting go that I prayed when I was 19 – it mattered. God needed to know that I was willing and able. He knew what was to be. I still don’t know why. I will never know why. But I trust that He knows what He’s doing. And for the boys and me, that trust is what gets us out of bed every day to see the sun rise and what lays us down in peace when the sun sets.

He was not mine to have forever (not here, anyway). I did dream of us growing old together, but could never quite picture it – maybe my heart already knew it was unlikely.

Yet it did not keep me from living fully with him – fully enjoying him. There was so much to enjoy.

It will be enough for me, though it wasn’t enough.

And I will let go day by day because I have to, not because I want to.

And as I do, God will restore what has been broken. He promises to.

From experience, I’ve known it to be true.

And in faith, I believe it will be true again.

I am very aware that the place of promise that sheltered us as Jeremy placed a ring on my finger eleven years ago, and those hands that held me as I wept last year, were only tokens of a much greater promise and much greater hands. I am His. It is different now. But it is enough.

I am also aware that my loss this year does not compare to what other’s have experienced. There could have been more tragedy. It could have been worse. There are others of you who are in much more difficult circumstances than I. I have much to be thankful for. And more than anything, I am grateful to have had – the life that Jeremy gave to me is worth every day of grief. I would choose this over not ever having had him (and I do not take this for granted either).

In the weeks to come, I plan to post a more practical update about what the last couple of months have been like for the boys and me, as well as updates with regards to Jeremy’s music. Thank you for your continued prayers for our family. We are blessed to be known by you. We are very much carried and uplifted by your prayers.