I can't remember if I remember

I had a horrifying experience this week:

I couldn't remember.

It started with a drive to meet my sister-in-law in Canada. The drive was a familiar one that I've taken with Jer hundreds of times through the years. Suddenly and unexpectedly, but like a familiar wave of grief, I was struck with tears realizing I would never take the drive again with him. Then I started to try and remember all the different drives I had taken with Jeremy over the years on that road. I remembered very little, which bothered me, but that wasn't the problem.

I then started trying to think about what it felt like to hold Jeremy's hand in the car like I had so many times before. But instead, all I could remember for that little while was holding my brother's hand in the hospital as he slipped away from us, and the second I noticed a change in his hands and knew that he was gone. And like the wave, I was covered in tears. Tears for my brother, who I've been missing so much the last few days (well, ever since I saw my nephew last weekend and his resemblence to my brother was so eery and heartbreaking for me) and tears for the fact that I couldn't get myself to remember was it was like to hold my husband's hand.

I started to go back to all those familiar moments that I think about often. Like the night before he died - him holding my hand on the way home, telling me how much he loved to hear me sing....I tried to remember past what I normally thought about, maybe some other details I missed before and I couldn't. Then I started to doubt the memory. It feels so distant - did that really happen? Do I actually remember it or is it just because I thought about it so many millions of times that it has become a habit instead of a memory? It was truly horrifying to feel like my memories were slipping further away from me just like Jeremy was.

Luckily, it was fleeting. Sometimes, all it takes is a picture of his jaw line or crooked smile to bring all those things back. Or a random hot day where the smell of sweat suddenly made me miss his salty kisses in the middle of the afternoon on a lunch break. Or sitting with Steve, playing with his ears, and remembering how different it felt to play with Jeremy's. I remember with such detail praying every day that I never forget.


love makes a family

Love makes a family.

That was the phrase I saw on a t-shirt in Arkansas in a booth raising money for a family trying to adopt. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it. I bought one for me, and one for Steve. Had there been children sizes, I probably would have gotten one for each of our 5 children. Cheesy, I know.

Since then, it has become a theme incorporated in my life, in our wedding, and in our family. In my life, blended families are outside of my knowledge or level of expertise and something I've prayed a lot about. But every time I think about this phrase, or read my t-shirt, it really breaks things down to the basics for me. Every once in awhile, I change it in my head to also say 'God makes a family.'

The truth of the matter is, I loved Steve's daughters before I loved him. I loved them way back when we were just acquaintances and our kids were just friends who hung out once in awhile. But my heart melted for them, and ached for them in their hurt. God allowed them to tug at my heart in many ways before I really understood why.

This weekend was a stressful one, and yet God once again showed me a future outside of what could have ever been my understanding before. These sweet, wonderful girls filled up my heart in so many ways. Zada had picked out a craft with some money she'd earned, which was a box of 4 stepping stones. She graciously shared them with her soon-to-be siblings and her sister and they each made a personalized stepping stone. It was her suggestion to make them for Jeremy and maybe we could take them to his memorial at the college - they all loved the idea. Heart squeeze number one. While we were making them, she thoughtfully asked "if Jeremy is a part of our family, what would he be to me?" Let me stop right there - the fact that these girls have already incorporated Jeremy into our family means more than I could possibly tell you. They understand what an important role he plays for me and my kids and I love that they ask me questions about him (Zada asked me last week if I remembered what the last thing Jeremy said to me was....and I loved being able to tell her yes, and sharing the story with her). I remembered that when we went to Jeremy's grave in Canada, she wrote him a little note on the balloons we took that said 'you were a great friend' so I told that since he was a friend to her when he died, he could stay that to her always. Heart squeeze number 2.

We took the stones to Jer's memorial. After that, they asked to walk around campus to see where Jeremy worked. We held hands and talked, laughed and raced, and watched Carter tumble his way around. Steve noted this precious time while we were all holding hands and said "I love this family." Heart squeeze number 3.
I grabbed Reagan's hand a little tighter and holding back tears, said "Yeah, we're pretty much rock stars."
Reagan smiled. "Yeah, pretty much."

It was the first time I remember taking a deep breath and feeling so proud of the family I had since Jeremy died. I always felt a sense that something was missing and that I would never be able to give my children a whole family again. But there we were, all together and complete, carrying Jeremy in our hearts as we walked around and shared stories of what he did and where he worked. It was so very precious to me.

When we walked down to Jer's shop, my ache was strong and my grief surprised me as I seemed to suddenly realized for the first time that this was place I last saw Jeremy alive. The last time I touched him, heard his voice, kissed him. The lump in my throat was huge as I showed Steve's girls where we used to sit at the picnic tables and bring Jeremy lunches in the afternoons and heard Faith and Caleb remember in such detail little pieces about their daddy and that campus. It was like two different lifetimes overlapping each other, two different loves coming together.

We continued walking together. We took the kids to McDonalds to eat and play. When we got back, we sat on the couch and played charades, laughed and tickled each other. Moments I will never take for granted. And every time I held one of those girls' hands, or played with their hair, or felt them crave my affection and attention, I thanked Jeremy for teaching me to love fiercely and to never again take my life for granted.

I'm so proud of our blended family. I know it won't always be easy. I know that there will be many challenges ahead, and I know it's not the family I ever had planned, but there's so much beauty there. So much healing and hope to be found and shared. I feel such purpose in this family God has made.

This family that love has made.


What hurts the most

The lyrics to the Rascal Flatts song were bouncing around in my head as I sat down to type out this post....

This past weekend, I spent some time in Canada visiting with Jeremy's family. I always look forward to spending my time with them, not only because I love them so much and they don't even know how incredible they are, but also because they keep me close to Jeremy. What I didn't expect was how emotional the trip would be for me. 

I grieved a lot this trip. Steve came with me and we were able to talk about wedding stuff and they allowed me time for my heart to be happy and share good news, but I still ached and I know they did too. It's hard to move forward without feeling like I'm letting pieces of my past go. I want to take it all with me.

I took Steve to Jer's grandparents house. He hadn't been there yet, so we went over for dinner. And suddenly, the hole felt bigger and the knot in my throat grew tighter - the entire time we were there. We had a lovely visit, but I walked around the house looking at all the pictures of Jeremy, wondering why this wave of grief was following me around. Then, we sat down to dinner and ate Jer's favorite dinner EVER (grandma's lasagna) and talked about all of the things he loved to eat at their house and I heard the heartbreak in grandma's voice as she told me she couldn't keep chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar anymore, and I suddenly knew. I felt closest to Jeremy there at his grandparents house - it was one of his favorite places to be. We spent a week there every Christmas, we traveled there many times throughout the year, I had listened to countless recalled memories from Jer about growing up there, and I knew that such a big piece of his life and his heart were there. I hadn't spent a whole lot of time there since he died, so I guess I had never taken it all in. Even through their joy for Steve and me, I felt their heartache for their oldest grandson. My heart was so heavy for them. And I felt myself lose Jeremy all over again. I lost my future of making more memories with him in that house.

What hurt the most....was being so close...

So close to Jeremy I could almost see him. Standing in the door frame, sitting on the floor wrestling with the kids, sitting at the table licking the blueberry pie plate clean. I can feel him there in his pictures, like they were just taken yesterday. I heard him laughing, felt him breathing there. 

I realized that the places I feel Jeremy closest are also the places I grieve hardest. I felt similar when I took Steve to Jeremy's grave for the first time the following day. Knowing he's there is so overwhelming for me to face sometimes. Feeling close to Jeremy means so much to me, but it lingers for days and sits in my heart.

I know that so much of my day to day looks different than it did before Jeremy died. In a new house, driving a new car - they're not places that Jeremy touched or made a mark in so they don't have that affect on me. But when I go back to those places where I feel him most, something comes over me. 

I was thankful for the sweet man by my side who held my hand while I cried out and grieved the other man that I love. His tender heart held mine as he thanked me for sharing pieces of Jeremy with him, and understood that no matter how much I love him or am thankful for his presence in my life, sometimes.....this grief thing just really hurts. 


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