Friday, July 31, 2015

Looking Back

It's been almost a week since Ashleigh's funeral.  I almost said "my wife's funeral", but she's not my wife anymore.  The marriage vows say "til death do we part", and those vows have been fulfilled.  I'm very thankful for the fact that together we fulfilled them about as well as anyone could hope, given a shortage of years.  I have very few regrets, we had a whole year to say goodbye, and we loved each other well through the end.  For such a horrendous disease, Ashleigh only had about two weeks out of 13 months since her diagnosis where her quality of life suffered.  So I'm thankful for many things.

Jesus was clear about marriage as an earthly, not heavenly, institution (Matthew 22:30).  As new and foreign as it was 8 years ago to call Ashleigh "wife", now I have a whole different set of habits to unlearn.  I still call this building "our house", though it's suddenly much more vacuous than it has ever been.  If I were a director doing a biopic of this stage of my life, I would set the tone with several long, silent pans of the empty rooms and hallways after the boys are asleep.  I miss wearing my wedding ring; I often find myself absentmindedly going to fiddle with it, only to be reminded why it's not on.  I know no one would fault me for wearing it a while longer; I recognize my desire to press on is mostly self-imposed.  Well, it's what Ashleigh would have wanted for me, too.  To be uncomfortable, get out of the house and be around people, and generally embrace life moving forward.

Were it not for the boys I'd be tempted to sell everything I have, buy a motorcycle, (learn to ride said motorcycle), and ride until I hit an ocean.  I'm thankful for the boys, they're keeping me grounded.  A cross-country motorcycle tour (or equivalent boondoggle) would just be a kind of escapism.  I'm also thankful for so many friends reaching out and being welcoming and understanding, despite the fact I'm not particularly effervescent company right now.  I'm thankful for sympathy cards from so many people.  So many of you wrote in your cards how they feel like an insufficient gesture, but I assure you they are not.  Your words of encouragement and of Ashleigh's impact and legacy buoy me up.

It's been predominantly a week of logistics - cutting up credit cards, cancelling subscriptions, closing online vendor accounts.  I know it surprises you that it's helpful for an engineer to retreat into logistics.  Still, the last friends and family have returned home and at some point I will have to step back and survey the new shape of my life: as the dust clears, see what has become of the structure with one of its central load-bearing beams removed.  At least the foundation is intact.

Before Ashleigh died I told myself I wouldn't do this - turn to the blog or facebook to post morose and introspective thoughts as though loss had made my thoughts somehow weighty or worth sharing.  I scoffed at other people who over-shared like this, but now I'm eating my prideful words.  It turns out the reason I never felt compelled to over-share is that I always had a loving, listening ear nearby with whom to share my innermost thoughts.  So I appreciate you humoring me this once as I'm missing my usual outlet.

After the gala and a few more posts I still plan to wrap up the blog.  Not only was it Ashleigh's blog, but I'm somewhat afraid of what I might post without her editorial oversight.  That is a small example of the more general fear I hinted at above: what does life look like without Ashleigh?  If (ok, when) I do something embarrassing, who will help me laugh at it later?  What if I dress the boys in mismatched outfits for church?  How can I ever hope to make good decisions without Ashleigh to construct the objective function?

There are two books that have been comforting during this time, and I would commend them to your reading.  I have been tempted to post large portions of each of them to the blog, but I will spare you that (and myself the risk of copyright infrigement).

The Weight of Glory - an essay by CS Lewis whose central thesis is that our feelings of nostalgia point to our in-born desire to be a part of a heavenly, eternal frame.  He exposes man's desire for eternal things, and points out that desires don't make sense where they can't be fulfilled - that a man may starve to death without bread, but the feeling of hunger indicates at least that we come from a world of eatable things.

A Severe Mercy - a memoir by Sheldon Vanauken about the loss of his wife.  I hope it is not entirely hubris that causes me to see similarities between the love he writes about and the love Ashleigh and I shared.  "...he chuckled at the memory, and then, in the instant, tears were burning in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks.  That was always the way of grief: laughter and tears, joy and sorrow.  Almost from their first meeting they had been in love..."

I'm also planning to re-read Lewis's A Grief Observed.  Doubtless I will quote it here if I find it as relevant as I expect.

There are two stories I would share with you from Ashleigh's last week on earth.  I'm tempted to keep them to myself, as though a miserly attitude about memories would make them last longer.  If Ashleigh taught me anything through this blog, it's that sharing thoughts and experiences is what makes them meaningful and grants them longevity. 

Three nights or so before she died (I was on the night shift then), we were alone in her hospital room.  I was sitting next to her bed holding her hand and talking to her, not really expecting a response.  She opened her eyes and very lucidly asked me "what about the boys?"  A mama-bear to the end.  I assured her that the boys would be well-loved and well-cared-for by me and an army of others.  She closed here eyes and nodded, and I thought that was the end of the conversation.  But then something odd happened.  She turned her head to face to the opposite side of the bed and put her arms up in an empty circle, as though hugging someone's neck.  She sometimes did this to me or Jim when we leaned in close to tell her something.  She nodded again, smiled briefly, then said "ok then, I guess it's time to go".  She dropped her arms and went to sleep.  Say what you want about terminal delirium or drug-induced hallucinations.  This was the second-to-last interaction I had with her where I know she was lucid.  And I believe that there was Someone Else in the room with us that night, holding her other hand.

The next night, two nights before she died, there was only one very brief moment where she woke up.  She didn't open her eyes or talk to me or shift positions.  You see, one of the things that I frequently did by her bedside was sing to her.  Mostly hymns or songs from our past.  I was singing "How Great Thou Art", and for about two bars during the refrain, she started singing.  I went looking for a video clip to link to the title of the hymn, but nothing I found did justice to my memory of it.  She joined me on the high harmony, as perfectly and clearly as any duet we've ever sung together.  Then she fell back asleep.

43 comments:

  1. We are still here, listening for as long as you need someone to talk to, Brad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. God Bless you and your little boys. I'm a total stranger and I doubt we will ever meet. But yours and Ashleigh's words have touched my soul. It is clear to see that she will forever hold a part of your heart and all those that were special to her. However, Ashleigh has found her way into my heart, a utter stranger, as well and I will forever carry her love of God with me for as long as I live, and I will strive to be as devoted to God as she is. I hope I can meet her in Heaven. Take care of yourself; you are in my prayers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Brad, You're doing exactly what Ashleigh would have hoped... working on continuing your life and loving your sweet boys. Those last 2 memories you shared bring me to tears because they demonstrate that even if she wasn't "with it", she was still there with you in those moments. And I'm confident going forward that you'll continue to experience moments where she is with you. Even if heaven is more distant, she'll find ways to be there with you.
    Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  4. Brad, Share as long as you feel compelled to share and be very patient with yourself. Grief lingers and will hit you when you least expect it, as I experienced that with the loss of my dad recently. The fact is losing someone as significant to you as Ashleigh will likely change you forever. Although life will be different, that's OK. What beautiful final memories you had with her...cherish them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I thank you for sharing your thoughts and your grief. It is a gift to me as I process my own grief, and struggle to find a new life and a new definition of myself. I prayed for your family throughout Ashleigh's illness, and used your journey to help me keep my problems in perspective, and find gratitude. I pray that you continue to heal and find peace, and that eventually the joys outweigh the sorrows.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Brad. I still think about you and your family often. We're all still here, and we'll keep listening as long as you keep talking.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Please continue to share with us.. even if it gets to every 6 month updates on you and the boys. So many people still care about you all.
    God Bless

    ReplyDelete
  8. You are a beautiful soul and Ashleigh was so lucky to be loved by you. Forget engineering, you're also an excellent writer! The IM loves you so much and can't wait to see you at the Gala!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Brad...bless you and your sons. You share as long as you need to. You'll know when it's time to stop. Your story of Ashleigh's hug of Someone on the other side of the bed reminded me of my own experience the night my husband died unexpectedly. I struggled so to help him, to revive him and cried out to God for help. There was a touch on both of my shoulders (I thought that EMS had finally arrived), and when I turned to tell them what happened, no human was there. But, I know Who was, and am thankful. Comfort to you in the hours and days ahead. There will be days that you take a step forward, two or more backward perhaps. There will be days in which you take great strides. But, He is faithful. He will be there. Always.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts - your authenticity, how real and how raw is appreciated. I hope you continue the blog. The Gala is sure to be a fantastic event and will make Ashleigh proud.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Brad... wow what a testimony. I am Allison Loukanis, Terry Arnold's sister in law. Your blog made me cry. It was beautiful. Thank you for posting. Allison ( I'm gonna post as anonymous cause I loathe these hoops that these blogs make us jump thru for posting.)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Brad, please continue to have Ashleigh live on in your thoughts, stories, memories, and through the boys. I will continue to live out my life as Ashleigh saw it for me and appreciate whatever time I am given just as she did.
    Shari

    ReplyDelete
  13. I hope even if you choose to stop writing (please don't), you will still keep the blog up to help IBC sisters.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Your writing helps not only yourself but others struggling with the same issues. Thank you for sharing and helping.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Sobbing. I have been reading this entire blog, front to back - and reading snippets of it out loud to my husband, who is an oncologist and researcher in the Dana-Farber/Harvard system. I want to thank you so much for having been willing to share your experience with others, as it is so valuable - I even wonder if you would want to look into publishing it. For physicians, it offers great insight into what their patients might be thinking and how they might be processing information. For physicians' wives (like me), it puts a very human face on the career that so often robs us of evenings, weekends, vacations, and companionship (I myself am a big blogger and over-sharer ... but I'm never online the rare weekends my husband is around, so I think you're spot-on with your assessment of why people blog). For Christians, honestly especially for me this was a very compelling read. I didn't grow up in the church and I struggle *a lot* with what I see as the incompatibility of the severe and nearly universal human suffering and pain, and faith. It was really good for me to see that someone who considered herself to have previously been fairly sheltered from such suffering, but who clearly went through one of the most extreme forms of it imaginable, could maintain her faith and do so with such beauty and heroism even in the face of such repeated and desisting setbacks. It's definitely a story that will forever shape my faith journey, and forever enter my mind every time I struggle with these questions. It's funny because I don't know if Ashleigh and I would have really clicked in real life... I have 100% respect for those uber-perfect uber-driven people but whereas she describes herself as having succeeded because of her drive (which I do doubt... you can tell from her writing that she's quite bright) I feel like I succeeded in spite of my lack thereof :) Staying home with my kids is about all I can manage on my plate, at least with a crazy-busy husband, and my contribution to our finances is purely because my blog (which I do for fun) has been moderately successful. But... I just love her. And wish so much I could meet her, or will meet her soul someday. Although I don't often pray for things (really only out of desperation) because I remain skeptical of the "power of prayer," I will definitely be praying for you and the boys, for healing, health, and happiness as you continue your journeys.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Brad, you are a beautiful writer, and we are pleased to be your outlet during this time. Having experienced a loss recently, I can assure you that "A Grief Observed" will serve you well. I also recommend "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. I read it about 6 months post, and it was incredibly helpful to understand the range, frequency and inconsistency of emotions I was feeling.

    Peace be with you,
    Kristen Hector

    ReplyDelete
  17. You and your sweet family and lovely wife have been in my thoughts and prayers. I pray that your boys will always know how much they were loved by their mother and you.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you for sharing your raw feelings and those special stories. Your words help others as they help you grieve and heal. Please keep sharing - it keeps Ashleigh's memory alive.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you for continuing to post. You and sons are in my thoughts and prayers. May Jesus continue to be your greatest confidant, in this difficult time.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thank you Brad for sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings. The insight you give the readers here on Ashleigh's and your journey and now your journey helps us to understand and grieve with you and pray for you. With this knowledge we can be a blessing to others who are in the same place you are now. Hugs and prayers

    ReplyDelete
  21. Wow! Chills! You are a beautiful writer. Please keep sharing. Praying for you and your boys.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Brad - enjoy reading what you write, and you greatly underestimate the living testimony you are documenting. Christianity has been modeled on this blog by both of you.

    Moreso, I look forward to being there to listen in person or via phone any time day or night.

    Chad King

    ReplyDelete
  23. Brad,

    your "sharing" is lovely! It gives a glimpse into the solid, incredible marriage that made up the reward for Ashleigh for simply being a devoted child of God. The glimpse you share with us, shows us what a Christian marriage is meant to look like. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for continuing to be the godly man Ashleigh brought into her life, thereby brought into our lives by association. YOU are loved by many and repected by ALL!
    Terry Howerton
    (Sabrina's Mom)

    ReplyDelete
  24. Continuing to pray for you and your boys. Can't even tell you how much yalls story has touched my life. God bless you!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Brad, you are an extraordinary writer. Your words and descriptions flow so smoothly, as if God himself is writing. Bless you and bless your sons. So sorry for your loss.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hatts off to you Dear! You have done a great job by sharing this with us. I have also read alot about on cancer. read here all facts about cancer

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi guys,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful article really!
    If someone want to buy things for a Funeral I think this is the right place for you!

    ReplyDelete
  28. thanks admin for providing very useful trick for make a wonderful website or blog, here you can find top alerts:
    dies and mould manufacturers in india

    ReplyDelete


  29. شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام التفاؤل شركة نقل اثاث بالخبر كما انها افضل شركة نقل اثاث بالجبيل نقل عفش واثاث بالجبيل والخبر والقطيف والدمام
    شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام
    شركة نقل اثاث بالجبيل
    شركة نقل اثاث بالقطيف

    ReplyDelete
  30. اهم شركات كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام كذلك معرض اهم شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام والخبر والجبيل والخبر والاحساء والقطيف كذكل شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة وتنظيف بجدة ومكافحة الحشرات بالخبر وكشف تسربات المياه بالجبيل والقطيف والخبر والدمام
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام

    ReplyDelete
  31. اهم شركات نقل العفش والاثاث بالدمام والخبر والجبيل اولقطيف والاحساء والرياض وجدة ومكة المدينة المنورة والخرج والطائف وخميس مشيط وبجدة افضل شركة نقل عفش بجدة نعرضها مجموعة الفا لنقل العفش بمكة والخرج والقصيم والطائف وتبوك وخميس مشيط ونجران وجيزان وبريدة والمدينة المنورة وينبع افضل شركات نقل الاثاث بالجبيل والطائف وخميس مشيط وبريدة وعنيزو وابها ونجران المدينة وينبع تبوك والقصيم الخرج حفر الباطن والظهران
    شركة نقل عفش بالرياض
    شركة نقل عفش بالطائف
    شركة نقل عفش بالدمام
    شركة نقل عفش بجدة
    شركة نقل عفش بمكة
    شركة نقل عفش بالمدينة المنورة
    شركة نقل عفش بينبع
    شركة نقل عفش بالخرج
    شركة نقل عفش بالقصيم
    شركة نقل عفش بخميس مشيط
    شركة نقل عفش بتبوك
    شركة نقل عفش بابها
    شركة نقل عفش ببريدة
    شركة نقل عفش بنجران
    شركة نقل عفش بحائل
    شركة نقل عفش بالظهران
    شركة نقل عفش واثاث
    شركة نقل عفش

    ReplyDelete
  32. I want to take this time out as a cancer survivor to encourage women out there still suffering from this. The sad news about it is that i was diagnosed on my 36th birthday in 2008 and with stage 3 TNBC which after i made research was a very aggressive form of cancer at that point i decided and told myself i was going to die and that the end has finally come.All my life i never thought of having breast cancer because i was very active and i worked out at the gym several times every week and my diet was okay. In my search for a cure after 6 years of diagnosis and even after chemo spending thousands of dollars a church member told me about Dr Hillary who could help me with a permanent cure, i doubted this at first but i later gave it a try and today i proud to say i am a cancer survivor no nodes and i am totally free the new diagnosis confirmed it. Do not die in silence or ignorance reach her on (hillaconn @ gmail.com or whatsapp +16465132826) don't be shy just speak to someone today.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I want to take this time out as a cancer survivor to encourage women out there still suffering from this. The sad news about it is that i was diagnosed on my 36th birthday in 2008 and with stage 3 TNBC which after i made research was a very aggressive form of cancer at that point i decided and told myself i was going to die and that the end has finally come.All my life i never thought of having breast cancer because i was very active and i worked out at the gym several times every week and my diet was okay. In my search for a cure after 6 years of diagnosis and even after chemo spending thousands of dollars a church member told me about Dr Hillary who could help me with a permanent cure, i doubted this at first but i later gave it a try and today i proud to say i am a cancer survivor no nodes and i am totally free the new diagnosis confirmed it. Do not die in silence or ignorance reach her on (hillaconn @ gmail.com or whatsapp +16465132826) don't be shy just speak to someone today.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Many years ago the royal women Derma Vibrance wanted to keep his white skin as tanned skin have meant that the person had been working under the sun, something unacceptable for royalty.

    Derma Vibrance
     
    They used various tricks and home remedies to lighten your skin, especially the bathrooms whey (buttermilk).

    There are several natural ingredients that have skin lightening properties. Examples include onion juice, cucumber juice, parsley and turmeric.

    http://www.viewersfacts.com/derma-vibrance/

    ReplyDelete
  35. My Daughter who was diagnosed with lungs cancer has just been cured with Rick Simpson cannabis oil after 5 months of treatment with his Cannabis oil medication. So much thanks to Rick Simpson cannabis oil that we bought,the Hemp oil was successfully used in curing my Daughter lungs cancer within 5 months as stated in instructions,My Daughter is now a living witness and am testify to the greatness of natural remedies to cure cancer. All hope is never lost now that you have Rick Simpson involve and not the big Pharmaceutical anymore.
    Unquenchable appreciation and gratitude from my family is going to Rick Simpson for his wonderful Cannabis Oil that saved my Daughter from dying of lungs cancer.Thanks and stop beat cancer with Rick Simpson Cannabis oil and also inform your love ones about this great opportunity of peace from cancer.you can contact for your medication at: Email:phoenixtearsmedicalcentre@gmail.com,or you can also get in touch with them on their Facebook Page https://web.facebook.com/Rick-Simpson-Cannabis-Oil-620198314847370/
    now we have a family with a great health and unlimited grace in life with the help of Rick Simpson medicine services to my Daughter,

    God bless you all..

    ReplyDelete
  36. WOW ALL THANKS TO DR WILLIAMS I HAVE NEVER BELIEVE IN HERBAL REMEDIES.
    my 28 years old daughter have been a patient of breast cancer . I had tried a lot of anti viral med prescribed to me by doctors over how many years now but I could not see any improvements in my daughter symptoms. One day while going through the internet , i got to know about this great Herbal Dr who uses his herbal remedies in curing people from cancer,quickly i contacted him and he prepared a herbal medication for my daughter which i received and she used it as instructed by dr williams. After few weeks the improvement were very visible.the redness and nipple discharge gradually stooped ,on thing now she is so full of life. I would recommend this to all my friends,families,around the globe suffering from cancer.you can contact him through his email on drwilliams098675@gmail.com.for advice and for his product THANKS TO YOU ONCE AGAIN DR WILLIAMS

    ReplyDelete