The 28th marked six months since Kaitlyn passed away. Half a year… It’s crazy to think that it’s been so long, but at the same time, I miss her like I haven’t seen her in a lifetime. It somehow simultaneously feels like it was just yesterday, and also like it’s already been several years. Over the last six months though, people continually ask me how I’m doing. Which I’m thankful for. It’s nice to know that so many people care about me. Truthfully, for the most part, I’m doing well. Of course I have my days and sleepless nights, but I’m healing. I’m coping and learning healthy ways to deal with my grief. As well as continuing a few unhealthy ones, I’m sure. For those of you that are still wondering, I’ve returned to work. I’ve been working since November. I’ve returned to ministry. I’ve been preaching again since January. I’m staying busy and keeping my mind occupied so it doesn’t wander too much. In addition to staying busy, I talk about Kaitlyn and what I’m feeling often. I’ve been blessed with a group of amazing friends and family that are willing to just sit and listen to me ramble for what must collectively be hours. I saw a therapist not long ago so I could find out if I’m normal. Spoiler alert: I never was normal! When it comes to my process of grieving though, what I’m doing is completely acceptable. I needed to know that. It was important for me to hear it from a professional as well as the people who are grieving with me.
See, over the last few months I’ve been working on something, cooking, or just doing something completely mundane when suddenly, the most innocuous thing reminds me of Kaitlyn. I’ll open a cabinet and see the cans of chicken broth we bought for her when she was in hospice and couldn’t eat solid food. Or I’ll pull a pair of socks out of my drawer and remember that it’s a pair that she bought for me. Other times though, it’s something more significant. I’ll fall asleep on the couch and have a brief but very vivid dream about her. Or we’ll sing a specific song at church that she had on her “Entering the Heavens” playlist, and hearing it will trigger a memory of her lifting her frail arm in worship to our creator as she sings along in a small mousy voice just days before she passed away. When these things happen I have a choice: either sit in that pain and let my mind go down that winding road of emotion, or push it down and continue to focus on my work. Even now as I write this and my attention to what I’m writing gives way to the recollection of those precise moments, I have to make that very same decision. I need to be able to function and that’s how I’ve chosen to deal with what I like to call “sneaky grief”. You know, cause it sneaks up on you.. : / ..On the other hand, there are times that I intentionally look at pictures on Kaitlyn’s phone or go through things that she has written on her computer just to remember her, and feel those emotions that I suppress when lack of time warrants their suppression. I make an effort to sit and just remember what an incredible person Kaitlyn was and how inspiring she’s been to so many people. I cry for my loss, I smile at the thought of our life together, I thank God that she isn’t suffering anymore, and I remember all the times she couldn’t help but smile at me. I grieve, and it feels right; not good, but right. It’s healing. I can spend an hour or two reflecting on Kaitlyn’s impact on my life and her impact on others and when I’m done I feel stronger than I did before. I feel ready for God to use my pain and redeem my suffering. My prayer since Kaitlyn has passed away has and will continue to be that God will not let me waste this. That, in spite of me, He will use Kaitlyn and her life. I believe that He already has, and in the future, He is going to in ways that I could never imagine. I truly believe that. He’s written a beautiful story, and He’s given me the honor of telling it. No pressure right!?
So six months ago Kaitlyn passed away and in the time between her passing and now, the family and I have experienced a lot of first together. That’s what everybody talks about right? When you lose someone you have “a lot of first”. Meaning the first time you do something without that person. For us, there were an inordinate number of “first” in the immediate months following Kaitlyn’s death: Our first holiday season without her, the first time we’ve celebrated her birthday, our first time to her favorite beach and vacation spot, and the first time we’ve been back to Branson and Silver Dollar City, a place she loved so much that we spent our honeymoon there. Although, admittedly, that was due mostly to the lack of a budget for a more extravagant honeymoon than it was to her love of Branson! The point is, there was a lot going on in this first half of a year. Some moments were harder to get through than others, but God has been very present throughout this entire journey. He’s never left my side.
I had one more “first” this month that was quite different than all the rest though. All of the occasions I previously mentioned were things that I’ve experienced with Kaitlyn before and this time was just the first time to experience them without her. This “first” however was a true first for me though. Something that I had never done before in my life. I had the honor to officiate a wedding for the first time this month. About nine months ago, a friend of the family and a previous student that grew up in a ministry that Kaitlyn and I served in called me and asked if I would do the wedding for them! My initial response was to say “absolutely” without a second thought. When I got off the phone though, I began to think about where we were in Kaitlyn’s treatment at the time, and I immediately regretted agreeing to do it. I thought, “What if I have to be out of state with Kaitlyn? What if her condition worsens?” There were just too many uncertainties at the time to commit to something so important. I remember telling Kaitlyn about being asked and that I had told the girl that I would do it. I told her that I was probably going to call the girl back and let her know that as I thought more about it I didn’t feel like I could commit to it. Kaitlyn scolded me and said, “You’re doing that wedding!” Every single worry that I had, she brushed to the side. She didn’t have any doubt that everything would work out, and she knew how important it was to me to do the first one.
I’ll never forget how proud she was the day we were brought before the church to be prayed for as they licensed me. After graduating with a degree in ministry and serving faithfully for years, it was finally official. I was a card carrying pastor. I could legally marry people, and I’m pretty certain that she was more excited about it than I was! Obviously, that authority comes from God, but it was an incredible feeling for both of us to know that other people saw that calling on my life. When I got my book number, she joked about how funny it would be if I forgot it at a wedding, and that the bride and groom wouldn’t technically be married until I signed the marriage license. “You could ruin the entire wedding!” she said! She loved weddings and was so excited at the thought of me doing one for the first time.
So I never called to cancel. I kept the plans, I did the wedding, and in doing so, I was constantly reminded of Kaitlyn’s absence. Used to, if I felt anxious she was there to calm my nerves. If I forgot someone’s name that I had met just three minutes prior, she was there to whisper it in my ear. If I started to feel awkward because I didn’t know many people she was always by my side to talk to and make sure I didn’t embarrass myself by doing something stupid! This time she wasn’t, and that reality was ever present in my mind. In spite of that, it was beautiful! I was so honored to be there, and I’m thankful to the bride, groom and their families for letting me be a part of it! I tried to make it clear that I was so excited to be there. I also made sure to let everyone know that it was my first one, just in case I called the bride or groom by the wrong name! Not to mention checking my pocket thirty six times, making sure I had my card with my credentials on it! She really must have gotten in my head with that line of jokes!
In the end, everything went off without a hitch, and I probably shouldn’t have told anyone that it was my first time! They probably wouldn’t have ever known any different, because I said everything I was supposed to when I was supposed to and didn’t stutter even once! Kaitlyn, I think you would have been proud. I just wish you had been there to see it.