Today is Kaitlyn’s birthday. She would have been 29 today. I’ve been trying to remember for a little while now what I got for her last year, and I can’t. It seems so important to me that I do, but for whatever reason the day seems to be lost to me. I don’t even remember where we were or what we did.
Kaitlyn’s love language was receiving gifts, so I always tried to think outside the box to surprise her with something she would love! Sometimes it was a hit, even though I didn’t understand. Like when I bought her a trash can that had a robotic lid… She was so happy! Who knew?! Other times, it was not so good. I’ll never forget when I bought her an under-the-cabinet mount for an iPad so she could use it in the kitchen to cook. She was like, “Is this it?” and made me return it to get her something else! One time she even wrote out exactly what she wanted on her special day. She gave me a few options, but didn’t leave me much wiggle room so she knew I wouldn’t mess anything up! (See the photo of the note she wrote for me.)
Kaitlyn was nothing if not a planner. No matter what we were doing, you can bet that she had been planning it for weeks. She even had plans in case the original plan went south. Even in the end, she was planning her own funeral so that she knew it would be perfect, and it was perfect. I loved that about her. I’ll miss the organized, matter of fact approach she took when it came to things like that. This year was no different. She made it abundantly clear to me what she wanted so I had no problem deciding what to do for her birthday, and I’m certain that she would love it.
In order for it to make any sense, I have to tell you a story. So I’m going to let you in on a very intimate moment. God is in the business of redeeming, not only our hearts, but also our experiences. I believe that His purpose is greater than just a treasured memory. This is without a doubt one of my MOST treasured memories.
When Kaitlyn was in St. Vincent’s just a few weeks before she passed away, we had to take turns staying the night with her. There was no way I would have been able to stay every night. We were all already exhausted as it was. I would stay a night or two and then swap out with her mom or her dad. Then I could go home, shower, sleep in a real bed, and return to the hospital with dinner in tow so we could start the whole rotation over again. This particular evening, I was returning prepared to spend the night with my lovely wife as she continued to fight to get strong enough to receive chemo treatments. This time, when I arrived it was different. When I walked in, I could sense the weight of the air. I could see tears in the eyes of her dad as I entered the room and closed the door behind me. I could see the mound of tissues her mom had been collecting as she added another one to the bunch, and the flushed face of her grandmother. I couldn’t see Kaitlyn yet though. She was lying in her bed and the wall blocked her from my sight. Thinking back, when I rounded the corner to see her for the first time that night, the emotions I experienced were remarkably similar to when I first saw her on our wedding day. I know that seems strange, but in both scenarios I was confident that I knew what was coming next. On both occasions, I looked into the eyes of my wife with so much love, hope, and expectation. I knew in both instances that my life was going to change forever that evening.
I sat in the chair next to her bed and took her hand in mine. She smiled and told me that she had been talking with her parents about not doing the treatment and instead transitioning to hospice care. It was sobering to hear her say it. You know from the outset that death is a possibility, but I never considered it. I mean, really let myself feel the weight of it until that moment. We sobbed and held each other. Her family never left the room, but for those several minutes, we were the only ones there. We talked about why she made that decision. We talked about what it might look like and how it might work. It’s weird, but I started to recall all the times I had hurt her and all the times I was a subpar husband. In that moment, I felt incredibly weak. There was nothing I could do to help her. There was nothing I could do to take away the pain, the fear, or the ultimate ending to her story. I was trying to be strong despite the overwhelming feeling that my ability to love her was inadequate. Suddenly, the question entered my head, and through tears I muttered, “Have I been a good husband?” Suddenly it was the most important question in the world to me. Thinking about our wedding day, our vows, the promises we made to one another, and the fact that that’s all our vows really are. We each promised to love and cherish one another with an open question. “Do you trust me to keep my word? Do you trust that I will be a good husband to you?” We answered these questions by saying, “I do.” I had to know if I had done a good job keeping my word. I needed to hear her say that I was a good husband. I needed to know that she was proud to be my wife. Talk about the hardest question I’ve ever had to ask. I was completely vulnerable to the answer knowing that it is THE question for a married man. She began to cry again and said, “Yes! The best.” It was probably the most defining moment in my life: My dying wife telling me that I was the best husband she could have hoped for. I don’t know if I can agree with her, but it certainly puts things into perspective. Those moments that I was subpar were the last thing on her mind in that moment. And even though her life on this Earth was short and after that conversation it wouldn’t be the last time I was subpar, her position never changed.
As our tears began to dry and the conversation lightened, we turned to what I had brought for us all to eat. But I continued to sit next to her with her hand in mine. Her mom began to prepare the food and Kaitlyn’s smile returned to her face. She was quiet as the rest of us sat there not talking about anything of much importance. Then, all of a sudden she turned to look at me and in Kaitlyn fashion she said, “I want my name tattooed on you.” I couldn’t help but burst out in laughter, because of course, that’s what she thinks about when she gets quiet! She was completely serious, too!
She’s always liked tattoos and has wanted me to get one from day one of our marriage. I never knew what I would want on my body forever so I never got one. But I finally got one last May. We each got one in the same week. I got a lion, and Kaitlyn got a sequoia tree. I got a lion with the words “He is good” around it. The day she was diagnosed, the doctor came into the room and the first words out of his mouth were, “It’s not good”. It was like a gut punch. But at the end of the day Kaitlyn and I were talking about it, she said that the Holy Spirit had been telling her all day, “The circumstances may not be good, but HE IS GOOD.” I finally had something that I wanted to look at forever. A reminder that no matter what, no matter how bad things get, the Lion of Judah, Jesus is good. Psalm 107:1 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
So here we are sitting in her hospital room laughing because she wants me to get her name tattooed on me! I asked if she was trying to brand me, and laughingly she said yes. To which I responded, “What if instead I get your sequoia tree with a heart and our initials in it as if it was carved there?”
So for her birthday this year, I got a new tattoo. One that she made it clear she wanted me to get! Something to let the world know that for a time I was hers, and that forever a part of me will be. I think it came out amazing, and I think she would love it!
Happy Birthday Love!