Underestimated

Its easy to underestimate just what one person is capable of. Today was no different.

I was asked a while ago if I would be willing to share my story at a conference for funeral directors, monument makers and folks of those sorts.

In a room of about 100 or so, I stood before them with a 4 page print out of a shortened version to our story.

“Josh came from a loving well-rounded family and loved the outdoors! He was an Eagle Scout and avid hunter. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science and moved on to receive his master’s degree in law Enforcement. Faith, family and education were huge priorities in his life.

I came from a not so well-rounded family and joined the military when I was 17 years old. I was from the city and very much enjoyed having stores in close proximity. I was not a star student in HS nor was I the perfect child. I deployed to Iraq in 2008. It was there my faith was strengthened and I began to see light in the midst of tragedy.

I had never believed in fairytales and so when I was ready to share my life with someone, I decided to look online because really, who meets their soulmate in a library anymore? I remember seeing Josh’s profile, thinking “He’s super cute! Oh, wait he’s a cop…ummmmm” Let’s just say I’ve always been a rule bender… We started talking and after our first date we were well on our way to our own fairytale.

It took a year of dating before we moved into together but once that move was made, we knew for sure we’d follow each other anywhere. Josh took this city girl far into what I consider the country since there’s about a dozen corn fields I pass just to get to work….

We were always rooting for each other, lifting each other up and discussing life changes together, always.

I remember him going off to the State Patrol academy while I was in school for Cardiovascular Technology. We lived apart. In that time, we also found out we were pregnant, and he would be stationed 3 hours away. But we made it work. Our love was unconditional, and it stretched further than any distance between us. After a year of being so far apart and the birth of our daughter Amelia, we were finally transferred back to the St. Cloud area. We found a rental while we began to build our dream home so we could stop living like gypsies and plant some roots.

I remember for a month he complained of not feeling well and he would then feel ok after being on meds but start feeling like crap once they were done. I remember hugging him and saying you need to have them draw your blood you’ve been sick long enough. However, not once did I actually think his results would show what they did.

I was just getting off of work and he decided to go to urgent care with our daughter in tow. I met him there to get her so we could keep her on her sleep schedule. I left him there. I still can’t believe I left him there. It was 9:30 pm and I had just laid our daughter down (finally) and he says, “They think I have cancer” I don’t think I spoke for some time because I remember him asking “are you there?”

I told him I’d be there as soon as someone came to be with our daughter. I packed our bags and simultaneously called his nurse who happened to be a friend of mine and begged them to recheck the vials and be sure they didn’t get mixed up. The next morning June 4th. It was confirmed. My Josh had leukemia. We made it a mission to beat it and so the flurry of doctor visits began, and plans were put forth.

He had a bone marrow transplant Oct 2016 and we moved our lives to Rochester while our daughter lived with his parents. I only left his side for clinical weekends because by this point, I had graduated my cardiovascular program and moved on for nursing. It was always tough to leave him because I knew him best, but he always told me to go because he wanted to see me succeed. So once a month I would go to clinicals and come right back to living in the hospital room with Josh.

There were many ups and downs throughout his recovery after the transplant. Lots of issues and missteps in treatment. We kept fighting for them to do more about his lungs, but he had improved enough to go home so in Feb 2017 we went home to the house we had built and never lived in. In April Josh went back to work but his cough was still there, and I finally put my foot down and told them they will do something! So, we went down for a bronchoscopy to take a look and that’s when the downhill spiral began. He went into respiratory failure after the procedure. He would recover from this and undergo further testing’s and medication trials etc.

Almost a year to the day since diagnosis on June 1, 2017. A doctor pulled me aside to tell me the damage had been done. Josh’s lungs were now only functioning at 30%. He explained that Josh would probably never be a trooper again and his quality of life would be poor. That was the first night I chose to not stay with Josh. How could I look at my husband in the eye and not tell him what was said? I hid this from him and his family because I truly believed if he kept fighting, we would win.  I never told him.

I could tell he was growing tired of the treatments and the ups and downs, but I selfishly wanted him to keep going because I refused to admit he wouldn’t make it. Josh was intubated another 4 times in the two months leading up to his death. In his final week, the doctor came in and asked Josh if he wanted to be DNR. He was awake and nodded yes. I said “wait what? We talked about this and as long as you can have a quality of life?!” Josh simply mouthed to me “I don’t have a quality of life now” and with that I allowed my husband to have his wish. The wife in me was furious but the nurse in me knew I couldn’t let him be miserable. 3 days later we removed cares and I laid next to him far beyond his last breath.

In the minutes, hours, days, months after his death it was a blur. You wonder how you will make it, how God could have taken such an incredible being the “what if’s” and “could I have done more’s” swirl around your mind. Having been in the medical field for so long, I often wondered if there was more, I could have done. The what if we would have gotten other opinions lingered and the tears, well those came like a steady stream.

One day, my daughter saw me crying and brought me a tissue. She said “I miss daddy” I hugged her and said me too. With that I decided that it was going to be ok if she saw me cry and it was going to be ok if we missed daddy all the time because honestly, how could we not. Throughout the grieving I witnessed the many different levels. Parents grieving a son, a sister grieving a brother, and a daughter who will never remember her dad. I made it my duty to ensure that while she won’t get to know her dad, I will not allow her to forget him. I also vowed to give her someone to grieve with o the same level.

Upon Josh’s initial diagnosis we postponed chemotherapy to bank his sperm. We were young, in love, and not done making a family. We obviously assumed he would be here, but I guess God has his own plans. I have never met a man more dependable, hardworking, passionate and humble as Josh was. Nor had I ever met a man willing and able to put up with my kind of crazy! He was my calm in every storm.

Losing him put me on a path of growth I never really wanted but I’d say I’ve come out on top. I could have let his death define me and choose not to move forward but instead I chose joy and I chose life.

On Jan 3, 2019 I gave birth to our son Gabriel Michael. I chose Gabriel because Josh never argued this with me when we were picking names with our daughter… (he knew I was firm on having a baby Gabe) and Michael for the archangel protector of law enforcement.

Somedays it’s still hard to believe I have a baby boy, but I hope one day these kids share in their grief and know just how much they were loved by him.

The kids keep me going because obviously you can’t just throw in the towel on being a mom although sometimes, they bring ya close 😉

The biggest things that keep me going is Josh’s memory. Our family is complete, and I want them to always know and remember how amazing he was. I started a scholarship fund in Josh name so other can get education in his honor. And above all else, I continue to say his name, speak of memories and spread joy because I refuse to let his name fade for that would only cause him to die again.

Our kids will know who he was: Kind, humble, courageous, loyal, patient (he had to be with a wife like me!)

Moving forward is a choice and it’s not easy but it’s the life I’ve been given and not only do my children deserve a life of love and happiness, but I do as well.

My fairytale was certainly not like the movies, but it lasted long enough for me to know what love is and how to spread that love so that Josh’s memory never fades. “

I underestimated the strength I had to get through this but I also underestimated the energy that goes toward aiding that strength. As I left the facility, I headed to pick up Amelia from daycare. Once home, in the house we built, I felt a warmth come over my body and I was hit with pure exhaustion. I underestimated the emotional exhaustion that goes into sharing our story, even 19 months later. Even my body aches after today.

I most certainly don’t regret sharing because I think it’s important for people to understand the many different avenues of grief and realize, especially in their profession, just how big of a roll they play.

I’ve learned to live a life that while laced with pain and grief, I simultaneously experience joy and happiness. I’ll continue to speak Josh’s name and raise our kids to be willful, persistent, and compassionate humans. So, heres to you Josh, thank you for giving me my own version of a fairytale. I’ll carry your love with me always.