Our Day

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I remember waking up that morning feeling just as you’d expect- amorous, over the moon excited, ready for the most amazing day to unfold.  Jumping out of bed I proceeded to get bedecked & bedazzled- though the first go at it left me looking like I was punched in both eyes and crying like I actually had been!  Thankfully I have a best friend who is skilled with a makeup brush who was able to salvage what was there into something photo worthy…  The morning completely whizzed by with us surrounded by curling irons, mascara wands, lovely dresses and heels that made me hurt just to look at- and I wasn’t even the one wearing them! Before I knew it, it was time.  We all lined up, and boy was I ready.  I could hear the songs we chose playing over the speakers, I saw family & friends of all kinds joined together as witnesses to this, our most significant of moments.  Then Etta’s voice beckoned me forward.

…At last, my love has come along…

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I promised to love, support and accept him always.  I thanked him for showing me that I could know what unconditional love was like.  He did what he did best- he made us laugh.  He had written his vows on the back of a receipt that he found in the glovebox of his beloved BMW.  He told me that he had never been more sure of anything, then proceeded to tell the entire crowd what he appreciated about me, including the words “your body-” oh geez… And at the end, “I want these vows to describe how I feel about you… and that’s impossible.  You can’t describe the indescribable.”

…I found a dream that I can speak to,a dream that I can call my own…

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 Indescribable.  It really was, the nine years we spent together. Sublime, intentional, grace filled- more than I can put into words.  And although I’m waking up this morning not with the anticipation of finding Stephen at the end of an aisle waiting to  make me his wife, or encircled in his arms with the warmth of his breath on the back of my neck, but in fact with our beautiful daughter’s feet wedged under my back as she pushes me to sleep with my head on the nightstand- I am comforted by this day.  It is ours.  It forever will be.  And no matter what- the memories & the emotions, are tattooed upon my heart always.  As much pain as I have felt can never overshadow what our love was capable of.  It was all encompassing, unconditional & forever enduring.

 

Stephen & Avery 2010 - T'nT
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You smiled and then the spell was cast
And here we are in Heaven
For you are mine at last

Forever and Always.

The Long Road

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IMG_2320Happy Birthday my love.  Every day you are missed, but days like today are even more of a reminder of the love that we shared and is yearned for again.  But I know you are probably having one heck of a party today!

~

The following is a post that I wrote at the beginning of February.  It’s just some of many thoughts I left unpublished, words I couldn’t even bring myself to say aloud.

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Every day for the last ten weeks I’ve thought about what I was going to say to all of you.  Every day, wondering how to put into words how I feel about experiencing such a tremendous loss.  And I’ve been scared.  Scared of opening myself up to show just how deep the pit of grief has been, afraid that if you knew how lost I’ve felt then you’d know how weak I am.  You’d think- But she’s a Christian, she should just trust that God has a plan and it will all work out for good.  Or- I thought she’d been dealing with it for so long that she had come to terms with this outcome.  I worried about these things,  because they are things that I had said myself.  How could I go back on them?

Why don’t we let ourselves be vulnerable?

Truth is, I have never felt so many emotions on such diverse levels in my life.  Feelings can change in the blink of an eye- one moment I’m fine, the next there are tears.  Which, to be honest, feels better than no tears.  For the three weeks or so after Steve’s death, I barely shed a drop.  I actually think it helped me to deal with all of the arrangements and planning for the burial and memorial, but afterwards I started wondering what the heck is wrong with me?  I was basically empty inside.  Some would say numb, but truly, I was EMPTY.  I felt nothing pretty much all of the time, aside from the guilt I had for feeling the emptiness in the first place- I mean, I have a daughter who really is true joy, I should in the very least be able to feel happiness with her, right? And as a Christian, shouldn’t I be taking comfort that Stephen’s suffering had ended and he was in a better place?  Well, of that I am happy- I did feel relief that his earthly body was freed from the pain and discomfort he felt.  But now my arms are empty of his embrace.  And although I know that God will eventually bring peace to my spirit & soul, it’s impossible not to yearn for Stephen’s physical touch and it’s hard to come to terms that I will never experience that again.  Really, my thoughts, words and feelings have pretty much been all over the place- I’ve gone in circles, changed my mind, and talked myself both in and out of so many moments of rest.  It just shows how easy it is to let Satan steal away contentment, letting doubts and fears creep in and take over.  I admit that although our faith carried us over the sixteen months of Steve’s illness, there is a disconnect right now.  Yes I believe that I am still loved by God and I’m not angry at Him for letting this happen,  but I have never felt such detachment from everything in life.  It’s amazing how lonely one can feel, even when completely surrounded by many who love them.

I have never had to deal with death on such a personal level before, so I don’t know HOW to heal.  Don’t get me wrong, people I have loved have died.  But when it’s someone who makes up a part of your heart, it leaves a gaping hole that seems beyond repair.  Whenever I think I’m doing okay, someone says something like, “You’re doing so well!”  and I think to myself, “Are you freaking kidding me???  My life partner, the father of my child,  is gone forever.  Do you really think I’m okay with that?!”  The rational part of my brain recognizes that they are trying to be positive and encouraging, but the irrational side of me wants to scream at them for being so negligent to the situation.  It makes me feel that I’m obviously not grieving the “right” way, and then I’m realizing that I’m probably being over sensitive, or quite possibly not sensitive enough to how others are going through the grieving process.  See? All over the place!  It’s honestly so tiring.

I have no idea what it’s like to lose a child, a sibling, or a parent.  These losses bring with them a grief unique to each relationship I’m sure.  In most cases, members of a family are our past and our present. We share the memories of what was, and we live in what is with these people.  You might say that our children are also our future, but really only immediately.  Of course the bonds always remain, but at a certain point the time comes to let go as children become adults, and what will be is up to them.  Ideally for most relationships, this means that again life is back to you and the one you love, your spouse.  That is the one relationship that is always in your future.  For most who loved Steve, they lost what was- they feel a fondness and love for who he was growing up, they hold funny memories and silly stories of Steve-isms close to their hearts, they treasure the man he became and how the relationship matured over the years.  But what I lost was this plus the what will be.  I don’t get to experience tomorrows with him- expanding our family as planned, watching all of the special milestones and events of our own children, enjoying life as a couple once more as the kids grow up and leave the nest.  As a spouse, you deserve the whole package- past, present and future.  It’s hard to come to terms with not having the future you planned for.  Even after months of preparation.

Every day I relive the moment of Steve’s death.  Every. Day.  It’s like I’m watching a movie of my life.  I see myself talking to the palliative doctors in the hall, waiting for the x-ray technicians to finish his chest scan.  I follow myself into his hospital room, only to see him standing- STANDING- at the foot of his bed (this man who barely had enough breath or energy to reach for a sip of water).  I run to him and enfold him in my arms, trying to lay him back into bed while simultaneously attempting to reach for the call button, unsuccessfully.  His final words to me were an apology, and then he was gone.  As I screamed for someone to help and a crowd rushed in, I remember having to let him go and step away. I collapsed to my knees in the hallway in tears, my face buried in my hands, only seconds later to be swept up into some loving arms who had just happened to come by for a visit right at that time.  It really is like it happened on a screen or in a book- it’s so strange that something can feel so real yet unreal all at once.  I’m thankful that the moments before his final breath were quiet, and that I was there holding him. The day before was spent with him and both of our families, reading him all of the emails, Facebook messages and texts that people had sent him.  It was a really good time, being reminded of all of the amazing memories from over the years and getting a glimpse into how those felt about Steve as a friend and colleague.  Even though he was on a very high dose of morphine, I know that he was trying his best to listen, there were definitely times that he responded to something that was read with a nod or laugh.  So please know that these words brought all of us comfort that day, including Stephen.  I know that I for one will remember it always.

Re-reading these words, I know that I sound pretty negative.  I hope that I haven’t hurt, angered, or offended anyone- these are just my feelings, whether they be right or wrong.  I needed authenticity, I’m hoping it will help to move the healing process forward.  To be able to wake up each morning and look forward to what the day will hold.  To not go through the hours on autopilot, basically just doing what I must to care for Roxie and make sure that at least she is happy (there are a lot of days that I feel that I fall short on that).  To go to sleep at night feeling good at what was accomplished, instead of focusing on the fact that the other side of the bed is empty and cold.  To recognize the joy that Roxie brings to my heart, and be happy with what the new “will be” is instead of resenting that I now don’t get what could have been.  It will take time, but know that I haven’t lost faith that God will make a way.

~

And now here we are, just after the seven month mark.  Reading these words again brings into the forefront the pain that I can tell you has so far never left.  Not even lessened.  It sits just below the surface every minute of my life, along with a wealth of emotion…waiting.  On a constant simmer and ready to boil over at any given second.  I wish I understood grief.  You can talk to all kinds of people and read all sorts of books, but you really have no idea what it’s like until you’re in it.  And even then, it’s impossible to figure out.  You have to just trust that once you have waded through the worst of it, you will be able to look back and recognize how it was working in your life and where it has brought you now.

I can tell you what I’ve learned so far.  I’ve learned that grief is like the ocean.  Some days the waves are huge.  Crashing against you uncontrollably and leaving you sputtering, trying desperately to catch your breath and a moments reprieve from its force.  Other days the waves are small, washing over you more gently but still capable of pulling you down if you aren’t feeling strong enough to keep your feet planted.  Eventually the waves calm completely and the surface is still, but underneath it never stops moving.  It’s constantly changing.  But I’ve realized this isn’t a bad thing.  Even the tidal waves that take your legs right out from under you are capable of bringing you back to shore eventually.  It really is part of the process, and as painful as it is, it’s necessary in order to come out on the other side.

I’ve learned that no matter how good of intentions people have to include you and try keep things “normal,” every relationship is affected in some way because you are and never will be the same person you were before.  At times this means you withdraw from the world more, and other times you force yourself out of your shell to compensate for the space normally filled by the entertaining ramblings of your loved one who always talked more so you didn’t have to.  Pretty much all of our friends are married or in a serious relationship, and it’s very strange being the lone wolf of the group.  I’m finding myself having anxieties over things as silly as the fact that the teams will be odd for the post-dinner game night.  There are truly so many random moments in life that we take being a couple for granted, and these are the times that the isolation can be felt most intensely. Again I’d like to state that I recognize that I know you have the best of intentions and probably never even entertain these notions when you invite me to do things, but that doesn’t change the fact that no matter how much I love you, being with you is the hardest thing I can be doing.

I wish that I could say that I have fully processed these last months, that I’ve learned so much about myself and I am better because of it.   But in the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you that I am still smack dab in the middle of it all and spend many moments feeling like I’m in a pit and can’t see the top.  I think that a lot of people look at me and am proud of how far they believe I have come and the decisions that I have made.  And I don’t blame anyone for seeing me that way, I have put a lot of energy into trying to keep it together for everyone else.  I am fully aware that I have many folks in my life who truly care about how I am REALLY doing.  But this path is a lonely one, no matter how many lights are shining along the way.  Almost every letter, Facebook message, text,  and even phone call over the last seven months has gone unanswered.  For this I ask for forgiveness, it’s not because I don’t care about you or the fact that you took the time to make contact.  It really is due to the fact that I feel like I have nothing to give.  I really do hope that eventually, in the not so distant future I will be able to make those connections again. So please, bear with me.

Grief is negative.  It is pain.  It is loneliness, anger, confusion, tears and regrets.  But it is necessary for healing, so I accept it.  My worrisome nature brings apprehension about sharing these feelings with you, but it’s my reality at this time and my hope is that maybe sharing this may even help someone else who is dealing with their own loss.  Because what has become so apparent is the fact that I am not alone in these thoughts and feelings.  It is normal to feel a myriad of emotion, to have contradicting feelings raging a war within your heart and mind.  And I truly believe that eventually this will get easier.  The sun will shine brighter again and each day will begin and end with a breath of contentment.

I’m still grateful.  I’m still blessed.

 

A Celebration of Life

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Here we are, almost eight weeks after Stephen’s death.  As prepared as I believed I could be for life after losing him, I never imagined it would be like this.  I admit, I’ve put off this moment, updating all of you on how things have been over these last two months.  But I realize that there are some of you who are waiting patiently to bear witness to the celebration of life that we honored Stephen with, so I decided it was time to give you all that opportunity.  As I sift through all of the emotions that one experiences with grief, I will begin to open myself up once more but for now I’m happy to show you the beautiful service we had all of those weeks ago.

As strange as it sounds, that day was wonderful.  It truly honored the man that Stephen was, and I left feeling happy and so uplifted.  It almost doesn’t sound right to say, but it really is the truth.  The auditorium was filled with over five hundred people, there to show their love and support to us all, along with more than one hundred viewers online.  Amazing Grace was being played on the guitar and piano and there were so many faces, known and unknown surrounding us as we walked down the aisle to the reserved rows at the front.  In thinking about it, I can still feel the emotion that I experienced as we entered.  For me, it was almost as though I had walked into a wall as I stepped through the doors.  It literally took the breath from my lungs for a moment, just feeling the weight of the sorrow that hung in the room at that time.  Strangely, I immediately thought of our wedding ceremony and how I had experienced the exact same thing as I proceeded to meet my groom, only it was pure love emoting on that day.  And as abruptly as the pain had enveloped me, it lifted.  It was obvious that although the room was filled with sadness, that same love remained and was able to shine it’s light through the darkness that could easily have taken over.

I was so out of my element afterwards, speaking to what felt like a million folks who wanted to express their condolences.  I pretty much stood in one spot for three hours as people came at me, arms wide open, a few tears on cheeks.  But so many said how lovely the service was, and how it was truly a positive experience for all who were present.  Thank you to everyone who was there both in person and online.  We genuinely felt so much love during such a difficult day.

Tomorrow’s Memorial

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I just wanted to take a quick minute to let you all know that we are lucky enough to be having tomorrow’s memorial service for Stephen both recorded, as well as live streamed over the internet.  For those of you who are unable to make it to the service, you can watch from your computers by clicking on the following link (it should be active about fifteen minutes before the service begins at 1:00 pm mountain standard time):

Click on www.spac.ca/media/watch_live

This will take you to the Live Stream Website.  The video should automatically start to stream.

If you aren’t able to catch it live, I will try to put the recording on the blog when it becomes available to me, along with a proper update on how this week has unfolded.

 

With much love to all of you…

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DSC_0478 (2)The last two days have felt like two years.  Or maybe two seconds.  The amount of decisions that one has to make under these circumstances is astounding- it was stated that it is akin to planning a wedding in 5 days.  So many details, so little time.  But I believe that everything is coming together the way that Steve would have wanted it.  These arrangements weren’t something that he & I were able to get to talking about, so having to try to honor what I think he wanted is such a big responsibility!  As the days have passed and the to-do’s have been checked off, I feel in my heart that the decisions that have been made are the right ones.  I’ve honestly experienced a lot of peace so far, though the underlying heartache feels permanent right now.

For those who are planning to attend the service, here are the details:

Memorial Service for Stephen John Campbell

Tuesday, November 26th at 1:00 pm

Sherwood Park Alliance Church

1011 Cloverbar Road, Sherwood Park, AB T8A 4V7

Refreshments to Follow

There will also be a public viewing at the funeral home for those who would like to pay their respects to Stephen.

Foster & McGarvey Funeral Home

10011 – 114 Street, Edmonton, AB T5K 1R5

Monday, November 25th

5:00-8:00pm

I just have to say once more, thank you.  I have received so many beautiful and encouraging notes over these days that I so appreciate. I will apologize for not responding to most, for at this point it’s just too overwhelming.  I just want you to know that I have read and been moved by each one, and I hope that one of these days I will be able to hug each of you with much gratitude.

Goodnight, My Love

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Stephen’s battle has finally come to an end, he passed quietly this morning with me by his side. Many moments we spent together in these past days were filled with love and laughs, even through the pain. His body is whole once more, and knowing his suffering has ended is such a relief. I spent yesterday reading him all of the notes that each of you sent- thank you for such kind words and for sharing such special memories of an amazing man. He is loved beyond measure and will leave behind a hole that can never be filled, but a part of him will live on in our hearts and especially in our darling girl. She is the greatest gift we ever gave each other.

There Are No Words

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I can’t even begin to describe how the last three weeks have passed us by so incredibly quickly.  The amount of stuff that has happened is mind boggling, I don’t know how we’ve gotten through it all at this point.  I’ll try to fill you all in as best as I can, but I almost can’t tell you where one day has ended and the next has begun.

Somehow, miraculously everything came together for the move.  The family at St. Stephen’s church was instrumental in accomplishing such a huge task in almost no time, it really was humbling.  One of the members of the church has a father in law who works for an Atlas Van Lines affiliate, and they so generously were able to work out a discounted rate for transporting our entire household, including our vehicle, across the country- pretty much in a matter of days.  The plan was made on Tuesday of last week, and a group of volunteers came over on Saturday to get the house 90% packed and ready.  It was a whirlwind.  My mom had planned a two week vacation that turned into a working trip, and Stephen’s mom also came to help out on the Monday of that week.  After a very busy day of filling boxes, my mother in law and I took Stephen and my mom to the airport in the afternoon to make the trip back to Edmonton.  We left them at the airport being ushered through the airport by an Air Canada employee and returned to the house happy to know that Steve was avoiding most of the chaos of the move.  He had been feeling pretty much the same, finishing his last radiation treatment that Thursday and really looking forward to spending a couple of quiet days with his dad at home before Roxie, Mom and myself met him there.  So Carol and I spent the next three days at the house finishing the packing and cleaning, and the truck arrived Tuesday morning to get loaded up and start the cross country journey.  The crew doing the moving was really great- very hard workers who were talented at their jobs, but also very personable and friendly.  They were there prepping at 8:15 am, started moving at 8:30 am and we watched the taillights disappearing down the street by 2:25pm.  At that point we finished the necessary cleaning throughout the house and we too, were on the road by 4 o’clock.  This was also my birthday by the way, a fun way to spend it indeed!  I was so fortunate however to have two very special friends come for a birthday cake and Dutch Blitz game night that made the day totally worthwhile.  The next morning we made our way to the airport for a 10 am flight to Edmonton connecting through Toronto.  At this point, we were definitely ready to be on our way to see Stephen and start the next phase of the journey.  Though it didn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

The flight to Toronto was quick and easy- Roxie was pretty happy to be on the plane and couldn’t get enough of trying to peek out the window to watch the other planes .  She did really well on the flights, even when we ended up an hour and a half behind in Toronto due to luggage loading issues.  I spent the time watching Les Miserables and trying to keep Roxie happy, though the care package that she had been given for the flight kept her quite content most of the time.  We finally arrived in Edmonton at 4pm to a small welcome home reception and were then given the news that at pretty much the same time we were deboarding the plane in Edmonton, Steve’s dad had called EMS and they were in transit to the emergency room at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in downtown Edmonton.  On Monday later in the day, Steve had begun to feel poorly.  He had thought that it had possibly been due to some of the meds that he was taking and was just trying to take it easy.  By Wednesday morning however, he had pretty much lost his appetite and seemed to be feeling worse and worse.  His dad became concerned and made the decision to contact emergency services, which really was a hard call to make since Steve had really wanted to be at the house upon our arrival there.  Thankfully the right decision had been made, as Steve’s health quickly began to deteriorate.  His hemoglobin was at about 55 when he arrived at the ER- for us normal folks it is generally at about 140.  So the oxygen level in his blood was so low that he was in need of a blood transfusion, his kidneys were struggling to work properly and he was experiencing pain around his liver area.  Not to mention the obvious fact that his breathing was so shallow it made it all the more distressing for him.  The doctors did a series of tests over that night and following day, and we awaited the results while trying to keep calm and focus on keeping Steve comfortable.  The oncologist appointment that the Montreal General had scheduled for us at the Cross Cancer Institute remained for Friday (yesterday) morning, and both sets of parents and I made the trip there to await his arrival from transport and meet the man that we hoped could continue to help Stephen heal with the new chemo treatment and whatever other magic he had up his sleeve.  Dr. Chu is well respected as a sarcoma specialist and has accomplished some pretty amazing things, so we were trying to stay positive and remain hopeful.  Upon meeting Dr. Chu it was obvious that he was a no nonsense type of guy, and he didn’t candy coat a thing with us either.  He pretty much started our conversation with the fact that all avenues of therapy had been exhausted, and at this point the only available option was to meet with a palliative care doctor who could keep Stephen comfortable for whatever time he had left.  The tumors in his lungs had pretty much exploded, and the cancer had also metastasized to his liver, which was what was causing the pain there.  I asked the question once more about a timeline, and he felt it was 1-2 months.  Together we made our way back to the Royal Alex, to wait for a Palliative care doctor to talk to us about what was coming next.  We had actually heard while still in Montreal how great of a team the Edmonton Palliative Care group is.  They are the number one group in Canada, so we knew that Steve would be in great care.  Steve’s mom, dad and I waited until after 5:30pm for the doctor, and after finding out that the shift actually ends at 5 o’clock and it was hard to say whether or not he was coming, we decided to head home so that I could spend some time with Roxie and be able to put her to bed.  Of course, after driving towards home for ten minutes, the hospital called my cell phone saying that the doctor had come shortly after we left and wondered if we would be coming back to talk with him.  So we turned around again and made the trek back.  We arrived to Dr. Wolch doing his assessment of Stephen, asking questions of his pain levels, etc.  After getting the necessary information from Steve he asked to speak to us privately.  We followed him to his office where he very gently but clearly told us quite devastating news.  He had seen in Dr. Chu’s report that he had told us of the 1-2 month timeline, and then stated that in his experience in palliative care, those patients who are on the amount of oxygen that Steve is, their bodies are unable to handle such a high level for too long.  It is just too difficult.  He felt that we actually only have a matter of days, up to a couple of weeks to continue loving Stephen on this earth.  A shattering revelation it most definitely was.  Since that meeting, Stephen has been put on some pretty heavy medications to keep him comfortable, and we have had someone with him around the clock.  I’m sitting in the chair next to him as I type this, listening to his breath passing quickly through the oxygen mask on his face.  Fearful of each one being his last.

I feel that since I’ve walked with Stephen throughout this entire journey, this is more shocking to everyone else than it is for me.  But it in no way makes it any less difficult.  Though I knew in my heart that this would be the outcome, I’m still not ready for this to be the end.  It’s not right to say goodbye so early.  I think for me, what triggers my sadness the most is that Roxie won’t be seeing him again.  I am happy that the last words they said to each other last Saturday were “I love you,” because now the situation is just too scary for Roxie to be witnessing, and I’ve had to make the difficult decision to keep her away.  At least whatever memories she will have of Steve will be happy ones, and the vision of him in this bed will be non-existent for her.  Tomorrow our parents and I will be meeting with one of the pastors of our church here in Sherwood Park to talk about how to help Roxie understand what is happening, and how Daddy will forever be connected to her heart.  Pray for strength for me to have this impossible conversation with our little girl.

I will try to keep you updated as best I can over the next few days, however my priority right now is ensuring that Stephen is comfortable, and our time together is meaningful.  Again, thank you all so much for the love and support we have been given over the last year and a half.  We will never be able to repay the kindness that has been bestowed upon us, but it has completely touched our hearts and minds and we are forever changed because of it.