Thursday, July 23, 2009

Heavenly Anniversary

TJ and I will be spending the weekend with Leslie's mom's extended family in Indiana. The annual "Asch Bash", as it's called. (For those of you who don't know, a freaky part of our family tree... Leslie's mom's maiden name: Aschliman. I know. Crazy. Don't worry. We checked it out when we were dating. It's legit. Completely un-related families. At least on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.) Anyway, I'm not sure how "coincidental" the timing of the annual Bash is this year, but we will all be together on July 26th. Exactly one year after Leslie finally defeated cancer. Exactly one year since those of us left behind lost our Leslie.

The Aschliman's on Leslie's side (well, BOTH sides of Leslie's family, actually), have always been remarkably supportive of us. Since the first time I met them (a typical get-together-- attended by about 60 or 70 cousins, aunts, uncles, and so-on-- consisting of a sausage fry, followed by an afternoon of playing basketball, followed by a family style potluck dinner) I was made to feel like I'd been there forever. From my first Thanksgiving with the Asch's, I felt like I belonged to the family. (We joke it's the Aschliman genes... I fit right in. I was already "one of them".) Through Leslie's sickness, this extended family wrapped their collective arms around us. In the time since, they've been so thoughtful and supportive. They loved Leslie so much, and they miss her dearly. It will be a wonderful and difficult weekend. On so many levels.

As I prepare my heart and mind for the weekend, I'm getting a lot of notes and hugs from people... "praying for you this week..." and so-on. It seems the expectation is that this should be a remarkably difficult week for TJ and me. I guess it would be all too easy to say that this is just a hard, sad week. But in reality, it's just not that simple.

Leslie's Birthday... now that was a nostalgic day, full of memories and all kinds of feelings. (Thank you to all my blog-ees, by the way, for making that day special with all the laughs, memories, and stories.) Mothers Day was difficult. Our wedding anniversary... THAT was BRUTAL. TJ's birthday found me basically catatonic, on my face in my parents' condo in Florida, soaking the carpet with my tears and snot. "HE'S ONLY THREE!!!" I cried out to God. "YOU TOOK HIS MOMMY!!!"

Yes, there were hard moments, this past year. Hard "firsts". Holidays, memories, relics she left behind, which I'd stumble across while trying to get the house in order... and so-on. But to be honest, this "first"-- the anniversary of the last week of her life and subsequent death-- is not by a far cry the hardest for me. The other "firsts" were representative of a life that was lost-- the part of my life that died with Leslie. Remembering her life-- so well-lived. At Christmas, for instance, I remembered our first Christmas together. TJ's first Christmas. The years of memories and traditions that we were building as a family. At her birthday this year, I mourned the loss of the gift that I and the whole world were blessed with on March 18, 1976... All the memories that would no longer be shared with her... At Mother's Day, it was dealing with the fact that she and TJ would never know the bond I thought, in my feebly human mind, that they should have. THOSE were sad days.

But what am I truly "remembering" this week? This time last year... well... To avoid being intimately graphic, I'll just say her family and I were watching Leslie endure the worst suffering I've ever seen with my own eyes. We were in her hospital room 24/7, watching her fight for her last breaths, as she was trying to escape this world and fly to Jesus. We loved on her. We rooted her on. We sang to her. Very special moments, indeed. I will remember them forever. But to be honest, when I look back and remember, this time is more about being thankful that those times are over... thankful that her suffering is done. And yes, thankful that a new life has begun... both for her, and for us.

But the hardest part about this week for me is thinking of the Aschlimans (on her mom's side, that is) and the Buchers... The friends here and in Indy... And those scattered across the globe. The ones who perhaps are reminded more this week of her absence than of her victory. My heart breaks for all of you. I know how deeply Leslie is missed.

I think sometimes people forget that the grieving, for TJ and me, actually began in the months leading up to July. Indeed, Leslie was even able to take part in that "grieving process", to a large degree-- a fact for which I'm strangely thankful. And furthermore... the truth is, most of Leslie's loved ones-- as difficult as it was-- were forced to face the fact that "life goes on", in the days and months that followed July 26, 2008. But for TJ and me, life as we knew it was over. Not a day went by-- not a breath went by-- when her absence wasn't felt in a very physical sense. The house grew a lot emptier those days. Quieter. We didn't merely miss Leslie... A part of our lives died with her. (Although we all know what Jesus did to death!)

No, July 26 will not be remembered by TJ and me as a poignantly tragic day-- a day marking the onset of our worst days. No, the hardest days of my life started in early May of 2008, when the thoracic surgeon uttered the words, "her cancer is on her lungs", followed by the words, "no cure". Or if you want, you can go back to October of 2007 and throw in those days for good measure as well-- the days leading up to her first major surgery, when the battle against cancer commenced. Sure, there were some sweet moments in there (as Ginny transparently reported in the "Leslie's Journey" blog). But to be honest, the biggest thing I'm "mourning" or remembering this week is more of a "celebration"... This week marks the beginning of the end to the hardest days of my life-- the end of watching helplessly as my wife suffered and died. You can see, I hope, how easily that "mourning" can become celebration of her (our) subsequent freedom and eternal healing.

I talked to (Leslie's) Mom about this just yesterday. We were asking each other how we were doing this week.

"Mom-- you remember in the hospital, those last 3 or 4 days... When the reality of what was happening set in... Our 'support' and words of encouragement for Leslie took on a very different tone. We no longer were telling her to 'fight'. We were encouraging her to 'let go'. We were rooting her on to victory in an eternal sense. We breathed a strange sigh of relief when it was finally over. That's kind of where I'm at these days. Just ready for it to be over. Ready to celebrate the victory. Ready to be done with the battle."

My thoughts go back to TJ's "taking the news" in the days that followed July 26, 2008. His eyes LIT UP over his hot dog at the zoo the next day, as I told him that Mommy had finally made it to Heaven, and that she wasn't sick anymore. A couple of days later, as Karen the Homecare nurse came by to pick up the cancer battle gear, TJ beat me to the door to greet her. "Nurse Karen!! Mommy's ALL BETTER!!!" He was utterly overjoyed.

So sure... It has been a hard year, at times. But this week isn't among the toughest. This week isn't about losing a battle to cancer. This week, to me, is about gaining victory. Freedom. LIFE.

I do appreciate your prayers. Truly I do. I am continually humbled by the thoughtfulness of friends and family who just pick up the phone, drop an email, give me a hug when we bump into each other, etc... But if you do think to pray for TJ and me... please remember the friends and family who are struggling this week. So many people who loved Leslie weren't as "fortunate" as TJ and I to have to deal with the void she left on a daily, "with-every-breath" basis. So days and weeks like this are certain to be harder on some than on others. Not everyone has been so blessed as to experience the kind of redemption story TJ and I are experiencing these days.

Please pray for Katie as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, this week has been a very tough one on her. It's complex. The best I can do to give you direction as to how to pray is to direct you to her blog entry on the topic. In time, all things will become more clear. Of this we are certain. But this week has just been hard for "us". We covet your prayers.

So, friends... THAT's "how I'm doing" this week. Ready to celebrate the victory. Done fighting. Done dwelling on the suffering, and ready to get on with experiencing the new life. The "Redemption Story". Proud as ever of Leslie and the warrior and servant she was. Thankful as ever-- as she is-- that she is no longer here fighting, but finally whole... Finally, truly, ALIVE.

With you all this weekend,



Bekah said...

Tyson, The tears just kept flowing (and are still flowing) as I read this post. I actually think about Leslie's family every day and pray that Jesus would be near and comfort them. The ache of losing a sister never goes away. I am learning that it marks you-but I'm also learning that it can create in me bitterness or grace. Some days I want to choose bitterness because well, I just want to feel bad but thankfully most days I am learning to choose grace. Praying for you all this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your words, transparency, and for this update. Seldom a day passes that you and T.J. aren't in my thoughts. You are and always will be in my prayers. Thank God for his grace. Love you guys!

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you all and praying for you today.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I went to HS with Leslie. We weren't close friends, however we did have some classes together, & she was always so nice, & friendly. We had mutual friends. I am just learning of her passing today actually. I was invited to a benefit of the cancer society in her honor on this coming Monday. Your blog was SO beautiful & touching. Please believe that she is always with you every time you look into her little boy's eyes. God Bless You two.

Gretta said...

Thinking of Leslie today....and all of you who miss her. I began reading Leslie's journey in Feb. 2008....was diagnosed 9 months later with cancer myself....could not have imagined how God was using Leslie's story as I was reading it to prepare me for my own journey in the months to come.... praying for all of you today...thank you for sharing Leslie's journey.

kbeer said...

Thank you, Tyson, for continuing to share your heart and your time with us. It meant a lot to all of us this weekend to see you and TJ again. What a tremendous witness you are and what a powerful testimony you have for the Lord. Thank you for being such an encouragement and blessing to our family!
Yahweh make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you!
Love you! Kara

Michael and Courtney Spear said...

Amazing!! The Lord is clearly using you with your transparency of words! I can't believe how well you are able to express your honest feelings! I have learned so much, personally, from your journey. I don't even know you (even though after reading your blog for years, I feel I do know you)! You and TJ are in my prayers! I do know Katie, and I will be praying for her too! I hope you know, the Lord has clearly SENT you to share your journey- it's amazing how many still follow your blog and how many God is able to reach through your story! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Dear Tyson! What an amazingly wise young man you are! We soooo very much appreciated your presnce this weekend. You and TJ made us all feel very close and we truly cherished your words and encouragement. Even though our tears were flowing, we could all feel so thankful that we were together on this very special weekend. We love you dearly and look forward to meeting dear Katie very soon! I can't believe I did this? Much love, Aunt bji

Kami said...

Yes, Tyson, I echo my sis and mom: It was such a blessing to be with you and TJ again this weekend. I confess that part of the pain for me in losing Les was also [foolishly] believing we'd lost you and TJ. How short-sighted I was--or just a poor judge of your character, I guess! We do look forward to meeting Katie. It might be a good idea for you though, if you haven't already, to warn her that we are a weepy family, and that has nothing to do with her. :)
much love,

Kellie Felmey said...

Tyson, tears of joy stream down my face as I read that you are ALIVE!!! Jesus came to give us life and abundant life and yours keeps abounding. I pray that His love becomes more apparent to all of us daily! Thanks for Jack, we love him! Kellie Felmey ( by the way, the day we got him, Gracie said, Mom he looks sad, and just this week, I feel he feels at home, he whines to go in the backyard with the kids and he loves to give us kisses, I prayed he would be able to move on to, Leslie was a very big part of his life also)

Carol said...

I am so thankful you were willing to spend time with the Aschliman family this past weekend- I know they appreciated it- we still think of Leslie and her family- and you too- and we wish you well in the future as the Lord leads you in finding another wife and mother for TJ- as hard as I am sure that is at times.

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you and TJ and the rest of the families. Praying for you all.