Cancer Journey

Little Boxes

“I don’t need to write that down. I’ll Remember it.”

-Everyone

Aaron was a planner. I would find hand written lists on his office desk with little boxes that he drew next to each task. I always thought it was funny that he would draw a little box but he told me that he felt great satisfaction in checking each box off. He would include big important tasks on his list like “Create NOM, FTB-Process”(I don’t know what that means so I assume its important) and simple reminders like, “Take out the trash”. (For real, he wrote that) He caught on pretty quickly after we were married that I enjoyed rummaging through his things, (especially his text messages) and he knew that I read his lists. I would leave him small love notes or encourage him to complete new tasks by adding things like “Buy wife something nice.” Naturally he would play along, not by buying me something nice but by adding to his list ,” throw away Robin’s shoes.” If you knew Aaron, this snide remark should not surprise you. Secretly, I know he hoped that I would recognize his note was more than playful banter. He really would have appreciated it if I would have condensed my shoe collection to an amount that can actually fit in my closest. Side Note: I do believe that he threw some of my shoes away when I wasn’t around. Aaron would claim that he was a minimalist and if I would have been on board with the idea he would have done it. He didn’t like clutter and everything had a place. I don’t know how he did it but he would actually put his shoes away in the closet and even go so far as to put them ON THE SHOE RACK. (I have a shoe rack but I might as well return it because my shoes NEVER end up on it ). He didn’t buy things for himself very often. If he didn’t use it everyday he claimed he didn’t need it. Except when it came to tools, guns, and cars. Which I would like to point out are very expensive hobbies…Just saying. If we were to appear on one of those declutter your house TV shows and we had to lay out all our belongings on the front lawn, Aarons things would be about 10% of what we have in the house. I will agree that the 90% of my stuff is mostly unnecessary. However, I will argue that my Rae Dunn Collection http://www.raedunn.com/ is necessary to my happiness. Though Aaron didn’t understand why I needed what HE THOUGHT were poorly shaped bowls and plates that were all unnecessarily labeled to ensure that they were used for the correct purpose. “Oh Hey, your eating ice cream ? Use the bowl labeled ice cream bowl! DUH!” A Robin Keele Truth: “Mom can I eat ice cream in the cool ice cream bowls? NO YOU MAY NOT, those bowls are too special to me” So instead they sit in my China cabinet looking beautiful for everyone to see. (PS I’m looking for the Flour Canister and Cookie Jar, please contact me if found.)

“Poorly Shaped” Rae Dunn jars that I NEED, but won’t ever actually put flour and cookies in. #toospecial

Aaron was the “practical planner of important things” in our marriage and I was the “Lets stop making lists and binge watch the latest Netflix series, then cry when its over because they didn’t even say goodbye! ” SPOLIER ALERT, Ned Starks death on Game of Thrones has forever changed me and will someone please tell me WHEN winter is actually coming? At first, It doesn’t appear that we worked well together with our very different approaches to life but we made a great team. We complimented each other. He made sure that I got stuff done and I made sure to remind him to take a chill pill (or three). His strengths made up for my weaknesses and vice versa.

If lists are lost know that the reward is $0. #hesaidso

After Aaron died I found several lists that he made over the years while searching through the office for all important documents you need for after someone dies. Speaking of lists, the list of things you have to do for a death is very daunting. (I’ll save that for a later post) After he was gone, reading his lists and searching through his things made me feel sick to my stomach. Before, I had no problem going through his things. Like Aaron used to say, his stuff was also my stuff but my stuff was still only my stuff.” Now I feel like I’m invading his privacy. Aaron was no longer there to defend himself when I found an Academy receipt for his most recent firearm purchase that I was unaware of. (I felt less guilty about all the secret purchases I had made and claimed that they were “groceries”. Attention all husbands: Walmart has more than groceries. Questioning Walmart transactions might be a good idea. ) He couldn’t explain to me why he was hiding Girl Scout Cookies in his desk drawer. He wasn’t around for me to “act” surprised (I always find hidden gifts…ALWAYS) when I found a pair of earrings hidden in his gun safe or check off his little box next to “buy wife something nice”. (Lesson Learned, I should have written in more things for him to buy me on his lists.) I now hate going through his things because I inevitably find something that makes me miss him more. I have seen a side of Aaron that I didn’t notice before and even in his absence I find that I love him more each day. I have learned that is what grief is, to feel love for someone, with no where for it go except the empty pit in my stomach. Again, I find myself full of guilt for not appreciating the man he was when I had him with me, even if he did keep delicious girl scout cookies hidden from me. ( I really like the peanut butter ones if you feel like making my day.)

Incredibly cute baby with devoted Dad that has adorable dimples that I miss very much.

One list I found in particular hurt my heart the most. Titled: If I Die Young. When Aaron and I were first married he told me that for some reason he always believed that he would die at a young age. This conversation I remember so vividly as if we had just had it yesterday. He had just gotten home from work and he greeted me in the kitchen. I had my arms around his neck while he held me around my waist. He kissed me like he had done every other day but then he said, “Robin you are not allowed to die before me.” I laughed at his morbid way of saying, “I don’t want to live life without you.” “NO! I’m definitely dying first” I responded. “Or, we can be cute old couple and die together like they did in the Notebook.” “I don’t know Robin… I feel like I have an old soul. I have always felt like I would die at a young age.” I hit him across the shoulder and told him not to say stuff like that! I remember feeling struck by his words but only for a moment because I brushed off the feeling quickly. I wasn’t going to really believe him, that he would die young. I often think back to that conversation we had in the kitchen. I thought about it when we first learned he had cancer, when we first met with his oncologist and he shared that his prognosis was not good, and again when his CT scan results showed new cancer growth. I thought about it while I sat with him in recovery after the surgery for his liver stints, and when his jaundice became progressively worse. I thought of it the night Taylor laid on his chest for hours as if she were memorizing his breathing patterns, when I face timed him during Parker’s baseball game because he was too sick to attend, and when Maddie would sit on his lap and just stare up at him and smile. I thought about it when his doctor asked me what kind of hospice care he would prefer and when I approved his DNR. I thought of it when our children came to say goodbye and Parker said, “Dad no matter what happens I will always love you.” I thought about it as I held his hand when he took his last breath. I thought about it when I found his, “If I die young” list, and again when I placed it in his pocket before his body was laid to rest. Through all 8 months of his fight, I thought about how he believed that he would die young. He had made a list for it so he was thinking about it too. When I had found his list, my already broken heart sank. At first, I felt incredibly sad that he lived his last year of life worried about death but after reading over it I had deep feelings of admiration for him. The reality is that death and loss will touch us all and to acknowledge that fact and face it with courage is the mark of a true warrior, and something we should all strive for. I am grateful to know that even as Aaron faced his own death he was true to who he was, the practical planner, making lists and checking off boxes.”

Waiting on Chemotherapy…probably making a list. I was on Facebook. Maybe not, it could have been Pinterest.

How does one prepare to die? It’s a scary thought and we often avoid such difficult conversations. Aaron and I didn’t talk much about what our life would look like after he was gone. Whenever we did talk about it, it made us uncomfortable. It felt like we were giving up hope. and talking about it meant we were admitting defeat, that he would die. But he would die and one day, so will I. Dying is a natural part of life, so why can’t we talk about it without feeling like we need to immediately change the subject? In our case, with Aaron’s poor prognosis it was too much of a reality for us to ignore it. We were forced to face it. We may not have said it to each other but we both knew he would die. It was like that moment back in the kitchen when I felt struck by his his comment that he would die young. It was true, but instead of talking about it I brushed it off and refused to believe it. Spoiler Alert: We will all die, so I urge you to have certain conversations with your loved ones before it becomes too hard to talk about. To talk about our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones IS to talk about life. When we live our life without acknowledging death it becomes too easy to postpone the things we know we must do. I have a new perspective when I hear the phrase, “Live like you were dying”. We are dying and the most important sentiment is that we only die once. We carefully plan our weddings, the birth of our children, graduations (even for kindergarten) . We all understand that these moments are major life transitions. To deny our end of life the same consideration denies a tremendous part of us, perhaps the most important part: That we are mortal. We may not be able to control when or how we die but it’s a pretty big deal and what I believe to be our most important transition. So we should do our best to make sure our wishes are communicated and honored. Make a list! (make sure you have a Will)

I will not share all that I read from Aaron’s list, but I will say that he had more love than I ever thought he did for me and our children. He would have lived in pain forever if it meant I died first so I wouldn’t have to experience the loss of love and be responsible to carry on alone. Some of the tasks on the list were already complete, marked by the little checked box, while others couldn’t be done until after his death. He told me what he hoped my future would look like without him, what he hoped for the kids, and to simply try to be happy. I may not of had all the conversations I wish I could have had but I can smile through my tears knowing he intentionally left this list for me knowing I would find it. (I never knew he could be so romantic!). This list also comforts me, learning that he was as prepared as he could have been for what would happen and that he was at peace with the outcome. I’m not there yet. I’m not at peace and I’m not really all that happy most days, but I will be…one day. I used to ask Aaron, “Why make a list?” He told me, writing things down motivated him to get it done and it was like making a pledge! Back then my response was, “Whatever you nerdy weirdo” but it’s true and I should make more lists. He knew I would need motivation to be happy and this was his way of telling me, “Robin everything will be OK. I’m going to write this down for you so you make sure it happens!” He may have thought that by writing it down it would motivate me but how he lived his life and faced his death is my real motivation. He was a devoted father and an incredibly romantic husband acting courageously in the face of certain doom (Dramatic, I know. But TRUE) He was the epitome of bravery and what a friend once told me an outlier (an exceptional person for whom excellence is merely a starting point) .
So each and everyday I will try to be happy and take certain steps to check off his “little boxes”.

Note from incredibly romantic husband

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