Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Headstone and a blast from the past

Lisa's headstone is finally done. It turned out so well too. It's exactly the way she wanted it. After we put Lisa on home hospice care, she and I took a trip to the funeral home so that she could pick out her casket and headstone and plan out her entire funeral. This is what she picked out. It's still weird for me to see my own name on a headstone.

On a crazy side note, one of Kamille's friends was browsing Lisa's facebook page and came across this photo from the Big Cottonwood marathon back in 2013. Her friend noticed that the guy in the red shirt in the background is Kamille's late husband Clint. Clint was battling his bone cancer at that time and it was the motivation for Kamille to run a marathon. Lisa had finished up her year long chemo and radiation treatments a few months earlier and was using this race as motivation to keep pushing herself. I love that this photo captured two amazing cancer warriors in the middle of their trials and battles.
Upon discovering this photo of Lisa and Clint in the same shot, some other friends did some digging and found some more photos that showed how our paths had crossed three years ago. We found out that Kamille and Lisa not only ran the same race, but finished at the same time. The official race times show that they finished 3 seconds apart.

You can see Kamille's son Gunner in this photo running along side Lisa and Aubrey.

And this photo shows that Gunner was out there supporting Kamille. Had the camera panned out we would have captured both Lisa and Kamille easily in the same photo.

You can see Lisa's mom and dad in the background of this photo of Kamille, Neiska and Wyatt.

It's funny how the world is so much smaller than we realize. I'm convinced that the Lord is much more intimately involved in our lives than we even realize.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dating again and meeting Kamille

Back at the end of June I felt like I was ready to start dating again. Because of Lisa's four year battle with cancer, I had a lot of time to mentally and emotionally prepare for this. Over the years since Lisa's first brain tumor she and I had some wonderful conversations about me dating again after she passed away. She didn't want me to be alone and she also wanted the kids to have a female presence in the home, especially Aubrey since she is the only girl in our house. Lisa would even joke about different girls that she wanted to set me up with to date after she died. One day back in March I came home from work and picked her up to take her with me to Smith's to get her medications. She was on home hospice care at that point and was pretty far gone mentally due to the aggressive brain tumors. She still had her moments of clarity though. That day I took her with me to give her the chance to get out of the house. I viewed it as a rare opportunity for us to be alone, almost like a date night. Even if it was only for about 20 minutes total and was only to the pharmacy, it was still such a precious moment for me to be with her. Well as we walked into Smith's there were a couple of cowgirls fully decked out in their cowboy boots, wranglers, and cowboy hats. Lisa saw them walk by us and a big grin came on her face. She turned to me and said, "after I die you could marry a cowgirl!" She was laughing at her comment. She had such a wonderful sense of humor, and I love that even in the middle of some of the most difficult, heart breaking and miserable conditions that people can experience, she still could smile, laugh and joke.

Having an eternal perspective definitely helped me make that transition from married life to single life. Knowing that Lisa is in heaven, and knowing that we will see each other again helped tremendously to bring me peace. I am so incredibly grateful for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, for the temple covenants that Lisa and I made, and for the perspective it has given me over the past four and a half years. I am also so thankful for the tremendous outpouring of the Spirit of God that we have been blessed with. I knew I didn't have to feel guilty about dating again because Lisa had given me her blessing. Also, I could feel in my heart as if Lisa was smiling down on me from heaven and was giving me that encouraging push to dive back into the dating waters. From the moment I first met Lisa I loved her. I will always love her.

To be completely honest, even though I was ready to date again, I was still scared to jump back in.  How do you go from being married to the love of your life, to then starting back at square one all over again? It was definitely very frightening and awkward at first to enter the dating scene again. It had been 14 years since I had gone on a date with someone other than Lisa.  To me it felt like cliff jumping at Lake Powell. That moment you approach the edge of the cliff and realize that it looks so much higher from there than when you were down below looking up. You have that knot in your stomach and suddenly are hit with these reservations about going forward with what you had previously planned. Deep down you know you aren't going to die from jumping off that cliff, but still you are afraid. You decide to go ahead with it despite that knot in your stomach because you know that it will ultimately be fun. That's so similar to how I felt about dating. Scared, yet anxious to start the new chapters of my life.  And that is another analogy that I love to describe my situation. My life is a big book that as of yet is unfinished. My years with Lisa provided some wonderful chapters for my book. Those chapters made me who I am today. They have steered the story of my life to where it is. I plan on reflecting back on those chapters often. I have no desire to just rip those chapters out. They are a big part of me. Well, after Lisa died, those chapters ended. I am now entering new chapters. And just like in a book when one of the main characters passes away, the remainder of the book still references them and holds them in high regard.

I have heard multiple individuals tell me that they could never date again if they lost their spouse. And I have unfortunately heard several people selfishly exclaim, "I've told my husband/wife that if I were to die they are not allowed to date again. If they do I will come back and haunt them." Those kinds of comments make me sad. One of my neighbors, Vickie Remund, recently provided a wonderful answer to those comments. She posted this on Facebook, and I love how she worded it. She went through exactly what I did and lost her husband to a glioblastoma, the same tumor that took Lisa's life. A couple years later she remarried an amazing man who also lost his wife to cancer.

"I have been thinking about this for a while. It has been almost 11 years since Bob and I were married and this journey has been a good one. What has made this time for us so good? There are many things that play into the equation, but we both feel that our prior marriages are a part of it. In 2003 we both lost our spouses to cancer. Those were difficult times, but life continued on. Our first marriages were certainly not perfect, but they were both happy and successful. Because of Joan and LaVaa, we knew what marriage was all about, what made things good, what made things better. Because we both had families that we loved and wanted to keep close, we knew that we wanted to keep Joan and LaVaa alive in our lives and in our hearts. It has been easy for us to do this, and we feel that it has blessed our lives and also blessed the lives of our children. Many people have said to me, "Oh, I could never marry again if I lost my husband, or love another person like I love my husband." Well, I believe that is a truthful thing to say, if you have never lost a spouse! But when life happens, sometimes you look at things a little differently. I discovered that finding room for Bob in my heart was like finding room for each and every child and grandchild that is born and becomes a part of my life. I guess God just makes our heart bigger so that we never lose the love we have for others, but we easily make room for new love to enter in. And likewise, our hearts have grown to love one another's children and grandchildren as our own. Now is that a great blessing, or what ??? It's what makes the world go round and it's what makes life happy. Bob and I both believe that Joan and LaVaa are happy to see that he and I and our families continue to live and love and make life a wonderful journey." 

I know that God wants us all to be happy. As we obey His commandments and try our best, he will bless us with miracles that will bring us great happiness. God didn't want me to sit around and be miserable for the rest of my life, which is why I have tried so hard to return to normalcy with the kids and create fun family experiences despite losing my wife in April to brain cancer. 2 Nephi 2:25 even tells us that we are here to be happy. "...men are, that they might have joy." That is the whole purpose of our existence. To learn, to grow, and to find joy even in the face of tremendous challenges. 

Even though I said that I was happy and in a good spot, I was alone. The hardest thing for me since Lisa's passing is the loneliness. Not having her here to talk with, to laugh with, to share my thoughts, my concerns, or my dreams with really has been hard. It mostly hits me in the evenings after I put all the kids to bed. Those quiet moments of the evenings are when I really miss having her near me. I missed having that relationship with a companion. For men, this is different than it is for women. Women tend to have several girlfriends who they are very close with and can confide in. We men are pretty much neanderthals when it comes to this. We have other guy friends that we can go have fun with, but guys don't open up emotionally with other guys like that. They don't share their most intimate thoughts and fears with other guys. They do share those with their wife though. Right or wrong, that is how I function. I have great guy friends who have been a wonderful support network for me. But I yearned for that companionship like I had with Lisa and decided that I needed to start dating again to try and find that.

When I finally felt like I was emotionally ready to start dating, I decided I was going to be really picky about who I was going to date. I have been in a good spot since Lisa passed. The kids and I have been really independent. I've been good at keeping up with all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. The kids are happy and I'm happy. So I didn't need to find a woman to step in and be a maid and a mother for the kids. Instead I wanted to find someone who could be a best friend and companion for me. Dating at this stage of life has plenty of challenges and obnoxious issues, but one advantage is that I know what I want in a future spouse. I know what I'm looking for. I wanted to be "wowed" again like I was with Lisa when we started dating. I wanted to find someone that made me want to be a better person, that I was eager to spend more time with after a first date.  Someone that was exciting and intriguing. Someone that I felt lucky to be with. I wanted that kind of relationship and didn't want to settle. So I wrote down my top five criteria I was looking for in a person. I decided to be strict with these five things and treat them as deal breakers so that I didn't settle or compromise. Above all else, my number one criteria was that whoever I dated had to be selfless. She had to be a giver and willing to put the needs of others first. I've seen too many marriages fail due to selfishness. Number two was actually a four way tie. The first was that she had to be temple worthy. I wanted those temple blessings to continue in my life, and I feel like two people who are selfless and temple worthy can overcome anything that comes their way. After that I wanted her to be beautiful. I wanted to be smitten by her looks. She also had to have a great sense of humor and be able to laugh at life and my goofy side. And lastly she needed to be adventurous and willing to go hiking, biking, boating, etc. Like I said, I could afford to be picky, so I decided to stick to my guns on those 

Initially I swore that I was never going to do the online dating route. I am pretty old school and wanted to meet a lady and talk with her face to face and ask her out on a date in person. I didn't want to do the online messaging. About a month ago though I really felt a need to jump on to LDSSingles.com and create a profile. If for nothing else to at least try and see what was out there. So I took that leap and set up my profile. Remember how I just mentioned that God wants us all to be happy? Well, He answered my prayers to find someone who could be a best friend, and through that website I met a wonderful person.

Her name is Kamille, and we instantly connected once we started messaging each other.

She lost her husband last year to bone cancer. She has three kids who are 12, 9 and 5 years old. As I began to learn more about her I was amazed at how well she handled all the trials that life had thrown her way. She handled it all with so much grace and poise and consistently turned to the Lord for her strength and comfort. Not only was she the primary care taker for her husband as he was on home hospice care, she was busy raising her three kids and she was running her business, a boutique at Gardner village. She could completely understand what I had been through because she had been through the same arduous journey as me. Not many people in this world have gone through the level of pain and anguish that I went through and had to still try and juggle being a small business owner and parent on top of all that heartache. And to come out on the other side a better person because of it is even more rare.

For our first date I took her out to eat so that we could have the chance to meet in person and verify that this person we have been interacting with online wasn't in reality some psycho murderer that looked nothing like their online photos. Much to my relief, she was not a psycho murderer that just wanted to kidnap me, throw me in the back of her van and go leave me for dead out in the west desert. She was so delightful to be around. She has such a witty sense of humor and actually gets my jokes. And in person she is every bit as beautiful as her photos, if not more so. She has a unique ability of being able to balance being goofy and funny one moment and another moment being spiritual and providing in depth conversation. That first date went so well that we set up a follow up date for two nights later. 

I picked her up and took her up Big Cottonwood canyon to go for a hike up to Lake Catherine. The weather down in Salt Lake was so hot, over one hundred degrees. It felt so good to get up in the mountains and escape that heat. The scenery was amazing.

We even saw a bull moose off to the side of the trail and hiked in closer to get a better look.

She did great on the hike and kept up the entire way. Hmmmmm....she was starting to fill that check list of mine quite admirably. It was such a fun date with her.

The next week we took the boat out. She brought her kids up to go with me and my kids. The kids all got along great and she and her kids really enjoyed boating. Hmmmmm.....she likes to boat? Check.

That night we stayed out on the lake to watch the Firework show in Charleston. I got all the kids glow sticks to put on their life jackets and play in the water. It was such a fun evening.

We have talked with each other every day for the past three weeks and have been seeing each other almost every other day. Each date is so fun.

Yesterday the Mascot Miracles Foundation reserved Seven Peaks water park in Salt Lake City for all the cancer victim families that they help. We packed all the kids in her mini-van and went out for a fun family evening combining the two clans.

Afterwards we treated the kids to some Leatherby's ice cream. It was a hit.

I've been so happy and excited since meeting her. I feel like I've been on cloud 9. While driving to work the other day I heard a conference talk that referenced Alma 36:20-21 and I immediately thought of Kamille and me and what we've been through. Granted, the comparison with Alma the Younger isn't perfect because his heartache was born through his sins and transgressions, but the contrast that Alma describes is a very accurate description of what both Kamille and I have experienced. "And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy."  That extreme joy is what has surprised me. I wasn't sure I would ever feel this happy again after the hell I endured the previous four years. After carrying such a heavy burden for so long and trying to push forward anyway despite the ache and sorrow, I almost feel guilty to be this happy. But I know that Heavenly Father wants us all to be happy. I hate to say we deserve it, because I hate the entitlement attitude, but if anyone I know deserves to experience such exquisite joy like Alma described, it would be Kamille and me after the harrowing challenges we have experienced.

So what next? You'll just have to stay tuned and follow along on this ride to find out!

Camping with cousins

Last weekend my brother and his wife came in town with their kids. My parents took their kids up camping by where we go elk hunting. Kristin and I decided that we would lend a hand helping our parents and get all the cousins together for a fun weekend of red neck fun. My cousin Jaron caught wind of this trip and brought his family along as well. It was a great weekend in the mountains spent with family.

I brought some pistols and rifles for the kids to shoot. They all really enjoyed shooting.

 Charlie was her normal adorable self.

Here's a picture of all my parents grandkids, plus Jaron's two kids, in one photo. It was quite the crew.

That evening my dad, Jaron, Chris and I went out to do some scouting for my dad's elk hunt. It is such beautiful country up there.

That night I slept out under the stars with Blake. He was so excited to sleep by me and look at all of those stars. I showed him some constellations, some of the planets, the milky way, and we even saw a brilliant, long lasting shooting star.

I brought my RZR up there and took everyone for some fun rides. I taught my nephew Trevor how to drive it, and let my mom, Jaron, my dad, Kristin and Chris drive it. They are all fans. It's been super fun to use with the family.

We had to leave home Saturday afternoon before everyone else because we had tickets to the Heber Valley demolition derby. Not long after hitting the highway all of the kids were out cold. That's always a good sign of a successful trip when they are exhausted like that.

That night I took all of the kids to the demolition derby. They loved it!

As soon as we were leaving and walking back to the truck they were all begging me to take them again next year. I think I'm doing this dad job right by the looks of the smiles on my kids faces.