Forever My Soulmate
On December 31, 1997, I walked into a friend's house, and without realizing, walked into my forever love story. I was fifteen, he was eighteen, and moments before I laid my bag down, he had looked at a picture of me and asked who I was. I was his soulmate, his one and only. We married on December 16, 2000.
Sunday, June 24, 2012, my world ended when my husband's heart stopped beating. My life now, living without the person I love beyond reason while trying with all of my might to raise our two perfect children on my own, teeters between immensely difficult and impossible. When I couldn't breathe, when I couldn't move from the couch, I would write.
This blog, its namesake the inscription on the necklace charm bearing his fingerprint, is an honest account of my journey through the hell that is life without my soulmate. It aims to be a tribute to the amazing man that I am lucky enough to continue to call mine, and the best picture words can provide of our real life fairy tale.
Thirteen years ago today, I became Mrs. Bryan Pumphrey. With just shy of 500 people gathered in the church, I said ‘I do’ to the best person I could ever know. I can’t explain the joy that I felt that day and each day that followed in much the same way that I can’t explain the pain that I feel in his absence and the depth of my desire to still have him here. But what I can say is that I am still very proud to be his wife.
This song applies as much to today as it did this day one year ago. He will always have all of me, and even though my love wasn’t enough to keep him here, he is, and will always be, worth it.
Afraid to love
Something that could break
Could I move on
If you were torn away?
And I’m so close to what I can’t control
I can’t give you half my heart
And pray He makes you whole
You’re gonna have all of me
You’re gonna have all of me
‘Cause you’re worth every falling tear
You’re worth facing any fear
You’re gonna know all my love
Even if it’s not enough
Enough to mend our broken hearts
But giving you all of me is where I’ll start
I won’t let sadness steal you from my arms
I won’t let pain keep you from my heart
I’ll trade the fear of all that I could lose
For every moment I’ll share with you
Heaven brought you to this moment, it’s too wonderful to speak
You’re worth all of me, you’re worth all of me
So let me recklessly love you, even if I bleed
You’re worth all of me, you’re worth all of me
It’s where I’ll start
This day last year, he was home. We had no way of knowing that it would be the last time he would sit in his chair or the last time that he would walk out of the door. We had no way of knowing that it would be the last time that his presence would make our house the home that it was; a home filled with laughter and love and happiness. We had no way of knowing that it was the last day that I would be complete and our family would be whole.
This day last year, we were sitting in a house filled with rainbows. We had celebrated A’s 5th birthday the day before and everything sat just as it had when the party ended. He hadn’t been feeling well for several days, so we sat together, with remnants of chaos all around, and watched the kids play. And then he coughed up blood. We were sitting in the living room one minute, and the next I was frantically packing his medicines and a change of clothes, fighting nausea as a hundred pound weight of worry took residence in my stomach. I gathered the kids, helped Bryan get his clothes and shoes on, loaded all three into the car, and headed towards the hospital. I had to drop him off so I could park with the kids, and I remember them making me wait until I could go back and see him. I remember being frustrated, not having had that experience in any of our previous hospital trips, and trying to calm the panic that resolved only in being able to see his face.
I remember walking through the empty halls of a hospital alone, the kids settled into watching a movie with him in his emergency room bed, looking for something that would suffice as dinner. I remember updating my facebook status to say that we would have to celebrate the amazing father that he was as soon as he was discharged. I never thought, not for one minute of his hospital stay, that that would never come to pass.
Today, I would give anything to be celebrating with him here next to me. Not only because he truly was the most amazing father to our little ones, but also because together, we were an amazing parenting team. Without him, I am not as balanced, I am crushed beneath the weight of being their only parent, I have no relief or support, and my concept of motherhood has been destroyed.
In this new life, today is the most bittersweet day I have had to face. I am not facing it gracefully or with a brave face; tears stream readily with a sadness that I can’t, and won’t ever be able to, explain. I am sad for me, but I am equally as heartbroken for our two kiddos that won’t ever fully understand what an amazing dad they have. And I am sad that he isn’t here, by my side, to experience what amazing people they are. But…I am so very thankful that he is who they will always call daddy and I am incredibly blessed that he is half of them. If they grow to be half of the person he is, they will have accomplished much, given excessively, and brought joy beyond measure to those lucky enough to cross their paths.
I also shed tears because our baby girl turned six today. I know that she is too young to fully process what today means, but I cry because she is entering an age that he won’t ever know. He was only here eight days into her sixth year of life, and seven of those days were spent in a hospital. She doesn’t deserve this life; he should be here to raise her into adulthood, frighten high school boyfriends, hold her when her heart gets broken, walk her down the isle. It just isn’t fair.
And it isn’t fair for M who turned four without his daddy. He should have Bryan here to coach his baseball teams, teach him how to treat his future wife and how to love unapologetically, show him how to be a dad, be his best friend.
As the 24th is nearing and the firsts of this new life are coming to an end, I think M asked the best question of the day when he said, “Mom, can’t we just go to heaven?” I wish little man, I wish.
Bryan and I always said we would be storm chasers when we retired. Growing up in Kansas, we experienced our share of severe weather, and we both found it to be much more intriguing and exciting than worrisome or stressful. During our time in Chicago, we often would mention how much we missed roaring winds, loud crashes of thunder, and dramatic lightning displays, so when we were weighing a move that would take us away from the city that we loved so much, weather was one of the things on the positive side of our moving debate.
Last year, on numerous occasions after our move to Kansas City, we sat on our covered porch, a glass of wine in hand, and enjoyed the evening thunderstorm. If the wind was blowing hard enough that we would get wet outside, we would open the french doors and watch from our couch. Regardless of what we were doing, we always stopped to enjoy the storm together. Now, every storm that passes causes a surge of grief because I have to watch without him.
A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I were with the kiddos in their playroom, and although my phone and computer were next to me, I missed the notice that a tornado had touched down across town. I would not say that I am afraid of severe weather, but in this new life, I have a deep fear of losing all that I have left of Bryan – earthly comforts stored in bins and displayed around our rooms so he is still everywhere we look. As soon as we knew, my sister, brother-in-law and I carried his urn and all of his things, 11 large bins, each weighing 50 to 70 pounds, his favorite chess sets, pictures from the walls, photo albums, his Cubs hats and Oakleys, and many other items down the stairs as fast as we could. Each time I would go back upstairs, I would find more things, an endless list of things, that I couldn’t bear the thought of losing.
I have never watched a weather radar out of fear. Fear of additional loss…fear of losing all I have left. But losing the most important thing to me makes everything horrible seem likely. I know now that I am not exempt from terrible tragedies. I feel like things can’t get any worse – I am already living my worst nightmare – but I hold our babies and I look around at all of the tangible pieces of our life, small and large keepsakes and reminders of our fifteen inseparable years, and I know there is still more that can be taken. I am susceptible to greater loss.
Yesterday, a conversation about the impending weather led my brother-in-law to say, “If Bryan’s stuff goes, you are going to go with it.” And I think he might be right.
Two nights ago, at the conclusion of a day that consisted of one meltdown after another, my sanity and reasoning overwhelmed by feelings of isolation and sadness, I had a much needed visit from Bryan in my dreams. Sometimes I feel like I live for those moments – to have his presence in a three dimensional sense, to wake and feel like so much time hasn’t passed, to feel like he is still with me…even if it is only in my mind. I spent Saturday trying, unsuccessfully, to gather myself after Friday marked eleven months without him and one year since my great-grandma left this world. As I laid down to attempt sleep, I said my usual goodnight to him, but this particular night, amidst the ‘I love you’s’ and ‘I miss you’s,’ I begged him to come to me.
In my dream, the kids and I were at my parent’s house, but unlike my real life nightmare, Bryan was only away on a business trip. In my dream, I was out of sorts, saddened and stressed by the time without him; I moved through the house with hesitation, kept a careful eye on both kiddos, watched the clock as each minute passed. But everything changed in one split second as I, unexpectedly, caught a glimpse of his car pulling into the driveway. The mere sight of his car made me lose my breath. I ran out to him and opened the car door, and before he could move, I forced myself between him and the steering wheel and wrapped myself around him. I can still see his smile and feel the relief and joy I felt in our embrace. No words were spoken as I climbed into the passenger seat, but after some time of driving without a destination, watching street signs pass and focusing only on how peaceful I felt with him next to me, he stopped the car and turned to me. In the last seconds of my dream, he told me he was leaving again, but not to worry – that I only had one more week left without him.
At 2am, I was wide awake, turning the moments of my dream over and over in my head. And all I could think was how badly I wished that were true.
My sister gave me a card not long ago, and her note inside said, “There will be many days when going on seems impossible. My hope is that you experience peace in those days, knowing they are numbered. Your pain is not infinite…there will be a day. I love you.”
Several months ago, I remember walking through the kitchen and catching a few moments of a movie that was on in the family room. I don’t know the name of the movie, but Tom Cruise was talking to Cameron Diaz when he said “someday is just another word for never.” I was struck by how true that statement feels in this life.
I know I will be with Bryan again someday. I know that someday the tears will be wiped from my eyes and I will have no more pain. But right now, someday feels like never.
(Written April 7, 2013)
Today was his 34th birthday. It was a day when the celebration of his life and the amazing person that he was was overshadowed with grief like the clouds that hung heavy in the sky. A day when the rain fell with the tears of all who were lucky enough to know Bryan. A day that came much too quickly for those of us still mourning a life that was taken from this earth much too soon.
On this day, set aside for my husband, I want you to know why I love him so much. Why I was fascinated by him, respected him, challenged myself to be like him. Why, to me, there isn’t another person in this world who could compare to him. And although I won’t even begin to do justice to the man he was, just as I will never be able to do justice to the love that we share or explain how incredibly blessed I am that he choose me to be his wife, I can certainly try. Because it would be in knowing, even if only partially, that you can share in this painful celebration with me.
So handsome, that husband of mine.
Bryan was the kindest, most giving, and fiercely loving person I have ever met. He was extremely intelligent, hardworking, and socially aware. He was loyal and quick to cherish those who were lucky enough to enter his life, and for every part of him that was independent and strong-willed and confident and secure, there was an equal part of him that was vulnerable and uncertain.
He had the God-given ability to make every person feel comfortable and important. He positively influenced those around him, consistently made others feel better about themselves, and focused on leading by example. He inspired me on a daily basis to be a better person, but I think he provided that same inspiration to everyone he met.
He was the person who stopped every time we passed the CVS at 63rd and Prospect to buy granola bars and gatorade for the homeless man who stood at the entrance to Highway 71. In the moments before the light turned green and he drove away, he talked and smiled and wished him well. He wanted the man who referred to himself as ‘Mega Mind’ to know that someone cared. The number of homeless men that he took to lunch in Chicago would number more than I could count.
He was the person who sat next to a woman at a rotary lunch, and with only a few details about her mission and the orphanage in Haiti that she was trying so desperately to help, secretly got on his phone and ordered backpacks for each one of the boys. He gathered socks and soccer balls and toothbrushes and then challenged the other members of his rotary to provide other necessities. He made a powerpoint presentation and bought a touchpad to help with future talks and took several of his lunch breaks to teach her how to use it.
Despite how cliche it seems, he very honestly would do anything for anyone. He was genuine and more than selfless; so much more so that I am not sure there is a word for just how considerate he was of others. Last year on this very day, instead of lounging at home or going to a nice dinner, he chose to spend his day cleaning my grandparents’ house. He consistently thought of himself last.
He was witty and absolutely unafraid to embarrass himself – and because of that combination, he became the king of funny faces and silly dances that (quite erratically) took him from one side of a room to the other. Although his humorous antics and jokes were common, my family frequently quotes how he told one of our little dogs, Sprout, to “sniff the socks” when I was frustrated with my unsuccessful search to find one of several pairs of A’s baby socks. Although he certainly had a serious side, laughter filled our house because of him. His silliness was one of the things that made him an absolutely unbelievable dad, and I hope with every part of my being that our kiddos remember his puppet shows, long theater productions in the car, and ‘silent movies’ before bedtime as they someday enter parenthood.
He had a hearty laugh that often produced tears, and a smile that could light up any room. The air that surrounded him was comforting and mature and sweet and could envelop anyone that came near him. Since he has been gone, I might miss the way that his spirit filled a room as much as I miss talking with him or having his arms wrapped around me.
He was magnetic and fast to make friends, and he loved to travel and learn firsthand about other cultures and traditions, but underneath his social and adventurous exterior, he was a homebody who enjoyed privacy and solitude. His inner circle consisted only of him and me – a very sacred space that he reminded me of often.
He was the perfect balance of strong and sensitive – the part of his character that I wish most for our son. He could spend a day changing a tire or the oil in our cars just as easily as he could spend it shopping or having dinner at an expensive restaurant, he would enjoy himself at a Broadway show just as much as Wrigley Field, and he would be just as apt to build something or operate heavy machinery as he would change our littles’ diapers or rock them to sleep.
He was a wonderful neighbor and was affectionately referred to as ‘the alderman’ by some of our closest neighbors and friends in Chicago. If he was running an errand or picking up food, he always called them to make sure that he couldn’t deliver something on his way home.
He was comfortable in the most varied of circumstances, and found the good in everyone he met. He could just as easily fit in and enjoy conversation on a farmer’s front porch as an executive boardroom.
He was a dreamer. He had big dreams for himself and the three of us. Dreams that we talked about frequently until early hours of the morning. Dreams that were good and served a purpose. Dreams that grew as we grew together and were based in our love for each other and for others.
He was a fighter and regardless of the adversity that he was dealt, he always rose to the occasion. He struggled greatly with Crohn’s until his surgery in 2009, and although he had moments of doubt and moments that felt too great to overcome, he did more than anyone else in that condition ever could. He never missed a day of work, even when I went to check on him and found him in the fetal position on the floor of his office. But he never complained and never let it get the best of him. Not once.
He had very passionate tendencies (that I often referred to as addictive), but they were to the benefit of all of those he loved.
He was the most even-keeled person I have ever known. In the face of hardship – when I was put under general anesthesia because of complications with my first cesarean, when A turned blue from viral-induced asthma and was rushed via ambulance to the emergency room, when both my grandpa and my great grandma’s health took sudden turns for the worse, when M was having surgery after surgery – he was calm. He would look at me and wouldn’t look away, he would tell me everything would be ok, and I would believe him. When the world was spinning, he was my mainstay.
He trusted God’s plan and lived accordingly. He believed the best about others, was patient, understanding, and forgave quickly. He was a true gentleman and a man of honor and integrity. In how he treated me, in how he fathered our babies, in his role as a son and grandson and brother and friend. No matter how healthy or sick he was, no matter how stressful work was, he conducted himself in such a way that I could not have been prouder to be the person he chose to stand next to him.
He focused on efficiency (his favorite word) and was very much a creature of habit. He appreciated and was thankful for consistency, but he also had an uncanny ability to roll with life’s punches.
He loved learning, and although he barely opened any book prior to completing his undergraduate degree, he was extremely well-read. He read newspapers from all over the world but had the greatest interest in articles from African newspapers. He read books by Madeleine Albright and Warren Buffet just as readily as he would read a crime novel. His favorite book passage, often referenced in discussions about hatred and the crumbling of society, was from the book The Babel Effect. It read: “Like the question of the spectrum of symptoms. Start with a feeling of isolation and the inability to really care about others–can’t see yourself in them, can’t feel kinship! The web of connectedness weakens at myriad points. Soon you’d get social effects like failing families, infanticide, crime, epidemic levels of depression and other alienation-induced disorders. Failure to use the cooperate strategies that are provably successful. ‘Not kin,’ your brain tells you, ‘Not like me.’ So others become abstractions. For anyone with anger or impulse-control problems, the last impediment to violence is gone. Subtle effects would spiral back into socioeconomic systems: the easy commodification of human beings, increasingly uncaring social policy, the rise of government by kleptocracy, the delamination of social and economic classes. All creating the feedback spiral toward conflict. You still have your social habits, and you live among the artifacts of culture that suggest others are real–but you just don’t feel it, intuitively, emotionally. You can’t see yourself in others, or feel your kinship with others, so you can’t care enough. Because your organ for doing so is failing. Due to the Babel effect.”
He always referred to himself as the ‘jack of all trades and master of none.’ But actually, he was the master of so many. He challenged himself, set goals that it seemed only he could attain, and consistently worked to improve. He put himself through college while working full time and quickly climbed the corporate ladder. In graduate school, with so many other responsibilities, he effortlessly maintained a 4.0. He always wanted to know more and enjoyed any opportunity to ask questions (especially if he could play ‘devil’s advocate’).
He was always present and never failed to show up and participate. He attended every obstetrician appointment, was at every school function and extracurricular activity, and planned every vacation. He enjoyed lunches at home when possible and calculated the fastest route to get to us at the end of each workday. He was helpful in both his professional and personal life and was always thoughtful in his actions. For our family, in addition to work and graduate school obligations, he did a majority of the grocery shopping, all of the laundry, vacuumed, did the dishes and bathed the kids every night. There was never a day that passed when I didn’t realize how truly lucky I was.
He was all of those things and so much more. Without question, he made me better and the world better. And I love him more than I could ever explain.
(Written April 7, 2013)
One of the many things I have learned by losing you is that it was stupid how much I took you for granted. One way this is evident is that in years past I would be calling you in three or four days to apologize for forgetting your birthday. Just like I do with Joel, Erika, and Jenaca. If I knew how much you meant to me when you were here, I would have called you at 6 in the morning when my alarm went off. That’s what I wanted to do today.
People who lose people they love try and convey this concept of not taking our time for granted. It is an awful truth that is learned best by experience.
When you were in the ICU last summer, I made so many resolutions to be better once you were home. I thanked God for the scary reminder of the fragility of life. Then God took you. I’m not even thirty yet. This new reality can’t be possible, right?
But it is.
Wichita State just made it to the Final Four.
What do you think the sex of baby number two will be?
Jude thinks it’s funny to show his 3-year-old bottom to people, especially Carly at dinner.
Our main sewer line broke.
I’m training for a half marathon.
It’s beautiful outside.
I hate Kansas weather.
Those are just a few of the texts I have mentally drafted to you, only to realize I can’t send them. I don’t like this new reality.
Brother, the biggest thing I have learned…no, am learning…is that God is faithful even when it seems that one of my main supports has just been stripped away. I don’t understand why God called you to Himself. Before death became a part of Carly’s and my life, I don’t know that I ever tested God’s faithfulness or his promise of presence. But now we have both lost our earthly confidants. We have both lost a person who provided a place to collapse when we needed to. We have both been forced to question God’s faithfulness, not out of arrogance but as a reaction to our new realities.
In your last years here with us, you and I talked for hours about God. You were one of the few people whom I knew that questioned your faith in a way that was about seeking truth and not about seeking an excuse to not have faith. You weren’t scared of a humble submission to God, but you weren’t going to fake humble submission either. I love that about you.
I miss you.
Happy 34th birthday.
I received an email from a dear friend several evenings ago with pictures from her wedding. Pictures of us. Him and me. It was the last trip Bryan and I took together and the only night we ever spent together away from both of our littles. It was right after my Great Grandma Billye passed away, and we almost decided not to go…but I am glad that we did.
I remember our apprehension about leaving A and M, masked only by our excitement for a little time away. Time to talk and hold hands and sing as we left Kansas in the review mirror for the night. I remember grabbing sandwiches in a Jimmy Johns drive through, laughing as Bryan, tempting fate, accidentally let go of twenty dollar bill he had slid down the side of the window. I remember getting on the highway, curling my legs under me and leaning into him – something I did consistently from the start of our life together if we had more than a 20 minute drive. Even almost 12 years into marriage, and almost 15 together, we always held hands in the car, and when we didn’t, his right hand was on my knee.
The weather was lovely, the wedding beautiful, and our time together…perfect. I could never have guessed that I would have had less than one month left with him.
I love looking at this picture. I love seeing his hands on my back, holding me, kissing me. I can almost feel it. I love the reminder that it provides – that regardless of who was around or what was going on, if we were together, nothing else mattered.
We are clearly not the focus in this photograph, but I love it so very much. I love that it shows how I looked at him, how happy I was, how effortlessly he made me smile, how much I enjoyed his company. In this picture, I can see how much I admired him and respected him…how enamored I was (and always will be) by him.
I love him.
There is a family wedding this coming weekend, but I won’t be in attendance. I actually am not sure when I will be able to go to another wedding. My wedding was one of the happiest days of my life, and I wish nothing but that same joy for others; but these days, my tolerance for joy is low and my sadness still so very raw.
My previous self, not having experienced pain to this degree, might have thought it selfish to decline an invitation to celebrate love and commitment, especially for family or a dear friend. I might have thought that, no matter the circumstances, I could do anything for a few hours. But my previous self would have had Bryan by my side, or would have been going home to his arms…and with him, I could do anything.
But without him, without my rock, my buffer, my best friend, my person, my husband, getting through a normal day without “I do’s” and music and toasts and dancing is hard enough.
The following is a poem written by a recent widower. He so accurately describes this new life that I felt it necessary to share.
Half the patience,
Half the fuse,
Half the parent,
Half a man,
Half a boy,
Half the home,
Half the joy.
Half the time,
Twice the toil.
Twice the effort,
Half the spoil.
Half the father,
Half the son,
Half the future,
Half the fun.
Half the memory,
Half the drive.
Glass half empty,
Glass half full,
Wholly wanting to feel whole again.
Wholly living with a hole within.
If you would like to read his story, you can find it here.
Sundays are the worst day of every week for me, but today is especially hard and carries far too much significance for me to want to get off the couch. But I will try, despite the fact that today is also the 24th. Despite the fact that today marks 9 months since I last saw the love of my life. One moment he was here, and the next he was gone, and although I have spent 9 months trying to wrap my mind and heart around life without him, it remains impossible to comprehend.
Today, we would have gone to church. We would have gone out to lunch and maybe stopped to run a few errands on the way home. We would have said that we were ‘a house divided’ and sat intently, Bryan in his chair and me near him on the couch, to see which team would prevail when Kansas plays North Carolina. He would have reminded the kiddos of the cheer that was ever-present in our household during basketball season…and the three of them would have said “Rock Chalk Jayhawk, Boo KU” more times than I could have counted. I would have worn my very best Jayhawks shirt, and he would have worn one of the 7 Tarheels shirts that comprised his evening and weekend uniform. But I won’t be cheering for the Jayhawks because I can’t. Because the last place I was with him, the last place I will ever be with him, was Room 2 in the Intensive Care Unit at the University of Kansas hospital.
Today we would have talked about how Wichita State, his alma mater, defeated Gonzaga – the beginning of what could be a Cinderella story. He would have been so proud, but today that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because my real life Cinderella story, all of the pages of laughter and joy and happiness, came to an unexpected halt on June 24, 2012.
So today I will spend as much time as possible on the couch. And I will answer my little ones as best as I can when they ask why I am crying. And I will pray that today, and tomorrow, and every day following passes quickly. Because I just want to be with my prince charming again.