The Greatest Gift J Ever Gave Me

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Sunset strolls along the beach…
Small notes in the pocket of your jacket…
Flowers on the table after a hard day at work…
Cupcakes made just because…
The way my hand fits perfectly into yours, and immediate sense of safety that follows…

All examples of the love we show someone else. I’m sure you could come up with a million more ways we demonstrate our love for others. And each time we initiate an action, there’s always some kind of response from the person receiving the “love.” Grant it, the response may not be exactly what you are searching for, but a response is generated nonetheless.

We spend our entire lives demonstrating our love for others: the daisy the little boy picks and runs to his mommy when he should be catching a ball in the outfield, the adorable and quite “perfect” pair of shoes the mom slowly returns to the shelf because her daughter needs new dance shoes, or the birthday flavored ice cream and root beer the husband returns from Wal-Greens with at 12:30 am. Each relationship we enter into by choice or birth requires demonstrations of our love for that person in order for the relationship to prosper. And each time we show our love, a response is given….

7 months ago today, I lost my response. And, in traditional me fashion, I’ve been reflecting quite frequently the past few days on love. I have been pretty down because both my 30th birthday and Valentine’s Day are quickly approaching, and for the first time in 8 years, J won’t be there to demonstrate his love, and I won’t be able to give him a response. Now, for those of you who knew J, you know that the love he showed me on my 30th birthday would have been in the form of teasing me to no end about the “old” lady I am becoming. But, my birthday and Valentine’s Day have always meant more to me than just the events, J proposed to me on my birthday, and we celebrated Valentine’s Day on the same day. So, for the first time in 8 years, there will be no flowers, no reminiscing of the day he proposed, no “happy birthday” texts, and no responses back from me.

J proposed at the very end of my birthday party. I thought we were there for a birthday...

J proposed at the very end of my birthday party. I thought we were there for a birthday…

And, it’s easy to get caught up in all the “ways” we demonstrate our love to one another. It’s easy to become upset that those physical or verbal demonstrations will no longer happen. To wish with all my heart that roses would appear on the doorstep, or we could lay on the couch, hands intertwined and watch a movie. To try to force myself to believe that one more “silly love poem” he would write to me could somehow make its way down from heaven.

And so the past few nights, I’ve found myself praying before I go to sleep that God would just let me dream about J, that maybe in my dreams I could hear his voice again, feel his touch, and in turn feel his love for me radiating through my dream.

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Each night before going to bed, I’ve focused on all the different memories from our times spent together, and I replay them over and over until I finally fall asleep. You see, when I met J, I was determined I was finished with trying to find “love.” That it was just about me and God; together, He and I would be just fine without marriage. I was a strong and independent girl, we could handle it just fine on our own. And while I’m sure that was true, God had different plans. And, slowly throughout the years of our marriage, almost all of me became wrapped up into who J was, and who we were as a couple. I now look back and can see how that “strong-willed, independent” girl slowly became a wife who gave herself over to her husband, and sought his validation, opinion, and desires. And, we grew together because of that. Each day demonstrating our love for one another. Through the ups and downs of our marriage, we still found ways to demonstrate our love…and each time the reaction of the other kept us going. And in time, all of me was wrapped up into our relationship, being a mommy, and loving the two most important guys in my life.

And then, 7 months ago, it abruptly stopped. The day we spent in the hospital, I prayed, and prayed for him to be able to give me one more sign of his love. One more syllable, squeeze, blink- anything. And the harder I prayed, the less likely it seemed it would happen. And, I remember vividly thinking, I pray he knows I love him. I hope he can feel it. That time in the hospital, I did everything I could to demonstrate my love, in hopes that he would feel it, and that somehow that would change the outcome. Maybe if I just squeezed harder, or said it with more “love,” this could be over, and he could show me once more just how much he loves me. That somehow my love would penetrate his wounds, heal them, and bring him back to us.

I recall a dear friend who was a nurse on J’s floor, trying to prepare me for the worst, and I remember being rude to her and saying, “no we’re going to be optimistic. I’m not ready to say goodbye.” And, I curled up on my small couch, and I just willed him to feel this love that I had tried so hard to demonstrate to him all day. I remember laying on the couch, alone (by choice), and willing him to feel my love.

And, then less than 45 minutes later, another knock on the door of the room I had barricaded myself in. Immediately, the anger rose up, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. And, as I looked into the face of the man who had knocked on my door less than 25 hours before, I heard him speak in what seemed like slow motion. I heard him present the same facts I’d heard 45 minutes before, and he stopped me before I could retort. And he said, “Stephanie, I want you to tell me what you have to do. I want you to say it out loud.” And, my world crashed before me.

I want you to say it out loud…
I want YOU to say it OUT loud..
I replayed the words over, and over, and over in my head. But they weren’t in my voice, or even the officer’s, they were in J’s.
The response I had prayed for 25 hours for, was sitting there before me…not through J’s actual voice, but through words the exact words he had said to me years before when we miscarried, and the pain was just too much. So overbearing, that I just wanted to forget that it happened, to pretend that my world was perfect, and to erase the pain. But, he coaxed me into talking, deciding, and working through the pain….
And, reflecting back on that moment today, I can see where my view of love started to change. Where it changed from relying upon actions to demonstrate it, to feeling it within my own body. J couldn’t demonstrate it himself that night, but I know God placed the words I needed to hear into my life. And, in the early hours of June 15th, I got to perform the greatest act of love I could ever show J – I made the decision to let him go. And no, that act doesn’t make the world’s “top 10 best ways to demonstrate one’s love to a person.” It isn’t going to win a Valentine’s Day “romantic getaway.” Even though, in my book, it was the single greatest act of love I could have ever shown J.
And, in the hours that followed my decision to let him go, we waited for the doctor to come around to inform him of the decision. As we waited, I had an overwhelming feeling that J would in some way be able to reciplicate his love for me one more time before he left. He did…
J in his death, showed a love for me that I could never deny. J defied the medicines he was on, and he chose to die.
And in doing so, that final act, gave me peace that could never be described. The peace that the decision was his; no guilt on my own. No selfish thoughts of “hold on just a little longer.” Just pure love. I firmly believe that in those moments J made a choice out of love – despite what the doctors ensured me was impossible. And, maybe I just have to believe that because it makes my life bearable, if so, that’s fine.
J’s decision, although it means he’ll never get to “demonstrate” his love for me again, or give me a response when I demonstrate my love for him, was the greatest gift he could have ever given me. The past 7 months have been difficult enough, but the peace I’ve felt about the decisions made in those early morning hours, is priceless.
As I find myself “down” the past few days, a close friend asked me yesterday, “are you really okay…” and all of these thoughts I’ve just elaborated upon came spilling out. Word after word, and as I sat last night, unable to sleep, I thought about all of the words I typed through text message earlier in the day, and I realized the journey I’ve made. How the past few days, I just wanted a sign, a response, of J’s love. I wanted to feel his touch, hear his voice, so much that I prayed to dream about him. And, then it hit me. Nothing would ever demonstrate his love as much as his final action. The outcome of death was inevitable, yet, J chose the way that made it the easiest on us. My decision to let him go, and his decision to go, weren’t “demonstrations” of our love. They weren’t flowers, cards, hugs, “I love yous…” they were sacrifices.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

In the end, our decisions during those early morning hours, meant that we’d never be able to demonstrate our love to one another again in person, but it ensured a lifetime of peace in my mind. And, in those quiet moments, when I stop and let myself truly feel that peace, I know that I still feel his love as well. The greatest demonstration of love, is sacrifice. And there’s no greater example that God sending his own son, sacrificing him out of love for us – as flawed as we are.
In those moments of peace, J’s last gift to me, I feel “death ends a life, not a relationship.” And I just have to remind myself that those moments of peace are the best I can get, and honestly, maybe you think I’m crazy, but those are better than any dozen roses I ever received.

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