It's the most wonderful time of the year ~ Christmas lights are shining bright, the smell of that freshly cut Christmas tree in your home, something about sitting by the fireplace watching hallmark movies, shopping for that perfect gift and perfectly placing them under the tree. A season of giving. A season of love. But this year is different...
This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Texas for work. On my way home I was observing the airport hustle and bustle. (I love to people watch). Lots of families traveling, in fact I was one seat behind a family with 2 little ones, I'm guessing under 3. The kids were crying, upset that they couldn't get out of there seats. I really felt bad for the parents - what a hassle travel can be. As frustrated as these parents were, you could see the excitement on their face that they were going home to be with family for the holidays. I've never really had to travel much further than an hour or two to spend time family for the holidays. It had me feeling grateful that my family is so close to one another. It definitely doesn't eliminate the stresses of all that goes into a holiday but it makes it much easier. There is something about sharing laughter. Sharing Food. Sharing Presents. Spending quality time with one another. Continuing on those silly traditions that Mom has made you do since you were little. It's that time of year where it's acceptable to wear fat pants, drink and watch football. :) (GO VIKES) But this year is different... It's a different kind of Christmas.
Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday. Those that know me, know that I have a slight Christmas decoration addiction. I haven't exactly kept track but last time I counted I have around 25 totes of Christmas items. (Kyle can be quoted as telling one of our friends that he couldn't even take a shit in our house because there was Christmas on the toilet. He was right.) Terrible I know but I love the feel of Christmas. I also love the smell, the feel, the family time. It's just so special. It also was Kyle's birthday - December 24th. His mom said she was the only one in the hospital that day, because who wants to spend Christmas in the hospital? Kyle would tell just about everyone he met that he was a gift from god because he was born on Christmas Eve. It was a good laugh then but now it is confirmed - he most definitely was a special gift from god. As Christmas approaches, I find myself anxious. I know that this Christmas is going to feel different, empty, lonely and maybe not as exciting as it has in the past. Can I avoid this day all together? Unfortunately not, and Kyle wouldn't have wanted that. In fact, he would be so mad because we all promised that we would continue on with our lives. While it isn't easy to do that day to day, I will not break my promise to Kyle. I know that I am not the only one who will be struggling this holiday season. Many of us have lost a loved one this year or maybe even five years ago. The emptiness doesn't go away. You can't help but wonder what Christmas in heaven is like...
There are a lot of people out there fighting hard battles, some that we know about and some that we don't. There are also people out there spending Christmas without their loved one. Others who have nowhere to go for Christmas. Regardless of the situation, be mindful, be present and share the love. One of my favorite things about this time of year is the Joy that is spread. Although Joy should be spread all through out the year, many of us feel extra generous and joyful during this season. That is my Christmas wish to all of you this year -spread the love, faith and joy with a loved one or a complete stranger. It doesn't always have to cost money - sometimes a simple Good Morning or a smile to a stranger is enough. Or maybe if you know someone that is struggling you send them a random text you are thinking of them. I know on multiple occasions - those text messages helped me through the day. It's sometimes the little things that make a big difference in someone's life. While it's a cheerful time for most, other's need to be reminded.
As we head into the next few days of hustle and bustle. Be Present. Be Grateful. Be Mindful. Spread the love and joy. And remember the reason for the season! :)
Kyle - Just because your up in heaven doesn't mean you won't be near, it's just a different kind of Christmas this year... Love and miss you my sweet angel not a day goes by that I don't think of you. Happy 35th Birthday in heaven - hope you are dancing and showing everyone how to really "get low". :)
Merry Christmas to you all near and far.
Wishing you lots of love, joy and a healthy 2018.
XOXO ~ Kayla Strand
Before Kyle died, we had a lot of tough conversations. I mean the type of conversations that you never want to have. The fact that I was having these conversations at the raw age of 28 was so unfair. Reality is, these are conversations you don't want to have no matter what age you are. Nobody wants to plan a future without the person you love but sometimes our plan isn't exactly what we imagined. Sometimes our plan takes a totally different path than we envisioned.
Kyle's last few days in the hospital before he went to hospice were hell but also very humbling. The lack of sleep, showers and food were minor compared to the love that was felt in those days. I can remember every single person that came to visit. Close family, close friends, co-workers, gym buddies, strangers, Our Pastor and even our dog Maxx. The days were long and exhausting at times. I somehow was still managing to get some work hours in - I can remember times where I would be crying and would somehow answer the phone, "This is Kayla." like nothing was wrong. People constantly ask how I did it. How I managed four years of emotional ups and downs. And I guess I really never thought it about until now. A friend had messaged me that her Dad was diagnosed with cancer and she said, "I don't know how you did it. I'm a mess." I remember those feelings. I remember feeling lost, angry, tired, mad at the world, questioning God and avoiding people in the grocery store. It's all part of the process. There are good days, bad days and everything in between. However when I really sat down and thought about how I got through, it clicked. The answer was Kyle. He gave me the strength. It's hard to explain but at times you would think that I was the one that was sick because I was a mess. I would shed tears at the doctor's office while Kyle was comforting me. When I think back at the many surgeries, appointments, ER visits and miracles that we faced, I am absolutely amazed. I am amazed that we remained hopeful. I am amazed at times that we remained married. (We had our days where neither of us could comprehend and we would take our frustrations out on each other). I am amazed that our faith remained strong - there were days, trust me. But what amazed me the most was the impact that Kyle made on my life and so many others.
In his final days at the hospital before going to hospice we had to make some really tough choices. One of which was whether or not to continue dialysis. The doctor made us aware that once you quit dialysis you typically die within a week. The kidney doctor said take some time and think about your decision I will be back tomorrow. Tomorrow came, we didn't really talk about it, the doctor came in and Kyle said why don't you come back tomorrow. This happened 3 days in a row. In true Kyle fashion it was on his terms and his time, which as okay. Finally after him turning the doctor away several times, I asked him what his thoughts were. I really hated bringing this stuff up because I felt like the elephant in the room, but I felt that it was my job. Kyle's famous words, "Kayla I don't know what to do anymore." He would tell me this often and I would typically say, it'll be okay, look to God for the answer. Then it got really hard. (Brings back a lot of tough memories). I asked, "Kyle what are you afraid of?" (Thinking he would say to die). "I'm not afraid to die. I'm afraid that if I quit dialysis people will think I am giving up." My heart sank and the tears flowed. I composed myself enough to say, "Kyle no one will EVER think that you have given up. In fact you gave it a harder fight than most will in their entire life. You are amazing and fought a battle like no other. God has a different plan." I don't know if those were the right words to say - I don't know what I would say if I was in that situation again, but that's what came to mind at the time. It must of been enough because next time the doctor came in, Kyle said I am done with dialysis and made the decision to move Quiet Oaks for his final days on this earth. A humble, kind, loving man. I am so lucky to have called him my husband.
A Real Life Hero
I think we have all written an essay at some point in our lives about our hero. Some of us may chose a celebrity, a parent, sibling, aunt, friend, teacher etc. Regardless of who they are there is a reason we call them a hero. They impacted us in a way that inspired us to never forget them. This is Kyle. I knew Kyle was special in a lot of ways (no pun intended) - but I mean that. He had the biggest heart, putting other's before himself. Kyle and I are both givers. We love to give gifts to others. For me it goes well with my shopping habits! :) For Kyle it was just natural to him. One day he came home from work and started cleaning out our pantry. I asked him what he was doing and he responded, "Don's kids need food." I replied, "Okay. Whose Don and what do you mean they need food?" He went on to explain the situation of one of his employees at work. He knew his family was struggling and I refuse to let those kids live on macaroni and cheese. My heart sank and my face grew a big smile. Not only did Kyle clean out our pantry and freezer, he went around the office and collected money for this employee as well. Kyle made Don's day. I had forgotten about Don and his struggles until he came through the line at Kyle's wake. A man stood in front of me and just sobbed and I had only seen him in person once before so I wasn't exactly sure who he was. He looked at me and said, "I will never ever forget Kyle. He changed my life for good." I cried, hugged him and thought to myself, wow. Kyle also had a way with kids. He seriously would of been the best Dad and I am not just saying that. Kids were instantly drawn and infatuated with him. Some friends of ours, have twins - Harper and Grayson. Harper was the flower girl in our wedding. Grayson or G-Man as Kyle would call him was not in the wedding but he was a part of the day. The bond that Kyle and G had is indescribable. It was like they had their own language it was the cutest thing ever. G-man came up to the hospital a few times. The first time, he wouldn't really talk or look at Kyle. He stood by the door quiet - not the normal G. When he came back for the final visit, his mom Lindsay explained that he needed to say goodbye and give Kyle the card he had made for him. So in true G-Man fashion, he showed up in his superman cape and mask. He was so proud to show Kyle, it was his special way of saying goodbye to his real life hero.
And even now that Kyle is in heaven, the impact he is making is still so strong. I have a little girl, Jada who barely knew Kyle but was drawn to him. She visited him in the hospital and took care of our dog Maxx while I wasn't at home. The impact Kyle left on her, had her spending earned report card money on "Kyle gear" (INDY Gear). Everyday she sends me snapchats of how proud she is to be wearing it. I also had a teacher reach out to me and tell me that we were a topic of her classroom. She said, they were discussing developing a mindset of Live to Give and the final lesson for the week was about Leaving a Legacy. She shared stories of how Kyle's legacy lives on and how little pieces of who he was touched everyone throughout their day because of the legacy he created. This lesson was taught to a fourth grade class, the same class of little Miss Jada who was proudly sporting her INDY gear.
Leaving a legacy.
What that teacher shared with her class really got me thinking and provoked me to share share with all of you. Kyle had told me at one point that he didn't want people to forget him. At the time I laughed, not in spite because how could anybody ever forget him? Today I'm humbled as I get to experience what he left behind. The legacy Kyle has left is incredible and just the beginning of something bigger than he ever imagined. I constantly have people sharing their memories of Kyle, which usually leave us laughing because there was never a dull moment when he was around. My point in sharing all of this is to challenge all of you reading this. I challenge you to think the of the legacy that you want to leave behind? What do you want to be known for? Did you make a difference? We all have the ability to leave a legacy that will make a difference even in just one person's life.
As the holiday's approach, hug your loved ones. Be present. Put the phone down (I'm guilty) and just enjoy one another because when that person is no longer around you will really miss those moments. I'm Not Done Yet...
XOXO - Kayla Strand