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