One picture. It’s amazing what you can feel from looking at one picture. My sister just sent me this photo. It’s from the cemetery on the day we buried Kirby. Ugh, it’s even painful to type his name. You see, Kirby wasn’t just my stepdad. He was my dad. He was my cheerleader. He was my friend. He was my biggest fan. He was my, “I don’t know what to do, hold on, let me call Kirby” person. He loved me fiercely, even when I didn’t really deserve his love.
Let’s back up a little bit. Rewind back to 1992 and you’ll need to reference this next photo.
In this photo, you’ll find a grieving wife and her 6 children attending their dad’s burial. It was August of 1992 and I was only 5 years old. I didn’t have the memories of my dad like my other siblings did. I used to be angry and envious of their time with him. I would get so mad and ask why I didn’t get that chance. I thought it was so unfair. I felt like I couldn’t relate to my siblings when we talked about dad’s death because I didn’t really have memories like they had. I felt left out, if I’m being honest. I felt like I didn’t have a right to actually be sad because I didn’t “really know him” like my siblings did. Now that I’m older and can look back at that time, I ache for what my siblings must have felt. I was spared the agonizing pain at that age, but each of my five siblings had to experience such horrible heartache and carry it with them all these years. I feel like I need to give each of them an extra tight hug next time I see them.
One positive thing that I hold on to, though, that I’ve loved to hear people say to me throughout my life, is that I’ve got my dad’s humor. I love that. Humor is how I survive. I’ll probably crack a joke on my death bed. It’s how I roll. I may not have really known my dad, but I hope a piece of him can live on through me in that way.
I only remember bits and pieces of the day when I found out my dad had died. I was confused. Didn’t really know yet why everyone was crying. My mom wasn’t home in Washington. She was in Idaho, I believe, taking some of my siblings to EFY. Now, I may be wrong, but if my memory serves me, “Aunt Verdene” approached me as I was sitting under my favorite tree outside in our yard to give me the news. I think it was Kevin Adamson who told my sister. I remember eventually ending up in my kitchen, everyone was crying and that’s about all I remember about that day. Then fast forward to flying in a tiny tiny plane to Idaho to meet my mom. Dr. Dart, who would eventually give me my braces when I was older, was the one who flew us to Idaho in his own little private plane. It was a terrible flight with horrible turbulence, but I remember being comforted by my sister and family friends who joined us for the flight.
*Side note- and just to prove how the universe’s sense of humor is a little dark– every single day of high school when I rode the bus, we would drive right by the canal where my dad died. Every. Single. Day. Two. Times. A. Day. I didn’t laugh back then, but at least I can get a chuckle out of it now, right?
Let’s fast forward to when I was 9 1/2 years old and my mom told us she was getting married to Kirby–Oooooh, I was mad. I told her I was moving away to Idaho to live with my cousins. I told her I didn’t want or need a new dad. I sat on her bed listening to her explain the plans with so much anger and confusion. I never thought about how much pain that must have caused her. She had found someone to love again and her daughter was being a little brat. I don’t think I was able to really see my mom’s side at that time. I didn’t recognize her needs and wants and feelings. But what I know now, is that my mom’s decision to marry that man was the best thing she ever did for me. So, mom, if you’re reading this, thank you for bringing Kirby into my life, even though I wasn’t so nice about it at first. You made the right choice.
I watched my mom sew her wedding dress in our little utility room and she was sweet enough to make one for me. It was even white! I felt like a princess. I hope my mom knows how meaningful that dress was to me. They also let me stand in the line at the wedding reception, right next to them. I mean, come on, how sweet was that?!
In a perfect world, you would assume that I welcomed Kirby into our family and into my life with open arms immediately following the wedding. Well….not exactly. Ugh, I was such a pain. I didn’t want to let him in for years. I don’t think we really fully connected until I was about 14 or 15 years old. I finally started to see how much he cared for me and I slowly let him in day by day. Eventually, by the time high school was over, my mom and Kirby were essentially my best friends. I came home from school every day and would tell them everything that happened. It was such a good home life. It was just us three most of the time since I was so much younger than my next oldest sibling. Man, it was just the best.
Back in December 2014, my mom and Kirby were serving a mission for the LDS church in Huancayo, Peru. They loved it there! I would Skype with them just about every day. I loved seeing them so happy. I didn’t get to see them very much anymore because in 2011 I married a Canadian and moved to Canada! Right around Christmas 2014, Kirby got sick. It seemed to be Meningitis and his organs eventually started shutting down. My mom was so strong and positive through it all. She would give us regular updates and always had a positive attitude. That woman is a rock. We started fasting for him and everyone from back home in Washington and all of our friends and family in Idaho and surrounding areas came together in spirit to pray for him. I was convinced that he was going to make it. I wasn’t going accept anything else. He wasn’t able to speak because of all the medical devices he was hooked up to, but he would squeeze my mom’s hand or blink once or twice to answer her. She sent me a photo of him during that time and it hurt so badly to see. I hated seeing him like that. They decided to fly him to Lima to get treatment from a bigger hospital. I had talked to my mom the night before they were going to fly him out and I was very very happy to know he was going to get better treatment in a new hospital. I really was sure he was going to survive this.
The next morning, I got a call from my mom real early, around 6am. I thought for sure she was calling to let me know he was successfully on his way to the new hospital. I sat up in my bed, quite chipper for 6am, and then that chipper mood quickly disappeared. I honestly don’t remember the words my mom used. In some form, she told me Kirby had died before they were able to get him to the new hospital.
Not acceptable. NO. NO. NO. NO.
GOD DID NOT JUST TAKE ANOTHER DAD FROM ME. NO.
That phone call was a blur, but I remember screaming “NO” and sobbing uncontrollably and immediately feeling like my heart was actually physically breaking inside my chest. HOW. COULD. THIS. HAPPEN. AGAIN. God can’t take Kirby away from me. It didn’t happen. It’s a bad dream. Real life isn’t this bad.
After that phone call, I don’t remember really anything. I don’t know how much time had passed before I went numb and turned into a work horse. I got a list of names from my mom and I started writing down all the names of family members and friends back in Washington and Idaho who needed to be updated. I called so many people. I don’t remember how many I even called, but telling each person over and over that Kirby had died was taxing on my heart. It’s a good thing I was numb at the time, but I definitely felt it later.
My mom called me again within a day or so– again, my timeline is so foggy, but she called to tell me that the church was paying for one family member to fly to Peru and escort her and Kirby’s body back to the States. She told me that she wanted me to be the one to do it. I couldn’t believe it. Me? You want ME to do it? I immediately thought of all the reasons why I shouldn’t. I didn’t want anyone to be mad. I didn’t want my siblings or Kirby’s kids to think, “Why her? What’s so special about Carmen? Why does she get to be the one to do that and not me?” Despite all of my fears and hesitation, my mom insisted that it be me and I immediately started making phone calls and plans to fly out to Lima, Peru.
I was TERRIFIED to fly so far away and all alone. It was a very long flight, I think I even got 2-3 meals before we landed. It was such an adventure, though. I was so excited to finally be travelling to a Spanish-speaking country, one of my life-long dreams, but, come on, universe— really? This was the reason I got to go to Peru? A trip that I was taking because of yet another dad dying? A trip that I cried for 90% of the time? Well, that’s life for ya…
I got to Lima safely, but I was so nervous, that all of my years of Spanish totally left my brain and I was stuttering and acting a fool every time I had to speak to someone in Spanish. When I saw my mom at the airport, it was such a mix of happiness and pain, all at once. I was going to be there for about 72 hours and my mom, bless her heart, made sure that we had as many tours and fun things to do as we could before we had to fly home. My mom was so calm and seemed to be happy. I was a little confused by her emotional state. My mom’s always been a rock when it comes to hard things she’s faced in her life. She just gets the job done and doesn’t let emotions really get in the way. Me, on the other hand, oh my, I’m an emotional train wreck most of the time.
One night in our hotel, we were sitting on our beds talking. We were trying to be strong and happy, but reality set in. I’ll never forget the feeling I had in that room when my mom, the rock, broke down in front of me. She cried and said something like, “Why can’t God just let me keep a husband?” I ran to her bed and held her as we both cried as hard as we both clearly needed to cry. I was angry and hurting inside. I was so confused, angry, sad, hurt, etc… She had a valid question, though. Why did the Lord take two husbands from this woman? What good is this doing her? What lesson is it that the Lord thinks this woman needs to learn from this? Whyyyyyy?
After a few days, we flew home to Pasco, Washington. I was looking rough. Imagine my face after so many days of crying…yikes. I kept thinking, “I hope no one is there when we land.” If you haven’t been to Pasco’s airport, it’s tiny. Once we got off the plane, we headed into the airport. I remember being so exhausted, physically and emotionally. We started walking towards the main area when I looked up and saw so many people I knew standing there waiting for us. I didn’t expect to see anyone other than who was picking us up. I lost it. I was a crying mess. They just kept coming. Aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, friends, people from our church. I felt so much love and support. I hope that everyone who was there knows how much that meant to us and how amazing it felt to see their faces and feel their hugs.
I ended up speaking at Kirby’s funeral. My goodness, keeping my composure during that was not easy. I didn’t make it the whole way without crying, but I don’t think anyone really expected me to. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to speak at his funeral and to look out at the overflowing crowd of people who came to support our family that day. I loved seeing all their faces and feeling their love. If you ever have a chance to go to a funeral and you think they won’t care if you go or not, they’ll care. Just go. Say hello, give them a hug. It really will make a difference.
Back to that photo. That one photo. The funeral was easier for me than I thought it was going to be. It was full of warm fuzzies and laughter and beautiful music. It was a celebration of his life and a remembrance of some of our best memories we had with him.
But that photo. That cemetery. That burial.
That was the end.
After everyone had walked away, I just stood there. I couldn’t leave.
I laid my hand on his casket and realized that as soon as I lifted my hand and walked away, reality would set in. Life would have to go on…and go on without Kirby.
I couldn’t fathom it. The pain in that photo was too real then and it’s too real today.
This was my dad. This was the dad who helped raise me. This was the dad who loved me no matter what. This was the dad that stood by my side and supported me. This was the dad who stuck it out when I was unwilling to let him in. This was the dad that I knew. My older siblings have the memories of our dad, Lawrence, but I wasn’t lucky enough to have those. I don’t think it’s unfair to me anymore, though. But I do wish that my that my older siblings could have had more of Kirby in their lives. I am so blessed to have had so much time with him before he left us. I am so lucky that I got to have a dad like him, even though it wasn’t long enough, I still got him.
Soo, here’s where my writing might take a bit of a turn–
After Kirby’s death, I decided to go back to beauty school and finish the last 10 weeks I needed to graduate. In order to do that, I had to leave my husband and kids and move to Idaho Falls. While I was at beauty school, I was a mess. I had mental breakdowns, anxiety attacks, full-on melt downs. I barely made it through class some days. One day, it was his birthday, I had to walk out of class and go into the alley outside and cry it out. I was trying not to hyperventilate. I felt like I was going crazy. I had just lost 4 family members within about 6 months or so (including both my grandmas, one died 4 months before Kirby and the other died 2 months after him) and I just wasn’t handling death very well.
Once I got back home, I went full force into opening a salon in my home. I was really trying to move on with my life, but it wasn’t going so well. I didn’t know how to deal with the million times I went to call Kirby and then realized he wasn’t there to answer the phone. To avoid all the dramatic details and to sum up the next part of my life after his death, I went crazy. I was emotionally unstable and was diagnosed with a mental illness, that to me, was a like a another bomb being dropped on me. I was angry at God. I was angry at the world. I ended up on medication which numbed me for about 4 years. I gained 80 pounds, ate my life away, and I never fully let myself grieve Kirby’s death. I didn’t really cry, I didn’t want to let it happen. If I saw his name, I would immediately remove myself from whatever made me see his name. If I saw photos of him, I immediately avoided them, even to the point of throwing my phone or closing my laptop and walking away. When I have visited my mom’s house since his death, the first thing I do is find all the photos of him and turn them around so I can’t see his face. To this day, I have never even been to his grave. I also would never speak his name and didn’t ever want anyone else to say his name in front of me. I had to stop my mom many times when she would want to talk about memories of him and I would shut it down. Sorry about that, mom. I wasn’t emotionally available when it came to him. If I thought about him or looked at a photo longer than 2 seconds, the amount of pain that I would feel inside my body was so debilitating that I felt like I was actually going to die. Sounds overly dramatic, I know, but that was my reality. Instead of letting myself feel that, I shoved it away.
BUT– I’m happy to say that I’m no longer on those numbing medications and I finally got my butt to therapy. I can finally say his name out loud. I can sometimes even talk about memories of him. Now, I can’t look at photos yet. I haven’t really climbed that mountain yet, but I’ll get there. As far as my anger with God…I finally have some peace. I have had a few healing experiences that are too sacred to me to share on a blog, but I hold them dear to my heart and I’m so grateful for them. I know that Kirby is watching over me and is always there when I need him. I also know that the Lord understands my pain. He didn’t like taking Kirby away from me, but I also have to stop asking why it happened. I won’t get an answer in this life and I had to accept that.
Grief is ugly. Grief isn’t nice. Grief doesn’t play by the rules. Grief also looks different for every person in this world. January 11, 2020 will be 5 years since Kirby was taken from us. It’s taken until now for me to be “okay” with it. I haven’t been the best mom, wife, daughter, sister, or friend during these last few years. I have gone through so many stages of grief and pain and figuring out what I’m even doing here and what I want in this life, and what matters most to me. I have started to discover, and I am still discovering, who I am.
But as far as the debilitating gut-wrenching pain I used to feel about Kirby’s death– I gave that to God. I picked a beautiful colored gift box with a big beautiful bow on top and I put all my pain and hurt and confusion inside that box. I stood in front of the Savior and I put the box down on the ground at His feet and I looked up at Him and sighed with a smile. I watched the Savior pick up that box and begin to carry it for me. He smiled at me and I knew I was going to be okay. I was going to make it. I could breathe now. The weight I had been carrying all these years didn’t have to be so heavy anymore.
There is hope. There is life for all of us after we lose our loved ones. Grieve how you need to grieve. Don’t let anyone tell you how you’re supposed to grieve. I don’t know why my siblings and I keep losing our dads and I don’t know why my mom keeps losing her husbands, but we’re okay. It’ll all work out in the end and we are stronger because of it.
This life has been a hell of a ride so far, but I’m not even close to being done. I have so many other chapters to write and I’m lucky enough to have two angel dads watching over me every step of the way.