A month and some change
How I'm doing these days
The longest I ever went without seeing Jon after our first date was two weeks. I took a trip to Brussels and England. At the time I thought I was on the fence about him, but looking back I was definitely falling in love. I’m sure my friends on the trip were so annoyed at how much I talked about him! Jon already knew he loved me, and he wasn’t about to let me go off and find some European boyfriend. So, he skyped me every day and showered me with compliments. Guess it worked because I came back and told him I loved him.
It’s been a month and two days since he died. So now I guess this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing him. That was no fun to write, and no fun to live either. I’ve had quite a few fumbles this past month, and lots of firsts. But I’ve made it. I know if Jon can see me, he is very proud of me.
One of my best friends Lydia is a teacher, and when I first moved to Dallas she offered to take me to the State Fair of Texas using one of her co-worker’s unwanted free tickets. It became an annual tradition. We’d bum around, dream about the future, people watch, and grab some fried goodies. When Jon and I were dating, I forced him to go to the fair with me because it was such a beloved tradition. It also happened to be his birthday weekend, and I told him it would be a fun way to celebrate. He did not seem too keen, but indulged me. Jon loved a good view, so I took him to the ferris wheel so he could check out the sights. At the time, I didn’t realize Jon was terrified of heights. He alternated between yelling “I wish I brought my binocs!” to “AHHHHH we’re so high!!!”, and I laughed hysterically. The good views beat out the fear of heights, and the fried burnt ends burrito won Jon over. Jon decided that he’d like to take a day off work and go to the fair each year to celebrate his birthday. Lydia moved away from Texas, but we managed to keep our tradition going. Birthdays with just me and Jon, and a friend trip with Lydia. 2020 was the only year we missed, and that was because the fair was closed because of the pandemic. We love the fair so much that we dressed as a Fletcher’s corny dog, ketchup, and Big Tex for Halloween last year.
A few days after Jon’s funeral, Lydia booked a trip to come take care of me. Her trip happened to fall on Jon’s birthday weekend, so we decided to keep the tradition going. We celebrated him by going to the fair. We laughed a ton and cried a ton. We listened to a bluegrass band and watched a ceremony where a guy was crowned Best Texan Ever of 2022 (or some ridiculous title like that). We ate fried charcuterie, sat in multiple zero gravity massage chairs, and waved at Big Tex. There was a glow in the dark dance show with fireworks timed to music over water that was just magical. Jon would have loved every moment of it. As beautiful as the fair was (yes I said the fair was beautiful), I know Jon’s first heavenly birthday was even more special. He got to ring in 35 with Jesus and all the saints, and I’m sure there were some deep fried bbq balls there too.
A few weeks after we were married, we merged Jon’s checking into mine, creating one meager (but jointly held!) account. I remember sitting in the bank office, being a little embarrassed about the account balance, but SO proud of that joint account that we’d just opened using our freshly minted marriage certificate. Yesterday I walked into that same bank and sat in that same office. This time, I was staring at his death certificate, asking the clerk to remove him from my account. I would have left his name there indefinitely, but identity theft of the deceased is a real thing. So I sat alone with my memories, trying to pretend like I was playing on my phone, as the clerk told me he knew the pain of loss too. His grandma died of cancer when he was six. I sarcastically thought ‘yeah, basically the same thing as losing your spouse at 33.’ Luckily I didn’t say it out loud.
My days are filled with reminders of his absence. Big and small, they come in never ending waves. Some days it’s too much to think about, and other days it’s all-consuming. I’ve found myself trying very hard to distract myself the past few days because it’s too painful to think of him, and that’s not serving me well. So, I need to lean in and remember him and process the pain as it comes. I wish I could just snap my fingers and make the grief not quite so fresh, but that’s not the way it works. How do I grieve healthily? I wish I knew.
An old friend invited me to hang with his group of single friends because he knows all of my friends are married. I’ve gone a few times, and they have simultaneously been the most fun and most terrifying things I’ve done this past month. I haven’t been single in six years, and most of my male friends are either coworkers or spouses of female friends. There’s just so much about the single scene that I’ve forgotten. Everyone flirts with everyone. Or at least I perceive it as flirtation, but I’ve been out the game so long that it may just be normal conversation. People don’t have partners, so they move around the room a lot more. Everyone is always weaving and bobbing in and out of conversation. The energy is just different.
Last night people were talking about their favorite workouts. Someone asked me what I do to exercise, and at some point they said I look like a spin girl. Spin girls are hot, so I’ll take the compliment (even if it wasn’t meant as a compliment). I didn’t know how to respond. A month ago, I deadlifted my 200 pound husband in and out of bed because he was paralyzed. I rolled him over to make sure he didn’t get pressure sores because he couldn’t do it himself. I pulled his body toward the head of the hospital bed every few hours because he was too tall (even though it had an extender) and his feet kept falling off the end, and he didn’t have the strength to move by himself. I carry my 35 pound toddler in one arm while carrying groceries in the other. I walk on my treadmill while I work at my standing desk (shoutout coworkers who tolerate this during our video calls). Do any of those count as my favorite workout? I paused for a beat as those thoughts ran through my mind, and stumbled over my words and gave a non-answer. I think in time I’ll be more forthcoming with my answers, but right now I’m afraid I might burst into tears as they come out of my mouth. This month I feel proud of myself that I’m getting out of bed before noon most days and going to work part time. Maybe one day I’ll work out again. Baby steps.
Being around single people after being married is like drinking again after pregnancy. I cannot hold my liquor so to speak, and am learning that I’ve got to pace myself. I am afraid to share what’s going on in my little grief world because I know if I get vulnerable with a single man right now, I’m likely to develop feelings. I’ve got no room for pride or being too cool for school. Last night’s hangout ended in me cornering my friend and asking if I was a “hard no” for him because I want to make sure he’s a safe friend. Not just once, but twice. I’ve got so much game. Bless him for his patient response. He stood with me and broke down dating dynamics that I had completely forgotten about. He reminded me that everyone’s story is different and it’ll all be okay.
These hangouts have allowed me to meet some really, really incredible girls who have been so gracious and kind to me. These girls know my story and give me a social outlet where I’m not surrounded by married couples. Sometimes being with my married friends is a painful reminder that I’m no longer coupled. When I’m with this single crew, I walk in and I’m not “the widow” and don’t get looked at with pity eyes. Only the aforementioned hard no friend knows Jon. When they see me, they don’t see my other half missing. I’m just me. I get to play normal for a few hours, and then I cry in my car on the way home because Jon would have loved these people and would have thought they were hilarious. He would be amused by my attempts to figure out how to navigate single life. But mostly, he’d be proud of me. He told me that if he died, he didn’t want me to stop living. I can hear his voice in my head saying “go get ‘em baby!”
In the list of “what possibly else could go wrong?/life is dumb sometimes”, we’ve had quite a few. Jackson and I got strep the week of the funeral. I got pink eye in one eye and then as soon as that eye healed, I got it in the other eye. Still working on getting that fully cleared up. I thought I locked my car door after unloading groceries Sunday evening, but apparently I didn’t. Someone rifled through my car in the middle of the night and found Jon’s keys in my center console. My sweet neighbor went out and bought us all new locks so Jackson and I didn’t have to wait for a locksmith. Then, another neighbor found the keys in our property’s back trash, along with a pile of stuff from other neighbor’s cars. The robber apparently decided some of the stuff he grabbed wasn’t valuable enough to steal. So weird. As I put the keys back in their safe spot, I remembered that I had given Bernie the key to our house off Jon’s key ring a few days ago, so we were safe the whole time. Praise God.
Jackson is handling grief appropriately for his age, according to our Child Life Specialist. He is a little more clingy/needy, a little easier to scare, and a little more hesitant. He doesn’t like being away from his people. He needs his blanket a lot more, so I got him a giant oversized hoodie blanket just like the one Jon’s friend Jacob gave him when he was having trouble regulating his temps before he was diagnosed. Jackson is such a sweet and tender little guy. He loves to see videos of Daddy, and is learning to express his feelings about Jon. Some days when he’s playing, he’ll look up and say “I’m missin Daddy. So sad.” Right after Jon passed away, Jackson looked at me and said “Daddy’s gone. Just Jackson. Just Mommy.” What a knife to the heart.
Our friends and family have been ever faithful. The first few weeks after Jon died, someone was at my house when I woke up in the morning and tucking me into bed each night. They have me and Jackson in their homes often, feeding us and loving us and being the family that we so desperately need as we miss Jon. They bring me flowers in Jon’s stead every week. They treat Jackson like he’s their own. Our families have been showing us some serious loving. I am forever grateful for them.
Some days, I think back on the last few months and it feels surreal. There are no words that adequately capture what I’ve been through. I watched my beautiful, strong, healthy husband age a lifetime in a year and a half. He went from working out most days and living the life of a typical 30 something to being completely dependent on me. I dressed him, fed him, changed his diaper, emptied his catheter, and bathed him. He couldn’t even roll over without help. Rather than resenting the loss of his freedoms, he chose to use that time together as an opportunity to talk about how much he loved me and Jackson and to encourage me with how he wanted me to live if he were to die. The sicker Jon got, the more I fell in love with him. There were some really hard discussions earlier in our cancer journey, but those last few months were some of the sweetest yet.
So now I’m left to piece together life without him, his words and encouragements guiding me as I go. Who am I without Jon physically present in my life? Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. The two became one… until death do us part. I feel like half of me is missing, and I know it’ll take a while to figure out who I am without him here.
Jackson was born March 20, 2020, the week Dallas shut down because of the pandemic. When the world started to open back up in August, Jon was already starting to have back pain, and we couldn’t do active hangouts like basketball, volleyball, and spikeball we were used to spending so much time doing. We met some amazing friends along the way who pieced together beautiful family community for us, but life with kids changes things. While still vibrant and full, it was different. We both grieved the loss of our pre-baby social lives long before we knew cancer was on the scene. And then cancer hit full force. I was working full time, taking on more of Jon’s responsibilities around the house as he got sicker, and our family was helping more and more with Jackson. Hobbies went by the wayside. Family, friends, church, and work were all we had capacity for, and I am so glad that’s how we invested our time. Now I have a bit more free time, and I don’t really know how I want to spend it. What do I like? What are my hobbies? Am I really a spin gal in my inner heart of hearts? These questions feel a bit overwhelming because I haven’t gotten to do many things according to my preference in quite some time. I’ve got one foot in the single world, and one foot in the family world, and they are vastly different. Where do I fit in?
I’ve yelled and cried and anguished and raged at God. He’s big enough to handle it. I have a thousand questions, and I keep telling him that I really want answers on this side of heaven. I either want a tongue lashing like Job, or to wrestle with him and walk with a limp like Jacob. Both got to see God face to face. That’s what I want. Even if the answer wasn’t the one they wanted, they got to hear his opinion on the matter. So, I lay in bed every night and talk out loud to him, telling him my hurts and fears and thoughts and questions. And each night, he gives me a little sliver of peace.
As a sophomore in high school, I remember reading John 16:33 over and over after a friendship went south. Every time I went through another hard season, I’d come back to that verse. I think I underlined it so many times in my bible that it may be illegible. Early in dating, Jon and I connected over many shared favorite passages of scripture. For Jon, it was one of the first indications that I was more than just a pretty face. It was eerie how many of the same favorites we had, so it just seemed to track when we found out we both loved John 16:33. This passage rang so true for Jon that it was the verse he chose to pray over Jackson’s life and share at his baby dedication. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
God promises to be faithful, and he has been faithful thus far even in the midst of my sorrow. He also promises that I’ll have trouble in this world. One day, he’ll wipe every tear from every eye and make all that was wrong right. He will redeem all that he has allowed. And I’ll get to join Jon in heaven forever where there is no death, sorrow, or pain. So I’ll stand on his promises as I ask all of my questions knowing that he has overcome the world.
If you’d like to read about Jon’s cancer journey, you can check out my posts on CaringBridge. They chronicle his diagnosis, treatment, and our life together before he passed away.
You can watch Jon’s memorial service and read his obituary at jonathantjarks.com.
P.S. Here are some random pics of what we’ve been up to this past month
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I read this post twice over and am in awe of how great of a writer you are and how I feel connected to your story even though we have never met. There are no words I can share to express how sorry I feel for your family but you seem to be moving through life with a lot of strength and that is very inspiring.
I never met Jon or really followed him much on the Ringer but have been following his story since his diagnosis. I'm grateful to have learned about his life even through difficult times. Thanks for sharing these words over the last year and a half.
So beautifully written, thank you for sharing! Love you! - Michaela