The best part of my life began my junior year of high school when I met the man who would one day become my husband. We started out as friends, became best friends and then started dating. We graduated from high school and then started on our paths to adulthood. I went to college and Craig decided that the Army was the best thing he could do for himself, besides as a child that’s all he ever wanted to be….a soldier in the U.S. Army!!!
Throughout boot camp we wrote letters back and forth and had few phone calls. Through these letters (which I still have and cherish) we fell more in love and decided we wanted to get married. The weekend of his graduation from basic training he proposed to me, and the following July we were married with our family and friends by our side. We had hopes and dreams of a long life of love, health and happiness ahead of us. Little did we know of the challenges that would lie ahead of us, but we were in this journey together and could face anything.
Flash-forward a little over three years later, we were living in Fort Bliss Texas and Craig was preparing to deploy to Iraq. He purposely reenlisted to join the Cavalry Division because he knew he was guaranteed to deploy….although I thought he was crazy, he felt it was something he had to do, and I stood by his side and supported him. Unexpectedly I found out I was pregnant, but this would turn out to be the biggest miracle God could have given us. My heart broke a little knowing Craig would miss out on this beautiful experience, but it was a sacrifice that is common in Army families and I would be strong and make the most of it. I planned on moving back home while he was deployed and would give birth and start to raise our son with our parents support.
Late in September of 2006 as the deployment was just around the corner, Craig started experiencing severe pain in his shoulder. He started undergoing several scans and x-rays in hopes that they could fix the problem quickly so he could join his troops in Iraq. October 4, 2006 Craig was going to be promoted to Sergeant and immediately after that we would find out what was going on with his shoulder. The last thing we expected was the word “cancer” to come out of the doctor’s mouth, but that is exactly what happened. Craig was more upset that he couldn’t deploy with his fellow soldiers then he was that he had cancer, such a testament of the amazing man and soldier he had become.
He began heavy rounds of chemotherapy and had surgery to remove the remaining tumor in his chest. By the time our son Mark was born, cancer was a thing of the past for us and we were ready to embrace life more then we did before! Craig always wanted a son and my what a son we got! This little baby we created was a spitting image of his father in more ways then one. He looks just like Craig looked when he was his age, he acts just like him (I know this because of all the stories his parents tell me) and he always blesses me with random “I love you Mommy”, just like his father always did. I can’t begin to describe how much this little boy is my saving grace.
Because of side effects of chemo and surgery, he was medically retired from the army and we moved back home to Ohio. He was blessed with a wonderful job; we bought our first home together and continued to fall more and more in love as we raised our son together.
A little over a year after we moved home, cancer became a part of our life again. We were told the first time he had cancer, that with the form that he had, we had one good chance to beat it. If it came back, the prognosis would be bad. Even knowing that, we stood together and never stopped believing in miracles. He beat it again, we had a couple of months to enjoy a cancer free lifestyle, and then it returned a third time. This time it came back as an extremely rare form of cancer and all the doctors could tell us was that they didn’t know how he was still alive. He began experimental chemotherapy and we were told to embrace life with whatever time we may have together. And that’s exactly what we did!!!
Craig handled the chemo very well and in the last couple of months he was here we went on the honeymoon we never had taken, he was able to continue to hunt and fish (his two favorite hobbies), along with buying endless amounts of hunting supplies and hiding them from me. HAHAH. He also made sure to spend so much quality time with Mark and we loved each other so passionately and never took one second for granted.
On November 7, 2009 we took Mark to a little play at our library, watched the Ohio State/Penn State game with a very close friend of ours and then went on our last date which included a great conversation about staying positive, being patient with each other and not letting these bumps in our life get us down. We came home, Craig packed his bag to hunt the next morning and we fell asleep in each other’s arms. In the middle of the night he began to get a fever and was incredibly sick…which wasn’t really out of the norm for him. He was still sick the next day and by 5 o’clock that night, I was scared out of my mind and had the ambulance come and get him. I will never forget my precious two year old watching his daddy getting taken by the paramedics and having what would be his last conversation with him that ended in Craig saying “Bye Buddy”.
I stayed with my husband at the hospital all night, which brought back memories of how life used to be when we were going through this the first time. Now that I look back, there were so many signs that he was slipping away, but my heart and mind wouldn’t let me believe that this could really be happening. I remember him lying on his side, and out of nowhere started saying my name. When I walked over to him, he grabbed my hands and said in an almost panic, “I love you so much” and kissed me. He had to start emergency dialysis and I was told to go home for a while, get something to eat, relax and when I got back he would be doing great. So I left, which to this day kills me inside, because I never left his side no matter what anyone told me to do. He had a mask of his face because he was having a hard time breathing, so I kissed his forehead, told him to slow down and take deep breaths, and that I will see him in a little bit, and then with his mom by my side, we left.
I got a phone call just before getting ready to return to the hospital that I needed to get there now because my husband was on life support. During the drive back to the hospital I just kept saying over and over “I am not ready for this, I am not ready for this” while pounding my fist on the dashboard. I tried to relax and laid my head in my mother in law’s lap but nothing could prepare my heart for what was next. When we arrived to the hospital I ran up to the ICU floor and as soon as I got close enough to his room and saw his feet, I fell to the ground from being overcome with fear, panic and sadness.
Craig barely held on for two more hours until he finally passed into a better life around 9:00 p.m. on November 9, 2009. I remember him telling me that his worst fear, along with not being able to take part in raising Mark, was to die alone. He didn’t have to worry about that, I held his hand as he took his last breath, his parents were there, my dad, my mom stayed back to be with Mark and a handful of family and friends were with him in that room that night.
The next day I reached deep inside my heart and set my sadness aside so that I could prepare the perfect farewell and goodbye to the love of my life. Every detail had to be true to what he wanted and I knew how he would want it to be, we had talked about it during one of the many sleepless nights we had together. I found more strength and decided that I would give a speech during his funeral and make a promise to him in front of God, his family and friends that our son Mark will know who his father was despite being taken out of his life all too early. He was laid to rest on a beautiful November afternoon with a ceremony that was so true to the great hero he was.
I don’t know how this hole in my heart will ever heal and on some days, how I can continue to carry on, but there are several other things I do know that bring me comfort. I do know, I married my soul mate and we loved each other with such intensity, I know that even though cancer brought on my biggest nightmare, it also brought Craig and I closer then I could have ever imagined we could be. I know that Craig doesn’t have to suffer and experience any more pain or be pumped with an insane amount of medication. I know that I have this little boy that loves me and needs me to be strong and provide him with the happy childhood that he deserves. I know that I have a wealth of support in the most amazing family and friends one could ever ask for. I know that Mark and I have our own personal guardian angel always watching over us. I know that Craig would want me to carry on and stay the person that he loved so much. What keeps me going the most is, knowing that our love story isn’t over. I know that I will see him again and he gave me enough love to last until that beautiful reunion day does finally happen.
Last night my mother in law babysat Mark for me and as I was thanking her for watching him, she looked at me and said “All I can say is thank you for making Craig happy”. I slept so easy last night knowing one more thing, I gave him the happiest years of his life and loved him without holding anything back, so much to the point that his own mother recognized that.
I want to end my story with a part of the poem that was on the back of Craig’s obituary card. It is fitting for all of us who lost the love of our life.
“God broke our heart’s to prove to us, he only takes the Best”
See you on the other side my dear Craig, I love and miss you beyond words.