The Intersection of Death and Marriage.

_DSC2702 bwOn March 2nd, 2013, Kellan promised forever to a woman that neither of us knew.

Three impossibly short days before I put on my white dress and walked down the aisle, I’d held my little brother’s swollen hand as he died. The girl that left her brother’s body alone in room 17 of the ICU that day was profoundly different than the one Kellan had been dating for two and a half years. Neither of us knew who she was.

We tightly held each other’s hands as we promised “I do”, then boarded a Jamaica-bound plane. One week later I found myself standing beside a casket. My Daddy could tell that I wanted to see my little brother one last time, and someone opened the lid for me. Quietly, I kissed my fingers and laid them on Ian’s cold chest as my little sister watched. She slowly did the same.

That evening I trembled in the white dress that in another life, I’d carefully chosen for my rehearsal dinner. As eight hundred wide-eyed people sat watching, I willed my legs to walk towards a stage, and spoke at Ian’s funeral. I’d spent a week staring at an ocean, mentally composing my little brother’s eulogy. I had everything and nothing to say.

Kellan and I were the first to arrive back home from the funeral. Night hung heavy, and sweet friends had left glowing candles lining the stairs leading up to my parent’s front door. I sat numbly on the yellow couch while Kellan rented a U-Haul to be picked up the next morning. And just like that, the very next day we found ourselves driving a truck to New York. A fresh mound of dirt reminded me that Ian was gone, and two rings on my finger reminded me that I was a wife.

I hear a lot of couples talk about how their wedding day was the happiest day of their lives. It’s a sweet sentiment, and I wish I could share it. My wedding day and every newlywed dream that I didn’t know I had shattered the moment that Ian stopped breathing. Our marriage began in the midst of crushing grief, the two so deeply intertwined that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.

I am almost afraid to admit it out loud, but in the spirit of more authentic marriages in the world I want to tell you that more of my nights this yearJCP_3983 have ended in tears than laughter. Kellan and I recently mentioned to some friends that we were about to celebrate our one year anniversary, and they made a crack about the honeymoon phase almost being over. We looked at them as though they’d just sprouted horns and announced plans to summer on Pluto.

The honeymoon phase? Please explain. With visual aids and an outline, if possible.

Kellan and I promised each other for better or for worse in the midst of “for worse”. No girl makes wedding Pinterest boards devoted entirely to adorable seating charts thinking that will be her story, but it’s ours. I can no longer remember what I thought being a newlywed would be like before cancer. I simply know what it has been, and it’s been harder than I’d ever dreamed possible. We have slogged through the neck-deep mud of the death of my brother and the death of the people that we used to be before Kellan and I vowed to become something new together. Each painstaking new step has been painful, worthwhile work.

Over the past year, I have watched my husband honor his vow to love me no matter what on days when neither of us recognized who I was. With no one watching or applauding, Kellan has chosen to love me when the very bravest thing that I could do was get out of bed and stare blankly at our living room wall. He has chosen to love me when I dissolved over closet space [read: missing Ian] and when I couldn’t get off of the bathroom floor. He has chosen to love me on the days that I have been very, very angry about everything that I lost. And after one impossibly heart-wrenching year, I am quite certain of one thing: when Kellan Dickens looked me in the eyes on a Saturday in March and promised for better or for worse, he meant it. Even when it is exhausting and thankless and horribly unglamorous, the past year has taught me that my husband is going to wake up each new morning and make the choice to honor his vow.

Since the day that Ian died I have wrestled with both grief and marriage, and quite unexpectedly, they are teaching me the same simple thing: I need to do what my Mama always told me to and make good choices. In the midst of pain, I need to choose to believe that God is good. I must fight to cling to what my mind knows to be true when everything in my aching heart screams false. And in much the same way, I need to choose to love my husband on the days when it does not spring up naturally in me. Choosing truth is painfully simple and unromantic and often really, really hard—but there is no other way. My heart will not win every battle, but if I have consistently preached truth to myself my mind can win the war.

 

Comments

  1. You are such a gifted writer. (I just spent 10 minutes trying to write something encouraging about how grief makes you stronger. . . but all I really want to say is I’m still sorry your brother died.)

    • Thanks, Kate. :) That was the perfect thing to say. I’m sad I didn’t get to see you last weekend at the wedding–SO wish I could have made it!

  2. This was beautiful and despairing all in one. I pray your “for better” comes soon.

    • :) You’re sweet, Cecelia. We definitely have a lot of “for better” moments–days, even! I laugh harder with Kellan than I do with anyone else on the planet. We’re definitely ready for things to be a little bit easier, though. :)

  3. Loved this post. You are so talented at writing beautifully about something that’s really hard. I heard your mom speak this past weekend at the Summit’s women’s conference, and I can see where you get your sense of humor from as well as your faith foundation. You are so blessed to have a husband who loves you amidst your grief and confusion. You are so right when you say that he is being God’s love to you. God gave you that gift to carry you through this. Praying for your family as the wound still hurts deeply, even after more than a year.

    • Thank you so much for the encouragement, Laura. I’m glad that you got to hear my Mom! She’s the best. :) Thanks so much for praying for my family!

  4. stacey k says:

    absolutely beautiful & raw. the reality of our experience on earth – equal parts beautiful and devastating.

    • Thank you Stacey. I like that–“equal parts beautiful and devastating”. If we’re honest, most of life is like that, and my blog is a reflection of that. I’m grateful that you took the time to read!

  5. I just found your blog via Twitter and I am so glad I did. Thank you for bravely sharing your stories. My husband and I also bypassed much of the honeymoon phase and it is comforting to know we aren’t alone. My heart breaks for you and your family. Again, thank you for sharing your beautifully written words.

    • Emily, so glad that you’re joining us in this little corner of the internet! :) Welcome. I think a lot of people don’t get that honeymoon phase, but goodness, isn’t it helpful to know that we’re not alone? :)

  6. I found your blog via twitter and I am unbelievably glad I did. You have an AMAZING way with words and everything you write honors your marriage and your brother in the most humbling of ways. Truly beautifully written. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

    • Thank you so much–that’s really encouraging. I hate–HATE–what happened to my brother, and part of why I write is in some way, to make sure that his pain wasn’t wasted. I want his story to be told and for God to be glorified in the midst of it. I’m grateful that you took the time to read!

  7. Ditto Kate.

    I love your heart and how you feel and how you live life. Honesty.

  8. Leigh Watson says:

    Oh Ashley, I always get so excited when I see you wrote something new! I am always so encouraged by your words of hope, even amidst incredible loss and grief. Today’s post makes me so thankful for my own husband who has stood with me through hard times, and for our Jesus who always stands with us and always will. Keep the faith <3

  9. Love and sorrow are commingled.We don’t get to choose. As your Mom, I would have chosen your wedding day to be only remembered with joy. But the God of the universe who loves you much more than I, (which is difficult to imagine,) allowed that for you, and I’ve always told you, He only gives good gifts.

  10. I need to thank you so much for this post, something I stumbled upon from a friend’s fb post. December 6, 2012, my BEST friend died of brain cancer, in the midst of a year that had already included some truly horrible things. Five months later I started dating one of my close friends, and it was hard. Hard because I was still grieving over everything. Hard because, as you said so well, I wasn’t myself. Even with Jesus’ comfort, I wasn’t myself; I wasn’t always easy to love. We missed out on some of the mushy infatuation feelings, for the hardness of the time we were in, but I wouldn’t trade what it grew in us together.

    • Carrie, thanks so much for this. I’m so sorry that you lost your best friend, and that you can relate to this post…in the midst of it all, it’s good to know that we’re not alone. Thank you for that reminder.

  11. This was so incredibly humbling. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing. You have such a gift for words.

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