A year ago, on October 30, 2015 we said goodbye to my wife and best friend; our children’s mom and our grandsons’ “Gam.” Elizabeth Ann Wheeler had battled cancer for over three years and the final round of chemo basically destroyed her bone marrow. She made the decision to stop all treatment on Oct. 21st and passed into eternity nine days later.
On November 3rd we celebrated Beth’s life at the church we attended with our family for twenty-four years. The service was streamed on the internet and was seen by thousands of people. My brother-in-law, Ronn, delivered a wonderful eulogy that day. I heard from hundreds of people over the next few weeks who said they were impacted by the service and by the kind of person Beth was. I affectionately called her “Cakies” and the pain of losing her was so intense that there were days that I didn’t want to get out of bed. My family and I went through the year of “firsts” without her. Those of you who have lost loved ones know exactly how difficult that first year is.
The first Thanksgiving was almost unbearable as there was an empty seat at the dinner table. Our wedding anniversary was a month later. I didn’t want stay around the house so my daughters, son-in-law, grandsons and I went to New York City to see the Lion King and the sights of Christmas in the big city.
Christmas was almost unbearable. I didn’t want to put up a tree or hear Christmas carols but my daughters wanted to continue all of our family traditions so we pushed through.
Since we were never big New Year’s Eve people I didn’t mind working on New Year’s Weekend. I remember feeling like I couldn’t wait until the holidays were over.
February 3rd would have been Beth’s 62nd birthday. My family and I went to her favorite breakfast spot and we all ordered what she always ordered. We then tried to let off purple helium balloons (her favorite color) with messages we wrote to her. It was rainy and icy that day so our balloons didn’t make it too far but I am sure Beth appreciated our efforts. She probably had a good laugh.
Around this time Kirstyn and Jeff told us that there would be a new baby in our family sometime in the fall. That was truly wonderful news. I think we all started thinking that it would be amazing if Kirstyn had a little girl that she could name after Beth. Jeff and Kirstyn decided they wouldn’t find out the sex of the baby until the birth.
The promise of new life helped us face our first spring without her. We decided to escape Pennsylvania in early March so we went to Captiva Island and stayed at the South Sea Island Resort. The warmth of the southern Florida sun was cathartic. The first night in Florida Gavin looked up at the stars and said, “Hi Gam! I love you!” It really did “feel” like Beth was with us.
And so the first year marched on. I marked the beginning of spring by planting a willow tree in her memory. As summer approached my pain became a little more bearable and I felt a little lighter.
We had some good family “get togethers” at my house. In late July, Jeff and Cole took a trip to Alaska to visit Jeff’s brother, sister-in-law and their new baby. Kirstyn stayed home with Gavin as she was moving into the final seven weeks of her pregnancy so Kelsey and I joined her and Gavin, for a weekend get-away to Ocean City, New Jersey. We stayed at the historic Flanders Hotel right next to the boardwalk. We had a great time enjoying the beach by day and the boardwalk by night. Gavin loved going on the rides at the amusement park and we enjoyed all the sights and sounds of summer on the boardwalk. We had a good time but Beth was on our minds. Vacations without her are not the same. She was the glue and her absence was and still is profoundly felt.
By late summer, we began to smile and even laugh at times when we talked about her. We realized early on that she would want us to carry on and enjoy life when she was gone. But that is easier said than done when you love somebody as much as we all loved and still love Beth.
As we moved into August we started anticipating the birth of Kirstyn’s third child. From the moment Kirstyn told us she was pregnant we all secretly hoped for a baby girl. While we all said that we would be happy as long as the baby was healthy we all secretly wanted a girl thinking it would be so nice to have a little girl that could be named after Beth.
The morning of September 21st I woke up to a text from Kirstyn saying that she might have the baby that night or the next day because she was having strong contractions the night before. I only had two meetings that day on my calendar and Kelsey had a light day at work. That afternoon Kirstyn texted me that she and Jeff were on their way to the hospital but told me not to rush because it would probably be a long process. I looked at my phone and saw that it was September 21st. I thought to myself, “This would be amazing if the baby were born tonight!” Beth and I met in late September of 1978 on a train going to Chicago. When the song ”September” came out by Earth, Wind and Fire it was our favorite song and since the first line of the song says, “Do you remember, the 21st night of September?” we always used September 21st as the official beginning of our relationship.
After Kirstyn’s baby was born she sent Cole out into the waiting room. He had a blue stocking cap that said, “Little Brother” and a pink stocking cap that said, “Little Sister” under his shirt. When he pulled out that pink stocking cap my eyes became fountains. I cried tears of joy and gratitude! I knew that Beth and the Lord had orchestrated it more perfectly than the script to a movie. Brooke Elizabeth was born into our family on the 21st night of September, 2016 at 8:07p.m. Brooke is Kirstyn’s middle name and Elizabeth is in honor of Beth.
This little baby has brought joy and laughter back into our family. She is the perfect gift from God reminding us that through all of the difficulties and the pain of these past four years He is still with us and still loves us. Kirstyn’s family is complete and our hearts are full. And I truly believe that Beth held that little baby first in heaven.
Thank you to all of you who have written me and supported me and my family. We have been comforted and strengthened by your outpouring of love. A year later we are moving forward in Beth’s love and in her memory. And you can bet that Papa is wrapped around Brooke Elizabeth’s tiny little finger.
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