Finding the Blessings along the Journey

Karen Zickes is a longtime contributor to Toledo Area Parent and our expert restaurant reviewer in the monthly column, Food Fight. She is the mother of three beautiful children and one of the strongest women we know. After losing her husband to cancer several months ago, she continues to amaze us with her courage and passion to move forward with her family. This is the THIRD of her series of articles about life after loss, allowing readers to hear her story.

I will never deny or diminish how heart breaking our family’s most unexpected journey was for the 10 and a half months my husband Jim courageously fought Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Nor will I downplay the struggles, pain, and stress of the last several months since his passing.

However, when people ask me if there had been blessings along the journey, I almost burst with excitement wanting to share the many, many blessings we have received throughout our journey. Our faith has guided us along the way. The smaller experiences along the journey are what a dear friend referred to as “Godwinks.” I was crying as I drove my husband home after a brutal day of treatment only to see a license plate that read “Pray Hard.” I’d call that a Godwink.  

When you open your eyes and your heart to everything around you, it doesn’t matter if your journey is about terminal or chronic illness, job loss, death, failed marriage, etc. you WILL find good things to come from all of it.  The positive change in perspective will get you through the toughest of tough days. I realize there are skeptics who think I am sugar coating an awful situation, but the truth is, finding any blessing I could along the way is the reason we made it to where we are today. And as my family continues to emerge from our storm, I recall the numerous things that have happened simply because of our circumstances; then and now.

For example, we were given the wake up call to stop taking life for granted. We never will again. We look at life through a different lens. You realize it isn’t about the big things and grandest events; it’s the little things that mean the most. How many of us withhold so much we never say to a loved one because we are embarrassed, ashamed or nervous? When you are dealing with terminal illness, you are given the time for that second chance to say what you need to say before it’s too late. My friends who were unemployed for extended periods took advantage of being able to spend more time with the family. Travel and long hours had them missing out on so much with their families. Time was also their blessing.

My husband received a gift that most of us never will. He was able to really see just how much he meant to so many people around him, and how much he had impacted many lives. He never had any idea. The benefit held in his honor was an incredible gift on many levels. I met countless people who had such wonderful stories to share about my husband. Jim always knew he meant a great deal to his immediate loved ones, but he never knew what he meant to hundreds more. What a gift to know that while you are still here.

For me, one of the biggest blessings has been the people we have befriended; that had our circumstances been different, we would have never met. There have been mere acquaintances that would have remained as such, but our journey brought us closer. Strong relationships have grown even stronger.

I love the poem about people coming into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Considering myself a “lifer,” I initially found it difficult accepting that some people are only in our lives for a short time; those that are there for a reason or season. I’ve come to realize however, that it isn’t a negative thing; it’s simply how life is sometimes, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you recognize them as a blessing and the role they played in your life; no matter for how long or how short.

“That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not.” –James K. Feibleman. Sometimes the blessings of a situation are seen immediately, while other times we must be patient.

Life is going to throw you curve balls. You will be taken on some most unexpected journeys that you could have never imagined. Opening your heart and your eyes to the goodness around you during those difficult times is what will help you get up and keep going each day; and with an ever more grateful heart.