So the average blog post is 1600 words, haha go get a snack or something I went way past that with this one. Does this mean I can no longer get mad at the food bloggers that can’t just give me the recipe without going on and on about their childhood experience with fried chicken and how it’s made them the person they are today? Maybe you can take this one in sections.
I broke this into parts because I really want you to read this one, which involves Michelle a whole lot more, but here’s the other part in case you are interested in some of my early personal experiences.
Holy Places, Heavenly Texts and Unexpected Blessings
So I've been feeling a lot of pressure lately to write this particular post I think in part to have it written down somewhere for my children so that they know where dad came from and some of his experiences, and also to make sure that I remember the things that have built the foundation of my faith. But I've been hesitant to do it out of the guilt I feel for being so blessed despite my many imperfections. I know none of us are perfect but in the past year I have met so many people who are so deserving of blessings in their lives, and here I am feeling like they are being so easily handed out to me. I end up feeling guilty that I've had blessing after blessing while others patiently wait for theirs, and I don’t want to be the salt in the open wound of grief, frustration or other trials. I'm part of groups where people ask just once to have an experience, to just once feel a prompting or have a sign that shows them that they’re still loved and thought about by the people that they've lost. I myself have had so many confirming experiences, and why, why me? I have become acutely aware of the righteous desires of people's hearts to just have simple things confirmed to them, much like my eight-year-old son's request simply to feel his mother and know that she's still there. For many like him it can be hard to see and feel those subtle things that come from heaven, and so as a result faith struggles. I on the other hand have been blessed to feel them strongly, to see them, to hear them, and I've come to the realization that just because my son hasn't that doesn’t mean I should hold back out of fear of frustrating him. Because it can be helpful to impart what I know to be true, what I have a confirmation of, to bare my own testimony and witness of the things that I have seen and hope that it brings a feeling of comfort to him and to others that it can happen even if it doesn't happen as often and as readily as we would wish. One thing I have come to believe is that far to many things are written off as coincidence, and therefore I no longer believe in the concept. I feel it is better to look for deeper meaning and treat occurrences as messages, then to write it off as mere chance. Better to ponder too long on something that is chance, then to dismiss a sign or answer to an unspoken prayer as nothing just because it seems too far fetched or too simple. So, when that song comes on the radio at just the right time don’t brush it off as nothing.
I feel that I need to share the blessings, and not just start with the recent ones, but point out the little and subtle ways that God has been leading me all my life, to show how I've been watched over for a long time, how it's not sudden things out of the blue but sometimes little breadcrumbs and little experiences that we don't realize until long after they've occurred. But in the name of keeping it a bit shorter I put some of those earlier experiences in part one. Those little things help get us to where we need to be for the larger experiences, opportunities and revelations that can forever set us on a different path. Many of these experiences have occurred in the most mundane of places, but I now view those places as holy, and when I see them or pass by them, I recall the experiences that have confirmed to me that God see’s us all. These are not places of extreme physical beauty, they are mundane and everyday, and I will share them with you from my point of view as I saw them on those wondrous occasions, and I will do the best I can to convey the spiritual feeling because that feeling and that knowledge are what makes them holy in my mind.
I promise it won’t become a keychain
Many holy places were outside of my home, that is until Michelle’s diagnosis. The first year I think we were both too stubborn and set on being independent. We were capable of taking care of ourselves because there were certainly people that needed more help then us. But as we got further in and things got harder, I feel as though we were both humbled sufficiently to start opening our eyes to what was really happening on another plain. One of the first things that struck me was when Michelle had to start her full brain radiation treatments, up to this point she had been able to keep her hair, and keep up the facade that convinced people she was doing better then she really was. Her hair was thinning, and she had decided it was time to get the first big cut. I remember sitting in bed with her that night before the hair that had really helped her stand out from the other girls at that pool 22 years prior, and that had been a huge part of her identity, was about to get chopped. I remember asking her if she could save some for me, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I felt I didn’t just want it swept up and thrown in a dumpster. She agreed, though seemed to be curious what I intended to do with it, I do recall promising her that I wouldn’t do anything crazy like make a keychain out of it, but I really had no earthly clue what I would do. So, I didn’t know what to think when the next day my friend Rob texts me and asks if he can come over because he has an idea to run past me. Rob comes over and I can still remember sitting down at my kitchen table as he talks to me about the rosin art pieces, he does with snake skin and fangs. Rob’s idea, and the answer to exactly what I could do with Michelle’s hair was right there, encasing the hair in rosin, and what better backdrop for a ballet dancers’ hair but the ribbon from her pointe shoes. I had a thought, a desire in my heart and I have no doubt that Rob was open to the whispering of angles who conveyed to him a place where his skills could bless.
He didn’t just make one of these he has made many for Michelle’s family members, but this particular one sat in the breast pocket of my suit jacket the day I gave her eulogy, I held it in my hand and ran my finger over the smooth rosin as others talked before me, and it brought comfort till it was time for me to speak, now it hangs beside my desk.
After this my phone and my door bell seemed to blow up, as we faced what would become the final 3 months of Michelle’s battle not a day went by that I didn’t have a thought, a question, a simple struggle and before I could ask for help or come up with a plan someone was there with the solution. Ran out of bread, here is a text from someone asking if they can pick me up something. Just got back from the grocery store and forgot the milk, there’s 20 minutes of time lost with my dying wife so I can go make the trip again, until I get the call from someone saying they just got to the grocery store and thought of me. Legal questions, things that needed to be fixed, kids that needed to get somewhere, funeral questions, whatever it was I never got to ask for help because help always called, texted or just showed up at my door. One or two things occur, and you call it coincidence, but it hits a certain point where you are working harder to call it coincidence than to just accept that something is happening that is beyond what you can see.
I have no doubt of angels now, I know they are round about us conveying messages of how we might help and serve those around us. I’ve felt something near my front door but hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary myself, but I have had two separate people share with me the almost identical experience of seeing two personages on the path leading to my back yard. Both people spoke to me of seeing what they thought was two people only to, upon a second glance, have no one there. But I believe it because Michelle could feel them, she knew they were there, including her own earthly father who had preceded her, and I know I had messengers conveying my family’s needs to those who were open to listening.
A home of holy places
It started on Sunday September 9th 2018. At this point Michelle had not really eaten and we were struggling to get any liquids into her. Priesthood holders from our church had been coming every Sunday to give her the sacrament. At our dining room table, they would break and bless the bread, and I would deliver it to her in our room. Then they would bless the water and I would deliver that as well. On this particular day as my wife lay so still, I remember coming back from delivering the bread and these faithful brothers began to bless the water. I don’t know why but at the conclusion of that prayer I looked up at the chandelier above the table for just a brief second.
In that moment I saw a path leading through a forest, a man was walking away from me so that all I could see was his back, but I knew it to be my Savior. Held in his arms was a frail body with a hairless head, but with each step he took the hair grew rapidly back till in less than three steps it was a long and vibrant red shining from a sun I could not see. I looked back at the water that I would deliver to my wife knowing that soon she would be in the arms of the greatest doctor there was, that He would make her whole once more, but that it would not be here on Earth.
She would pass a few days later early on the morning of September 12th, and thus began the start of what I have no doubt was her stepping up to watch over her family from the other side. Now it started off rather gentle but let’s just say I’m stubborn, so she’s had to be a little more blunt at times.
Might I suggest that you spend a little time with your spouse talking about what they want for their funeral. I’m definitely grateful that she held on long enough to pick out the plots, but when you’ve lost someone the last thing you want to do is to have to answer questions or worry about getting it wrong. Well here I was leaned up against the pillar in my front landing, looking at my mother in-law seated in the chair across from me trying to pick out the songs for the funeral.
I was really struggling with this simple question; it was narrowed down to two songs and I was stressing over it. And that’s when I felt her, the hand gently upon my shoulder and the whisper of her voice saying “Cameron, just pick one. In the eternal scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter.” I literally turned, but she wasn’t there, but those words and that touch brought me comfort and she has brought me that message several other times, when I’ve let the little things threaten to derail me. “In the eternal scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter.”
I was ready to walk, she pushed me to run
Now I’d like to state for the record, while we had talked about my need to get remarried, and her telling me “not to take too long being about it”, and her saying she was “going to get right to work”, as well as giving my kids assignments to not let me go out looking homeless, I still had every intention of taking some time off. Yeah right, if there is one thing you don’t do it’s get in Michelle Kaley’s way, if she knows there is some place to be she’s going to get you there. So next up on our tour, the back yard. A big thanks to my company, they sent me a magnolia tree to plant in memory of Michelle, luckily it seems to be a hardy tree seeing as it is still alive and seems to be doing well despite my complete lack of a green thumb. I had just finished planting the tree and was cleaning up when I stopped beside my back porch and, leaned against my shovel. I stood there looking at my simple little stone ring that encircled what I hope grows into a strong beautiful reminder of a strong beautiful woman.
Suddenly I saw myself out there on one knee with the silhouette of someone standing over me, thanks for the total lack of detail. Regardless I saw that what I was giving this unknown woman was a set of the jewelry Michelle was best known for, the same set she had sent me out to get two sets of for her future daughter in-laws that she wouldn’t get to meet.
Whoever this was Michelle wanted them to have a set and little did I know it would serve a further purpose in the coming months. That vision closed and I stood there pondering what I was supposed to do with that, I still didn’t want to think about dating, it was too soon, but when your deceased wife tells you you’re going to need to be prepared with a gift then you get prepared. Whomever it was certainly was not getting Michelle’s pair that had been rightfully given to her daughter, and the two pairs sitting in the safe were already destined for future daughter in-laws. So off I went to purchase a fourth set to be kept in my home until this mystery woman showed up.
Burning with Joy
It felt good to know that Michelle wanted to play a role in my life moving forward but I wondered whether she was truly happy about the idea or just resigned to the inevitability of it. I started to wonder what Michelle was thinking, like I’ve expressed in past posts she had evolved to give me a lot of leeway in getting remarried, but she had clearly still had reservations and had left it in God’s hands to help her to understand when the time came. One day as I sat on the edge of my bed I wondered if indeed He had explained things to her. As I got up and started to exit my room, I got to experience something that took my breath away.
Never in my life up till that point or since have I ever felt such an overpowering sense of pure joy. I could feel her smiling, and I knew some of her feelings were being held back, not because they weren’t good feelings but because I was already being allowed to feel all that I could handle. That spot in my room is a testament to the fact that we know next to nothing of what our lives can become, I still ponder upon this simple place in my home and realize that God’s love is something we cannot even begin to comprehend. That experience removed from me the last of the doubt that she had any reservations about me moving forward, and so I let down some more walls and started to at least allow myself to interact with women though the idea of “dating” still seemed like it needed to wait for at least 5-6 months.
Get Out of the Box
At only five weeks out from Michelle’s passing I was convinced to attend a widow and widowers conference in Idaho, it’s here where Michelle stopped being entirely gentle and started pushing a little bit. I went wanting to know what was next, how should I proceed, what was the timeline for my grief? I had placed myself securely in the box of grief, at least I thought I had, and I was going to stay in there because that’s where I thought everyone expected me to be. At the conference we attended the Meridian Temple and there sitting in the Celestial Room looking at the inscription on the ring she had given me when I had been baptized at 18 I asked “what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to move forward?”
You know what she said, not a whole lot, but she sure did laugh at me. It wasn’t a mocking laugh, it’s that laugh a parent gets when their impatient child keeps asking the same question over and over and you just shake your head and laugh because you don’t know what else to do. Either way she laughed and then softly she said “patience, soon”. Well soon evidently meant the next day. I think she wanted me to just relax that day at the temple and find some peace because that was going to be the end of it for a while. The next day I went to some classes on grief, had some fun laughing at jokes that seem really morbid until you’ve lost a spouse and then you get your dark humor card and get to say things others wouldn’t dare. I was sitting in the chapel of the church listening to the last speaker of the day when I got a good bit of chastisement out of the blue. I didn’t get the sweet wife voice, I got the flustered mom voice. “Get out of the box, you don’t belong in it. I made sure of it, now get out of it and stop getting in the way of the plan!” I wasn’t sure how to respond in that moment other than to sheepishly apologize while trying to simultaneously decipher that whole message. I knew what the box was, and after talking to a bunch of people at the conference I realized I didn’t belong in it. My wife had been open and honest with me for two years leading up to her death, she’d given me the answers I needed, we’d resolved what needed resolving, we grieved together, and we had evolved. I’d already gone through denial, anger and bargaining with her by my side, I’d already overcome a lot of depression, which is the one that lingers and I don’t think ever entirely goes away, and I’d found acceptance standing beside her till the end. She was right I didn’t belong in the box because we’d done so much work together, even though others hadn’t seen the true inner workings of our struggle. But hey there was a plan, I had no clue what it was, but there was a plan.
So back to Texas I came with a newfound pressure to not hide away and not make excuses for getting out there and moving forward, both for me and for the children. I will put it out there right now that dating as you close in on the age of 40 sucks, and when you have 4 kids in tow and a deceased wife looking over your shoulder there is a little added pressure to not mess around but get down to business. It’s definitely hard to have to take in the opinions of 5 people and taking into account the description your wife left you with of who to find. The challenge was I needed to find the right person for me but also was keenly aware that I wasn’t entirely sure what I needed. Michelle had certainly had an opinion, but I didn’t know how to go about finding this person. In the end I ended up in the wonderful world of online dating, and since I couldn’t sleep anyway I spent late nights chatting with women, some of whom helped me gain insight into what I did want, and others that really convinced me of what I didn’t. Just FYI divorce happens, but if every conversational attempt to get to know you leads to a bitter recollection of how horrible your ex is then perhaps some private counseling is in order, because it’s definitely a turn off to someone just trying to get to know you. Either way I tried my hand at it and found it to certainly be less then enjoyable. That’s not to say I didn’t meet some nice women, some of them are now good friends of mine, just not the woman.
I will admit I messed up a number of times as I fumbled through a process I’d never really experienced before, recall I met Michelle when I was 17, I really didn’t have any idea what it meant to date as an adult and especially as one with so much baggage. I never stepped over the line in any way, but I did leave some hurt feelings in my wake as stumbled about and at times gave too much reassurance of things that I was still rather clueless about. I wish sometimes that I could go back and do things with more tact, not that it changes the fact that all those interactions were opportunities for learning, of which I am thankful for, I just wish I’d left less of a mess. Believe it or not the earrings and necklace actually played a role, I found that if the gift didn’t fit the personality or style of the woman I was talking to suddenly a slew of additional conflicts suddenly became apparent, I wasn’t using them as the litmus test for meeting people they just seemed to focus me to look beyond the surface and to see places where our lives and personalities were in clear conflict. It was almost as though in some way they became a microscope into other areas of people’s personalities. It didn’t occur with everyone, but there you go things that end up having unexpected uses.
I Throw a Fit
What’s next for the holy places in my house? Why right in front of my bedroom TV of course. So again, dating sucks, and when you have a certain type of person you are looking for you aren’t going to find a whole lot of them just around the bend. This means you start reaching out far and wide. You give up your evenings and sleep to try to get to know people and end up sharing the same stories, thoughts, opinions etc dozens of times, to the point that you start hating your own stories. You try to be a good person and listen to the thoughts and opinions of others searching for whether there is a connection, and when there isn’t you get to try to figure out how to call it quits and move on without leaving them hurt. Well in early November I hit a wall. Some things went in a direction I didn’t expect, and I was done. I was taking a break. I was throwing up my hands for at least the next two months and that was that. I got up from my desk and made it a few steps till I was right in front of my TV, and boom.
“I said I was going to get to work, now you get back to it and stop getting in the way of the plan.” Now here is the fun part of the story where I quite literally stomped my foot like a 2 year old, I’m serious. I didn’t want to, THIS SUCKS, but I wasn’t going to get another word from her I was just going to feel that unapproving glare for being difficult. So, I formulated a plan as I sat back down at my desk, I was going to do as I was told, I would get back to work, but I was changing the approach. I was going to, without being a total jerk, because then I’d really get it, come at this from another angle. I wasn’t going to break the rules, I was just going to bend them, aka be totally raw with whomever came along and, in the process, chase them away, thus negating the need to prolong this dating game.
Yeah I think she knew what was around the bend, you see while I’d been tied up with one prospect that fizzled, there was someone else that had sent me a message, and to whom I was just now taking a look at. I had to go out and experience a few other people at the same time, who helped me make the final refinements to my checklist of what I wanted, and who taught me a couple last minute lessons, but this woman took everything I said, absorbed it, and came back with insights and responses I hadn’t expected. She fit into exactly what Michelle had said I needed, but more importantly, she filled in all the things I’d come to learn I wanted. Over the course of the next couple months she would become an integral part of my life and someone with whom I experienced a great spiritual growth.
Did the jewelry play a role on this one? Of course, it did. I mean they’d helped before so I had to ask the question as I went to bed one night as I was falling for this woman, would she accept the gift, would she understand the importance, and did it fit her. Well the next morning I get a text, just a simple selfie, man I hate using that word but that’s what it was, of her ready for church. What are my eyes immediately drawn to? Dangling earrings and a long necklace, ones that made it so easy to picture them being replaced by the ones Michelle wanted given. Now that wasn’t the deciding factor believe me, we hadn’t even met in person yet, but it was a small sign to say "proceed". At the end of the day I have no doubt that Michelle and others played a role in getting me to the right place at the right time. I don’t know that this was her plan, I give that credit to God, but I can almost hear the conversation in heaven where He says “Cameron’s going a little off the rails again and being stubborn, who wants to get him back on track” and Michelle standing up replies “he’s mine I’ll go give him a course correction”, possibly motioning that she’s going to go knock me across the back of the head, if that isn’t too unangelic a thing to do. I know she is the first to volunteer to step in on my behalf and that of the children, she continues to communicate, though perhaps not a clearly now, because she got me to the train station on time, but it was up to me to board it. It was up to me to take the months long journey to experience something with someone else, and too ultimately find love again. Michelle didn’t play that much of a role after Mindy and I started getting more serious, this was for us to discover on our own, but she’s still checking in on us regularly.
On a side note can someone run the statistic for me on the probability of finding two Southern California girls, who grew up within 60 miles of each other, who are both left handed, the middle child, LDS, my same age and who when I met them had moved to the Midwest. Yeah I guess I have a type, who knew I was so picky.
Half a degree
To restate I feel guilty for what I have gotten to experience, I’m not sure how to get over that feeling. It was like for a time I had interactions and communications from heaven being piped right into the phone that sat right there on my desk or in my pocket, it was so clear and so constant. But I can say that now I’m back to where I think most people are. They got me to the destination on time and now they are busy with others who need to get to their destination and require more of their focus. The messages aren’t being sent right to this device that sits in my hand, instead it is the single word written on a sticky note, that’s barely peeking out of a book on the top shelf, that you may not notice for months and that’s only if you stop for one dang second to chill out and observe the world around you a little more in depth rather than getting caught up in the hustle and bustle. The signs are there, and they aren’t in bright neon, and most of the time they are ridiculously simple. They offer perhaps a half of a degree of course correction, and so we ignore them because that half a degree isn’t going to change a darn thing one day and 100 feet down the road, but what we fail to see is that half a degree 6 months from now and 100 miles away will have us in a vastly different place. In my case it got me a wife (you can read that announcement here) who does not compete with Michelle, but rather who is another partner on equal footing with the two of us. Not another chapter in the same book, but rather a whole new book all to herself. Someone who has faced her own trauma, and where we don’t compete to see who’s had it worse, but rather we recognize, empathize and support each other with the residual effects of our own personal losses. It has also brought me the new title of stepfather to five bonus children, which comes with its own wonders and challenges, it’s not going to be easy, but I believe it is worth it. We will continue to find Joy in this crazy journey, and thankfully it is with someone that allows me to remember the woman that got me here, and with whom I can share these experiences and holy places and she doesn’t think I’m crazy, rather she sees God’s hand in our lives. I still communicate with Michelle regularly, and things happen around this house all the time that give us pause. It isn't always clear but for a moment we ponder as to whether there is something else we need to be aware of.
So the next time that song comes on unexpectedly, the next time you get a message from someone that answers one of your questions, the next time you feel that little tingle on the back of your neck, don’t ignore it, don’t call it coincidence, see if God has sent someone to lay a heavenly breadcrumb before you to show you the way you should go, and then remember those moments to keep you strong and spiritually fed as you travel forward. Let your experiences, your faith, and the ones that love you anchor you that you may weather the storms of life
My name is Michelle Kaley but I have many other names.....Daughter, Sister, Wife of 20 years to my High School Sweetheart, Mom to my 4 Beautiful Children, Ms. Michelle to my hundreds of Students, and as of 2016 Cancer Patient was added to the list.