Craig’s last blog was in June and after that his health started declining. On October 11th, 2019, Craig passed away from Glioblastoma after an almost 4 year journey with the disease.
There’s a deep void. Even on the good days, the void is always there and I believe it always will be. There’s a tightness in my chest and a worry and pain that never ceases. Every time a song comes on that reminds me of Craig, or a picture flashes in front of my face, a memory comes to surface, the tightness gets stronger. The pit in my stomach deepens and the grief is overwhelming. It literally takes my breath away. This is what it feels like to lose your partner, your soulmate, the father of your four kids and the love of your life.
My very first memory of Craig was back in Junior High School, somewhere around 1988. It was the end of 6th grade and we all congregated in the auditorium for awards. I was excited to receive my one award, the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. While I waited, I noticed a cute, dark haired boy named Craig being called up for pretty much every award given. From choir to science, gpa, attendance and MEAP testing, he seemed to be awarded for everything. I was intrigued.
We began dating in November of 1992. Our first date was to the Grand Theatre in Grand Haven, MI watching Aladdin. We dated from 1992 until July of 2001 (with two short breakups for Craig to realize I was the one) and married in our hometown, surrounded by family and friends.
We were busy newlyweds with me teaching 4th grade in Romulus and Craig starting his residency at U of M. In December of 2004, Allison was born. We devoted every extra minute to her. A few years later, Connor was born and then Ella. When Craig finished fellowship we decided we wanted to move closer to home. We settled in East Grand Rapids and bought an old fixer upper, got a dog, and eventually, Mia completed our family. Life was good. Our kids were happy, Craig loved his job, I enjoyed staying home with our children and our marriage was solid. We were living the life we had dreamed of creating.
Then our lives were turned upside down on October 29th, 2015 when Craig was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme. Over the course of almost four years, I found myself morphing from wife to caregiver and eventually to widow. The initial news was shocking and painful, but I found peace in the hope that Craig’s young age, great health, the emergence of immunotherapy and his will to live would give us several more years together as a family. I’ll never forget the night we told the kids and Allison asked me if, “dad was going to die.” I told her what I did know. I promised that we would do everything we could to get dad the best care possible. Balancing truth and uncertainty was even more complicated when trying to explain this to our four children who were then 2, 6, 7, and 11.
Craig’s first two years of living with GBM were mostly good. Yes, we had to get through two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, driving to Chicago every three weeks and MRI’s every three months, but our day-to-day life remained mostly intact. We kept our goals in the forefront: to put our marriage and our children first, above all else. We spent our weekends at the soccer field, the lacrosse field, the basketball court or the pool. Craig also shifted from full-time to part-time, so most of our days were spent together. We took walks, watched tv series or movies, went out for lunch, had coffee or ran errands. We were grateful for our time together.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2018 that things took a turn for the worse. We got news that the tumor was growing and that a third surgery would be needed. Despite getting a trial drug during surgery, Craig’s decline in health began. He had fluid on the brain, balance issues, word finding difficulty, and lots of seizures. Life was filled with worry and pain for both of us and uncertainty for our kids. His health status evolved over the course of 4 years, but the most apparent decline happened from July of 2018 through October of 2019. Craig went from the most athletic, witty, smart, attractive man to barely being able to speak and bed bound the last week of his life.
As Craig’s health declined, my role began to shift. Some days I still felt like the wife role was intact. We would watch a movie, I would make his lunch and we would rest on the couch before I had to leave to get the kids from school. Other days, I was more of caregiver, helping him shower, dress, eat, and get into bed. One day I was more of a caretaker and then the next day he seemed more like himself and I became more of a wife again. To be honest, it didn’t feel like a sudden shift. I just did what needed to be done, day-to-day, and met the needs he had in each moment. Eventually though, we could not deny that Craig’s symptoms had worsened and we decided to call hospice. I crumbled knowing that my role as wife was limited and my role as caregiver was soon to be in full swing. Caring for four young, active kids and a husband with limited ability to move was too much for me to handle on my own. I am grateful to have had the help of Craig’s parents, who moved in with us for the last three weeks of his life.
Possibly the most difficult part of watching Craig die was knowing that our children were witnessing the same thing and feeling the same pain. In the last week of Craig’s life, our children took over as caregivers too. They wet his mouth, put chapstick on his lips, covered him with blankets, read to him, hugged him, laid by him, held him, and told him how much they loved him. As a mother, watching this unfold in front of you is the most grievous sight, but also the most amazing display of love.
On October 11th, Craig took his final breath. Watching the one you love die is incredibly painful and traumatic. At the same time, I am incredibly grateful I was there to hold him and say goodbye, knowing his pain was limited and he was not alone. In that moment, I went from wife and caregiver to widow.
Craig’s life was filled with wonder and love and adventure. I look back at our 18 years of marriage with nothing but extreme gratitude. Most marriages take a lot of work to stay strong, but I never felt like our marriage took much work. I can count on one hand the number of fights we had. Craig was always asking if I was happy and how he could make things better. He was an incredible father who knew the perfect balance of fun, love, discipline, and the importance of hard work. I consider myself extremely lucky to have shared more than half of my life with him.
We held an amazing Celebration of Craig’s life on Sunday, October 20th. More than 1,200 people gathered to celebrate the life of an incredible man. My dear friend, Courtney, helped to organize the entire service. My sister in-law, Kimberly, presided over the celebration. My nephews and nieces handed out programs. His very best friends, our nieces and our children, all spoke about his life and his impact on them. Craig loved music and in particular, musicals. The two of us went to Chicago to see Hamilton and then agreed that we needed to bring the kids back, which we did. Our sweet and very talented friend, Gray, played the best rendition of “Dear Theodosia” on the piano you will ever hear. It was a true celebration of Craig in every way.
So now I am a widow. A 42-year old woman raising four children on my own. Many have asked, “How are you doing?” The answer: I am doing the very best I can. I am putting one foot in front of the other and leading our children forward as I promised Craig I would do. They are my reason for getting out of bed everyday. I am realizing that even though I don’t want to do all of the things that I have do without Craig, I can. I have to. I’ve learned I can do hard things. Things I would have dreamed were impossible before Craig’s diagnosis.
There are so many things I miss about Craig. Much of my sadness comes from not being able to share the successes and failures of our children with Craig and from their grief in the loss of their father. I certainly grieve for our life prior to Craig’s diagnosis, when my greatest worry was working out swim carpools. The truth is, you do not get through this alone. My parents, my in-laws, my sister in-laws, my brother and his wife and my dear friends have all helped me—and are still helping—to hold me up and guide me as I navigate this uncertain future. I am incredibly grateful to live in a community that has offered our family a great deal of support.
I am amazed by the resiliency of our children. The grief is so overwhelming for them at times, but they are also finding joy in each day. I see so much of Craig in each one of them. They are smart, witty, confident, adventurous, loving, and kind individuals. Just like their father.
Allison completed her freshman year of swimming on the East Grand Rapids Swim Team with a division 2 State Title. She placed in the top 16 in both the 200 IM and the 100 fly and was a part of the 200 and the 400 freestyle relays that placed second. Craig would have been incredibly proud and would have so enjoyed watching her team win the state championship. She is currently swimming with her club team and will likely run track in the spring to mix things up a bit. She definitely has her father’s drive and his wit.
Connor had a very busy fall. He played flag football, basketball, futsal, and managed to swim a night or two whenever he could. Connor is happiest when he is playing or watching a sport. These days you can find him up at the pool, on the futsal court, or cheering on the Spartans basketball team. Connor has his father’s love for the Spartans and his competitiveness.
Ella is swimming with the Waves and recently got her first state cut in the 50 free. She continues to enjoy running and will participate in the LBW race this May. Ella has Craig’s easy going and kind demeanor and his fast running legs. She will forever be Craig’s, “Queen Elizabeth.”
Mia started the Waves swim team last spring. She loves the Wealthy pool, but finds the high school pool way too cold. She has also joined the daisy girl scout troop, which has been a lot of fun. She is currently selling girl scout cookies! Mia likes to have fun, just like her dad, she is always up for an adventure.
This Christmas break we decided to shake things up a bit. After the first week of the holidays enjoying our family, we hopped on a jet plane and headed to Marco Island with our friends, the Flermoens. As my dear friend Katie said, “It was kind of magical.” We all needed some respite from the cold of Michigan and Marco Island showered us with sunshine, sand, warmth, and friends. We are grateful for this time to relax and get away from the grind of our new normal. The only thing missing was Craig.
This blog offered Craig a great deal of support and therapy through his journey with cancer. It has reached so many of you and I am very grateful for that. To all of Craig’s faithful readers, I leave you with this: a list of some of Craig’s favorite things and some his favorite songs. He played them often and even in his final weeks they brightened his day. I hope you’ll listen to them often and keep him alive in your thoughts. Craig loved a good craft beer or a margarita, honey roasted peanuts, nurse Cindy’s cookies, Cracklin’ Oat Bran, Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade, and Starbucks coffee.
Craig and I both loved listening to Kacey Muskgraves and her song, “Neon Moon” holds a special place in my heart as I think of Craig, the love of my life, my partner and my very best friend. As we navigate this life without Craig we promise to do our best to #livelikecraig in every way we can.
#livelikecraig #brightereveryday #loveofmylife
So crack open a beer, pour yourself a margarita, sip on a Starbucks coffee, or snack on some peanuts (after going for a swim and/or a run of course) and think of Craig.
- “Dear Theodosia” Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Leslie Odom, Jr. (Craig’s very favorite song)
- “Believer” Imagine Dragons
- “Elephant Love Medley” Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor & Jamie Allen
- “Leave the Light On” Maggie Rogers
- “Shallow” A Star is Born, Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper
- “Chicken Fried” Zac Brown Band
- “Come What May” Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor
- “Time in a Bottle” Jim Croce
- “Merry Go-Round” Kacey Musgraves
- “Shape of You” Ed Sheeran
- “Neon Moon” Kacey Musgraves, Brooks & Dunn
- “Brighter Every Day” Trout Steak Revival (Craig’s theme song)
- “Never Enough” The Greatest Showman, Loren Allred
- “Whatever it Takes” Imagine Dragons
- “Walk the Line” Walk the Line, Joaquin Phoenix
- “Eternal Flame” The Bangles
- “Memories” Maroon 5 (Played in the slide show at his service)
If you’d like to see the video from Craig’s Celebration of Life, use the password: brightereveryday in the box below.