I was lucky to be married to the most wonderful man from November 23, 1996 - July 7, 2014.
Only 17 years, 7 months and 14 days ... 6,435 of the most wonderful days of my life, I just wish there were more.
Kidney Cancer may have cut his life short, but he lived a wonderful life.

Friday, October 3, 2014

What Am I?

I have been slowly getting around to changing things to only my name and just this week I called my auto insurance to get a better rate and to take Don off the policy.  Their response was, "OK, I will put that you are Single now".  My response was a little odd I am sure.  I told him, "No, I am not single, my husband just passed away in July". There was silence on the phone until he decided to change the subject.

So, the question is ... what am I?  Am I Single or am I a Widow?  Is there a box I now check that says Widow? Seems like saying Single totally negates the amazing last 19 years Don and I have spent together.

Single .... I just don't feel single. I feel married. I feel like I am still part of a union.

Does a Widow ever feel Single?  I do feel alone, but not so alone that the term Single applies. I know that I am probably making more out of this one word than necessary. But, that one question just jolted me.

"Death takes the physical person from our lives but there is so much that death cannot take from us. We are forever connected to the people we love. The relationship still exists just in a different form. The physical separation is momentary, the love connection is forever."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

If You Just Smile

"You'll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.  ~ Charles Chaplin


Even in the darkest of days, Don still smiled.  Even when he was in so much pain, Don smiled.  Even when Don couldn't get up and walk around, he still smiled.

I miss that smile.

I hate that life keeps going on since I've last seen his smile, but I guess that is what it is supposed to do. But, I wish the world could rewind back to the last time I received a big ole bear hug and smile from my Brown Knight. Then once I rewound to that moment, I would pause it for a whole day and just live in that moment of him.

I miss him.

Monday, September 1, 2014

55 Days and an Eternity to go ....

It has been 55 days since Don passed away.  I promise you that I am not mentally keeping a daily count of the days, but I do look it up from time to time.  I mainly wanted to see how many days it has been since my life changed forever.

It's been a weird 55 days marked by wanting to pick up my phone and text Don when sometime funny happens. 55 days of wanting to turn to him for comfort during a difficult day and 55 days of ups and downs.

I don't cry every day now. I do cry when I think that this is it. This is life and that at only 41 years of age I have a lot of life left that will not include Don. That's so super scary to me. Don's presence while he was here on earth was so huge, that the void feels like it can never be filled.

I am taking care of myself and doing things. Recently I volunteered at the Southern Brewers Festival on the Chattanooga Riverfront. It was so freaking hot, but it was so much fun. I volunteered for the Knights of Columbus and poured beer for 5 hours!  There were over 60 breweries represented at the Brewfest and people got to pay with tokens and sample the various beer. It was nice to get out and meet new people and since they didn't know I was a recent widow, they treated me normally. 

I also went to a movie all by myself! Went to see the movie "If I Stay" and must say that the book was far better than the movie. Weird thing was that I was the only one in the theater, that was a little weird. But it didn't matter when I cried during the sad parts since no one was there!

Next thing I am doing is starting a new support group for Widows on 9/2/14. The group will meet every Tuesday for 8 weeks. I have a lot of stuff that I need to get out and express and these groups have been easy outlet for me to express myself.

I can feel myself growing into another person ~ the new normal Susan I suppose. I am not trying to change, it is just happening. I guess I am growing with my grief. I am slowly (and I mean SLOWLY) moving into the independent stage that I must accept. I am now only responsible for my own life. It will take me awhile to fully accept and move into that new role full-time, but I feel it happening. 

Audrey is also doing well.  She talks about Grandpa a lot and misses him. She says she has dreams where they are together and I know those dreams bring her comfort beyond compare. I know that she will always remember the love her Grandpa showered upon her and I am in awe at how she understands that Grandpa had to leave us. The other day she asked me how would she know Grandpa when she got to Heaven. I told her that Grandpa would look the same as she last seen him, only she will have grown older. She was very happy about that and also speaks that she is happy that Grandpa doesn't hurt anymore and doesn't have broken bones anymore. When she sees me crying, she will give me a hug and tell me that crying is OK. Children truly are amazing.

I miss Don so much and I feel his presence at times. It always happens out of the blue and I know that it is Don. Since Don passed, dragonflies have been seen in places where dragonflies should not be. In a random parking lot, on the beach, on my car antenna, just various obscure places and we have associated these dragonflies with Don. Audrey will tell me that Grandpa was with her on the playground at school since she saw a dragonfly. Just seeing them brings comfort to all the Southern Hoff girls.  So, when you see a random dragonfly, just give Don a little wave and smile ... as he loved you enough to visit you as well.   

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I Choose to Remain #HOFFstrong

Today while driving to work, it dawned on me that I have chosen to deal with the immense grief I am feeling with the same attitude we chose to deal with his cancer.

I am choosing to be strong, hold my head high, not wallow in self pity over the crummy hand we were dealt and most importantly not falling into the daily pity party on social media. Now I am not saying that I won't post that I miss Don or that life is different, however, I refuse to let myself become one of those people that constantly post depressing messages on social media. I absolutely refuse to do that (I may be guilty of doing this on Twitter ... but that stops today). From day one of our cancer journey we didn't post or blog about how it wasn't fair or that our life was horrible, that just wasn't us. We accepted it and lived life to its fullest in spite of the cancer. We chose to deal with it as a matter of fact and to be transparent in our feelings, however, not let the cancer diagnosis define us. Therefore, I have chosen to not let the heartbreaking grief I have define me.

Don was a lover of life and I like to think that is what he loved about me. We embraced each day with new possibilites of 'what if'. Cancer may have changed things for us, however, it didn't change us. We didn't allow cancer to define the people we were, so I can't let grief define me either.

This video was from 2009 after Don was diagnosed with cancer and after we learned that it had spread to his lungs. His attitude was amazing.

To honor my absolutely fabulous and wonderful husband I will live the remainder of my days honoring him by smiling more, talking to strangers and remembering the great love we shared. I will try to get out more and experience life with friends and be the kind of person Don was. I will become someone that doesn't let life's events outline my life, just the way Don lived his entire life.

I will continue to feel the immense emotions that come with loosing your soul-mate freely. I will cry when I feel like it, I will acknowledge and accept both positive and negative feelings and I will not minimize how I feel. I will honor my husband by dealing with this grief the same way we handled the initial diagnosis. I will be strong when I need to be and I will be easy on myself on the days when I can't be strong.

Tomorrow I will start a new journey with a Support Group for people who have lost a loved one. I will share my amazing love story and hopefully gain strength and experience the soul calming effect of being with people who understand how you feel. 

I do all of this because of the great man who I loved with my entire being. I do this to honor that love and to show him that I am that same strong woman he fell in love with. I do this to help my heart heal from the devastating loss.

I do this because if I don't ... I let cancer win and that is not what being #HOFFstrong was all about.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I Have a Shovel

3 weeks ago my husband had a shovel and everything in the garage was his. Now, I have a shovel and just that alone is so overwhelming to me. I don't know why I never considered the shovel or any of the power tools mine, but now I have shovels and hoes and work gloves and stuff that I feel so overwhelmed with.

Erica, Audrey, my Mom and I spent the last week in Daytona Beach. We should have been there with Don enjoying the sun and watching Audrey swim. It was the first trip to Daytona Beach I have taken in 19 years without Don and it was rough. My Mom did a fabulous job of keeping my mind occupied, but when it was silent, my thoughts always crept back to Don. 

I am still in shock in how fast the last days went. Two weeks before Don passed he had received chemo and his blood work looked OK. But the last Vandy appt. where the blood work was dismal and clearly showed disease progressions and then him slip away 4 days later just doesn't make sense to me. How did it happen so fast? Deep down I know it didn't happen fast, it was actually happening all along for the past 6 months, but it felt fast. 

I feel so confused about him passing only 4 days after stopping treatment. I am so crazy in love with him that being on this earth without him is sad. I know that this grieving is all a transition that I have to go through ... just pisses me off that I have to. 

So, I have a shovel ..... what in the hell do with a shovel?

Friday, July 18, 2014

I miss his smile. I miss everything about him.

Picture taken 7/5/14
I often underestimate my strength. I don't see that I am strong, even though I hear it from people constantly, I see things that need to be done and I do them.

But I don't know how to be strong anymore. Before I was always strong for Don. Always being there for him and try to make little jokes and try to keep the little edge of sadness away. However, Don is gone and I am lost.

I started back to work Monday (7/14/14). Only one week after loosing the single most important person in my life. I tried to act like it was just any other day. I tried to keep a smile on my face and tell people I was OK, but I am not. I miss my husband. I miss every single thing about him. I am lost without him.

I went home after work, fixed myself a sandwich, loved on my dogs and sat there in the house all alone. No one was there to ask me about my day at work. No one to ask for a kiss. No one was there, just a house full of flowers. I just sat there. I decided to vacuum and dust and then moved onto doing a load of wash. Then I just sat there again. LOST. I don't know what to do with myself. I am sad and broken hearted. I am thankful that Erica and Audrey still live with me, however, on this day, I was by myself in the house and it was just overwhelmingly sad.

I know that when Don died, a part of me went with him. I can feel the void in my life and in my heart. Don's larger than life personality is gone and I can feel the void deep in my soul.

I miss him. I miss his smile. I miss everything about him.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Memorial for a Wonderful Man

On Friday, July 11, 2014 we gathered at the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home to say goodbye and celebrate the life of Donald "Snowball" Hoff Jr. The best man I have ever known.

Don's beautiful Mother of Pearl urn.
Don's memorial was beautiful. The flowers from friends, TVA Environmental Group, Hamilton Place Management office, Crisp & Crisp and family were beautiful.

Don's obituary stated that no one wear black and no one did! It was wonderful. Don would have gotten a kick out of seeing so many TVA guys in Hawaiian shirts. That's one picture I should have taken. There was so many people that it was impossible for me to visit with everyone. It wasn't a somber event, it was a celebration of life! Per Don's request we had food there, everyone who knew Don well got a chuckle from this ... Don loved his food!

We had canvas photos around the rooms of Don and of our family vacations. We hung up Don's Button Blanket on the wall and also had pictures of him in his regalia, along with his hand drum and his regalia apron. It was a beautiful display of a full life. There was also a DVD playing of pictures of Don's life. I narrowed it down to 300 photos ... that was as low as I could narrow it. Seriously how do you show 61 years of a life well lived in photos? It's hard.

The memorial was exactly as Don had wanted it to be. When we planned it back during the Spring '14, you don't know how things will turn out. You can hope for the best and I am happy to say that of all the long talks Don and I had about this day, it was exactly like he wanted. It was a Celebration of the wonderful life he led. So many people talking about his infectious smile and him just being a good friend. Don was very loved by nearly everyone that came across his path.

It was a tribute fitting of a man that had the best personality and outlook on life than anyone I will ever meet.

I love you Don.

If you would like to view the slide show of pictures, click here. Look to the right and click on Play Movie. It is truly beautiful.

I miss him so much.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Don "Snowball" Hoff Jr. 1953 - 2014

Donald "Snowball" F. Hoff Jr.
(1953 - 2014)

Donald "Snowball" Hoff, Jr., age 61, of Hixson, passed away on Monday, July 07, 2014 after a courageous five and half year battle with Kidney Cancer. 

He was born and raised in Ketchikan, Alaska, Don moved to Chattanooga in 1996 when he married Lookout Valley native Susan White. 

Don is from the Tlingit Nation of Southeast Alaska. He is a member of the Tongass Tribe, Gaan axi adi Clan, Raven House and Tlingit name is Aan Kadax Tseen, which means Happy Man in a Village. 

Don loved gardening, was an accomplished oil painter, enjoyed doing native beading and carving and the highlight of his older years was spending time with his grandchildren. During his life he worked many professions including serving our country in the United States Navy, working on the Alaska Pipeline, Commercial Fishing, Alaska State Trooper dispatcher, City Council member in Ketchikan, OSHA President for State of Alaska, Vice Mayor of Ketchikan, Alaska, Fisheries Tech with the US Forest Service and Environmental Tech with TVA. 

He was preceded in death by his parents, Don Sr. and Tillie Hoff and brothers, John and Ross Hoff; father-in-law, David White, Sr. 

Don is survived by his soul mate of 19 years Susan White Hoff, daughters, Erica Hoff, Hixson, Lisa (Scott) Fisher, Wasilla, AK; son, Daniel Hoff, Eugene, OR; special niece, Kimberly (Don) Putnam, Decatur, IL; granddaughter, Audrey Hoff, Hixson; grandson, Asher Putnam, Decatur, IL; brothers, Kenneth (Sandi) Hoff and Jimmy (Charm) Hoff, Juneau, AK; sisters, Rosemary (Ernie) Ellison, Juneau, AK, Annie (Tom) Trudeau, Craig, AK, Darlene (Jeff) Armbruster, Paso Robles, CA and Linda (Steve) Hansen, Ketchikan, AK; mother and father-in-law, Charles and Libby Hamlin; sister-in-law, Cheryl Smith, all of Whitwell; brother-in-law, David (Carmen) White, Ider, AL; many nieces and nephews. 

Special thanks to Dr. Puzanov, Debbie Wallace and Pam Williamson of Vanderbilt and to Mother-in-law, Libby White-Hamlin for helping care for him and also his co-workers at TVA. 

The family will receive friends from 4 to 8 pm on Friday, July 11 followed by a celebration of "Snowball's" life at the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home. 

Don will be cremated and his ashes will be spread in Alaska on lands that held special meaning. 

Don's request is that no one wears black to his funeral. Wear bright colors and don't be sad, but celebrate the great life he had. Don's fight for years to live has set an example of how not to give up but to enjoy life even in the face of severe circumstances. 

Arrangements are by the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory and Florist, 5401 Highway 153, Hixson. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hardest Goodbye of our Lives

This is a hard post and I am both thankful that I can share via our blog and mad that social media exists because this is so impersonal. 

Yesterday (7/3/14) at Vanderbilt the decision was made to cease treatment as the chemo has stopped working. We have made the hardest decision of my life to call Hospice. 

My super strong soulmate, my Tlingit warrior's body is tired and he's fought hard for 5.5 years. I had hoped and prayed that he would beat this and defy the odds. I wanted to have my brown knight with me forever, but that's not going to happen. Life is unfair and I am beyond heartbroken. 

Please keep my family in your thoughts and prayers as we deal with the hardest goodbye of our life.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What is a Miracle?

Mother's Day 2014 at the Hamilton Place Carnival
What is a miracle? Some people use the word miracle in every day language, so it's meaning gets misconstrued. Some says it's a miracle that they got out of bed after the big party, or it's a miracle that they had enough milk for breakfast. So, I have been extremely hesitant to say that Don's current medical condition is a miracle. Mainly, I have been afraid of jinxing myself.

Here is how Webster's Dictionary describes a miracle: 1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs 2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.

So, with that definition, I feel free to say that I am convinced that Don's present state of mind and the state of his health is a miracle. He has defied the odds and continues to amaze not only me, but his medical team as well. I think if you had asked anyone that saw Don on a daily or weekly visit, you would not have expected him to be thriving and living the life he is today. It truly is amazing. He is my miracle.

Our visit to Illinois for grandson Asher's 2nd birthday
Last week Don had a CT scan at Vanderbilt. His previous CT scan was in January 2014, so this one was the one that was going to tell us if the Avastin was working or if the cancer was progressing. I was very nervous and kept it to myself. However, my anxiety was off the charts. Going to Vanderbilt on May 8, 2014 to get the results, fear filled my heart. I was on the verge of one single bad news catapulting me into a basket case, however, I kept it together and just kept telling myself that "we are strong, we are confident and we can get through this". It became my little mantra.

Don's labs that day came back great and that was a little extra pressure removed and when Dr. Puzanov walked into the room. I could feel a little more pressure being removed from my shoulders. Dr. P. didn't start off asking Don how he felt and he didn't come in with that sympathetic voice some Drs have. He came in and said "my first look and it looks good, really much better than January." That's all I needed to hear for my heart to let go of the vice-grip it had and for my mind to ease a little. "Not as bad as January" was music to my ears! I was still a little scared, since the actual radiologist report hadn't come back, so Dr. P. was going on his look at the scans. Thankfully, Dr. P knows me well, and pulled up the scan from January 2014 and the recent scan and physically measured right there in front of us the decreases in the main tumors. I love it when a man can prove something to me!

Don and daughter Lisa at Chester
Frost Park May 12, 2014
So, not all is perfect with the CT scan, we still have issues. Some little areas of concern, but here is what the Radiologist says of the overall impression from the scans:
  • Decreasing conspicuity of metastatic lesions in the chest is slight.
  • Osseous metastatic disease with metastatic disease at L1 and L4 with pathological fractures at these levels not changed since prior study.
  • Slight decrease in the large pericardial effusion.
  • There is increasing conspicuity of metastatic renal lesions in the lower pole in remaining kidney.

So, just hearing the words decreasing is phenomenal!

Here are some other highlights and low lights from the scan:
  • Destructive mass involving left third rib was 5.1cm, now 4.8cm
  • Soft tissue involving the paraverebral areas along the left lateral aspect of the spine at the T3 and T10 level, now 31mm, was 33mm. (hell ya I get excited over 2mm!)
  • Bulkiness of soft tissue involving the posterior right 4th rib has decreased. Greatest axial dimension of this area is slightly diminished, now 7.4cm, was 7.5cm. The thickness has decreased considerably from 38mm to 17mm. (that's 50% smaller!!)
  • Nodular changes about the heart are stable.
  • Only bad news on scan is that the dominant nodule in anterior chest measures 62mm in greatest dimension, previously measured 49mm. (62mm = 2.44 inches; going to discuss options on this next week)
  • Right paratracheal lymph node measuring 18mm, was 21mm.
  • Adrenal gland has decreased from 69mm to 55mm.
  • Small masses increasing in left kidney, lack of contrast does not allow for definitive determination.
  • Left acetabular soft tissue measures 35mm, was 50mm and has decreased in thickness, right acetabular soft tissue and left iliac soft tissue similar changes.
  • Pathological fractures involving pelvis are stable.

So, you can read this and see why I am now saying that my husband is miraculous! Friends, a few months ago I was in the darkest days of my life. I thought it was down to days, maybe weeks and Don would be gone. I never thought he would be taking his daughters to Chester Frost Park and laying out in the sun on May 14, 2014!

I don't know if his health is truly a miracle, but I do know that Don's positive attitude and his love of life and love of living life has played a great part in his overall well being. He is still my happy go-lucky husband. He may move a little slower, but he'll get there! He may grimace with pain a little, but the smile is still there. There is an amazing sparkle of life in his eyes and I am thankful for the extra time that we have been granted.

Don't take any days for granted ... we never will!