Choosing Love Over Loss

It’s so hard for outsiders to understand my world sometimes. Those who have never had their soul ripped out of their bodies cannot possibly comprehend the journey of widowhood. I would not wish for them to have my experience, but it is so hurtful when there is a lack of empathy that comes with the misunderstanding.

I recently had someone question why I still drive a different route to avoid going near Steve’s accident site. At the intersection where he was killed, there is a cross with his name on it. It’s quite beautiful and was made by one of the firefighters that he worked with at his department. I love that he is remembered by others when they drive by there. Perhaps they haven’t thought of him in a while.

For me, he’s in my thoughts EVERY SINGLE DAY. When I look at my son, who is a reflection of him at 16, the exact age when I started dating Steve. When I watch my children play sports, when I discipline them, when my 9 year old does something new, when I look at them and marvel at the extraordinary people they are growing into, EVERY SINGLE DAY he comes to mind in one way or another.

So what does that intersection mean to me?

I called Steve that morning. October 22nd, 2004. When he didn’t answer his phone, that’s how I knew something was wrong. What I didn’t know then, but I know now, was that he couldn’t answer the phone because he was laying in the road in that intersection! He had been in a motorcycle accident that would take his life.

When I drive by there, it doesn’t bring back memories of Steve. It’s the place where my husband was killed, where my children lost their father, where my life changed in an instant. I don’t need that intersection to remember him as others do.

So, yes, almost ten years later, I choose to drive a different route when going near there! I choose happiness over grief. I will continue to make choices that are healthy for me and I will continue to remember Steve for all that he was as a man, not for how he died. I forgive those who don’t understand my journey because I am choosing love over loss.

Forever Changed

MWC Chapter Leaders in Sedona2I’ve spent the past four days at a widow leader retreat in one of the most spiritual places on Earth: Sedona, Arizona. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to go to the retreat. I only knew one other person who would be there. It was expensive to fly across the country. I would have to hire a babysitter to stay with my children. There were all of these reasons to say No.

I’m forever changed because I said YES.

In just four days, I became friends with the most incredible, strong, caring and funny women I could ever have hoped to meet! We shared tears when talking of our widow journey. We shared laughter. We shared hopes, dreams, suggestions, advice. We became mentors to each other. I have never experienced anything like the past four days in my entire life and I would have missed it all if I had stayed home in the comfort of my life.

Sedona, Arizona. A place of spirituality. A place of incredible beauty. A place with rich traditions and history. I could feel God all around me. I found myself more emotional, more raw, more open to God’s wisdom than I had ever felt before in any place besides church. The difference is that with church, I leave and go home. In Sedona, I was immersed in God’s presence. His creations were everywhere! The mountains, the flowing streams, the foliage in the desert. I was overwhelmed.Sedona

As I drove into Sedona, alone in my car, I couldn’t help thinking that I wouldn’t be in this stunning place if Steve had not died. I was here for a widow leader retreat. I was driving to meet a group of widows. It was at that moment that I felt deeply in my soul, God knew what He was doing all along. He CHOSE me to carry out a mission: to help other widows. I was not in this place by accident. What a feeling!

I had no idea of the women I would meet. Their incredible strength. Caring for sick husbands and watching them die. Surviving the suicide of a husband. Husbands killed in accidents. It didn’t matter how our husbands died, because God had given each of us the strength to move forward and help others along the way.

During the retreat, we hiked, talked, laughed, cried, prayed, shopped and were surrounded by women who understood our journey. Our walk forward. We all agreed that we can look back with love but the most important steps are still ahead of us. We learned that if we are brave enough to keep saying YES to life, we will have lives richer than we ever could have imagined when we were first widowed.

I never would have thought that being a widow could be a blessing. Until now.

MWC Chapter Leaders in Sedona

 

All The Days of My Life

Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church

Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church

It was twenty years ago that I became Steve’s wife. I was 22 years old and filled with the expectancy of youth. Our lives were laid out before us. We had moved from Michigan to Georgia. We had a small, one bedroom apartment that was sparsely furnished with hand-me-downs from family and friends. We slept on a mattress on the floor because we hadn’t even bought a bed yet! We were young, happy and in love.

We got married in the small Catholic church in our hometown, the same church where Steve had been baptized as a baby. There was no air conditioning in the church and we didn’t think much about it since June isn’t usually too hot in Michigan in mid-June. On our wedding day, however, it was one of the hottest days of the summer! I was sweating in my big wedding dress as I waited in the bride’s room of the church. Friends told me that Steve was in the hallway pacing. He must have been nervous! I was excited and a bit nervous too.

As I walked around outside to the back of the church, I heard the bells chiming. It was 12 o’clock noon. It was time for my wedding to start. The day I had been waiting for since I met Steve was here. I would become his wife!

I cried so much during the ceremony. I am an emotional woman and my wedding day was no different! On that day, June 18th, 1994, I vowed to love Steve “all the days of my life.”

I am struck, even today, at the irony in those words. We didn’t vow to love each other “until death do us part” as the traditional vows usually say. Our vows were specifically, “all the days of my life.” I don’t know why the priest chose those words for us but God knew that was the vow I should take. He knew I would continue loving Steve long after death would part us. I am amazed when I look back and see God’s hand in our lives long before our faith caught up to Him.

I spent ten years as Steve’s wife. During that time, we created a home and a family. We bought our first (and only) house. We had a son and a daughter. We took family vacations. We loved each other. We were expecting our third child when God took Steve home. I kept thinking that someone must have made a mistake because how could Steve be dead when we weren’t even done having children?

There wasn’t a mistake. Steve was gone. In an instant, I was no longer a wife. I was a widow.

The past ten years have been filled with confusion, pain, sadness, anger, friendship, family, happiness, love and a deepening faith that has sustained me throughout my widowhood. God has never left me. He was with me the day I lost Steve and He has been with me every day since then.

On our wedding day, twenty years ago, I didn’t know that when I vowed to love Steve “all the days of my life” that it meant I would love him more years as his widow than I would as his wife. Only God knew what those vows really meant. What a blessed woman I am to have had such a great husband and to have such a loving God who had His hand on my life, long before I ever knew it.

in-Gods-Hands-300x268

 

 

A Familiar Friend

tearsThe physical ache. The overwhelming sadness. Tears welling up without warning. Irritability. Wishing I could just crawl into bed and shut out the world.

Grief.

It’s like a familiar friend that hadn’t visited in a long time but it came back to see me yesterday. I found out that a longtime friend of mine died. Suddenly. Without warning. She herself was grieving and I had been encouraging her “to hang in there.” I told her that the pain of grief would lessen over time. What I didn’t realize, though, was that she might not have been strong enough to bear the burden of it’s heavy weight.

Sometimes, grief is too much to bear. Not everyone is strong enough to withstand it’s torture until time begins the healing and the pains of grief start to fade. I had forgotten just how much fresh grief really hurts. How it invades every inch of your body, making you feel as if you might have the flu except that you are longing for someone who will never be able to speak to you again. The flu will go away in a few days, perhaps a week. Grief, however, hovers over you for weeks, months, sometimes years, until you start to feel a little bit more human again.

While you are grieving, you get used to living with the aches and pains of grief. It becomes a familiar friend. There’s a weight on your chest so it’s harder to breathe. You’re distracted. Irritable. Grouchy. Tired. Nothing feels the same but life goes on.

So, you decide to live again. You get tired of feeling bad and you slowly try to figure out a new normal in this life you’ve been given. Maybe you make new friends, move, change jobs, do whatever it takes to feel alive again. One day, you wake up and realize that your old friend, the grief, is gone. It’s a visitor that comes to see you every now and again, but even then, the freshness of it is gone. You know that you can withstand it now. Grief is no longer the enemy. You have conquered it and you are on the other side of it.

This was my journey with grief. I am so sad that my friend didn’t make it to the other side of her grief. Losing her has made me realize that all those times that people said I was strong and I didn’t believe them, that maybe they were right. Maybe I am strong. At least I am strong enough to live through the grief that could have killed me. I certainly wanted to curl up and die. My body hurt so much that it felt like I would surely die from the pain. But, here I am, more than nine years later. Grief gets to visit me but I know now that it won’t kill me. I am stronger than the grief.

 

 

 

The Meaning of Roses

Close-up View of a Pink RoseAs I sit here on this snowy Eve of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share with you my first Valentine’s Day with Steve. I was 14 years old and he was 16 years old. His parents let him cook me a candlelit dinner at their house & they went out for the evening (isn’t that crazy?! I would never leave my teenage son alone with his girlfriend! LOL). In any case, I remember EXACTLY what he made for me: spaghetti! He cooked me a spaghetti dinner and lit candles & everything. I knew then that I was in LOVE. My first love. Only God could know that was going to be the first of many Valentine’s Days we would have together. 19 to be exact. Not enough if you ask me.

One of the things I loved the most about Steve was how romantic he was. That Valentine’s Day was only the beginning. There were roses of every color, for every occasion for 19 years. They weren’t ordinary roses, though. For example, for our 5 year wedding anniversary, I received a bouquet of FIVE long stemmed roses with a card that said, “One rose for every year you’ve given me.”

Another time, he went to Michigan to visit his mother in Michigan for Mother’s Day while I was pregnant with our oldest child (we lived in Georgia). He had roses delivered to me for Mother’s Day with a card that said, “I can’t wait to meet you. Love, Cameron (the name of our baby).” It was a family joke that out of the three boys in his family, I got the romantic one!

For many Valentine’s Days after he died, I longed for the romance and flowers. I felt lonely and unloved. I had to learn how to love myself and my life. The life God gave me, not the life I had with Steve, because that one was gone. A big part of my healing was accepting that I couldn’t remake (even with a remarriage) the life I had with Steve.  Once I accepted my life as a widow with children, I could move on and start living again.

The older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve healed from losing , the less I care about days like Valentine’s Day at all. Everyday things like drinking a hot cup of coffee in front of the fire on an icy morning bring me so much pleasure and contentment. I know how short life really is and how quickly it can all change. I kissed him good bye for work and then he was gone. I will not spend another day, not even Valentine’s Day, missing what’s right in front of me. JOY. LIFE. LOVE. I know it can be gone in a second.62973

A New Year’s Eve Letter To Widows

new-years-eveIt’s New Year’s Eve and I’m thinking of each one of you specifically. I have a different New Year’s wish for each one of you because you are all in a different place in your widow journey.
Some of you are new widows, barely able to make it through each day. I’ve been emailing with several of you and I know the holidays have been especially hard on some of you. For others, these holidays will be a blur that you will hardly remember years from now. My wish for you is that during the next 12 months, your pain will lessen and you will begin to find a new normal in your life.
broken heart
For those of you two or three years into your widow journey, my wish is that you will continue discovering yourself this year. Overcoming our loss has allowed us to be very brave and to reach for goals that we might not have dared to even dream before our lives were shattered. Now, though, we can think, “Why Not?” and actually go out and DO IT! Run that marathon, go on that trip, date that man (yes, I said it!), do what YOU want to do because we KNOW how short life is!
My wish for the rest of you is that you will find love, peace, happiness and all the joy you deserve in 2014. You survived an incredible loss and you are an incredible woman! You deserve nothing less than a MAGNIFICENT life!Close-up View of a Pink Rose

A Thanksgiving Post On Grief

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m sitting here thinking about how this is the 10th Thanksgiving since Steve died. Wow! Ten years! In some ways, it feels like an eternity. Who was that woman who was so shattered? When I think back to that first Thanksgiving, I barely recognize her…..

I spent my first Thanksgiving as a widow with friends, friends who wouldn’t expect me to put on a “happy face.” It had been barely a month since my husband had been ripped out of my life. I was about 4 months pregnant with a 3 year old and 6 year old running around too so honestly, it was a good day if I showered and got dressed! I was exhausted. I spent the night at my friends house because the truth is, after spending the day with them and their friends, I was too tired to drive the one hour back to my house!

I don’t remember much about that first holiday other than feeling as if I was watching the world from the outside. It’s like standing outside of someone’s house and looking in through the windows, except that you’re standing in the same room. Grief has a way of separating you from the world. I was surrounded by people who were laughing and enjoying themselves while every inch of my being was torn completely apart. Everyone there knew I was a new widow so they all understood when I would start crying for no apparent reason (the truth is, I had a very good reason to cry all the time, right?). I am so thankful that I spent my first Thanksgiving surrounded by caring, loving friends instead of alone in my grief.

This year, I am happy to be spending Thanksgiving with my children, the man I love, his children and our extended family. I have spent the past ten years in various stages of grief during the holidays but none were as difficult as that very first one without Steve. I pray that you never experience the soul shattering grief of losing your spouse but if that’s you this holiday season, please hold on. The holidays will be over in a few weeks and you can get back to the business of healing.

Permission To Grieve Too

MP900433029Steve’s birthday was September 25th. I did pretty good on that day this year. A couple of friends sent me Facebook posts and for the most part, I just stayed busy with my normal routine. My older children mentioned it and I told my youngest son that it was his Daddy’s birthday. Perhaps we should have done more of a celebration. I don’t beat myself up anymore over these things because I am doing the best I can in raising these children on my own. All three of them are participating in fall activities: marching band, cheerleading and soccer. Between school, practices and games, we are very busy. Since Steve’s birthday fell on a weekday, it was just more convenient for us to acknowledge it and move on with our day. I know he would understand.

That evening, however, my sister sent me a very sentimental Facebook post. It was then that I let my guard down and shed a few tears. She missed him. I missed him. It was okay to acknowledge that because the day was over, the kids were in bed and I could slow down for a minute and really think about it being Steve’s birthday.

In the early years after Steve’s death, we celebrated his birthday. I grieved his birthday. I would take off from work on September 25th knowing that it would be a “grief day” for me. As the years have gone on, however, I don’t feel like that is the healthy thing for me to do anymore. One thing I noticed this year, though, was that I started to feel a little edgy, out of sorts, snappy towards my children a few days before his birthday. It was as if my body was feeling the grief even if I wasn’t acknowledging it.

Steve died on October 22nd. Every year, the cooler weather, pumpkins, fall flowers, and Halloween always remind me of losing Steve. This year, though, I thought I was coasting through this season feeling strong and healthy. I’ve been working on starting a new chapter of Modern Widows Club where I am blessed to mentor other widows. I’ve been working a lot. I’ve been busy with my children and their activities. I didn’t even realize anything was wrong until my boyfriend asked me why I’ve been so “out of sorts” for the past few weeks. It got me thinking and I realized that I really have been feeling overwhelmed by things that I can normally handle effortlessly. My house is cluttered, my car is a mess, my laundry is piled to the ceiling (or so it seems!) and it reminds me of when I was actively grieving. Is it possible that I’m not coasting through this fall as seamlessly as I previously thought? Perhaps my body is telling me to slow down and be gentle with myself during this season of grief?

So, I’m going to end this blog post by challenging myself to start doing the things that I would tell other widows to do: eat healthier (I’ve been working on this one for a while!), do at least one thing per day to relax, start and finish one project at a time (I have a tendency to start a bunch of projects at once, which leads to clutter and being overwhelmed), and to be gentle with myself when the anniversary of Steve’s death does arrive next week. I know I am strong enough to make healthy choices, but I guess I have to give myself permission to grieve sometimes now too.

Badge of Honor

MH900384668It’s my birthday and as I sit here, reflecting on last year and looking forward to the next one, I’m struck by how far I’ve come since the day that Steve died. I have settled into my role as an only parent but welcome help from others who love my children. Parenting on my own has not been easy. With three children, I am often in a bind when it comes to getting them all where they need to be at any given time. I honestly don’t know how I would do it without the support and encouragement I’ve received from friends and family throughout this journey of widowhood.

As my children have gotten older, we’ve faced new challenges. I’m now raising a teenage boy who, at times, seems like an alien living in my house! I’ve had to lean on the experience of my boyfriend, my cousin and other friends for help and advice when making decisions about him. The older he has gotten, the more he has grown to resemble his dad. It is kind of strange to think that I met Steve when he was my son’s age!

One thing I’ve come to realize, however, is that God has never left me without the resources I’ve needed to parent my children successfully. There have been so many days that I have felt overwhelmed, exhausted or just plain angry at Steve for leaving me to raise these babies on my own. The nights of breastfeeding a newborn while caring for two other little ones. The times that the flu found it’s way into our home in spite of flu shots. Knee surgery, injuries, strep throat, the list goes on and on.  When I look back, I can see that God never left my side. He made sure there were neighbors, friends and family ready to help when I needed it. Almost nine years without Steve and we’re not only surviving, we’re thriving.

I recently read somewhere that the word “Widow” is a Badge of Honor. I have been to the very depths of pain and suffering but I’ve come out on the other side. I’ve learned to enjoy the sun shining on my face. I’ve embraced change while I’ve faced my fears. I’ve fallen in love again and I can see my future with him. It’s my birthday and I will spend the next year wearing my badge of honor proudly, because, with God’s help, I am living and loving my life!

No Longer Broken

Fourth of JulyWhen Steve died, I was lost. Not only did my heart ache every minute of the day, but my spirit was shattered. I felt like a stranger in my own home. I wandered around my house as if in a trance, wondering where Steve was and why he wasn’t coming home to me. My own body felt foreign as a baby grew inside of it while every muscle longed for Steve to hold me. I lost confidence in my ability to parent those little beings in my house because I was so exhausted from grief. I didn’t believe that anyone would want to spend time with me since all I could do was cry. Every inch of me had changed in an instant. For the first time in my life, I was insecure, shy and hesitant to move about in the world. I was broken.

When I met my second husband, I thought I was healed. I accepted Steve’s death so that I could move on with someone new but I was still grieving the loss it had left in my life. Anniversaries and birthdays sent me into an emotional tailspin as the waves of grief continued to swallow me up year after year. I longed to be the mother I was before he died. I missed my best friend. I missed our family, even though I had tried to create a new one.

As time worked it’s magic and God continued to heal me, I was able to accept the family that God had given me: my three children. I no longer had to be married to feel like my family was whole. I was able to let go of an unhappy marriage and move forward with confidence knowing that I could meet my children’s needs, all on my own. I was slowly becoming the capable, secure and outspoken woman that I was before Steve died.

It has been two years since my divorce and I have continued to grow in my spiritual and emotional journey. I have finally found a peace in my life that has not existed since Steve died. My family is complete with me and my children. We have made this house our home and we’re filling it with memories of our own. I am in love with a wonderful man and perhaps my family will include a husband and stepchildren someday but, for now, it’s just the four of us and that is enough. By the grace of God, I am no longer broken.

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