Twice Blessed in This Short Life

heartsI’ve heard many widows talk about their “Chapter Two.” For those of you who are lucky enough not to know what that expression means, it’s the love that follows our late husband. For some reason, though, that expression has never appealed to me. For me, by saying that my current love is my “Chapter Two” feels as though I am saying that he is the #2 in my life and always will be. Although some widows may feel that way, I do not.

Let me explain.

When I was married to Steve, my beloved first husband, I loved him with my whole heart. He was everything to me. We spent 19 years together before he died at the age of 35 in a motorcycle accident. Everyone who knew us would say we had a love like no other, a special blessing from God. We were teenagers who fell in love when I was 14 years old and he was 16 years old. It was highly unusual for a relationship to start at such a young age and last while I went away to college, but somehow it did. We had our times of difficulties and even breaking up a few times, but we always found our way back together.

In 2004, when Steve rode his motorcycle to work that October morning, I had no idea how my heart would be ripped out of my body in just a few hours. God was about to put my life on a path that I could not foresee but first, I was going to suffer the greatest loss of my life and so would my children.

When Steve died, I was broken. I clung to my faith in God and His plan for my life although I am the first to admit I didn’t have a lot of trust in it. I remarried too soon and divorced shortly thereafter. I kept praying and going to church. I didn’t know any young widows who were raising children so I tried to do the best I could with my children. God made sure all of our needs were met. When I needed help, we had it. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, teammates, everyone near us pitched in to help me get my children where they needed to be on time. I started to trust God’s plan for my life too.

A little over 5 years ago, I met an incredible man. He challenged me, loved me, inspired me, and encouraged me. Before I even realized it, we had been dating for quite some time. I realized that meeting this man was all part of God’s plan for me. I was healing from my loss and my heart now belonged to someone else. My whole heart. My whole being.

Does this mean that I no longer love Steve? NO

Does this mean that I no longer miss Steve? NO

What this means is that my love for Steve has CHANGED. I love him as the father of my children, the man of my first 20 years, the man who I will always cherish for those sweet memories. I miss him in those ways too.

caitlin-homecoming-2016This year, on the Steve’s angelversary, our daughter went to her homecoming dance with her first real boyfriend. They are almost the same ages that he and I were when we began dating. I was so happy for her but also so sad that he didn’t get to be here to experience the joy with me. Grief. Again. 12 years later. This was the grief of a mother. It had nothing to do with my love for the man in my life now.

I am about to marry the man I love and he is NOT my Chapter Two because he is my NUMBER ONE! When I say my marriage vows to him, I will say them with my whole heart. I will always be Steve’s widow but I am about to become someone else’s wife. This is the duality of widowhood. Those of us on this journey “get it.” I’m so lucky to be TWICE BLESSED in this short life of mine. mary-and-jb-christmas

 

God in Action

Northstar ChurchSometimes I get emotional in church. It usually happens when I’m singing or listening to the pastor preach about God being faithful, staying with us through difficult times and learning to trust in Him. When I sing about trusting God, or when I think about his faithfulness, I am overcome with emotion. He has been so good to me throughout my lifetime but I didn’t always see Him.

I had a good life. I had a loving husband, healthy children, a home and we were a happy family. Not that we didn’t have hard times, because we did. We just weren’t particularly religious early into our marriage. Steve was raised Catholic and I didn’t grow up in church so our routine was to go on Christmas and Easter. When we did go, we went to the Catholic church.

As our oldest son got a little older, God started to really work in our lives. I felt the pull to find a church home. I wanted Cameron to be raised knowing that God lutheranchurchmissourisynodwould take care of him if anything bad should ever happen in his life. Steve was in agreement so we started visiting local churches. Some were too contemporary for Steve, some were too traditional for me. Finally, we found a small Lutheran church that felt like home to us.

We attended membership classes and I was baptized with my children. Steve started attending Bible study. We volunteered at the church and became highly involved there. Looking back, I am in awe of God’s hand in preparing us for Steve’s passing. We joined this church exactly one year before Steve died!

Not too long ago, I had an old friend ask me how I could still have such a strong faith after all I’ve been through in losing Steve. Here is my answer to that: when you SEE God, it’s very hard to question that He exists!

When Steve was in his accident, my pastor came directly to the hospital. After the doctors told me that he died, I was in complete denial. You have the wrong person! We’re not done with our family so he can’t be gone! He doesn’t even ride that way to work so you’ve made a mistake! Take me to him NOW! I need to see him!

I was afraid to go in to see him by myself, though. What if they were right? I could hardly breathe. I asked my pastor to go with me. He was the only one, I didn’t want any of my friends or family with me. Just my pastor.

When I walked into that room, I saw Steve’s hands and I knew it was him. I had held those hands for 19 years. I didn’t even need to see his face. I knew. As I crumbled, kissed him, sobbed, my pastor prayed over us. I don’t remember if I prayed too. I remember the smell of blood in his hair, but I don’t remember if I had the words to pray. I am confident that Jesus was with me as I mourned the loss of my husband.

StevesCross

Throughout the following days, weeks, months, God continued to show himself to me. Strangers would send cards and money to me and my children. My children had more Christmas gifts that year than they’ve ever had in their whole life! Strangers did housework, cooked meals, cut my grass, put new tires on my van. The outpouring of love that I received could only be considered a gift from God.

My pregnancy progressed with some complications but neighbors, friends and family stepped in to help me whenever I needed it. They took care of my children, drove me to the hospital, stayed with me when I needed company. Every need I had was met. I believe that was God in action!

In the past ten years, I have seen God working in my life. He has always been faithful, when I have listened to Him. Even when I strayed from His plan, He always comforts me and helps me make the right decisions. My children are thriving, happy and healthy. I am in a relationship with a man who loves me as much as I love him. We have a beautiful home. I don’t think any of this would be possible had my faith in God’s plan for my life not sustained me through those dark hours.

Yes, this journey has been hard. God never said following Him would be easy. I am so blessed. Thank you, Lord.

Mary and kids beach

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.

God Already Knew

I was at Bible Study last week and we had a good discussion about whether God shows Himself to us in present day. We know from the Bible that God showed Himself to others before Jesus was born and then, of course, Jesus appeared to his disciples after he rose from the dead. As we talked about our experiences with God, I realized that, yes, God has showed Himself to me, He has tried to lead me and (sometimes) I have chosen to follow Him.

When Steve was killed, I didn’t realize how God had prepared me for it. Steve and I had been married for 10 years and we had only attended church sporadically throughout that time. We were the kind of Christians who went to church on Christmas and Easter each year but that was about it. I had always considered myself a Christian and I enjoyed going to a Baptist church with my friends as I grew up in Michigan. Steve was raised Catholic and we were married in the Catholic church as well.

About two years before Steve died, I started to feel a “tug” inside of me. I was longing for church but didn’t feel entirely comfortable in the Catholic church near our home. Steve and I agreed that a Catholic church was not the right fit for us and we began visiting some others. It took a while (we still weren’t going regularly) but in October of 2003, we walked into Loving Shepherd Lutheran Church and our lives were changed forever.

I can’t explain how it felt except to say that Loving Shepherd felt like “home” to us! We began going to church every Sunday. Both of us started studying the Bible. Our children were attending Sunday School. In December of 2003, I was baptized with Cameron and Caitlin. We volunteered at church and made good friends there.

I didn’t realize it but I can now confidently say that God was speaking to me. He led me to the support that I would need to survive Steve’s death. He led Steve to where he could grow in his faith. He was showing me how to be a Christian parent because my children were also going to need their faith in the years to come. It was just one year after we walked into Loving Shepherd that Steve died. Who knew? God did.

Since that time, I have leaned on my faith, even in the darkest of days and God has not let me down. He has sent people into my path to help me when I’ve needed it, He has made sure that our material needs have been met, He has given me the courage to make difficult choices in my life.

I haven’t always listened to God, though. Sometimes, I’ve thought that my way was better than His way. Looking back on my second marriage, it’s easy for me to see how it happened. I didn’t want to be a single mom. I was happily married one day, widowed and pregnant the next. I was exhausted, grieving and I missed sharing my life with Steve. I thought I was a better mom when I was married. I decided to take things into my own hands, instead of having faith in God’s plan for my life! I thought that I could still have the family I was “meant to have” if I got married again.

It was only after being absolutely miserable, seeing two different marriage counselors and my children telling me that they were unhappy that I finally let go of that marriage and admitted that maybe God knew more than I did! I was finally ready to accept that God had a plan for my life and for reasons I may never understand, I was supposed to be raising my children alone. In fact, I am a better mother now than I ever was in that second marriage.

With the realization that God knows best came an incredible freedom. I am happier today than I have been since that fateful day over eight years ago. I am in love with a wonderful man, I love being a mom and I am letting God lead my life. I have started working towards a professional goal and I’ve been attending a new church. I am surrounded by friends and my faith gets stronger with each day. Thank you, Lord, for showing yourself to me. I am blessed.

A Christmas Miracle

Ready for Christmas

Ready for Christmas

Three days until Christmas and I am filled with gratitude. As I look around my home, I have a sense of peace that I have not felt for more than eight years. This is the first Christmas that I can remember, since Steve died, that I’m not filled with a longing for a complete family. Ever since he died, our family has felt like part of it was missing. I have not been able to enjoy the holidays without missing Steve, wishing he was here to share in our joy. Although I still wish he could share in the magic of this season with our children, our family finally feels complete. Perhaps we have closed the hole that was left by his death. Our family is the four of us. We don’t need anyone else to make us feel complete anymore. I can be at home with just my children and feel happy, content and secure in the choices I’ve made since Steve died. I am not exactly sure how I’ve gotten to this point. When did the healing occur? When did I decide that my children are all that I need to be whole? Somewhere along the past eight years, God has worked a miracle in me. He has made me whole again.

My faith has sustained me through the grief of losing my husband, through the birth of my baby and through the subsequent eight years. I have not always made good decisions. I remarried too soon, to the wrong person. It was a decision made out of grief and fear. I was afraid of raising my children alone. I became a parent within marriage and I wanted to raise them within marriage. For some reason that I may never know, however, God decided that I would raise my children as a single mother. It was only after accepting His decision that I was able to leave that marriage. I had to realize that I was a better mother when I was strong and happy, whether or not I was married.

My faith has led me to a place where I could fall in love again. This time, I am enjoying being in love without feeling the need to rush into marriage. I don’t feel guilty when I think of spending the rest of my life with this person. I am excited at the prospect of a life with him. Those who know me have said that I am happier than they’ve seen me since Steve died. God has blessed me and I know that no matter what happens, God will never leave me.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, I am going to enjoy every minute of it. I am spending Christmas Eve alone with my children. We will go to church and thank God for sending his Son to die for us. We will watch Christmas movies and make gingerbread cookies. We will spend Christmas Day with our extended family and it will be a blessed holiday. I love my children and I love being a mother. Thank you, Lord.

Choosing Not To Grieve

Some days it’s just better to keep busy…to have so many things to do that I don’t have time to think, time to grieve. Today is one of those days. October 22nd. The anniversary of Steve’s death.

I have spent many of these anniversaries curled up in my bed, unable to do anything but relive that awful day.  October 22nd, 2004. A day of worry, hope, shock, denial, grief. A day that is forever a part of my soul.

As it is with my grief, I have been feeling this anniversary coming for about a week or so. I’ve been more emotional. I’ve cried for no apparent reason. Today, I feel sad for my children, sad for the old me: Steve’s wife. I’m at a crossroads in my life this year and I feel it….I am truly happy for the first time since Steve died so it’s hard for me to grieve him the way that I’ve always done, as my best friend and soul mate.

I am a different person since Steve died. I am a confident and secure single Mom. I am strong in my Christian faith. I have a wide circle of friends and a wonderful boyfriend. I wonder if Steve would even recognize me today?

I have always missed Steve, my high school sweetheart, the man who could make me laugh in any situation, my best friend. I do still miss him, but it’s different now. I miss the father of my children. I wonder what he would say and what he would do when I am parenting them. I love to remember him and tell our children stories about him. I think it’s my job to keep him alive for them. How will they know that he didn’t like mushrooms if I don’t tell them?

I don’t want  to grieve anymore. I want to be happy. I’ve learned that life is short so I’m grabbing every moment of happiness that I can while I’m here. I am keeping busy today: working, running errands, taking my children to appointments. I don’t want to remember what I was doing at this very moment, eight years ago today. If I start to remember, I will fall apart. I remember every minute of that day and I don’t want to relive it. Not today. Not again.

I started my day with a prayer, I’ve prayed several times already today and I know God will help me make it through this anniversary. I have a lot to do. I will keep busy. I don’t know if this is avoiding the grief or just choosing NOT to grieve, but it’s how I’ll spend this anniversary. I want to embrace the happiness in my life and I don’t want to go back to that day. Not today.

Letting Go of Perfect

I have always felt the need to be perfect. I was a straight A student. I was involved in MANY extra-curricular activities. I finished college before I got married. I had children after I bought my first house. I lived my life the way I was “supposed” to live it, right?

When Steve died, my life changed instantly. We had been together for 19 years and I was thrust into a foreign world without him. I didn’t know how to be a parent without the other half of my support system to help me.  I didn’t know when my car needed an oil change. I didn’t know where the spare light bulbs were kept in my house. There were so many details of our life together that Steve handled and suddenly I had to do it all on my own. I was overwhelmed and had no choice but to let go of being perfect as I leaned on my faith that God would somehow help me get through this crushing loss.

As I prayed for God to help me, others stepped in to do what I could not do for myself. Friends would care for my children when I was in and out of the hospital having pre-term labor. Family members traveled from Michigan to Georgia to stay with us. Strangers brought Christmas gifts to my children. My lawn would “magically” be mowed. The list goes on and on. God made sure our needs were met by the angels He sent to us.

As time has gone on and I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to realize that there is and only will be ONE perfect person and that’s not me!  I’ve had to do a lot of letting go over the past seven years and I’ve had to ask for help too. With three active children, sometimes I need help getting them from one place to another. I used to feel guilty because my children have more household chores than other children, but now I am proud of how responsible they are becoming as they’re growing into young adults. My children will know how to take care of themselves because I couldn’t do it all for them. My children have learned about compromise because sometimes I have to choose between them when there are two or more activities happening at the same time. I am only one person and I can only be in one place at a time. In a perfect world, their dad would still be here but, our reality is that he’s gone and there’s only one parent in our home.

Letting go of perfect has freed me in so many ways. I am able to enjoy my life without the constant weight of worrying whether or not I’m doing things the “right” way. I am on a journey and I am free to make mistakes. God has blessed me with three amazing children and I love my life, imperfections and all!

Letting Go of the Grief

My life with Steve is starting to feel like a dream. It’s been so long now that he’s been gone, I’ve forgotten the sound of his voice, the feel of his touch. In some ways, I think that’s a good thing. It’s only when I’m not physically longing for him that I’m able to truly open my heart and love someone new. I would like to think that losing the love of my life when I was just 32 years old means that God intends for me to have TWO loves of my life. One for creating children (Steve) and one with which I was meant to grow old. Some are blessed to have just one love of their life: they create children and grow old with the same person. That was not God’s plan for my life.

As I am losing the real “feel” of Steve, so are my children. In some ways, this is very sad. I lost my dad when I was just nine years old so I know how heartbreaking it is for a child to realize that they can’t remember specific things about their parent. I would grieve sometimes just for the fact that I didn’t remember him. I was lonely because I didn’t have A dad, not because I missed MY dad. How can you miss someone that you don’t remember?

In other ways, though, losing the memories means letting go of the grief. I am relieved that my children don’t cry as often as they used to for Steve. They spend most of their days enjoying their lives and being happy. Life without a dad is all that they know and we have settled into our own routine as a family.

My oldest son is starting high school in the fall yet he was in first grade when his dad died. I was startled to realize that I have raised him throughout his entire educational career, all on my own. It really puts into perspective how long Steve has been gone. I am proud of the young man that Cameron is growing into and I know that Steve would be too. I see so much of his father in him, it’s as if Steve is not really gone at all. Cameron looks like Steve and he has the same mannerisms and sense of humor. I am constantly being reminded of Steve as a teenager and it makes me smile to know that so much of him is still here with us.

My daughter is starting middle school in the fall but she was only in preschool when her dad died. She is a strong-willed, independent, athletic little girl who has the best of both of us. If Steve were here, he would say that she gets her ambition from me while she is fearless like him. As a straight-A student and competitive gymnast, both characteristics are serving her well!

At seven years old, my little man is finally realizing what it means that he doesn’t have a daddy. I have caught him crying and holding Steve’s picture. He never met Steve so it’s not really the person that he’s missing. Connor is grieving for a loss that happened before he was born. He’s sad because he sees his friends with their dads and he knows that he doesn’t have the same thing. It’s been really hard for me to see my baby hurting. All these years, Connor was the only one of us who didn’t grieve Steve’s death. It was like he was protected from our pain and, as a mother, I was relieved for him. Now, though, I can’t shield him from the fact that he only has one parent. Unfortunately, it’s our reality and, even at seven years old, he’s learning that there are some things that just can’t be changed.

This time of year, the ending of the school year, has left me feeling full of pride for these children that Steve and I created. They are growing into amazing people and I know that it is only with the help of God that I’ve been able to raise them. I also know that as we all move forward and let go of our grief, we will be able to live the lives that God intended for us. In my heart, I know that’s what Steve would want for the four people he loved most in this world!

In My Dreams

When Steve died, it was painful to go to sleep. In my dreams, he was still alive and all was right with the world. When I woke up, however, I was still living in the horrible nightmare of his death. The pain in my heart seemed more than I could bear each and every time I had to open my eyes. I wished I could close them and be with him forever. If it weren’t for the two little souls named Cameron and Caitlin who needed me, I might have chosen to join him on the other side of Heaven.

As time wore on, my dreams moved from being WITH Steve to being ABOUT him. Sometimes, the dreams are comforting. In one dream, Steve and I shared a private joke and it still makes me smile to think about it!

I have never mowed the lawn. For some reason, that’s just not a household chore that appeals to me. When Steve and I were married, he would point out other women cutting their grass and I would jokingly say, “You should have married her!” It was always a joke between us that I wouldn’t even try to cut the grass. I felt like that was my husband’s job and he was good with it. One of the many things he did to take care of our home but an ongoing private joke between us.

After Steve died, several male friends and neighbors made sure that my grass was cut. This was no small feat since I had a huge front and back yard so it could literally take hours to mow my yard. After a while, I was able to hire a lawn service to do it.

About a year or so after he died, I had a dream where Steve was standing in our garage. He asked me about our lawn. I told him that I hired someone to cut it and I said to him, “You didn’t think I would cut it, did you?” I have a vivid image of Steve laughing like he always did at me! This dream brought me a lot of comfort. It was as if Steve was approving of the way I was handling some of the jobs he was no longer around to do. I could still hear his laugh too.

Over the years, Steve has come to me in my dreams less and less. Sometimes, the dreams are really disconcerting. When I was married, I dreamed that Steve came home after a long illness and he expected things to be as they always were with us. I had an awful feeling because I was married to someone else. The whole dream centered around my confusion about how to tell my second husband that Steve was home and how to tell Steve that I was married to someone else. This dream stayed with me for a day or two and I felt “out of sorts” as I tried to process it. I’m sure it had to do with the guilt of moving on, but upsetting nonetheless.

Steve visited me in my dreams again a few nights ago. This time, it was more of a strange dream where it was Steve but not really him. I was his girlfriend in the dream. I woke up feeling unsettled but not really upset. Once again, I’m sure the dream had to do with moving on without the guilt this time. I believe in my heart that Steve would approve of the choices I’m making and he would be proud of me.

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