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

 

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We Are Survivors

52f738102875dc99722ea18b3f1dcad9My neighbor died yesterday. Suddenly. In her sleep. Left behind a confused, dazed, grieving husband and two beautiful daughters. I was instantly thrown back into that moment of shock and denial from nearly 11 years ago. How could this be happening? How is it possible that a family can change so quickly? In an instant, my neighbor became a single, an ONLY parent. I know too well the frightening thoughts that brings. Will my children ever recover from this? Will my babies’ broken hearts ever heal?

Everyone kept telling me thank you for helping him, thank you for being there for him. On the one hand, I am glad to do it. I was surrounded by such love when Steve died. I wasn’t alone. I had help managing the murky waters of early widowhood by family and friends who stood by me so it’s my turn to repay those kindnesses.

On the other hand, however, I wish I didn’t understand so much of what he’s feeling. I wish I was just a caring neighbor, not a fellow traveler on this widowhood journey. My heart breaks for him in a way that few others can understand. It breaks for him as one who has walked in his shoes. To have your spouse ripped suddenly out of your life is a pain like no other. You are supposed to grow old with this person yet, somehow, they are gone in a flash. What does your future look like now?

Fortunately, I have been on this road for long enough to know that the waves of grief do subside over time. It IS possible to heal from the deepest wound that your soul has ever experienced. Will you ever be the same? No. You will not be the same. You will be a NEW person. One who has gone to the depths of hell and survived. You will find strength you never knew you had and courage to keep living a life that doesn’t make sense to you. One day, your life may even make sense again.

For some reason that only God understands, I was put on a journey that I didn’t choose. I can, however, choose what I do with it. I will help others, no matter how painful it is for me. Perhaps someday I will understand the “big picture” and why we have to suffer such excruciating grief to get to the life God has planned for us. Until then, I have faith that God has a plan for my neighbor’s life and the life of his daughters. Please keep them in your prayers.

Every Step of the Way

IMG_1842I always wanted to be a mother. Some of my earliest memories are of playing with baby dolls or playing “house” with my little sister. Growing up, I told my mom that I would be married and have children before I was 30. It was always in my heart to be a mother.

When I became a mother 16 and 1/2 years ago, however, I couldn’t imagine the journey that would become my life. I had my two oldest children within a loving marriage so I imagined that I would raise them that way too. I conceived my third child within that same happy marriage so I thought I would give birth as I had the other two.

I couldn’t have been more wrong!

My life, and the lives of my children, took a drastic turn on October 22nd, 2004. In the flash of an instant, I was a pregnant, single mother with two young children. The family I had created was gone. The only other person who could love these children as I did was no longer on this Earth. It was only me.

I didn’t know how I would survive and raise these children, but I did. Looking back, I now know that it was my faith, my friends and my family who encouraged me, helped me and strengthened me along the way.

Today, my daughter turns 14 years old. I remember the day of her birth as if it were yesterday. I looked over and her dad was asleep in the chair. I was watching the news coverage of Dale Earnhardt’s accident at the Daytona 500. My two year old son was at our cousin’s house so I wasn’t worried about him. I was about to give birth to my one and only daughter.

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Throughout the years, she has brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined possible. In the three short years she shared with her daddy, she was the apple of his eye. He adored her.

I look at her now and I’m reminded of how far we’ve all come since that fateful October day. I am stronger than I ever knew I could be. I am more independent than I ever wanted to be. My faith is my lifeline. I see these same qualities in my daughter: strength, independence, faith. She is ambitious and generous. She is loving and kind. If her dad were here to help me raise her, she would be exactly the kind of daughter that he would be proud of too.

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The Lord has carried me and my children through some dark moments and for that I am eternally grateful. During these past 10 years, I know that I have not raised my children alone. God has been with me every step of the way. I have always had an abundance of friends, co-workers and family to walk this road with us. How could it be anything but His plan when I am so blessed? Thank you, Lord.

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.

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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

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.

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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

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!

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