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

 

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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.

 

 

 

Teenager In Love

Me and Steve at Cedar PointA friend of mine recently posted some old pictures of me and Steve on Facebook. There was a picture of the two of us and some group pictures that were taken at an amusement park back in 1987. We were in high school. I was in 10th grade and Steve was a Senior. It’s funny how I remember that trip to the amusement park as if it happened yesterday!

Seeing those pictures made me smile because we had some really great times! Steve and I were together for 19 years and married for ten years. We truly grew up together and seeing old pictures of us makes me realize just how young we were when we fell in love with each other. I know how unique it is to meet your future husband in the ninth grade but I also know that God had a plan for us. I believe that our destiny was to create a family and we needed to do that before Steve was taken from this Earth. We fell in love at a young age because it wasn’t meant for Steve to ever grow old. He will forever be 35 years old.

When I look at pictures of us, I don’t feel that familiar ache in my heart anymore. It’s as if I’m looking at photos of someone else. It sort of feels like that life wasn’t real. So much has changed since Steve’s been gone and I’m a different woman now too. My world was shattered when he died. I had a baby. I got married and divorced. I sold our house and bought a new one. I changed jobs. My children are no longer babies and I’ve raised them alone. I am more independent than I ever knew I could be when Steve was here.

After eight years, I am not longing for the life I shared with Steve anymore. I will always miss the father of my children, my high school sweetheart, my first husband. But it’s hard to miss a life that is so far gone from the world I live in now. Looking at pictures of us makes me smile because I get to show them to my children. Those pictures are their proof that they were created within a loving marriage. Those photos show the brown eyes shared by my daughter and youngest son, the dark brown hair of my oldest son and it shows the happiness of both of their parents at a time when life was good.

It was nice to be reminded of a youthful trip to an amusement park when I was just a teenager in love. The best part of seeing those pictures, though, was realizing how far I’ve come during these eight years. I know that I’m healing because memories bring smiles now instead of tears. It’s been a long journey and I believe I deserve some happiness now. I know that’s what Steve would want for me and I believe he’s smiling down from Heaven with me.

The Power of Friendship

I always knew how important my friends were to me. In our early twenties, Steve and I moved 800 miles away from our families so our friends quickly became our family. We spent holidays, celebrated special occasions and shared the ups and downs of early parenthood with our friends.

When Steve died, however, the friendships I had built over the years became monumental to my survival. My “chosen family” surrounded me with love and care in the absence of my real family. Friends brought us meals. Someone cleaned our house. Others pitched in to drive my children to school and sports activities. We received gift cards and donations to pay for things that we needed.  A neighbor replaced my broken garage door opener. My trash was taken to the curb and my lawn was mysteriously mowed. I even had a friend come over to get Cameron and Caitlin ready for bed so that I could rest after work. Another friend offered to be my labor coach so that I wouldn’t be alone at doctor visits. 

One of the most extraordinary instances of friendship occurred when I went into preterm labor with my baby. A neighbor kept Cameron and Caitlin while another neighbor drove me to the hospital, multiple times! Preterm labor happened regularly during the final weeks of my pregnancy so these two ladies were always “on call” for me.  The hospital I was using was over an hour away from our homes too!

It wasn’t just friends who stepped up during this hectic time of my life; strangers pitched in to help me and my children too. Firefighters collected money, gift cards and presents for my children at Christmas. A woman that had never met me went door to door collecting money for us because she lived near Steve’s fire station and felt a need to help us. Firefighters put new tires on my minivan. The list goes on and on…. 

Throughout all of this, I was overwhelmed at the love shown to us by friends and strangers. I had never felt so alone in my entire life yet God continuously reminded me that I wasn’t alone at all. I may have lost Steve, but our every need was being met without my having to ask for anything. It was okay that I couldn’t take care of myself because God saw to it that others would provide for me until I was strong enough to do it again. My children were constantly surrounded by people who loved them while their mother grieved. Some of the people who stepped in to care for us during those early months without Steve were merely acquaintances before his death. They reached out to us and became lifelong friends in an instant.

In the midst of our tragedy, I felt God’s love at work. I was in awe of all that friends, neighbors and strangers did for me and my children and I am still so grateful for it. I know I would not have survived losing Steve without the power of friendship. God truly blessed me.

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