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!

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.

‘Tis the Season

MB900436341The holiday season…a time for family and friends to be together. A time to be happy for the people in our lives. A time to rejoice in the birth of our Savior.

For those who are grieving, however, the holiday season can be the hardest time of the year. It’s when we look around and see happy families but our heart is broken for our loss. It’s a reminder that our family is no longer whole. There is an ache in the heart of a grieving soul during the holidays and it seems impossible to fill it. No matter how many smiles we put on, no matter how many presents we receive, no matter how many hymns we sing, what we really want for Christmas is our loved one.

This is my ninth holiday season without Steve but I can still remember the grief of our holidays so clearly. I spent our first Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in a state of shock and denial. I was sure that his death was a bad dream and I would wake up any minute from my nightmare. The second holiday season, I bought a new tree and all new ornaments. I was determined to make Christmas “normal” for my children, but I still wasn’t ready to pull out the decorations that Steve and I had shared in our home. The next few years, I tried to pretend that everything was ok, that I was “over” my grief. I had remarried so I went through the motions of being happy, even though I constantly felt like a fish out of water. I would look around and wonder whose life I was living. I would constantly ask myself, “How did I get here?” Nothing in my life felt right, but I thought it was the way it was supposed to be since Steve was gone. I was wrong.

When I divorced, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My children and I could enjoy our lives again. I started this blog a year ago. When I began writing, I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in what I had to say. Over the past year, I’ve found healing in helping others. I have renewed my faith in God and His plan for my life. I can honestly say that this is the first holiday season that I am enjoying since Steve died over eight years ago. I have finally found “me” again. My children are doing well and our home feels complete again. It is not as if we don’t miss Steve. We do and we always will. It’s just that we’ve all found a way to be whole again, without the ache of his loss coloring our joy.

When I look at my children, I see their father reflected in them. The older they get, the more it makes me smile to see his personality coming through their actions. Perhaps I have been able to heal because I feel him with me every day? He isn’t really gone if they continue to live and it just took me all these years to realize it.

‘Tis the season for joy and I intend to enjoy every minute of it this year!

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.

This Time of Year

 Cooler mornings. Leaves changing. Pumpkin patches in front of the churches. Fall has arrived. I used to love this time of year. In many ways, I still do. But mostly I find myself more emotional, breaking down into tears without warning. I know why this happens, I just wonder when it will stop catching me off guard.

It’s been eight years since my life changed. I went from being a wife to being a widow. Widow is a word that I had never given much thought to before that fateful day in October of 2004. Widows were old women with gray hair, or so I thought until I became one.

In those first days after Steve died, I vaguely remember someone bringing over pumpkins and carving them with my children. There were small pumpkins placed at the accident site along with the flowers that were left there. The makeshift cross bearing Steve’s name, the firefighter’s jacket. All of the ways that our friends and family tried to make sense of what happened to him. A memorial born out of intense grief. I didn’t venture out to that intersection until several days after the accident. It was after most of our friends and family had left to return home to their lives that I went there to see the broken glass still in the roadway. The broken glass very much like my life….how would I pick up the pieces with my two small children, a baby on the way, and suddenly without my life partner?

Halloween came and my children went trick or treating with my cousin. I tried to hand out candy until a neighbor stopped by and offered me her “words of wisdom.” She said, “Don’t worry, you’ll remarry again. It’s like getting divorced, you can never imagine getting married again and then you do.” I was widowed. It was NOT like a divorce. I had no choice in the life I was thrust into by Steve’s death. I closed my door and turned out my light. I couldn’t give out anymore candy and pretend to be happy. I was only NINE DAYS into my journey of widowhood.

So the fall changed into winter and one year passed into another. In these eight years, I’ve learned that widows aren’t just old women with gray hair. They’re young women like me, trying to raise our children without their fathers. Women like me who are “only” parents, not “single” parents. Women like me who make mistakes and sometimes try to numb their pain. But eight years has also taught me that I can be happy on my own, that I can be there for my children and still take care of myself, that it’s okay to fall in love again. I have come to a place in my life where I can look into my future without fear. I can see happiness ahead and I like what I see.

Why, then, does this time of year continue to wreak havoc on my emotions? Perhaps it’s the reminder of where I was eight years ago and how far I’ve come since then that makes me feel like crying? The realization that I can see my future without Steve that makes me sad….knowing that I’ve begun to heal from the wounds caused by October 22nd, 2004. I don’t feel broken anymore and it’s good to be whole again.

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