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!

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.

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.

‘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!

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.

Life Goes On

There’s one thing that I’ve learned on this journey of widowhood: life doesn’t stop for grief. As much as I wished I could curl up and just grieve, the world still existed. My children needed to be fed. I had to go to work. In fact, my experience has been that the world expects grief to last a year. During that first year, people are more patient with grieving souls. They understand your grief, they accept it and you are encouraged to grieve.

After the first year, however, you are expected to “be over” it. It’s no longer acceptable to break down in tears for no apparent reason, to be exhausted because your grief is the worst at night, to have a hard time concentrating. What I found, though, was that the second year without Steve was actually harder than the first year. During my first year, I was pregnant and just trying to make it from day to day. My life centered around my children and the new baby I was carrying. Our first holidays without Steve are a blur. I went through the motions, for my children’s sake, with the goal of just making it through those days. The first Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, the kids’ birthdays, the birth of our baby, our wedding anniversary, Father’s Day. If I could just make it through the first year, I thought I would be okay.

I was wrong. The second year without Steve turned out to be the hardest of all. I had to find a new “normal” for me and the kids. I had a new baby to care for, all by myself. There was no denying that Steve was gone and he would not be coming back. I had to accept this life that God had given me. I started dating again. The world expected me to be healed but I was far from over the grief of losing him. It has taken several years for me to feel as if I am healed. I made terrible mistakes during my grief. I married the wrong man because I thought that being married would make me a better mother. I dated to avoid loneliness. I drank too much to self-medicate the pain. My journey of grief did not end after one year.

Steve’s birthday was last week. It has been almost eight years since he died. When I reminded my son about his dad’s birthday, he said to me, “That’s gonna be a hard day for you, Mom.” My children have grown accustomed to my grief and they know that certain days of the year are harder for me than others. I am happy to say, though, that my grief has subsided into thankfulness for the memories, love and children that Steve blessed me with during his lifetime. I cried for a few minutes on his birthday but then I showered and got ready for work. Life goes on.

Walking Through The Fear

There have been a lot of things going on in my life in the past week. I’ve done some grieving over changes that happened abrubtly at my church. Having a church family is one of those things that had become such a part of my life that I really took it for granted. When a member of my church family was suddenly gone, it was a shock to our entire family. My children were grieving and I was angry. It was a very difficult week.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I had a sense of peace but still could not bring myself to return to MY church. We did, however, go to church. It felt good to worship God and know that He would help me make the right decisions no matter where I choose to attend church.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about pursuing some professional goals but it has never seemed like the right time. I’ve told myself that I’m too busy with my children and their activities to take on one more thing in my work. As my children have gotten older, however, their activities don’t seem to be taking up as much of my time as they used to. I can now drop them off, pick them up, car pool, etc. instead of having to sit and watch every practice. What is my excuse for not pursuing my goals now?

I saw an old friend yesterday who encouraged me to follow through with getting a professional license for which I am qualified. Getting this license would open doors for me and allow me to expand my professional opportunities. I have often thought of getting it, but the paperwork overwhelmed me. After seeing my friend, I decided to go ahead and do it. One step at a time. I prayed and I know I can do it. I just have to get over the fear of the unknown. What will I do once I have the license? How is God leading me to help others? I have faith that there’s a plan for me but not knowing what the future holds is still scary. It’s much easier to sit back and keep doing the job that I have now. I’m good at it, I know my co-workers, I’m comfortable.

The older I get, however, the more I see that comfortable isn’t always God’s plan. Sometimes, He takes us out of our comfort level so that we can learn something, so that we can lean on Him more, so that we can help others. It’s like walking into a new church. Uncomfortable at first but then you realize that He is still there and the safety of knowing Him returns. I am going to pursue my professional license, no matter how scary the unkown is for me. I will continue to pray for God to show me where I am supposed to be at church and in my professional life. Trusting Him is all I can do if I want to grow. The only other option is to stay comfortable. Continue going to church where I’ve always gone, regardless of my feelings about the changes. Keep my current certifications without striving to grow professionally. I can certainly choose to do these things. I choose to grow. I choose to trust God. I will walk through the fear of the unknown and trust God’s plan for my life.

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!

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