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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Tough Enough

I’m starting a new Bible study on parenting and it’s got me thinking about something I’ve never considered before: Steve’s death is part of the plan that God has FOR MY CHILDREN. I’ve spent the past seven years praying for God to show me how to live my life without Steve, to lead me to where He wants me to be. I’ve found healing in helping others who are grieving their own losses. Throughout all of this, however, I concentrated on being a good mother without ever realizing that God has a plan for my children too!

My own father died when I was nine years old and I can now see how it prepared me for losing my husband. I had already experienced a life changing loss, and since I survived it once, I knew in my soul that I would live through this too. It didn’t lessen the shock or the heart-wrenching pain that I felt when Steve was suddenly gone but it did allow me to be swallowed up in the grief knowing that someday, I would make it to the surface and be able to swim again. I didn’t know exactly how I would endure the loss and I certainly couldn’t imagine a life without Steve, but something inside me kept reminding me that I had done it once in my life so I could do it again.

When I was watching the video for my Bible study, I had a moment of realization: I am only here to guide my children and to teach them because they are really God’s children. He has a plan for them. He already knows how their life is going to turn out in the end. In fact, He knew them before they were even born. This means that Steve’s death is part of the plan He has for them just as my daddy’s death was part of my life plan too.

What an incredible moment of clarity! I don’t have to protect them from the pain of losing their father. It’s only my job to teach them how to heal, how to live through such a loss. Perhaps they are being prepared for a loss later in life or perhaps they will use their experience to help others? Only God knows how Steve’s death will fit into their lives but it gives me comfort to know that He already has it all worked out for them.

I’m not sure why I’ve never thought about all of this before now. Maybe it’s because they were so little and I was consumed with the day to day caring for them? My children are growing up, though, so I’m starting to see bits and pieces of who they will be as adults. It’s easier for me to think about their lives in the “big picture” and also to start letting go of some of my responsibility as they begin to make their own choices. A huge part of parenting is teaching our children that choices have consequences. I’m not always very good at letting my children suffer the consequences of their bad choices, but I’m getting better at it. I think that it will become even easier for me now that I can lean into the understanding that they are really God’s children and it’s just my job to help them discover His plan for their life. I can let go of trying to shield them from the pain of a life without their daddy.

I am a stronger woman for the losses I’ve had in my life and my children are tough enough to endure their losses too. I have faith in God and I have confidence in my children too. I am looking forward to seeing how their lives unfold and the incredible things that God has planned for them!

Forever Grateful

I remember the day she was born as if it were yesterday. My one and only daughter, Caitlin. 30 hours of labor. Her dad sleeping in the chair next to my bed. How is it possible that was 11 years ago? I could never have imagined that I would be raising her without him but here I am, raising her alone.

Some of my strongest memories of Caitlin and Steve are of the two of them butting heads over little things. I remember her trying to tie her shoes, long before she could do it, and her dad getting frustrated because she wouldn’t let him help her. He would say that she was stubborn. I would say that she was strong willed and that no boy would ever push her around because of it. The fact was, they were very much alike which is why they had conflicts. Steve was set in his ways and stubborn if he thought he was right; his daughter was born to be independent and also stubborn if she thought she could do it on her own. Even at three years old, she wanted to try to do everything by herself!

Caitlin was three years old when Steve died. I’m not sure she completely understood what happened at that young age but she understands it now. As she’s grown up, her memories have become fewer. Sometimes, she thinks she did something with her daddy but it never actually happened. I think it’s pretty normal for kids to get confused between what they imagine and what is true, especially when it comes to memories.

Caitlin is still strong willed but she channels it into positive aspects like gymnastics and school work. She is a perfectionist (like her mother!) so she often won’t stop at something until she has it exactly right. I think her daddy would be proud of her! I imagine they would still have their fights, though, because she is so much like him….

Every year, as each of my children have their birthdays, I am reminded that it has been another year without their dad. Another year of milestones that he has missed. He wasn’t even here to take Caitlin to her first day of kindergarten. Now, she is halfway through 5th grade and will enter middle school in the fall. He has missed so much of her life. It’s heartbreaking for me when I think about it but, on the other hand, it makes me proud to think that I’ve raised her to be an intelligent, thoughtful, generous, hard working little girl. I know Steve would be proud of us too. We have not let his death destroy us. We have grown in our faith and Caitlin has seen that women can overcome obstacles in their life. I am so blessed to have her for a daughter. I will be forever grateful to Steve for giving me these children during his short time here on Earth.

Don’t Forget To Buy Milk

I learned about loss at a very young age. My father was violently killed when I was just nine years old. I remember kissing him goodbye and the next thing I knew, my grandmother was crying because he was gone. My six year old sister crawled into bed with me and told me that she heard our grandmother say that our daddy had died. I told her to shut up. That was stupid. A few minutes later, my aunt came upstairs to sit on the bed with us because she had something really important to tell us. Our daddy was really gone. My baby sister was just one year old. The three of us no longer had a father.

I had expierenced the death of my grandmother when I was sixteen but this was, somehow, different than losing my dad. You grow up expecting your grandparents to die since they are always so much older than you. As a child, it’s devastating when a parent dies because your security is dependent upon them. Most people do not die young. My father was 28 years old when he died. Things like that aren’t supposed to happen.

As a child, the most significant man in my life was my daddy. He said goodbye and never came home. As an adult, the most important man in my life was my husband. For years, I was worried that Steve would kiss me goodbye and never come home. My fears grew larger when he became a firefighter. It was particularly scary for me if I knew he was in harm’s way so he wouldn’t tell me, until he was safely finished, when he was fighting a fire. I was okay if I heard about it afterwards but I’m sure he left out many details for my benefit. After a while, my faith in our life grew but it was always in the back of my mind that bad things sometimes happen in life.

There were many times throughout our marriage when I would look at Steve playing with our children and wonder what I did to deserve such happiness. Moments when I would stop and think that I wanted to stay right THERE, in that MOMENT, forever. It was as if I was taking a mental picture.

Of course, something bad did happen. Steve left for work and he never came home. He had left me a note on our kitchen counter that said, “Don’t forget to buy milk today.” One of his friends summed it up this way: how do you go from, “Don’t forget to buy milk” to never coming home? Once again, the most important man in my life had died suddenly and way too young. Steve was 35 years old.

No matter how many times I try to tell myself that God will take care of me, I struggle with trusting Him completely. I know He will take care of me. My children and I have been blessed in ways that I never could have imagined since that fateful day in October, 2004. In fact, I can clearly see how God was preparing me and Steve for his death for months before he died. We joined our church one year before he died and we had never belonged to a church during our marriage. We had finally gotten around to writing our wills just eight months before he died. Steve kissed his hand and made the sign of a cross on our children’s bedroom doors before he left for work that day. It was his way of saying goodbye without waking them up. I had never seen him do the cross before that final day, though.

I am afraid that if I am too happy and love someone else too much, that God will decide I am strong enough to live this life without him. AGAIN. This fear has kept me from opening my heart completely to life. Losing Steve wounded me and changed my soul. After seven years, I feel as though my wounds have healed and I’m finding my soul again. I have found a peace that hasn’t existed in my life since he died. My faith has grown and I am content in ways that I never thought possible.

I now have someone in my life that makes me feel some of the same things that Steve did and it’s scary to me. He is his own person and makes me feel special in all his own ways. I never thought I could meet someone who would touch me like this again. I have a deep fear of loving him too much because there are no guarantees that he won’t die. It is a daily struggle to lean on my faith, to pray to God for His will and most importantly, to TRUST God to know what’s best for me. I will fight this fear, though, because I was blessed to love Steve for almost twenty years before he died. Perhaps I will have another twenty (or more) years of loving someone else before God takes him Home too?

Moving Forward Without Him

My faith has been tested during the past two weeks and I’ve found it hard to blog. Someone I know was killed while running; he was hit by a car. He was just 32 years old and left behind a wife with two young children. He was at the same hospital as Steve was when he was hit while riding his motorcycle to work. Experiencing this from a friend’s perspective caused me to grieve for his wife in ways that only a widow can understand. When I saw her at his funeral, I was taken back to Steve’s funeral and the bewilderment I felt.When Steve died, I was hurting so badly but it was also surreal. My life had changed in an instant and I felt like I was living in a horrible nightmare. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion as if I was underwater.

Steve had hundreds of people at his funeral: fire chiefs, friends and family from all over the country, firefighters from every major department near us, so many people that I didn’t even know. I was honored to be his wife and I remember thinking that his funeral was the last chance for me to make him proud.

As I got ready for the hardest day of my life, I did my hair and I put on make up. I had already gone shopping and picked out the clothes that my children would wear to bury their father. I don’t remember if I dressed them or if someone else did. So much of those early days are still a blur to me. It hurt just to breathe so I’m sure that I wasn’t able to care for my children much during that first week and I am blessed that others stepped in to do what I was unable to do.

Of course, time has gone on and I have healed in ways that I could never have forseen. I have a very strong faith in God that has allowed me to move forward with my life. But, when this man I knew died, it all came back and I found myself asking the same questions all over again. “Why God?” “Why did my friend lose her soul mate at such a young age?” “Why are those children going to grow up without their loving father?”

I know from personal experience that there aren’t any answers to these questions that make sense to our human hearts. We are just meant to trust that God knows what He’s doing and has a plan for us. I’ve come to realize that part of His plan may be for me to help others who are grieving because I have been there. In the deepest part of my heart, I can understand their pain. Perhaps I can offer hope because if I can live more than seven years without Steve, then they can survive the loss of their loved one too.

Not only have I continued to live without Steve, but I have found happiness along the way. It’s taken me a long time but I am finally comfortable in my own skin. I will never be the same after losing him but I can see my old self returning and it feels really good to be whole again. My children are thriving which makes me believe that I have done exactly what Steve would have expected of me: to be the best mom I could be without him. I know that if I had died first, I have no doubt that Steve would have raised our children in exactly the same way by being the best father he could be to them. I can feel him smiling down on me as I continue moving forward in this life without him.

A Love Beyond Words

I’ve had a lot going on lately and haven’t been able to figure out how to put my thoughts into words. So, I think I will start by telling a story and see if the words find their way out tonight….

After I had my second baby, I became really homesick. We were living in Georgia but all of our family was in Michigan. Our son was 2 and 1/2 so we had two babies at the time. Let me preface this story by saying that I am generally pretty emotional, without having the hormones of childbirth coursing through my veins. So, Steve was very patient with me as I cried and told him how much I missed everyone. I was concerned that our children were growing up without their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Several months passed, however, and I was still homesick. We could no longer blame it on the hormones of pregnancy! I wanted to live in Michigan. This was the only time I can ever remember that I truly wanted to move back there. Steve loved living in Georgia and he loved his job on a large fire department. Looking back at that time, what is most amazing to me is that he would truly do ANYTHING to make me happy, even leaving his job to relocate our family back to Michigan. On the other hand, I loved him too and I would not let him sacrifice his happiness for mine. Since being a firefighter was so important to him, we agreed that he would apply to some fire departments near our hometown in Michigan and leave the rest in God’s hands.

Steve interviewed for a position with a small fire department in the town where we used to live. I was concerned that he would become bored working for such a tiny department. He was willing to make the change, however, so that we could raise our children near our families if that’s what I wanted to do. We had a lot of conversations and finally agreed that if he got the job, we would take it as a sign from God that we should live in Michigan. If he didn’t get the job, we would also take that as a sign and I would be content to stay in Georgia.

He did not get the job. I never again had the urge to move back to Michigan. It was as if God had removed that desire from my heart because my marriage was the most important thing in my life and what really mattered was for us to be together. I couldn’t imagine asking Steve to do something that would make him miserable and I felt a love beyond words knowing that he would do anything for me.

When Steve died, I was asked over and over again to move back to Michigan. Even being widowed with three young children, I never had the urge to do so. Somehow, over the years, Georgia had become our home. Steve is buried here. I couldn’t imagine leaving him and going back to where we started as teenagers in love. It’s almost as if I would be moving backward, instead of forward like I needed to do. I have often thought of “starting over” somewhere new but never back to Michigan. My children have strong relationships with their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents so they haven’t missed out on living there. I guess God really did remove that desire from my heart all  of those years ago when He showed me and Steve that we belonged in Georgia.

My Bucket List

I turned 40 years old last year and I made some MAJOR changes in my life too. It was a liberating year where I felt as if I started becoming the woman that God has intended for me to be. I took my children to the beach for
Father’s Day, just the four of us and simply because I felt like it! I took a trip by myself to a place I had been wanting to visit; I met a friend there and had a great weekend. I repainted some of the rooms in my house and I bought new furniture. I started dating again. I started making my life my own.

I’ve been thinking about how to continue moving forward, healing, growing and becoming a woman of God. I’m enjoying my life, exploring new interests and meeting new friends. So…..I’m envisioning a kind of “bucket list” for the next chapter of my life!

In the movie, “The Bucket List,” two terminally ill men decide to travel the world doing a bunch of things that they have always wanted to do before they die. The movie is quite funny as the men do daredevil things like jumping out of airplanes and climbing mountains. Along the way, however, one of the men discovers that he really loves the life he shares with his wife and children. The other man repairs a broken relationship with his daughter. They both realize that the relationships in their lives are more important that what they have or haven’t done. What a lesson to learn before leaving this Earth!

I don’t think I’m terminally ill and I have no desire to jump out of an airplane! But, there are a few things that I’ve always wanted to do. Studying the Bible has been a desire for me but I’ve constatntly had an excuse of some sort. This year, I have committed to two Bible studies. The first one is a woman’s Bible study that I started today, “Embracing Your Strengths.” I have already met some new women and know that I will love doing this! The second is one on parenting called, “Parenting by Design.” I am leading this Bible study at my church starting in March. I am excited to grow in my faith and my relationship to God by reading and studying His Word.

I was a competitive dancer when I was younger. I have done various forms of exercise over the years but have not done anything consistently since Steve died. I have been busy raising my children and really didn’t put too much priority on making time for working out in my life. I recently started a bootcamp, however, and it’s had some really great side effects. Not only do I feel stronger and healthier, but I’ve met some new friends too! I signed up for my first race and I’m excited to do it with my bootcamp friends. I can check this off the bucket list in May!

Enjoying every minute that I have with my children is also at the top of my list. I cannot believe that my son is already a teenager! I do not have that many more years until he will be off to college (hopefully!) so I want to cherish all of the time that I have with him. Cameron and Caitlin have been asking to visit Washington D.C. for several years but I’ve been waiting until my little Connor was old enough before I took them there. We are going this summer but I am a little nervous about taking them by myself. I know I can do it, but it is kind of scary thinking of being in the city and going to so many places. Hanging out at the beach is very different than riding trains and going places where I can get lost. I am most definitely directionally challenged so we’ve gotten lost plenty of times! I am going to push through my fear, however, and take them anyway. I will check this off of my bucket list in July!

White House at Night

So I guess my bucket list consists of going outside of my comfort zone spiritually, physically and emotionally. It has to do with building stronger relationships and being healthy. I am excited to develop new interests along the way too. My journey has taught me that life is very short so……what’s on your bucket list?

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