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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A Widow Curve Ball

sunlight-dietI thought I had reached a point where I had “mastered” the widow thing. I mean, it’s been 11 and 1/2 years, I’m happily in love with another man, I’m raising my kids,  I’m mentoring other widows, life is great, right?

Then life throws me a curve ball. A widow curve ball. It’s called FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS. Just when I think I’m doing great, the expectations of others come crashing in again, just like they did in those early days of widowhood.

After your husband dies, suddenly everyone thinks they know what’s best for you, as if you are incapable of making adult decisions. Family and friends have advice on what you should do, when you should date, how you should raise your kids, where you should live, the list could go on and on. After a while, you get a backbone and start to stand up for yourself.

I’ve been happily living my life for years but somehow, I’ve let down the expectations of some extended family members. It all started with an email, “I know you have a new family now but….”

What does this mean? Am I no longer a widow because I’ve moved on with my life?

2231403_2838932My son was six years old when his dad died and he will graduate high school this Spring. I am proud to say that I raised him to be a fine young man! Do I wish his dad were here to see him? Absolutely! But the truth is, I raised him as a single mom, an only parent, for the majority of his life and I have every right to enjoy his graduation without sadness, guilt or grief. I am proud of him and I am proud of me. His dad would be proud of us both.

I have been praying for those who are upset with the family that I’ve created in this widow life. I’ve realized that changing relationships is all part of the healing process. Even after 11 years, we are changing and growing.

I never chose this life. God handed it to me. I did choose, however, to live my life to the fullest. I’m not going to let others’ expectations decide how I will live my life. If I’ve learned anything over the past 11 years, it’s if I’m true to God, true to myself and true to my children, the rest will fall into place.

 

 

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.

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.

‘Til Death Do Us Part

June 18th, 1994. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. The hopes, the dreams, the love of the day. It was my wedding day. I would finally marry my high school sweetheart. After nine years of dating, we were going to vow our lives to one another in front of our families and friends. I was 22 years old and Steve was 24 years old. We were so young, and we had our whole lives ahead of us. I could never have imagined that I would only have ten years to be Steve’s wife…

I thought it would be fun for all of us to get ready together so my mom and my bridesmaids spent the night with me in a hotel on the night before the wedding. One bed couldn’t be slept in, however. I hung my wedding dress on the curtain rod and spread it out over the bed. We all had a good laugh about the fact that my dress was more important than some of the girls getting a good night’s sleep! I couldn’t possibly take the chance that my dress might get wrinkled, right?

I woke up that morning before anyone else did. I took a bath and tried to calm my nerves. I was so excited! It was my wedding day! Once the others got up and had breakfast, we headed to the hair salon. It was my perfect day so far! My mom, my sisters and my closest friends, all with me and preparing for my wedding. I felt like a princess!

As we drove back to the hotel, I drove with the seat pushed way back so it wouldn’t crush my veil, which had already been put on by my hairdresser. I have a vivid memory of singing to Trisha Yearwood’s song, “She’s in Love with the Boy” as we were driving down the road. My mom was telling me to slow down and I told her that no cop would give me a ticket in my veil. It was my wedding day! I was elated!

The first time I saw my bridesmaids in the fuschia dresses I had picked out, it brought tears to my eyes. My sisters and my best friends all looked beautiful. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that the day had finally arrived. There had been a year’s worth of planning to make it all happen but I was finally going to become Steve’s wife. Even the word “wife” had a magical ring to it that day.

Steve’s dad picked us up from the hotel in the white Cadillac he had rented for us that day. We couldn’t afford to get a limousine so Steve’s dad was playing chauffeur that day. It was so gracious of him and I was touched by his thoughtfulness.

We arrived at the church to wait in the bride’s dressing room. We were getting married in the Catholic church where Steve had been baptized as a baby. The church meant a lot to his family but it was a small church, and didn’t have air conditioning. We thought it would be okay since we were getting married in June. June in Michigan is usually pretty comfortable and not too hot. That day, however, was one of the hottest days of the summer!

I have memories of sweating in that room….of my friends saying that Steve was pacing back and forth in the hallway….of my sister bustling my dress after the ceremony. Bits and pieces of a day that changed my life. The day I became Steve’s wife.

Our wedding vows said, “I will love you all the days of my life.” They didn’t say, “‘Til death do us part.” It didn’t matter too much to me back then, it seemed more like a matter of semantics. I think God knew it was more than that, though. The truth is that I would only be Steve’s wife for 10 years yet I would continue to love him for all the days of my life.

Death hasn’t taken my love away, but it has changed it. My longing for Steve has gone from missing my husband to missing the father of my children. My focus in life has shifted from building a family with Steve to raising the children we created. 18 years ago today, I took a vow before God, my family and my friends. I am still living that vow and will continue to do so…all the days of my life.

Letting Go of the Grief

My life with Steve is starting to feel like a dream. It’s been so long now that he’s been gone, I’ve forgotten the sound of his voice, the feel of his touch. In some ways, I think that’s a good thing. It’s only when I’m not physically longing for him that I’m able to truly open my heart and love someone new. I would like to think that losing the love of my life when I was just 32 years old means that God intends for me to have TWO loves of my life. One for creating children (Steve) and one with which I was meant to grow old. Some are blessed to have just one love of their life: they create children and grow old with the same person. That was not God’s plan for my life.

As I am losing the real “feel” of Steve, so are my children. In some ways, this is very sad. I lost my dad when I was just nine years old so I know how heartbreaking it is for a child to realize that they can’t remember specific things about their parent. I would grieve sometimes just for the fact that I didn’t remember him. I was lonely because I didn’t have A dad, not because I missed MY dad. How can you miss someone that you don’t remember?

In other ways, though, losing the memories means letting go of the grief. I am relieved that my children don’t cry as often as they used to for Steve. They spend most of their days enjoying their lives and being happy. Life without a dad is all that they know and we have settled into our own routine as a family.

My oldest son is starting high school in the fall yet he was in first grade when his dad died. I was startled to realize that I have raised him throughout his entire educational career, all on my own. It really puts into perspective how long Steve has been gone. I am proud of the young man that Cameron is growing into and I know that Steve would be too. I see so much of his father in him, it’s as if Steve is not really gone at all. Cameron looks like Steve and he has the same mannerisms and sense of humor. I am constantly being reminded of Steve as a teenager and it makes me smile to know that so much of him is still here with us.

My daughter is starting middle school in the fall but she was only in preschool when her dad died. She is a strong-willed, independent, athletic little girl who has the best of both of us. If Steve were here, he would say that she gets her ambition from me while she is fearless like him. As a straight-A student and competitive gymnast, both characteristics are serving her well!

At seven years old, my little man is finally realizing what it means that he doesn’t have a daddy. I have caught him crying and holding Steve’s picture. He never met Steve so it’s not really the person that he’s missing. Connor is grieving for a loss that happened before he was born. He’s sad because he sees his friends with their dads and he knows that he doesn’t have the same thing. It’s been really hard for me to see my baby hurting. All these years, Connor was the only one of us who didn’t grieve Steve’s death. It was like he was protected from our pain and, as a mother, I was relieved for him. Now, though, I can’t shield him from the fact that he only has one parent. Unfortunately, it’s our reality and, even at seven years old, he’s learning that there are some things that just can’t be changed.

This time of year, the ending of the school year, has left me feeling full of pride for these children that Steve and I created. They are growing into amazing people and I know that it is only with the help of God that I’ve been able to raise them. I also know that as we all move forward and let go of our grief, we will be able to live the lives that God intended for us. In my heart, I know that’s what Steve would want for the four people he loved most in this world!

His Life in Pictures

As we began the painful process of planning Steve’s funeral, I was told that I could display some pictures of Steve in the funeral home (this was before photos could be made into videos that are now shown at funerals). I had no idea what to do with the pictures and, as anyone who knows me can attest, I am not creative at all!

I don’t know which day it was, a day or two after he died perhaps, when I started going through years of pictures. I dug some out of my closet. Some came out of our garage. I took pictures out of frames and out of photo albums. I found pictures with each of our family members so that no one would be left out. I honestly don’t know how I did it. Selecting the pictures to be shown at the love of my life’s funeral. I don’t remember if I cried or laughed as I looked through them. The one thing that sticks with me, though, is the memory of being surrounded by family and friends. My house was full of people who loved me!

While I was sorting through pictures, we were also finding songs to play at the funeral. I have a vivid memory of singing to the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” by Mercy Me while I’m sitting on the floor surrounded by pictures of the man I loved. A man who was now gone.

My wonderfully creative friends saved me that night! They took the pictures that I selected and made beautiful posters with them. The posters were displayed at the funeral for everyone to see how special Steve was to us.

There were lots of pictures of me with Steve over the years. It was amazing to see how young we were in some of them! Photos of vacations to the beach, Disney World, Jamaica and many trips to visit our families in Michigan. There were pictures of our pets, our friends, our nieces and nephews. Pictures of us at weddings and graduations. All of the major milestones in our lives were documented in the photos on those poster boards.

Steve was a great father so of course I selected many pictures of him with our children. Some of my favorites were the unposed ones; like the one where he’s playing in the sand with our son or the one where he’s holding our baby girl and kissing her on the head. There was one extra-special picture on that poster, however. It was my ultrasound picture, dated 10/14/04, just 8 days before Steve died. He had gone with me to the doctor appointment so he saw our baby too. It was the only picture I had of our “peanut” so far, and it was as much a part of Steve as it was of me, so I put the picture on display for everyone to see. Steve had created THREE children, not just the two little ones running around with me.

After the funeral was over, I asked my sister-in-law to compile all of the pictures into an album for me. It was so hard to sum up Steve’s life in pictures but I had somehow managed to do it. I wanted to keep them all together so that our children could look at them whenever they wanted to see him again. She created a gorgeous album for me and I still treasure it!

When I look at the photo album now, it’s as if that life was all a dream. I hardly recognize myself in those pictures. I know that Steve’s death changed me, but it’s not until I look at old pictures do I realize just how MUCH I’ve changed. My faith is stronger now. I’m more independent. I’ve been raising three children on my own and they’re great kids. It makes me wonder if Steve would even recognize me if he were to see me today?

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