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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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.

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