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.

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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.

My Christmas Wish

Ready for Christmas

I haven’t blogged all week because I’ve been busy getting ready for Christmas. Last minute shopping and wrapping because I tend to spoil my children a bit at this time of year. But, tonight, when I went to church to worship and celebrate the REAL reason we have Christmas, I found myself feeling really sad….

Sad that Steve has not been with us for one more year. This is our eighth Christmas without him and it’s still hard to believe he’s gone. As I look at my children, it seems as though he’s missed their whole lives and I guess, in reality, he has. Cameron was just a little boy, six years old, when we had our first Christmas without his Daddy. Now, he’s a teenager, with his own tastes in music, his own opinions and he’s even had his first kiss! At just three years old, Caitlin was still a baby when we lost her Daddy. She’s no longer a baby but a strong-willed, athletic, smart and kind hearted little girl. Since Connor was born after Steve died, he has grown up without his Daddy altogether.

At church tonight, I was overwhelmed with a longing to celebrate just one more Christmas with Steve. One more time to go to church. One more time to have him with me as our children open their Christmas presents. I cried and knew that God would understand why I was so sad.

I am often overcome with emotion when I am in church. It is there that I feel God’s presence and I truly know where Steve is (with God). After Steve died, I remember walking through my house feeling lost, like the other half of me was suddenly missing. I felt Steve’s absence with every inch of my being. When I went to church, however, a strange calm would come over me because I could look at the altar and know that he was in Heaven with Jesus. I didn’t have to wonder where he was when I was in church. My feelings changed from bewilderment to sadness. Even though he was in Heaven, I selfishly wanted him back here with me.

If I could have just one Christmas wish, it would be to have Steve back so that he could share in the joy of celebrating this holiday with our children. I know he would have fun wrapping their presents with me, cooking Christmas dinner and going to church as a family. I know this is a selfish wish, though. Steve is enjoying eternal life in Heaven but I just miss him so much during the holidays. Even after eight years, I can still hear him laughing. I know he’s smiling down on us from Heaven and this will have to be good enough for now.

I look forward to the day when we are reunited and I can spend Christmas with my soulmate again.

Paying It Forward

I’ve spent my weekend shopping and wrapping gifts for families that I don’t even know. Our church does “Angel Tree” and my children convinced me to get three angels from it this year. Yesterday, I bought clothes for a 15 year old boy, and toys for a 4 year old boy and a 15 month old girl. In addition to these, I drove some of our church youth out shopping for their own angel. The kids were super excited because our group had enough money to buy a really cool bike for the 10 year old boy on our angel. It was awesome to see the excitement of the youth when we found the bike and still had enough money to get a matching helmet. It’s truly what Christmas is all about: giving to others who are less fortunate than we are.

As I was shopping for my angels, I kept thinking about the strangers who took care of us during that first holiday season without Steve, when we were the family in need. I remember being overwhelmed by the love that I felt from people I didn’t even know. I felt God all around me in a time when I could easily have felt completely alone.

When Steve died, I began receiving condolence cards in the mail. Many of them were from people that I didn’t even know, from all over the country. I didn’t know how these people knew about us or got my address but it was comforting to know that so many people were praying for us. Many of the cards told of prayer lists and even masses that were being said for our family. The most surprising part was the number of cards that contained checks! It was completely unexpected and I was so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that I could only attribute it to God. I really had no other explanation.

There was a day, a few weeks after Steve died, when a firefighter came to pick up my van. He was not a friend of Steve’s and he did not work for the same department. He had arranged for new tires to be put on my van. Again, another stranger reaching out to us in our time of need.

As the Christmas holidays approached, I was contacted by Steve’s fire department to supply a wish list for my children. When I went to his fire station, they had gotten EVERYTHING on the kids’ wish lists! It was incredible the number of toys my children received that year! There was a woman at the fire station that day and I didn’t know her. The firefighters asked me to come into the office because she had something for me. This kind woman told me how she lived in a neighborhood near the fire station and had heard about Steve’s death. She said that she was thankful for him (she had never met him) because he served her community. I started crying as she told me how she went door to door collecting money for our family. That woman gave me a check for $2,000! I was sobbing! Never in my life had strangers wrapped their arms around me in prayer and support as they did when I lost Steve. I was a Christian before he died but in the midst of our tragedy, I felt God’s love all around me. It was truly amazing.

In addition to the toys, several other fire stations sent me gift cards that I used to buy a new washer and dryer. I was working at a school and the teachers gave me LOTS of gift cards that I used to buy shoes, clothes, school supplies, many things my children needed for months after Christmas. God had made sure that our family had everything we needed while I was going through the most difficult period of my life.

As I look back, I wish I had written thank you notes. I wish I could tell all of those people how much it meant to me when they reached out to us. At the time, I was so exhausted that all I could do was cry and say thank you. Now that time has passed and I am stronger, it’s my turn to give back to others in need. I especially love helping people that I don’t know because it feels like I’m “paying it forward.” My hope is that the families who receive our Christmas presents will feel God’s love in the same way that I did. When a friend helps you, it’s because they love you. When a stranger helps you, it’s because they love God. Perhaps those families will pay it forward when they are stronger too?

Goodbye, Friend

About three hours ago, one of my dear friends from church passed away. My friend had been in the hospital (the same one where Steve died) for over a week but I could not bring myself to go visit him. Although seven years have passed, some things are still too painful for me. The idea of visiting a friend in a coma in that very hospital filled me with anxiety. It seems crazy because the circumstances were COMPLETELY different. My friend was sick. Steve was in an accident. Nothing at all related. They didn’t even know each other!

Don’t get me wrong, I have visited others in the hospital during the past seven years. I have even been to THAT hospital. But, every time I do it, I am filled with anxiety. I have felt nauseous and sometimes even light headed. I don’t know if it’s the smell of a hospital or the look of someone I care about in a hospital bed, but I have never been the same since that October day when I lost Steve.

So, as I sit here on the Eve of Thanksgiving, I am taken back to that first holiday season without him. Thanksgiving was just a day to “get through” that year. Me and the kids had dinner with some friends like we usually did for Thanksgiving. I don’t remember much about that day. I guess I held myself together although I’m not sure. I just know that it was comforting to be with friends who let me be sad if I felt like it. I didn’t have to put on a “happy face” because I was still reeling from losing Steve a month earlier.

When Christmas rolled around, I decided to take the kids to Michigan (we live in Georgia) to spend the holiday with our family. As I was packing, I became overwhelmed with the feeling that I was leaving Steve. My mind told me it was irrational; he was dead so how could I be leaving him? But my heart just knew that he was in Georgia and we were going to Michigan. Steve and I had not spent a Christmas apart in over 10 years and we would most definitely be apart that year. It was one of the most difficult things I did in those early months. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, I know. I spent Christmas with family so how could it have been so difficult? The only answer I have is that nothing about my world made sense to me so leaving the home I shared with Steve didn’t seem right to me either.

I am happy to say that our holidays are now filled with family, friends and laughter. I will think of Steve fondly during the holidays and even get sad that he isn’t sharing them with us. But, I know Steve would be proud of me for making good holiday memories for our children rather than spending these precious days in mourning.

As I say goodbye to my friend, I will pray for his wife because she needs God’s extra loving care during this first holiday season without him. I know all too well how confusing it is when half of you is suddenly gone.

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