Healing A Broken Heart

When my high school sweetheart, my husband of ten years, the father of my children was suddenly killed, my heart was torn in two. My very being felt ripped apart as if my soul had been shattered into pieces. I could never imagine a time when I wouldn’t hurt as I did in those early days, weeks and months.

As time went on, however, I learned how to live a new life. I wouldn’t say my heart healed because I still ached for his kiss, his touch and most of all, his companionship. He was my best friend and my life felt empty without him.

I remarried three years later because I thought my heart had healed. I was very wrong. I thought that I had already lost the love of my life so I couldn’t possibly expect to love like that again. It was the way I justified “settling” for being less than happy. It was only when I realized that I could live a truly content SINGLE life that God gave me the strength to end a marriage that should never have happened.

From the moment that Steve was killed and throughout that short marriage, I leaned on my faith. My pastor was with me from the day Steve died until I could stand on my own two feet again. My church family surrounded me with care and support that could only have come from our Heavenly Father. I could not have survived losing Steve without God’s help.

Even with all of my faith, however, I tried to heal my own heart. I dated before I was really ready to date. I remarried before I was ready to remarry. It was as if I thought I could distract myself from the hole inside my soul. As God continued to heal me, however, I became aware of my mistakes and I had to do my best to correct them.

My biggest error in judgement was getting married to a man who could not make me happy so my first order of business was to end that marriage. Even when I knew divorce was the RIGHT thing to do, it was still really hard for me to do. I was in a loving and supportive marriage for ten years. How would it look to others if I divorced after just two years of marriage this time? I had to stop worrying about others’ perception of me and realize that God was the only One who really mattered anyway. If I was doing God’s will, then I would be just fine.

Since my divorce, I’ve spent a lot of time taking care of me. Going on trips that I’ve wanted to take. Spending time with my children. Turning my house into a home. I started working out with a trainer. I’m more involved in my church. I’m even falling in love again. I’m more at peace with my life than I have been since Steve died over 7 years ago. I believe that God has continued to heal my broken heart in His time, not my time. I’ve learned that I can’t rush the healing but if I am patient and if I continue to have faith, it will come.

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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!

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.

Thinking About Heaven

I read a book where a man was medically dead for thirty minutes. He wrote about his experience in going to Heaven during those thirty minutes. I didn’t really enjoy the book (I thought the writer was very negative and felt way too sorry for himself!) but there was one part that really stayed with me: he said that when he arrived at the gates to Heaven, everyone he had ever loved and lost was there to greet him. This got me thinking of course about Steve but also others whom I’ve loved that have died: my dad, both of my grandmothers, Steve’s grandparents, and several friends throughout my life.

Recently, a woman that I was blessed to know passed away from cancer. I was encouraging her husband so I said that perhaps she had met Steve in Heaven. This brought me back to that book I read and made me think about it again. I wonder if everyone I’ve loved and lost will be waiting for me at the gates of Heaven? That would certainly be Heavenly but even more, I wonder if they are with each other now? I would like to think that Steve and my dad are watching over me together. My dad died before I ever met Steve but there’s something comforting in thinking that these two important men in my life are with each other now. It makes me smile to think that Steve welcomed my friend, Faith, who died of cancer in 2009, even though he never met her and, even better, that they are waiting for me too.

My sister miscarried twins last year. One of the things, besides prayer, that helped me get through that loss was picturing Steve holding those babies. He was an incredible uncle and loved each of his nieces and nephews very much. Steve was an uncle long before he was a father. He had a natural way with children. Once he became a father, it was even more evident in the way he held our babies close to him. I have pictures of his nieces, nephews, son and daughter sleeping on his chest. I know this image comforted my sister as well…the thought that Steve would take care of her babies until she gets to Heaven to do it.

I know what the Bible says about Heaven but I’m not sure what to think about my loved ones who are there. I believe they get new bodies when they leave their Earthly ones behind, but are they really the people we know here? Will Steve remember me when I get there? Will my dad recognize me? I can only hope that they will know me and surround me with their unconditional love when I finally arrive at the gates of Heaven.

Heaven is a place so wonderful that it’s beyond human understanding. It helps me when I am grieving the loss of a family member, friend, baby or even an acquaintance to imagine it filled with the people I love. It makes me even more happy to think of them all together, waiting for me. Perhaps this is an unrealistic view of Heaven but it’s my dream so I will hold onto it until the day that I truly find out what it’s like.

Holding Onto Faith

There is nothing worse than when my children are hurting and I can’t take away their pain. I have held them so many times while they have cried, gut wrenching sobs, because their Daddy is gone. I have listened to them ask me why the God that we worship would take their Daddy from them. I don’t have an answer for them. All I can do is reassure them that God really does love us and I believe He took Steve quickly rather than let him suffer from his injuries.

My daughter has a friend who’s mother will probably pass away in the very near future. She has fought a brave battle with cancer but it doesn’t look like she will survive much longer. Caitlin, at 10 years old, knows too well how lost her friend is going to feel when her mother actually dies. Caitlin has cried for her friend, missing her own dad as the situation brings up Caitlin’s grief all over again. I just hold her while she cries, hiding my own tears. I have always tried hard to be strong while my children are grieving. I am afraid that if they see that their pain triggers my own, they will hide it from me. They have seen me grieve many days and nights all on my own. My babies need to know they can count on me to be strong when they are hurting.

So, I hold Caitlin and I reassure her that her Daddy is seeing her grow up into a talented, smart, generous and beautiful young lady. It’s all I can do as I hold back my own tears. My heart is breaking for Caitlin’s friend, for her brother and for her father. Our family knows all too well the loss they will feel when her mother finally goes Home.

We will continue to hold onto our faith and we will pray that Caitlin’s friend’s family has a strong faith too. It is what has helped us survive losing Steve.

What is Strong?

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night. Her mother died about six months ago and she was saying how people have told her that she’s so strong but she gets tired of it. I can totally relate to that!

My own father died when I was nine years old. That was my first experience with death and grief. My grandmother died when I was sixteen years old. Another big loss. By the time Steve was killed, I had experienced several losses and, unfortunately, knew about grieving. I understood, way more than anyone else, the pain that my children were feeling because I had felt it too as a child. I am not sure if those early losses were God’s way of preparing me for Steve’s death or just an unfortunate coincidence in my life. In either case, I believe they helped me to move forward after Steve died. Since I already knew from personal experience that there was life after death, I could just put one foot in front of the other with the faith that I might feel better someday.

I am blessed with friends who have known me since before my father died, over 30 years ago. They have known me through all of the losses in my life. When Steve died, one of them told me that I would survive his death too because I was one of the strongest women he had ever known.

Strong. What exactly does that mean when your life is suddenly changed? What does it mean when you are abrupbtly widowed, motherless, fatherless? I certainly never felt strong and I do not feel it now. In the midst of grief, I would venture to say that no one thinks they’re strong when it feels like your heart is being ripped out of your body.

Even when you know that a death is coming, as with an illness, no one can prepare you for the grief that will follow when your loved one actually dies. My father died suddenly. My grandmother had cancer. By the time she died, we were so relieved that she wasn’t suffering anymore. But the grief felt the same. It was still a shock to lose her. It’s as if your mind cannot completely comprehend that your loved one is gone so your body hurts in a very real way. I felt physically ill. I couldn’t concentrate. I would become irritable for no reason. I cried often. It didn’t matter that I knew her death was coming, it still hurt when I could no longer hear my grandmother’s voice telling me that she loved me.

Losing my spouse was the biggest shock to my system and has caused some residual effects because of it. I had a therapist who likened my body’s reaction to Steve’s death as similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Certain smells (like those in a hospital) can trigger an anxiety that I never knew before he died. A day in the calendar (like his birthday) can render me completely useless as I stay curled up in bed crying and exhausted. On days like these, I don’t try to be strong. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other with the faith that the pain won’t last forever.

So what does strong mean to me? It means that I continue to take care of my children, no matter how bad I feel. I pray and have faith that the pain will get better. I reach out to others who support me while I’m grieving; people who don’t question WHY I’m still grieving but who understand that crying is not weakness. When someone calls me strong, all I can think is, “What choice did I have?” I guess I could have curled up and died after Steve did. I certainly wanted to do that! But, I had two young children who still needed to be fed, needed clean clothes, and needed their Mommy. I have always thought about what Steve would EXPECT of me. He would expect me to care for our children, to give them the best life possible without him. It’s the same that I would have expected had I been the one to die first. I have no doubt that Steve would have continued to be a fantastic father to our children despite his pain. So, in my eyes, I had no choice but to honor his memory with these children we created. If that’s being strong, then I guess I am but I certainly do not feel it. I am just living this life that God has given me.

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