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.

 

 

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God in Action

Northstar ChurchSometimes I get emotional in church. It usually happens when I’m singing or listening to the pastor preach about God being faithful, staying with us through difficult times and learning to trust in Him. When I sing about trusting God, or when I think about his faithfulness, I am overcome with emotion. He has been so good to me throughout my lifetime but I didn’t always see Him.

I had a good life. I had a loving husband, healthy children, a home and we were a happy family. Not that we didn’t have hard times, because we did. We just weren’t particularly religious early into our marriage. Steve was raised Catholic and I didn’t grow up in church so our routine was to go on Christmas and Easter. When we did go, we went to the Catholic church.

As our oldest son got a little older, God started to really work in our lives. I felt the pull to find a church home. I wanted Cameron to be raised knowing that God lutheranchurchmissourisynodwould take care of him if anything bad should ever happen in his life. Steve was in agreement so we started visiting local churches. Some were too contemporary for Steve, some were too traditional for me. Finally, we found a small Lutheran church that felt like home to us.

We attended membership classes and I was baptized with my children. Steve started attending Bible study. We volunteered at the church and became highly involved there. Looking back, I am in awe of God’s hand in preparing us for Steve’s passing. We joined this church exactly one year before Steve died!

Not too long ago, I had an old friend ask me how I could still have such a strong faith after all I’ve been through in losing Steve. Here is my answer to that: when you SEE God, it’s very hard to question that He exists!

When Steve was in his accident, my pastor came directly to the hospital. After the doctors told me that he died, I was in complete denial. You have the wrong person! We’re not done with our family so he can’t be gone! He doesn’t even ride that way to work so you’ve made a mistake! Take me to him NOW! I need to see him!

I was afraid to go in to see him by myself, though. What if they were right? I could hardly breathe. I asked my pastor to go with me. He was the only one, I didn’t want any of my friends or family with me. Just my pastor.

When I walked into that room, I saw Steve’s hands and I knew it was him. I had held those hands for 19 years. I didn’t even need to see his face. I knew. As I crumbled, kissed him, sobbed, my pastor prayed over us. I don’t remember if I prayed too. I remember the smell of blood in his hair, but I don’t remember if I had the words to pray. I am confident that Jesus was with me as I mourned the loss of my husband.

StevesCross

Throughout the following days, weeks, months, God continued to show himself to me. Strangers would send cards and money to me and my children. My children had more Christmas gifts that year than they’ve ever had in their whole life! Strangers did housework, cooked meals, cut my grass, put new tires on my van. The outpouring of love that I received could only be considered a gift from God.

My pregnancy progressed with some complications but neighbors, friends and family stepped in to help me whenever I needed it. They took care of my children, drove me to the hospital, stayed with me when I needed company. Every need I had was met. I believe that was God in action!

In the past ten years, I have seen God working in my life. He has always been faithful, when I have listened to Him. Even when I strayed from His plan, He always comforts me and helps me make the right decisions. My children are thriving, happy and healthy. I am in a relationship with a man who loves me as much as I love him. We have a beautiful home. I don’t think any of this would be possible had my faith in God’s plan for my life not sustained me through those dark hours.

Yes, this journey has been hard. God never said following Him would be easy. I am so blessed. Thank you, Lord.

Mary and kids beach

Choosing Love Over Loss

It’s so hard for outsiders to understand my world sometimes. Those who have never had their soul ripped out of their bodies cannot possibly comprehend the journey of widowhood. I would not wish for them to have my experience, but it is so hurtful when there is a lack of empathy that comes with the misunderstanding.

I recently had someone question why I still drive a different route to avoid going near Steve’s accident site. At the intersection where he was killed, there is a cross with his name on it. It’s quite beautiful and was made by one of the firefighters that he worked with at his department. I love that he is remembered by others when they drive by there. Perhaps they haven’t thought of him in a while.

For me, he’s in my thoughts EVERY SINGLE DAY. When I look at my son, who is a reflection of him at 16, the exact age when I started dating Steve. When I watch my children play sports, when I discipline them, when my 9 year old does something new, when I look at them and marvel at the extraordinary people they are growing into, EVERY SINGLE DAY he comes to mind in one way or another.

So what does that intersection mean to me?

I called Steve that morning. October 22nd, 2004. When he didn’t answer his phone, that’s how I knew something was wrong. What I didn’t know then, but I know now, was that he couldn’t answer the phone because he was laying in the road in that intersection! He had been in a motorcycle accident that would take his life.

When I drive by there, it doesn’t bring back memories of Steve. It’s the place where my husband was killed, where my children lost their father, where my life changed in an instant. I don’t need that intersection to remember him as others do.

So, yes, almost ten years later, I choose to drive a different route when going near there! I choose happiness over grief. I will continue to make choices that are healthy for me and I will continue to remember Steve for all that he was as a man, not for how he died. I forgive those who don’t understand my journey because I am choosing love over loss.

Forever Changed

MWC Chapter Leaders in Sedona2I’ve spent the past four days at a widow leader retreat in one of the most spiritual places on Earth: Sedona, Arizona. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to go to the retreat. I only knew one other person who would be there. It was expensive to fly across the country. I would have to hire a babysitter to stay with my children. There were all of these reasons to say No.

I’m forever changed because I said YES.

In just four days, I became friends with the most incredible, strong, caring and funny women I could ever have hoped to meet! We shared tears when talking of our widow journey. We shared laughter. We shared hopes, dreams, suggestions, advice. We became mentors to each other. I have never experienced anything like the past four days in my entire life and I would have missed it all if I had stayed home in the comfort of my life.

Sedona, Arizona. A place of spirituality. A place of incredible beauty. A place with rich traditions and history. I could feel God all around me. I found myself more emotional, more raw, more open to God’s wisdom than I had ever felt before in any place besides church. The difference is that with church, I leave and go home. In Sedona, I was immersed in God’s presence. His creations were everywhere! The mountains, the flowing streams, the foliage in the desert. I was overwhelmed.Sedona

As I drove into Sedona, alone in my car, I couldn’t help thinking that I wouldn’t be in this stunning place if Steve had not died. I was here for a widow leader retreat. I was driving to meet a group of widows. It was at that moment that I felt deeply in my soul, God knew what He was doing all along. He CHOSE me to carry out a mission: to help other widows. I was not in this place by accident. What a feeling!

I had no idea of the women I would meet. Their incredible strength. Caring for sick husbands and watching them die. Surviving the suicide of a husband. Husbands killed in accidents. It didn’t matter how our husbands died, because God had given each of us the strength to move forward and help others along the way.

During the retreat, we hiked, talked, laughed, cried, prayed, shopped and were surrounded by women who understood our journey. Our walk forward. We all agreed that we can look back with love but the most important steps are still ahead of us. We learned that if we are brave enough to keep saying YES to life, we will have lives richer than we ever could have imagined when we were first widowed.

I never would have thought that being a widow could be a blessing. Until now.

MWC Chapter Leaders in Sedona

 

Permission To Grieve Too

MP900433029Steve’s birthday was September 25th. I did pretty good on that day this year. A couple of friends sent me Facebook posts and for the most part, I just stayed busy with my normal routine. My older children mentioned it and I told my youngest son that it was his Daddy’s birthday. Perhaps we should have done more of a celebration. I don’t beat myself up anymore over these things because I am doing the best I can in raising these children on my own. All three of them are participating in fall activities: marching band, cheerleading and soccer. Between school, practices and games, we are very busy. Since Steve’s birthday fell on a weekday, it was just more convenient for us to acknowledge it and move on with our day. I know he would understand.

That evening, however, my sister sent me a very sentimental Facebook post. It was then that I let my guard down and shed a few tears. She missed him. I missed him. It was okay to acknowledge that because the day was over, the kids were in bed and I could slow down for a minute and really think about it being Steve’s birthday.

In the early years after Steve’s death, we celebrated his birthday. I grieved his birthday. I would take off from work on September 25th knowing that it would be a “grief day” for me. As the years have gone on, however, I don’t feel like that is the healthy thing for me to do anymore. One thing I noticed this year, though, was that I started to feel a little edgy, out of sorts, snappy towards my children a few days before his birthday. It was as if my body was feeling the grief even if I wasn’t acknowledging it.

Steve died on October 22nd. Every year, the cooler weather, pumpkins, fall flowers, and Halloween always remind me of losing Steve. This year, though, I thought I was coasting through this season feeling strong and healthy. I’ve been working on starting a new chapter of Modern Widows Club where I am blessed to mentor other widows. I’ve been working a lot. I’ve been busy with my children and their activities. I didn’t even realize anything was wrong until my boyfriend asked me why I’ve been so “out of sorts” for the past few weeks. It got me thinking and I realized that I really have been feeling overwhelmed by things that I can normally handle effortlessly. My house is cluttered, my car is a mess, my laundry is piled to the ceiling (or so it seems!) and it reminds me of when I was actively grieving. Is it possible that I’m not coasting through this fall as seamlessly as I previously thought? Perhaps my body is telling me to slow down and be gentle with myself during this season of grief?

So, I’m going to end this blog post by challenging myself to start doing the things that I would tell other widows to do: eat healthier (I’ve been working on this one for a while!), do at least one thing per day to relax, start and finish one project at a time (I have a tendency to start a bunch of projects at once, which leads to clutter and being overwhelmed), and to be gentle with myself when the anniversary of Steve’s death does arrive next week. I know I am strong enough to make healthy choices, but I guess I have to give myself permission to grieve sometimes now too.

Choosing Not To Grieve

Some days it’s just better to keep busy…to have so many things to do that I don’t have time to think, time to grieve. Today is one of those days. October 22nd. The anniversary of Steve’s death.

I have spent many of these anniversaries curled up in my bed, unable to do anything but relive that awful day.  October 22nd, 2004. A day of worry, hope, shock, denial, grief. A day that is forever a part of my soul.

As it is with my grief, I have been feeling this anniversary coming for about a week or so. I’ve been more emotional. I’ve cried for no apparent reason. Today, I feel sad for my children, sad for the old me: Steve’s wife. I’m at a crossroads in my life this year and I feel it….I am truly happy for the first time since Steve died so it’s hard for me to grieve him the way that I’ve always done, as my best friend and soul mate.

I am a different person since Steve died. I am a confident and secure single Mom. I am strong in my Christian faith. I have a wide circle of friends and a wonderful boyfriend. I wonder if Steve would even recognize me today?

I have always missed Steve, my high school sweetheart, the man who could make me laugh in any situation, my best friend. I do still miss him, but it’s different now. I miss the father of my children. I wonder what he would say and what he would do when I am parenting them. I love to remember him and tell our children stories about him. I think it’s my job to keep him alive for them. How will they know that he didn’t like mushrooms if I don’t tell them?

I don’t want  to grieve anymore. I want to be happy. I’ve learned that life is short so I’m grabbing every moment of happiness that I can while I’m here. I am keeping busy today: working, running errands, taking my children to appointments. I don’t want to remember what I was doing at this very moment, eight years ago today. If I start to remember, I will fall apart. I remember every minute of that day and I don’t want to relive it. Not today. Not again.

I started my day with a prayer, I’ve prayed several times already today and I know God will help me make it through this anniversary. I have a lot to do. I will keep busy. I don’t know if this is avoiding the grief or just choosing NOT to grieve, but it’s how I’ll spend this anniversary. I want to embrace the happiness in my life and I don’t want to go back to that day. Not today.

Life Goes On

There’s one thing that I’ve learned on this journey of widowhood: life doesn’t stop for grief. As much as I wished I could curl up and just grieve, the world still existed. My children needed to be fed. I had to go to work. In fact, my experience has been that the world expects grief to last a year. During that first year, people are more patient with grieving souls. They understand your grief, they accept it and you are encouraged to grieve.

After the first year, however, you are expected to “be over” it. It’s no longer acceptable to break down in tears for no apparent reason, to be exhausted because your grief is the worst at night, to have a hard time concentrating. What I found, though, was that the second year without Steve was actually harder than the first year. During my first year, I was pregnant and just trying to make it from day to day. My life centered around my children and the new baby I was carrying. Our first holidays without Steve are a blur. I went through the motions, for my children’s sake, with the goal of just making it through those days. The first Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, the kids’ birthdays, the birth of our baby, our wedding anniversary, Father’s Day. If I could just make it through the first year, I thought I would be okay.

I was wrong. The second year without Steve turned out to be the hardest of all. I had to find a new “normal” for me and the kids. I had a new baby to care for, all by myself. There was no denying that Steve was gone and he would not be coming back. I had to accept this life that God had given me. I started dating again. The world expected me to be healed but I was far from over the grief of losing him. It has taken several years for me to feel as if I am healed. I made terrible mistakes during my grief. I married the wrong man because I thought that being married would make me a better mother. I dated to avoid loneliness. I drank too much to self-medicate the pain. My journey of grief did not end after one year.

Steve’s birthday was last week. It has been almost eight years since he died. When I reminded my son about his dad’s birthday, he said to me, “That’s gonna be a hard day for you, Mom.” My children have grown accustomed to my grief and they know that certain days of the year are harder for me than others. I am happy to say, though, that my grief has subsided into thankfulness for the memories, love and children that Steve blessed me with during his lifetime. I cried for a few minutes on his birthday but then I showered and got ready for work. Life goes on.

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