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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A Christmas Miracle

Ready for Christmas

Ready for Christmas

Three days until Christmas and I am filled with gratitude. As I look around my home, I have a sense of peace that I have not felt for more than eight years. This is the first Christmas that I can remember, since Steve died, that I’m not filled with a longing for a complete family. Ever since he died, our family has felt like part of it was missing. I have not been able to enjoy the holidays without missing Steve, wishing he was here to share in our joy. Although I still wish he could share in the magic of this season with our children, our family finally feels complete. Perhaps we have closed the hole that was left by his death. Our family is the four of us. We don’t need anyone else to make us feel complete anymore. I can be at home with just my children and feel happy, content and secure in the choices I’ve made since Steve died. I am not exactly sure how I’ve gotten to this point. When did the healing occur? When did I decide that my children are all that I need to be whole? Somewhere along the past eight years, God has worked a miracle in me. He has made me whole again.

My faith has sustained me through the grief of losing my husband, through the birth of my baby and through the subsequent eight years. I have not always made good decisions. I remarried too soon, to the wrong person. It was a decision made out of grief and fear. I was afraid of raising my children alone. I became a parent within marriage and I wanted to raise them within marriage. For some reason that I may never know, however, God decided that I would raise my children as a single mother. It was only after accepting His decision that I was able to leave that marriage. I had to realize that I was a better mother when I was strong and happy, whether or not I was married.

My faith has led me to a place where I could fall in love again. This time, I am enjoying being in love without feeling the need to rush into marriage. I don’t feel guilty when I think of spending the rest of my life with this person. I am excited at the prospect of a life with him. Those who know me have said that I am happier than they’ve seen me since Steve died. God has blessed me and I know that no matter what happens, God will never leave me.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, I am going to enjoy every minute of it. I am spending Christmas Eve alone with my children. We will go to church and thank God for sending his Son to die for us. We will watch Christmas movies and make gingerbread cookies. We will spend Christmas Day with our extended family and it will be a blessed holiday. I love my children and I love being a mother. Thank you, Lord.

‘Tis the Season

MB900436341The holiday season…a time for family and friends to be together. A time to be happy for the people in our lives. A time to rejoice in the birth of our Savior.

For those who are grieving, however, the holiday season can be the hardest time of the year. It’s when we look around and see happy families but our heart is broken for our loss. It’s a reminder that our family is no longer whole. There is an ache in the heart of a grieving soul during the holidays and it seems impossible to fill it. No matter how many smiles we put on, no matter how many presents we receive, no matter how many hymns we sing, what we really want for Christmas is our loved one.

This is my ninth holiday season without Steve but I can still remember the grief of our holidays so clearly. I spent our first Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in a state of shock and denial. I was sure that his death was a bad dream and I would wake up any minute from my nightmare. The second holiday season, I bought a new tree and all new ornaments. I was determined to make Christmas “normal” for my children, but I still wasn’t ready to pull out the decorations that Steve and I had shared in our home. The next few years, I tried to pretend that everything was ok, that I was “over” my grief. I had remarried so I went through the motions of being happy, even though I constantly felt like a fish out of water. I would look around and wonder whose life I was living. I would constantly ask myself, “How did I get here?” Nothing in my life felt right, but I thought it was the way it was supposed to be since Steve was gone. I was wrong.

When I divorced, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My children and I could enjoy our lives again. I started this blog a year ago. When I began writing, I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in what I had to say. Over the past year, I’ve found healing in helping others. I have renewed my faith in God and His plan for my life. I can honestly say that this is the first holiday season that I am enjoying since Steve died over eight years ago. I have finally found “me” again. My children are doing well and our home feels complete again. It is not as if we don’t miss Steve. We do and we always will. It’s just that we’ve all found a way to be whole again, without the ache of his loss coloring our joy.

When I look at my children, I see their father reflected in them. The older they get, the more it makes me smile to see his personality coming through their actions. Perhaps I have been able to heal because I feel him with me every day? He isn’t really gone if they continue to live and it just took me all these years to realize it.

‘Tis the season for joy and I intend to enjoy every minute of it this year!

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.

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?

A Magical Season

My favorite part of the holiday season is the magic and wonder that I see in my children’s faces. I just love their excitement when our Elf on a Shelf shows up on Thanksgiving. They start talking to him and telling him what they want Santa to bring them. They’ve named our Elf, Bob. Funny name for an Elf but he’s all theirs and they love him.

Then there’s this thing called “Portable North Pole” that sends video messages from Santa to the children too. My kids love it and wait excitedly for theirs to arrive. My oldest son doesn’t believe in Santa anymore but he still enjoys his video. My daughter (10 years old) figured out that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real but, even though we had the “Santa talk,” she still believes in Santa. I’m pretty sure this will be my last year for her to believe so I’m going to enjoy every minute of it! My six year old believes in all the magic and wonder of this season.

Steve always enjoyed the holidays. He would hang lights on our house and scare me to death by climbing on the roof to do it! This is the one time of the year (okay, second time if you include their birthdays!) when I don’t worry about spoiling my children. I have tried very hard to raise them with the same values and morals as I would have had he been here with me, but it’s been hard not to indulge them when I know they are missing out on having a father. My two oldest, the ones that knew him, have spent so many days and nights crying for their Daddy that I just want to see them smile. Sometimes, that means giving in and getting them something they’ve asked me to buy them. It’s been a real struggle for me to keep that urge in check and remember that raising them to be thoughtful, caring and generous people means that I have to say no when I really want to say yes.

Steve and I were Christians and active in our church. This is a magical season in the church because we celebrate the birth of Jesus. I’ve continued to keep Jesus in our holiday and it makes me feel even closer to Steve because of it. This is a time of year when I can miss him but really feel that I know where he is. He is in Heaven because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It helps me to celebrate the birth of Christ and it keeps my children focused on the true meaning of Christmas too. I love it that my daughter uses her own money to buy toys for kids in need and my son is active in his church youth group. My little guy is just now beginning to understand that not everyone has the money to buy what they need or want. I will take him shopping with me this year when I buy gifts for our church Angel Tree so that he can see how we give back to others during the holidays.

This is such a bittersweet time of year for our family. We miss having Steve here with us but I can feel him smiling down on our home. It is filled with Christian faith, love, tradition and generosity; all the things he would have helped me instill in our children. I am proud of how I am raising them and I will enjoy every minute of them during this magical season!

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