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.

A Familiar Friend

tearsThe physical ache. The overwhelming sadness. Tears welling up without warning. Irritability. Wishing I could just crawl into bed and shut out the world.

Grief.

It’s like a familiar friend that hadn’t visited in a long time but it came back to see me yesterday. I found out that a longtime friend of mine died. Suddenly. Without warning. She herself was grieving and I had been encouraging her “to hang in there.” I told her that the pain of grief would lessen over time. What I didn’t realize, though, was that she might not have been strong enough to bear the burden of it’s heavy weight.

Sometimes, grief is too much to bear. Not everyone is strong enough to withstand it’s torture until time begins the healing and the pains of grief start to fade. I had forgotten just how much fresh grief really hurts. How it invades every inch of your body, making you feel as if you might have the flu except that you are longing for someone who will never be able to speak to you again. The flu will go away in a few days, perhaps a week. Grief, however, hovers over you for weeks, months, sometimes years, until you start to feel a little bit more human again.

While you are grieving, you get used to living with the aches and pains of grief. It becomes a familiar friend. There’s a weight on your chest so it’s harder to breathe. You’re distracted. Irritable. Grouchy. Tired. Nothing feels the same but life goes on.

So, you decide to live again. You get tired of feeling bad and you slowly try to figure out a new normal in this life you’ve been given. Maybe you make new friends, move, change jobs, do whatever it takes to feel alive again. One day, you wake up and realize that your old friend, the grief, is gone. It’s a visitor that comes to see you every now and again, but even then, the freshness of it is gone. You know that you can withstand it now. Grief is no longer the enemy. You have conquered it and you are on the other side of it.

This was my journey with grief. I am so sad that my friend didn’t make it to the other side of her grief. Losing her has made me realize that all those times that people said I was strong and I didn’t believe them, that maybe they were right. Maybe I am strong. At least I am strong enough to live through the grief that could have killed me. I certainly wanted to curl up and die. My body hurt so much that it felt like I would surely die from the pain. But, here I am, more than nine years later. Grief gets to visit me but I know now that it won’t kill me. I am stronger than the grief.

 

 

 

A New Year’s Eve Letter To Widows

new-years-eveIt’s New Year’s Eve and I’m thinking of each one of you specifically. I have a different New Year’s wish for each one of you because you are all in a different place in your widow journey.
Some of you are new widows, barely able to make it through each day. I’ve been emailing with several of you and I know the holidays have been especially hard on some of you. For others, these holidays will be a blur that you will hardly remember years from now. My wish for you is that during the next 12 months, your pain will lessen and you will begin to find a new normal in your life.
broken heart
For those of you two or three years into your widow journey, my wish is that you will continue discovering yourself this year. Overcoming our loss has allowed us to be very brave and to reach for goals that we might not have dared to even dream before our lives were shattered. Now, though, we can think, “Why Not?” and actually go out and DO IT! Run that marathon, go on that trip, date that man (yes, I said it!), do what YOU want to do because we KNOW how short life is!
My wish for the rest of you is that you will find love, peace, happiness and all the joy you deserve in 2014. You survived an incredible loss and you are an incredible woman! You deserve nothing less than a MAGNIFICENT life!Close-up View of a Pink Rose

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.

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.

‘Til Death Do Us Part

June 18th, 1994. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. The hopes, the dreams, the love of the day. It was my wedding day. I would finally marry my high school sweetheart. After nine years of dating, we were going to vow our lives to one another in front of our families and friends. I was 22 years old and Steve was 24 years old. We were so young, and we had our whole lives ahead of us. I could never have imagined that I would only have ten years to be Steve’s wife…

I thought it would be fun for all of us to get ready together so my mom and my bridesmaids spent the night with me in a hotel on the night before the wedding. One bed couldn’t be slept in, however. I hung my wedding dress on the curtain rod and spread it out over the bed. We all had a good laugh about the fact that my dress was more important than some of the girls getting a good night’s sleep! I couldn’t possibly take the chance that my dress might get wrinkled, right?

I woke up that morning before anyone else did. I took a bath and tried to calm my nerves. I was so excited! It was my wedding day! Once the others got up and had breakfast, we headed to the hair salon. It was my perfect day so far! My mom, my sisters and my closest friends, all with me and preparing for my wedding. I felt like a princess!

As we drove back to the hotel, I drove with the seat pushed way back so it wouldn’t crush my veil, which had already been put on by my hairdresser. I have a vivid memory of singing to Trisha Yearwood’s song, “She’s in Love with the Boy” as we were driving down the road. My mom was telling me to slow down and I told her that no cop would give me a ticket in my veil. It was my wedding day! I was elated!

The first time I saw my bridesmaids in the fuschia dresses I had picked out, it brought tears to my eyes. My sisters and my best friends all looked beautiful. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that the day had finally arrived. There had been a year’s worth of planning to make it all happen but I was finally going to become Steve’s wife. Even the word “wife” had a magical ring to it that day.

Steve’s dad picked us up from the hotel in the white Cadillac he had rented for us that day. We couldn’t afford to get a limousine so Steve’s dad was playing chauffeur that day. It was so gracious of him and I was touched by his thoughtfulness.

We arrived at the church to wait in the bride’s dressing room. We were getting married in the Catholic church where Steve had been baptized as a baby. The church meant a lot to his family but it was a small church, and didn’t have air conditioning. We thought it would be okay since we were getting married in June. June in Michigan is usually pretty comfortable and not too hot. That day, however, was one of the hottest days of the summer!

I have memories of sweating in that room….of my friends saying that Steve was pacing back and forth in the hallway….of my sister bustling my dress after the ceremony. Bits and pieces of a day that changed my life. The day I became Steve’s wife.

Our wedding vows said, “I will love you all the days of my life.” They didn’t say, “‘Til death do us part.” It didn’t matter too much to me back then, it seemed more like a matter of semantics. I think God knew it was more than that, though. The truth is that I would only be Steve’s wife for 10 years yet I would continue to love him for all the days of my life.

Death hasn’t taken my love away, but it has changed it. My longing for Steve has gone from missing my husband to missing the father of my children. My focus in life has shifted from building a family with Steve to raising the children we created. 18 years ago today, I took a vow before God, my family and my friends. I am still living that vow and will continue to do so…all the days of my life.

Letting Go of the Grief

My life with Steve is starting to feel like a dream. It’s been so long now that he’s been gone, I’ve forgotten the sound of his voice, the feel of his touch. In some ways, I think that’s a good thing. It’s only when I’m not physically longing for him that I’m able to truly open my heart and love someone new. I would like to think that losing the love of my life when I was just 32 years old means that God intends for me to have TWO loves of my life. One for creating children (Steve) and one with which I was meant to grow old. Some are blessed to have just one love of their life: they create children and grow old with the same person. That was not God’s plan for my life.

As I am losing the real “feel” of Steve, so are my children. In some ways, this is very sad. I lost my dad when I was just nine years old so I know how heartbreaking it is for a child to realize that they can’t remember specific things about their parent. I would grieve sometimes just for the fact that I didn’t remember him. I was lonely because I didn’t have A dad, not because I missed MY dad. How can you miss someone that you don’t remember?

In other ways, though, losing the memories means letting go of the grief. I am relieved that my children don’t cry as often as they used to for Steve. They spend most of their days enjoying their lives and being happy. Life without a dad is all that they know and we have settled into our own routine as a family.

My oldest son is starting high school in the fall yet he was in first grade when his dad died. I was startled to realize that I have raised him throughout his entire educational career, all on my own. It really puts into perspective how long Steve has been gone. I am proud of the young man that Cameron is growing into and I know that Steve would be too. I see so much of his father in him, it’s as if Steve is not really gone at all. Cameron looks like Steve and he has the same mannerisms and sense of humor. I am constantly being reminded of Steve as a teenager and it makes me smile to know that so much of him is still here with us.

My daughter is starting middle school in the fall but she was only in preschool when her dad died. She is a strong-willed, independent, athletic little girl who has the best of both of us. If Steve were here, he would say that she gets her ambition from me while she is fearless like him. As a straight-A student and competitive gymnast, both characteristics are serving her well!

At seven years old, my little man is finally realizing what it means that he doesn’t have a daddy. I have caught him crying and holding Steve’s picture. He never met Steve so it’s not really the person that he’s missing. Connor is grieving for a loss that happened before he was born. He’s sad because he sees his friends with their dads and he knows that he doesn’t have the same thing. It’s been really hard for me to see my baby hurting. All these years, Connor was the only one of us who didn’t grieve Steve’s death. It was like he was protected from our pain and, as a mother, I was relieved for him. Now, though, I can’t shield him from the fact that he only has one parent. Unfortunately, it’s our reality and, even at seven years old, he’s learning that there are some things that just can’t be changed.

This time of year, the ending of the school year, has left me feeling full of pride for these children that Steve and I created. They are growing into amazing people and I know that it is only with the help of God that I’ve been able to raise them. I also know that as we all move forward and let go of our grief, we will be able to live the lives that God intended for us. In my heart, I know that’s what Steve would want for the four people he loved most in this world!

His Life in Pictures

As we began the painful process of planning Steve’s funeral, I was told that I could display some pictures of Steve in the funeral home (this was before photos could be made into videos that are now shown at funerals). I had no idea what to do with the pictures and, as anyone who knows me can attest, I am not creative at all!

I don’t know which day it was, a day or two after he died perhaps, when I started going through years of pictures. I dug some out of my closet. Some came out of our garage. I took pictures out of frames and out of photo albums. I found pictures with each of our family members so that no one would be left out. I honestly don’t know how I did it. Selecting the pictures to be shown at the love of my life’s funeral. I don’t remember if I cried or laughed as I looked through them. The one thing that sticks with me, though, is the memory of being surrounded by family and friends. My house was full of people who loved me!

While I was sorting through pictures, we were also finding songs to play at the funeral. I have a vivid memory of singing to the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” by Mercy Me while I’m sitting on the floor surrounded by pictures of the man I loved. A man who was now gone.

My wonderfully creative friends saved me that night! They took the pictures that I selected and made beautiful posters with them. The posters were displayed at the funeral for everyone to see how special Steve was to us.

There were lots of pictures of me with Steve over the years. It was amazing to see how young we were in some of them! Photos of vacations to the beach, Disney World, Jamaica and many trips to visit our families in Michigan. There were pictures of our pets, our friends, our nieces and nephews. Pictures of us at weddings and graduations. All of the major milestones in our lives were documented in the photos on those poster boards.

Steve was a great father so of course I selected many pictures of him with our children. Some of my favorites were the unposed ones; like the one where he’s playing in the sand with our son or the one where he’s holding our baby girl and kissing her on the head. There was one extra-special picture on that poster, however. It was my ultrasound picture, dated 10/14/04, just 8 days before Steve died. He had gone with me to the doctor appointment so he saw our baby too. It was the only picture I had of our “peanut” so far, and it was as much a part of Steve as it was of me, so I put the picture on display for everyone to see. Steve had created THREE children, not just the two little ones running around with me.

After the funeral was over, I asked my sister-in-law to compile all of the pictures into an album for me. It was so hard to sum up Steve’s life in pictures but I had somehow managed to do it. I wanted to keep them all together so that our children could look at them whenever they wanted to see him again. She created a gorgeous album for me and I still treasure it!

When I look at the photo album now, it’s as if that life was all a dream. I hardly recognize myself in those pictures. I know that Steve’s death changed me, but it’s not until I look at old pictures do I realize just how MUCH I’ve changed. My faith is stronger now. I’m more independent. I’ve been raising three children on my own and they’re great kids. It makes me wonder if Steve would even recognize me if he were to see me today?

In My Dreams

When Steve died, it was painful to go to sleep. In my dreams, he was still alive and all was right with the world. When I woke up, however, I was still living in the horrible nightmare of his death. The pain in my heart seemed more than I could bear each and every time I had to open my eyes. I wished I could close them and be with him forever. If it weren’t for the two little souls named Cameron and Caitlin who needed me, I might have chosen to join him on the other side of Heaven.

As time wore on, my dreams moved from being WITH Steve to being ABOUT him. Sometimes, the dreams are comforting. In one dream, Steve and I shared a private joke and it still makes me smile to think about it!

I have never mowed the lawn. For some reason, that’s just not a household chore that appeals to me. When Steve and I were married, he would point out other women cutting their grass and I would jokingly say, “You should have married her!” It was always a joke between us that I wouldn’t even try to cut the grass. I felt like that was my husband’s job and he was good with it. One of the many things he did to take care of our home but an ongoing private joke between us.

After Steve died, several male friends and neighbors made sure that my grass was cut. This was no small feat since I had a huge front and back yard so it could literally take hours to mow my yard. After a while, I was able to hire a lawn service to do it.

About a year or so after he died, I had a dream where Steve was standing in our garage. He asked me about our lawn. I told him that I hired someone to cut it and I said to him, “You didn’t think I would cut it, did you?” I have a vivid image of Steve laughing like he always did at me! This dream brought me a lot of comfort. It was as if Steve was approving of the way I was handling some of the jobs he was no longer around to do. I could still hear his laugh too.

Over the years, Steve has come to me in my dreams less and less. Sometimes, the dreams are really disconcerting. When I was married, I dreamed that Steve came home after a long illness and he expected things to be as they always were with us. I had an awful feeling because I was married to someone else. The whole dream centered around my confusion about how to tell my second husband that Steve was home and how to tell Steve that I was married to someone else. This dream stayed with me for a day or two and I felt “out of sorts” as I tried to process it. I’m sure it had to do with the guilt of moving on, but upsetting nonetheless.

Steve visited me in my dreams again a few nights ago. This time, it was more of a strange dream where it was Steve but not really him. I was his girlfriend in the dream. I woke up feeling unsettled but not really upset. Once again, I’m sure the dream had to do with moving on without the guilt this time. I believe in my heart that Steve would approve of the choices I’m making and he would be proud of me.

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