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.

Letting Chemistry Guide Me

The chill that goes up your spine when he kisses you. The tingle in your stomach when you know you’re going to see him. The rush you feel when he holds your hand. Chemistry. It’s what makes relationships so heady in the first few weeks and eventually drives them to the next level where you actually fall in love.

Chemistry is amazing but equally as elusive. I’ve been on MANY dates and I can tell within the first few minutes whether or not I feel it. When I do, it’s easy to talk, be affectionate and enjoy the company of the man I’m dating. If not, it can be torture to make it through the date at all.

When I met Steve, he was just 15 and a half years old. No one in their right minds would ever have guessed that those two teenagers would spend the rest of his life together and in love. It was chemistry. It was easy. Our relationship had it’s fair share of ups and downs for sure (we broke up like a million times in high school!) but we always ended up back together for some reason. One year passed. Five years passed. Nine years later we were married. Five more years. Then our last anniversary together….ten years of marriage. The thing that makes chemistry so amazing is how easy it feels to be with the right person. You don’t even realize how much time has passed until it has. Or until they are gone.

I was getting ready to move into my new house a few years ago and I came across my old high school yearbooks. Steve had written in them that he was going to marry me someday. Is it possible at 16 years old to know who you are going to marry? Could his love really have been so strong? I would like to think so although I didn’t know that I would marry him until much later in life. I always felt strongly tied to him; he was my best friend.  Perhaps many high schoolers think they will marry their girlfriends but Steve really did marry me. He loved me his whole life. I am so blessed that he chose me.

As I continue dating and trusting in God to send another “right” man into my life, I will let chemistry guide me. I believe that my instincts are God’s way of speaking to me. When I’ve ignored them, I have stayed in bad relationships far too long. On the contrary, when I have trusted my own intuition, I am happier and more content with my life.

So I will let God speak to me as I continue dating and putting myself “out there” in search of the right man with whom I can share the rest of my life.

It’s Going To Be A Great Year

 

It's a New Year!

As I sit here on New Year’s Eve thinking about the past year, I feel really good about the changes I’ve made in my life during 2011. I faced some heartbreaking choices and I ended my marriage. A sad but necessary decision to improve both my life and the lives of my children. I’ve embraced being single in a way I never did before now. I’ve discovered a peace that I haven’t felt since Steve died. But, it’s been a long, hard year to get to where I am now….

Last year at this time, I had the unsettling feeling that 2011 would be the year I would have to accept my marriage for what it was or decide to end it. We had been in marriage counseling for many months and things were not getting better. I knew that my children were unhappy and it was breaking my heart to be living in a home with so much conflict. I was praying for guidance, taking anti-depressants and experiencing an anxiety that was overwhelming. It really came home for me when one of my friends asked me, “What are you doing to your children by staying in this marriage?” What would Steve want me to do? What would he EXPECT me to do? The answer was obvious but so difficult to actually make.

The morning that I asked for a divorce, there was no fight. No argument. No trigger. I just knew there would never be a “good” time to break up our family. We may not have been a family for long (just two and a half years), but we were a family nonetheless. There were four children involved in my decision (my stepson and my three children) and I was heartbroken at the thought of hurting them. So, I just asked for the divorce and he agreed. That was it. We told our children that afternoon. Their only concern was whether or not they could continue to see each other. We assured them they would still spend time together and we started the difficult process of ending a marriage.

I was not prepared for the grief I felt during my divorce! It felt so familiar to me but completely different at the same time. How could I be hurting so much when this was my CHOICE? Steve was taken away from me and this time, I walked away. How come the feelings felt so similar? I grieved my way through, with the help of my counselor, and accepted that any loss of a relationship is still a loss.

When I came out on the other side a few months later, even my 10 year old daughter noticed a change in me. “Mom, you’re so much happier now,” she told me one day as we were riding in the car.  My friends started commenting on how good I looked. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was feeling more like myself than I had since the day that Steve died. I began to believe that healing was happening in my life and it felt awesome!

I started working out and eating healthier. I’ve surrounded myself with positive people and met some new friends along the way too. I began dating again and even ended a short relationship when it wasn’t making me happy. I’ve become stronger this past year in ways that I never could have thought possible since I lost Steve. What I’ve discovered is this: when I remarried after losing Steve, I thought that I had to be married to be a good mom. Now, I know that I am a good mom when I am taking care of myself emotionally, spiritually and physically. Being happy for me no longer depends on whether or not I am in a relationship with a man. It has taken me seven long years to get here, but I have finally arrived!

I like being in a relationship so I am dating and enjoying the prospect of finding that someone special. It’s completely different this time, though. I don’t hesitate when I feel like a man isn’t right for me. It’s liberating to be able to tell someone that I don’t want to date them anymore because I refuse to settle for anything less than complete happiness this time around.

I am also starting a couple new Bible studies, continuing to workout, exploring new hobbies (who knew that painting could be fun?!) and just loving my life right now. 2012 is going to be a great year…..I can feel it!

I Can Do This!

There are a lot of things that I miss about being married to Steve but there is one thing that I miss the most: knowing that there’s someone who will ALWAYS be there for you, no matter what happens. I am blessed with really good friends and they are certainly there for me when I need them to be but it’s just not the same. With Steve, it was an unspoken given that we would always put each other first in our lives. Our priority was the other one’s happiness and safety.

I remember this one time when I needed to get an MRI. It was many years ago, before open MRI’s and all of the technology that we have today. I didn’t think it was a big deal so I went to have it done. My whole body was put into the machine and there was no one in the room with me. The technician talked to me over a speaker. I started feeling like I couldn’t breathe and I got really scared. Claustrophobia! The technician took me out of the machine and we rescheduled the appointment. My doctor gave me some Valium to take before the next MRI and Steve went with me. He was able to stay in the room with me and he touched my foot during the entire procedure. I remember thinking that I would be fine because Steve would never let anything happen to me. I felt better just knowing that he was there and in that room with me. I made it through the MRI just fine.

There were several other times when Steve’s very presence calmed me during medical procedures. I can remember feeling safe because he loved me so much and he would stay with me no matter what happened. But it wasn’t just during medical procedures that I counted on him. If I was going to a party and I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have to worry about being alone. Steve was there. He was my best friend and we always had so much fun together. He had such an outgoing personality that I was always confident taking him with me to new places because everyone liked him. We would enjoy ourselves no matter where we were together.

Now, when I go to unfamiliar places or out with groups of people that I don’t know very well, it can be a little intimidating. Steve was in my life since I was 14 years old so when he was taken away suddenly, I was truly on my own for the first time in my life. It’s almost as if I’ve had to “grow up” during these past seven years without him.  I’ve had to force myself to go outside of my comfort zone knowing that I need to keep living even though Steve is gone. This means that I have to keep meeting people and trying new things. I have taken my children on vacation, just the four of us. I have started new hobbies and met new friends along the way. I’m learning that I have the strength to keep living on my own and slowly, I’m building up the confidence that I need to do it too.

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?

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

I haven’t blogged all week because I’ve been insanely busy with these munchkins of mine! It’s such a hectic time of year… gifts to buy, wrap and ship; holiday parties for the kids (school, sports, friends) not to mention those for me; and the ongoing things that come along with having three children. I’ve been thinking about the blog all week but have fallen into bed exhausted each night thinking that I would blog tomorrow so here it is, finally….. 

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night about how Steve died and it got me thinking about how much I endured in losing him and how far I’ve come since then. I’ve healed but I’ve also had to let go or I could be really angry with the way things turned out for us. Let me tell you about some of the things that happened….

When Steve was killed on that motorcyle, it was the beginning of an ordeal that would last almost two years. My first order of business (after the funeral, of course) was to hire a lawyer. I was told that I needed one since it was a large box truck that hit him and everyone (even the police) were assuming it was some kind of business truck. At 33 years old, I knew nothing about hiring a lawyer to sue a company for killing my husband! It was absurd to me and felt like I was living in an awful nightmare. So, I hired one and I honestly do not remember how I found him. I am sure that someone recommended him to me but I have no idea who it was. Steve’s parents went with me to speak to him and he seemed nice enough; I signed a contract without really understanding what I was doing. This was within a WEEK of Steve being killed. I was pregnant and had started taking anti-depressants. I felt as if I was living underwater because everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I couldn’t understand anything that had happened so I just did what others told me to do. It was almost as if I had become a child again because my decision making skills were so impaired.

In any case, after speaking to another mother at my daughter’s preschool, I learned that the lawyer I hired was overcharging me! She told me to fire him immediately and that she would help me get a legitimate lawyer. This woman was a lawyer herself so I trusted her. I fired the first lawyer immediately. She referred me to her brother’s law firm and they took my case pro bono. I was in much better hands.

Once the lawyers were hired, they went about the business of trying to settle my  insurance claims. I had three insurance companies fighting over who was going to pay me and how much. The truck that killed Steve was not a business truck as everyone had previously thought. It belonged to the father of the driver and was, in fact, underinsured. Since there wasn’t much insurance on it, our motorcyle and car insurance companies were responsible for paying me. The lawyers spent several months hammering out the details of our insurance policies so that I could get the maximum amount due to me. In the meantime, the wrecker company that was holding the totaled motorcyle called my house to see if I was coming to pick it up. I was technically still the owner since the insurance companies had not paid for it yet. I was devastated. I told them I didn’t want the bike and that I didn’t care what they did with it but to please never call me again. Then, I began getting letters from the Secretary of State because the motorcycle didn’t have insurance on it. Of course it didn’t! It was totaled! Again, another reminder of how my beloved husband’s life ended and another phone call for me to make so that I could grieve in peace.

But, there would be no peace for a very long time. As more details of the accident emerged, it was discovered that the man who hit Steve actually saw him coming. He thought he couldn’t stop so he sped up. Steve laid his bike down as he slid underneath the truck and the driver stopped. Instead of getting out to see the person that he hit, however, this man thought it would be best to get his truck out of the lane of traffic so he completed his turn, dragging my husband with his truck. There were witnesses to the accident who saw him stop and then start moving again. Who does that with a person underneath the vehicle??? He was charged with Vehicular Homicide and the long criminal ordeal started. It would be two years before I faced Steve’s killer in court and watched him get sentenced to one year of probation and a $1000 fine payable to our church (I was allowed to pick a charity that meant a lot to me and Steve). I walked out of that courtroom and I let go. I let go of the hope for justice. I let go of the hate for that man. I can’t say that I forgive him; I just don’t give him any of my thoughts because he doesn’t deserve them.

There are so many other things that happened during those two years but I will leave them for another post. Writing about my experiences helps me to heal but I believe that it also offers hope. Hope that if I can survive, then you can too. I’ve come a long way since those days when I was so traumatized that I couldn’t even make a decision for myself. I am whole again. I am ready to love again. I am happy again. Steve would be proud of me, and I am sure of that.

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