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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Remembering 9/11/01

Being the wife of a firefighter was never so scary as it was THAT day. Steve was working his usual shift at his station in suburban Atlanta. I had never given much thought to his training in hazardous materials before THAT day. I had no reason to worry that he was sometimes called to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. It was all routine until our world changed on 9/11/01. I cried. I begged him to come home. What if the terrorists were going to attack the CDC? Steve would be one of the first who responded to a crisis there. I was scared that he would die that day. But he wouldn’t leave his station. He wouldn’t come home. He was a firefighter and their duty was to stay at work, no matter what was happening in our crazy world.

As I watched the news coverage, over and over, I cried for all of the people who died, but especially for the firefighters and police officers. I knew Steve would do the same, he would run into those buildings trying to save lives. In fact, he went into MANY burning buildings to save lives. Police and firefighters put their lives on the line each and every day, but 9/11 was the first time that our whole nation saw their sacrifice.

As the days passed, firefighters and police officers were recognized for their heroic deeds at the World Trade Center. People were bringing food to their local fire stations, saying thank you for serving their communities. I remember thinking that our civil servants had been taken for granted for so long, it was nice that they were finally being recognized. But it came with a great loss. 343 firefighters and paramedics lost their lives THAT day. 60 Police Officers died. 1,609 people were widowed and 3,051 children lost a parent THAT day. In one day, our nation was changed forever.

As the widow of a firefighter and the girlfriend of a police officer, I am always acutely aware of the danger in those professions. I am also proud that I have been loved by such brave and heroic men. Men who would sacrifice their own life to save another. This is what they do, every day.

My prayer for today is that our country never has to experience a day of such sadness and grief. We should thank our civil servants for their dedication to keeping our country safe, each and every day. We should remember the spirit of our country in the aftermath of 9/11 – when we bonded together as a nation to help each other through the tragedy. I pray that God will be with those who lost loved ones on 9/11/01 and that He heals their broken hearts. Most of all, I pray for the safety of those who serve our country today: firefighters, paramedics, police officers and our military personnel. Lord, keep them all safe.

Walking Through The Fear

There have been a lot of things going on in my life in the past week. I’ve done some grieving over changes that happened abrubtly at my church. Having a church family is one of those things that had become such a part of my life that I really took it for granted. When a member of my church family was suddenly gone, it was a shock to our entire family. My children were grieving and I was angry. It was a very difficult week.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I had a sense of peace but still could not bring myself to return to MY church. We did, however, go to church. It felt good to worship God and know that He would help me make the right decisions no matter where I choose to attend church.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about pursuing some professional goals but it has never seemed like the right time. I’ve told myself that I’m too busy with my children and their activities to take on one more thing in my work. As my children have gotten older, however, their activities don’t seem to be taking up as much of my time as they used to. I can now drop them off, pick them up, car pool, etc. instead of having to sit and watch every practice. What is my excuse for not pursuing my goals now?

I saw an old friend yesterday who encouraged me to follow through with getting a professional license for which I am qualified. Getting this license would open doors for me and allow me to expand my professional opportunities. I have often thought of getting it, but the paperwork overwhelmed me. After seeing my friend, I decided to go ahead and do it. One step at a time. I prayed and I know I can do it. I just have to get over the fear of the unknown. What will I do once I have the license? How is God leading me to help others? I have faith that there’s a plan for me but not knowing what the future holds is still scary. It’s much easier to sit back and keep doing the job that I have now. I’m good at it, I know my co-workers, I’m comfortable.

The older I get, however, the more I see that comfortable isn’t always God’s plan. Sometimes, He takes us out of our comfort level so that we can learn something, so that we can lean on Him more, so that we can help others. It’s like walking into a new church. Uncomfortable at first but then you realize that He is still there and the safety of knowing Him returns. I am going to pursue my professional license, no matter how scary the unkown is for me. I will continue to pray for God to show me where I am supposed to be at church and in my professional life. Trusting Him is all I can do if I want to grow. The only other option is to stay comfortable. Continue going to church where I’ve always gone, regardless of my feelings about the changes. Keep my current certifications without striving to grow professionally. I can certainly choose to do these things. I choose to grow. I choose to trust God. I will walk through the fear of the unknown and trust God’s plan for my life.

Letting Go of Perfect

I have always felt the need to be perfect. I was a straight A student. I was involved in MANY extra-curricular activities. I finished college before I got married. I had children after I bought my first house. I lived my life the way I was “supposed” to live it, right?

When Steve died, my life changed instantly. We had been together for 19 years and I was thrust into a foreign world without him. I didn’t know how to be a parent without the other half of my support system to help me.  I didn’t know when my car needed an oil change. I didn’t know where the spare light bulbs were kept in my house. There were so many details of our life together that Steve handled and suddenly I had to do it all on my own. I was overwhelmed and had no choice but to let go of being perfect as I leaned on my faith that God would somehow help me get through this crushing loss.

As I prayed for God to help me, others stepped in to do what I could not do for myself. Friends would care for my children when I was in and out of the hospital having pre-term labor. Family members traveled from Michigan to Georgia to stay with us. Strangers brought Christmas gifts to my children. My lawn would “magically” be mowed. The list goes on and on. God made sure our needs were met by the angels He sent to us.

As time has gone on and I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to realize that there is and only will be ONE perfect person and that’s not me!  I’ve had to do a lot of letting go over the past seven years and I’ve had to ask for help too. With three active children, sometimes I need help getting them from one place to another. I used to feel guilty because my children have more household chores than other children, but now I am proud of how responsible they are becoming as they’re growing into young adults. My children will know how to take care of themselves because I couldn’t do it all for them. My children have learned about compromise because sometimes I have to choose between them when there are two or more activities happening at the same time. I am only one person and I can only be in one place at a time. In a perfect world, their dad would still be here but, our reality is that he’s gone and there’s only one parent in our home.

Letting go of perfect has freed me in so many ways. I am able to enjoy my life without the constant weight of worrying whether or not I’m doing things the “right” way. I am on a journey and I am free to make mistakes. God has blessed me with three amazing children and I love my life, imperfections and all!

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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