Twice Blessed in This Short Life

heartsI’ve heard many widows talk about their “Chapter Two.” For those of you who are lucky enough not to know what that expression means, it’s the love that follows our late husband. For some reason, though, that expression has never appealed to me. For me, by saying that my current love is my “Chapter Two” feels as though I am saying that he is the #2 in my life and always will be. Although some widows may feel that way, I do not.

Let me explain.

When I was married to Steve, my beloved first husband, I loved him with my whole heart. He was everything to me. We spent 19 years together before he died at the age of 35 in a motorcycle accident. Everyone who knew us would say we had a love like no other, a special blessing from God. We were teenagers who fell in love when I was 14 years old and he was 16 years old. It was highly unusual for a relationship to start at such a young age and last while I went away to college, but somehow it did. We had our times of difficulties and even breaking up a few times, but we always found our way back together.

In 2004, when Steve rode his motorcycle to work that October morning, I had no idea how my heart would be ripped out of my body in just a few hours. God was about to put my life on a path that I could not foresee but first, I was going to suffer the greatest loss of my life and so would my children.

When Steve died, I was broken. I clung to my faith in God and His plan for my life although I am the first to admit I didn’t have a lot of trust in it. I remarried too soon and divorced shortly thereafter. I kept praying and going to church. I didn’t know any young widows who were raising children so I tried to do the best I could with my children. God made sure all of our needs were met. When I needed help, we had it. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, teammates, everyone near us pitched in to help me get my children where they needed to be on time. I started to trust God’s plan for my life too.

A little over 5 years ago, I met an incredible man. He challenged me, loved me, inspired me, and encouraged me. Before I even realized it, we had been dating for quite some time. I realized that meeting this man was all part of God’s plan for me. I was healing from my loss and my heart now belonged to someone else. My whole heart. My whole being.

Does this mean that I no longer love Steve? NO

Does this mean that I no longer miss Steve? NO

What this means is that my love for Steve has CHANGED. I love him as the father of my children, the man of my first 20 years, the man who I will always cherish for those sweet memories. I miss him in those ways too.

caitlin-homecoming-2016This year, on the Steve’s angelversary, our daughter went to her homecoming dance with her first real boyfriend. They are almost the same ages that he and I were when we began dating. I was so happy for her but also so sad that he didn’t get to be here to experience the joy with me. Grief. Again. 12 years later. This was the grief of a mother. It had nothing to do with my love for the man in my life now.

I am about to marry the man I love and he is NOT my Chapter Two because he is my NUMBER ONE! When I say my marriage vows to him, I will say them with my whole heart. I will always be Steve’s widow but I am about to become someone else’s wife. This is the duality of widowhood. Those of us on this journey “get it.” I’m so lucky to be TWICE BLESSED in this short life of mine. mary-and-jb-christmas

 

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A Widow Curve Ball

sunlight-dietI thought I had reached a point where I had “mastered” the widow thing. I mean, it’s been 11 and 1/2 years, I’m happily in love with another man, I’m raising my kids,  I’m mentoring other widows, life is great, right?

Then life throws me a curve ball. A widow curve ball. It’s called FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS. Just when I think I’m doing great, the expectations of others come crashing in again, just like they did in those early days of widowhood.

After your husband dies, suddenly everyone thinks they know what’s best for you, as if you are incapable of making adult decisions. Family and friends have advice on what you should do, when you should date, how you should raise your kids, where you should live, the list could go on and on. After a while, you get a backbone and start to stand up for yourself.

I’ve been happily living my life for years but somehow, I’ve let down the expectations of some extended family members. It all started with an email, “I know you have a new family now but….”

What does this mean? Am I no longer a widow because I’ve moved on with my life?

2231403_2838932My son was six years old when his dad died and he will graduate high school this Spring. I am proud to say that I raised him to be a fine young man! Do I wish his dad were here to see him? Absolutely! But the truth is, I raised him as a single mom, an only parent, for the majority of his life and I have every right to enjoy his graduation without sadness, guilt or grief. I am proud of him and I am proud of me. His dad would be proud of us both.

I have been praying for those who are upset with the family that I’ve created in this widow life. I’ve realized that changing relationships is all part of the healing process. Even after 11 years, we are changing and growing.

I never chose this life. God handed it to me. I did choose, however, to live my life to the fullest. I’m not going to let others’ expectations decide how I will live my life. If I’ve learned anything over the past 11 years, it’s if I’m true to God, true to myself and true to my children, the rest will fall into place.

 

 

We Are Survivors

52f738102875dc99722ea18b3f1dcad9My neighbor died yesterday. Suddenly. In her sleep. Left behind a confused, dazed, grieving husband and two beautiful daughters. I was instantly thrown back into that moment of shock and denial from nearly 11 years ago. How could this be happening? How is it possible that a family can change so quickly? In an instant, my neighbor became a single, an ONLY parent. I know too well the frightening thoughts that brings. Will my children ever recover from this? Will my babies’ broken hearts ever heal?

Everyone kept telling me thank you for helping him, thank you for being there for him. On the one hand, I am glad to do it. I was surrounded by such love when Steve died. I wasn’t alone. I had help managing the murky waters of early widowhood by family and friends who stood by me so it’s my turn to repay those kindnesses.

On the other hand, however, I wish I didn’t understand so much of what he’s feeling. I wish I was just a caring neighbor, not a fellow traveler on this widowhood journey. My heart breaks for him in a way that few others can understand. It breaks for him as one who has walked in his shoes. To have your spouse ripped suddenly out of your life is a pain like no other. You are supposed to grow old with this person yet, somehow, they are gone in a flash. What does your future look like now?

Fortunately, I have been on this road for long enough to know that the waves of grief do subside over time. It IS possible to heal from the deepest wound that your soul has ever experienced. Will you ever be the same? No. You will not be the same. You will be a NEW person. One who has gone to the depths of hell and survived. You will find strength you never knew you had and courage to keep living a life that doesn’t make sense to you. One day, your life may even make sense again.

For some reason that only God understands, I was put on a journey that I didn’t choose. I can, however, choose what I do with it. I will help others, no matter how painful it is for me. Perhaps someday I will understand the “big picture” and why we have to suffer such excruciating grief to get to the life God has planned for us. Until then, I have faith that God has a plan for my neighbor’s life and the life of his daughters. Please keep them in your prayers.

I Choose Love

heartsMy heart beats faster.

I look at him and I don’t think I could love him anymore than I do today.

His touch makes me feel protected, safe, secure.

His words are soothing when I need them to be, realistic when I need them to be too.

He makes me want to be a better woman because he challenges me to think more, do more and to achieve more.

He loves my children.

He loves me.

How is it possible that I’ve found this kind of love AGAIN in my life? It’s like a dream and I’m afraid of waking up.

When Steve died, I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t the sleeping that was painful, it was the waking up. Steve was in my dreams with me. When I woke up, I was living in the nightmare of my new life without him. Now, I’ve opened my heart and my life to a love like that all over again only this time I know what I’m risking in a way that I didn’t know when I lost Steve.

I’m risking the gut wrenching pain that caused me to vomit. I’m risking the Earth shattering fear of a new life without the other half of me. I’m risking years of grief, sadness and anxiety. I know this because I’ve been there. It’s the price I paid for loving Steve with my whole heart.

Why would I risk it again?

He’s worth it.

I’m worth it.

Our love is worth it.

There are no guarantees in this life so I choose happiness.

I choose love.

I choose him.

I love you taken from Pinkelephanttv.com

I Believe in You

social_media

I follow a lot of grief sites on social media. As a widow, a widow leader and professional counselor, they provide me with useful information. Lately, though, I’ve been disheartened with what I’m seeing on a majority of these sites.

 

The grief sites on social media pretend to be created to “help” those who are grieving. What I’m seeing, however, is how they perpetuate sadness. Instead of actually helping those who are mourning a loss, they are enabling people to stay stuck in their grief.

These sites tell you:

You will never get over your loss.

You will never move on.

It is okay to stay stuck in the sadness because grief will last forever anyway.

THESE THINGS ARE NOT TRUE!

tears

I know how devastating it is when you lose someone you love. I have experienced grief many times in my life. My father. My grandmothers.  A miscarriage. My husband.

Death tears out your heart. It makes you feel as if your skin has been ripped off and your emotions are on the outside of your body. Nothing feels the same because everything HURTS SO MUCH. Breathing, eating, showering, taking care of our children, doing whatever society says we have to do is too much. It’s overwhelming when all we want to do is curl up and sleep, possibly forever.

I KNOW. I GET IT.

The GOOD NEWS is that we can all DECIDE to heal from our losses. We can take one tiny step in the direction of life each day until we realize that we’ve had more good days than bad ones.

I took a shower one day. I blow dried my hair the next day. I put on make up the day after that one. I bought a new pair of shoes. I met a friend for lunch. Each and every thing I did to re-enter the land of the living was exhausting but IT WAS WORTH IT!

Most times, I had to FORCE myself out of my grief to do these things too. It would have been much easier to stay in the sadness. If I had websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Instagram pictures, and OTHER PEOPLE on these websites telling me that it was okay to be heartbroken, that I would miss Steve forever anyway, I’m sure that I would have stayed in that dark place of mourning much longer.

So here is my warning to you: be cautious of the photos, slogans, websites and even the people you meet online. If they are not pushing you toward HEALTH and HEALING, then perhaps you might consider deleting them. If you are grieving, you are already suffering enough with your own pain. The last thing you need is someone telling you it’s okay to stay in that dark place because you don’t have to live there. You can move out of the darkness, one tiny step at a time, until you find the light again. I did it and so can you. I believe in you.

sunlight-diet

 

Choosing Love Over Loss

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

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

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

So what does that intersection mean to me?

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

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

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

Forever Changed

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

I’m forever changed because I said YES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MWC Chapter Leaders in Sedona

 

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