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.

All The Days of My Life

Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church

Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church

It was twenty years ago that I became Steve’s wife. I was 22 years old and filled with the expectancy of youth. Our lives were laid out before us. We had moved from Michigan to Georgia. We had a small, one bedroom apartment that was sparsely furnished with hand-me-downs from family and friends. We slept on a mattress on the floor because we hadn’t even bought a bed yet! We were young, happy and in love.

We got married in the small Catholic church in our hometown, the same church where Steve had been baptized as a baby. There was no air conditioning in the church and we didn’t think much about it since June isn’t usually too hot in Michigan in mid-June. On our wedding day, however, it was one of the hottest days of the summer! I was sweating in my big wedding dress as I waited in the bride’s room of the church. Friends told me that Steve was in the hallway pacing. He must have been nervous! I was excited and a bit nervous too.

As I walked around outside to the back of the church, I heard the bells chiming. It was 12 o’clock noon. It was time for my wedding to start. The day I had been waiting for since I met Steve was here. I would become his wife!

I cried so much during the ceremony. I am an emotional woman and my wedding day was no different! On that day, June 18th, 1994, I vowed to love Steve “all the days of my life.”

I am struck, even today, at the irony in those words. We didn’t vow to love each other “until death do us part” as the traditional vows usually say. Our vows were specifically, “all the days of my life.” I don’t know why the priest chose those words for us but God knew that was the vow I should take. He knew I would continue loving Steve long after death would part us. I am amazed when I look back and see God’s hand in our lives long before our faith caught up to Him.

I spent ten years as Steve’s wife. During that time, we created a home and a family. We bought our first (and only) house. We had a son and a daughter. We took family vacations. We loved each other. We were expecting our third child when God took Steve home. I kept thinking that someone must have made a mistake because how could Steve be dead when we weren’t even done having children?

There wasn’t a mistake. Steve was gone. In an instant, I was no longer a wife. I was a widow.

The past ten years have been filled with confusion, pain, sadness, anger, friendship, family, happiness, love and a deepening faith that has sustained me throughout my widowhood. God has never left me. He was with me the day I lost Steve and He has been with me every day since then.

On our wedding day, twenty years ago, I didn’t know that when I vowed to love Steve “all the days of my life” that it meant I would love him more years as his widow than I would as his wife. Only God knew what those vows really meant. What a blessed woman I am to have had such a great husband and to have such a loving God who had His hand on my life, long before I ever knew it.

in-Gods-Hands-300x268

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Meaning of Roses

Close-up View of a Pink RoseAs I sit here on this snowy Eve of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share with you my first Valentine’s Day with Steve. I was 14 years old and he was 16 years old. His parents let him cook me a candlelit dinner at their house & they went out for the evening (isn’t that crazy?! I would never leave my teenage son alone with his girlfriend! LOL). In any case, I remember EXACTLY what he made for me: spaghetti! He cooked me a spaghetti dinner and lit candles & everything. I knew then that I was in LOVE. My first love. Only God could know that was going to be the first of many Valentine’s Days we would have together. 19 to be exact. Not enough if you ask me.

One of the things I loved the most about Steve was how romantic he was. That Valentine’s Day was only the beginning. There were roses of every color, for every occasion for 19 years. They weren’t ordinary roses, though. For example, for our 5 year wedding anniversary, I received a bouquet of FIVE long stemmed roses with a card that said, “One rose for every year you’ve given me.”

Another time, he went to Michigan to visit his mother in Michigan for Mother’s Day while I was pregnant with our oldest child (we lived in Georgia). He had roses delivered to me for Mother’s Day with a card that said, “I can’t wait to meet you. Love, Cameron (the name of our baby).” It was a family joke that out of the three boys in his family, I got the romantic one!

For many Valentine’s Days after he died, I longed for the romance and flowers. I felt lonely and unloved. I had to learn how to love myself and my life. The life God gave me, not the life I had with Steve, because that one was gone. A big part of my healing was accepting that I couldn’t remake (even with a remarriage) the life I had with Steve.  Once I accepted my life as a widow with children, I could move on and start living again.

The older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve healed from losing , the less I care about days like Valentine’s Day at all. Everyday things like drinking a hot cup of coffee in front of the fire on an icy morning bring me so much pleasure and contentment. I know how short life really is and how quickly it can all change. I kissed him good bye for work and then he was gone. I will not spend another day, not even Valentine’s Day, missing what’s right in front of me. JOY. LIFE. LOVE. I know it can be gone in a second.62973

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

Choosing Not To Grieve

Some days it’s just better to keep busy…to have so many things to do that I don’t have time to think, time to grieve. Today is one of those days. October 22nd. The anniversary of Steve’s death.

I have spent many of these anniversaries curled up in my bed, unable to do anything but relive that awful day.  October 22nd, 2004. A day of worry, hope, shock, denial, grief. A day that is forever a part of my soul.

As it is with my grief, I have been feeling this anniversary coming for about a week or so. I’ve been more emotional. I’ve cried for no apparent reason. Today, I feel sad for my children, sad for the old me: Steve’s wife. I’m at a crossroads in my life this year and I feel it….I am truly happy for the first time since Steve died so it’s hard for me to grieve him the way that I’ve always done, as my best friend and soul mate.

I am a different person since Steve died. I am a confident and secure single Mom. I am strong in my Christian faith. I have a wide circle of friends and a wonderful boyfriend. I wonder if Steve would even recognize me today?

I have always missed Steve, my high school sweetheart, the man who could make me laugh in any situation, my best friend. I do still miss him, but it’s different now. I miss the father of my children. I wonder what he would say and what he would do when I am parenting them. I love to remember him and tell our children stories about him. I think it’s my job to keep him alive for them. How will they know that he didn’t like mushrooms if I don’t tell them?

I don’t want  to grieve anymore. I want to be happy. I’ve learned that life is short so I’m grabbing every moment of happiness that I can while I’m here. I am keeping busy today: working, running errands, taking my children to appointments. I don’t want to remember what I was doing at this very moment, eight years ago today. If I start to remember, I will fall apart. I remember every minute of that day and I don’t want to relive it. Not today. Not again.

I started my day with a prayer, I’ve prayed several times already today and I know God will help me make it through this anniversary. I have a lot to do. I will keep busy. I don’t know if this is avoiding the grief or just choosing NOT to grieve, but it’s how I’ll spend this anniversary. I want to embrace the happiness in my life and I don’t want to go back to that day. Not today.

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.

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?

A Letter To My Readers

Dear Readers,

I started this blog not quite five months ago. I did it as a way to help me start putting into words the experience of being a widow and raising children. I had no idea if I could even write something that might appeal to others to read. I was wrong! It has been read thousands of times and it has blessed me in ways that I could not even imagine. I have found strength in the comments and emails I’ve received from readers and I truly feel that God called me to start writing it so that I could reach others who are struggling through difficult times in life.

I haven’t been as consistent in writing as I would like to be, however. This is mostly because my life is going so well right now. I know that I should write and share with you when my life is on course but the truth is, it’s much easier to blog when I’m struggling with something. So I am going to make a better effort to document my journey of widowhood more consistently, and I will ask God to give me the words if I’m struggling with what to write. Being widowed isn’t always heartache and pain so I will write about the healing, love and joy that can happen too.

Thank you for your support of my blog and of me.

Sincerely,

Mary

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: