My Bucket List

I turned 40 years old last year and I made some MAJOR changes in my life too. It was a liberating year where I felt as if I started becoming the woman that God has intended for me to be. I took my children to the beach for
Father’s Day, just the four of us and simply because I felt like it! I took a trip by myself to a place I had been wanting to visit; I met a friend there and had a great weekend. I repainted some of the rooms in my house and I bought new furniture. I started dating again. I started making my life my own.

I’ve been thinking about how to continue moving forward, healing, growing and becoming a woman of God. I’m enjoying my life, exploring new interests and meeting new friends. So…..I’m envisioning a kind of “bucket list” for the next chapter of my life!

In the movie, “The Bucket List,” two terminally ill men decide to travel the world doing a bunch of things that they have always wanted to do before they die. The movie is quite funny as the men do daredevil things like jumping out of airplanes and climbing mountains. Along the way, however, one of the men discovers that he really loves the life he shares with his wife and children. The other man repairs a broken relationship with his daughter. They both realize that the relationships in their lives are more important that what they have or haven’t done. What a lesson to learn before leaving this Earth!

I don’t think I’m terminally ill and I have no desire to jump out of an airplane! But, there are a few things that I’ve always wanted to do. Studying the Bible has been a desire for me but I’ve constatntly had an excuse of some sort. This year, I have committed to two Bible studies. The first one is a woman’s Bible study that I started today, “Embracing Your Strengths.” I have already met some new women and know that I will love doing this! The second is one on parenting called, “Parenting by Design.” I am leading this Bible study at my church starting in March. I am excited to grow in my faith and my relationship to God by reading and studying His Word.

I was a competitive dancer when I was younger. I have done various forms of exercise over the years but have not done anything consistently since Steve died. I have been busy raising my children and really didn’t put too much priority on making time for working out in my life. I recently started a bootcamp, however, and it’s had some really great side effects. Not only do I feel stronger and healthier, but I’ve met some new friends too! I signed up for my first race and I’m excited to do it with my bootcamp friends. I can check this off the bucket list in May!

Enjoying every minute that I have with my children is also at the top of my list. I cannot believe that my son is already a teenager! I do not have that many more years until he will be off to college (hopefully!) so I want to cherish all of the time that I have with him. Cameron and Caitlin have been asking to visit Washington D.C. for several years but I’ve been waiting until my little Connor was old enough before I took them there. We are going this summer but I am a little nervous about taking them by myself. I know I can do it, but it is kind of scary thinking of being in the city and going to so many places. Hanging out at the beach is very different than riding trains and going places where I can get lost. I am most definitely directionally challenged so we’ve gotten lost plenty of times! I am going to push through my fear, however, and take them anyway. I will check this off of my bucket list in July!

White House at Night

So I guess my bucket list consists of going outside of my comfort zone spiritually, physically and emotionally. It has to do with building stronger relationships and being healthy. I am excited to develop new interests along the way too. My journey has taught me that life is very short so……what’s on your bucket list?

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!

My Christmas Wish

Ready for Christmas

I haven’t blogged all week because I’ve been busy getting ready for Christmas. Last minute shopping and wrapping because I tend to spoil my children a bit at this time of year. But, tonight, when I went to church to worship and celebrate the REAL reason we have Christmas, I found myself feeling really sad….

Sad that Steve has not been with us for one more year. This is our eighth Christmas without him and it’s still hard to believe he’s gone. As I look at my children, it seems as though he’s missed their whole lives and I guess, in reality, he has. Cameron was just a little boy, six years old, when we had our first Christmas without his Daddy. Now, he’s a teenager, with his own tastes in music, his own opinions and he’s even had his first kiss! At just three years old, Caitlin was still a baby when we lost her Daddy. She’s no longer a baby but a strong-willed, athletic, smart and kind hearted little girl. Since Connor was born after Steve died, he has grown up without his Daddy altogether.

At church tonight, I was overwhelmed with a longing to celebrate just one more Christmas with Steve. One more time to go to church. One more time to have him with me as our children open their Christmas presents. I cried and knew that God would understand why I was so sad.

I am often overcome with emotion when I am in church. It is there that I feel God’s presence and I truly know where Steve is (with God). After Steve died, I remember walking through my house feeling lost, like the other half of me was suddenly missing. I felt Steve’s absence with every inch of my being. When I went to church, however, a strange calm would come over me because I could look at the altar and know that he was in Heaven with Jesus. I didn’t have to wonder where he was when I was in church. My feelings changed from bewilderment to sadness. Even though he was in Heaven, I selfishly wanted him back here with me.

If I could have just one Christmas wish, it would be to have Steve back so that he could share in the joy of celebrating this holiday with our children. I know he would have fun wrapping their presents with me, cooking Christmas dinner and going to church as a family. I know this is a selfish wish, though. Steve is enjoying eternal life in Heaven but I just miss him so much during the holidays. Even after eight years, I can still hear him laughing. I know he’s smiling down on us from Heaven and this will have to be good enough for now.

I look forward to the day when we are reunited and I can spend Christmas with my soulmate again.

Crazy For You

Music has the power to take me back in time. I can remember where I was and who I was with just by listening to a song. I will even feel emotions related to those memories sometimes. I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older, though, that not everyone feels so intensely about music. To some people, a song is just a song. But not to me…..

It was September of 1985. I was a freshman in high school and I had a big crush on an 11th grader named Steve. We were talking on the phone one night (it was September 24th to be exact – the night before Steve’s 16th birthday) when the subject of our upcoming homecoming dance came up. Steve said, “I could go stag or I could take you.” My reply was something along the lines of, “Yeah, you could take me.” That was it. We had plans for our first date and I was super excited!

I have a picture of us so I know exactly what I was wearing. A gray striped jumpsuit! Steve showed up late to pick me up and I had no idea that I would spend the next 19 years getting frustrated when he showed up late to EVERYTHING! As the years wore on, I would lie to him about the start time for events so that we would actually be on time….it would become known as “Steve time.” If a wedding was at 1:00, I told him it was at 12:30 😉

Anyway, we finally did arrive to the homecoming dance. Steve had the DJ dedicate a song to me. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt when he said, “To Mary From Steve” and started to play, “Crazy For You” by Madonna. My heart melted and that became “our song.” We danced to it that night in 1985. We would call each other on the phone and instead of saying hello, we would play our song into the phone. This was way before caller ID. Imagine how I felt when I would answer the phone, not knowing who was calling, and I would hear Madonna’s voice on the other end! I felt more loved than I can describe in words.

We would dance to it again at our wedding. I had “Crazy For You” engraved into Steve’s wedding band. We would play it in our living room and dance, for no reason at all. It was our song and anyone who knew us can attest to how special it was to us.

When Steve died, I was told that I could put three words on his gravestone. I was torn. He meant so much to so many people; how could I sum him up in just three words? Husband, Father, Son? Husband, Father, Brother? I really didn’t know what to do until Steve’s mother told me she knew which three words needed to go on his headstone: Crazy For You. I was extremely touched because those words meant everything to us but I didn’t realize that others knew how much they meant too. So that’s what I did. A lifetime of love summed up in three words on a gravestone.

Whenever I want to go back to those days of dancing in Steve’s arms, I just play the song and it all comes back….

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.

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