Being alone was hard for me. Really hard. Raising three grieving children on my own, between a criminal proceeding for my husband’s death, fighting insurance to pay the bills they were responsible for, and dealing with my grief all at the same time was a challenge. To say the least. My counseling, volunteering, and exercising helped release some of the anxiety, but none of it made me less mentally exhausted. None of that provided the type of loving hand I really needed.

I was tired of doing it all myself. I felt nearly defeated. I felt like I wasn’t sure how long I could do it all by myself. And, of course, when I say by myself I mean with the help of everyone I knew because no one can do that all completely by themselves. Even all of that help doesn’t replace the deep intimate friendship that one shares with a partner or spouse.

I had developed two close friendships after Randy’s death. I spent most of my time with these ladies. When we were together, we also were together with our ten collective children. That’s a lot of kids. I loved the time playing games and letting the kids be kids. It was chaotic and loud, but nice to see everyone laughing and indulging in a little laughter myself. The new friends would ask me if I ever thought I would find another soul mate. We talked about it often. It’s hard for your friends to see you without something they think is so normal, and maybe even view it as necessary. Eventually, I did feel ready. I also felt a little guilty.

It had only been about 7 months since Randy died. I wasn’t ready to get married, but I was ready to enter the world and start making new connections. I really struggled with the guilt. How could I claim to love someone so much, but then dump all over his memory by craving another relationship? Maybe this is a justification to make me feel better, but my conclusion was it was because we were so close that made me want to get out and meet more people. Randy and I had a very intense relationship. He was my first. We learned a lot together, we grew up together. We started dating when I was 15 and he was 16 years old. He was killed just after his 26th birthday and I had just turned 25. Ten years is a long time. Especially during a time when you are learning who you are and what the world is really about. We did all of that together.

Now, it wasn’t always pretty, but even the worst storms can have beauty. Our relationship was beautiful. We slept intertwined every single night, when he was home and not working. It never got old. Even when we weren’t getting along, I didn’t know how to be without him. So, when I had no choice, but to be alone, I felt lost. Maybe that is rationalization and maybe it’s the wrong reason to start dating–whatever it is, it is the truth.

I told my friends I thought I wanted to meet someone. I was terrified! I had all the same questions my friends did. I never understood why someone as handsome and well like as Randy wanted to be with a slob like me, could I really get that lucky twice? On top of being just an average girl, now I was an average girl with a scarred heart and three children. What dummy would get involved with that? There was only one way to find out. Jump in.

My girl friend, V, wasn’t wasting any time finding out. She immediately went on the hunt. She left notes for a friend of a neighbor, who was a firefighter, and she left  a package for me at one of my neighbors so I had to go to his house when he was home to retrieve it. Ah, matchmaking at it’s finest. I was completely embarrassed and thrilled at the same time. Neither of her plans seemed to be working, so I joined

I had no intention of finding Mr. Right. I just wanted to escape reality a bit and maybe feel a spark again. I met a couple of people from Neither worked out. It felt a little creepy and it definitely felt wrong. They agreed.

One day, V decided I should meet the neighbors with the firefighter friend. The fact he didn’t respond to her note wasn’t enough, she had to completely throw me out there for humiliation. The neighbor, M, and V came up with a plan for me and the firighter to meet.  M held a little party, which I found out later was common for her house. Mr. firefighter and me met, along with my kids. I figured if that didn’t scare him, not much would. After a little while, the kids went home with V and left me there to fend for myself with a bunch of people who seemed friendly enough, but were still strangers.

I wasn’t sure what to think about firefighter. He seemed to drink a lot and every other word out of his mouth was the f-bomb. He seemed rougher around the edges than I really wanted, or needed. He seemed very uninterested too. For the next week, they invited me over all the time, and I went often. Sometimes with the kids, but usually they stayed with V.  I came to see that firefighter wasn’t all bad, he was growing on me. I can’t say he felt the same way. He kept his distance. Even though he had my number and we had been around each other, he seemed rather preoccupied. Finally, I overheard him and another party goer talking about this girl he was ‘trying to get with’. The girl wasn’t me. Ah. It all made sense. He was acting uninterested because he was.

The next weekend was my birthday. Which, is also always the weekend of our hometown carnival. Friday night, I went for a few hours just to see people. I felt so out of my element. I left early because it felt a little strange. These were people I was always with when Randy and I were together, and now here I was, single. I decided it was my birthday weekend and I was going to figure out how to have fun again. I was all in the mood to go for it–anything. I decided I was going to get myself ready, hit M’s house for a minute or two, and then head to town and see who I could see. I was going to go to the carnival and then the bar. I just wanted to see people.

My mom had watched the kids Friday night, after birthday celebrations with family. V had offered to watch them on Saturday for me. They could just stay the night. What a deal! I wanted to go to the local store for a drink before heading to M’s to hang out. On my way out of the street, I saw firefighter who stopped.

” Where are you going?”

“To the store for a Pepsi. Why?”

“I was just curious. I thought you would be at M’s.”

“Well, that is where I am going after I get a drink, but only for a minute and then I’m going out.”


“To town. Gonna see who I can see.”

“What the F***? You aren’t going to invite me?”

“Uh, you have had my number for months now, haven’t used it. Why on earth would I ever think to invite you?”

“Well, you could have called me.”

“No. I couldn’t have. And even if I did have your number, why would I call if you so clearly aren’t interested?”

“Well, the road goes both ways.”

“Hm. No. If you wanted to call you would have. Are you saying you want to go or what?”

“Well, maybe, where ya going?”

“Homecoming, bars, and who knows?”

“Well, I don’t want to go to a bar, but I’d go to the movies.”

“The movies? I don’t know. I really wanted to go out. We’ll see. I’ll see ya back at M’s”

I got my Pepsi and went back to M’s. For some reason, they all decided to play wiffleball. So, all the time I wasted looking nice was ruined by sweat. I guess the movies were looking better.  The game was over. I hear firefighter say, “You coming to my house while I shower or am I coming back here?” Of course the room was filled with ‘ooooooo’s.

“I’ll go with”

He paid for the movie, as a birthday present. We saw Spiderman. After the movies, we went back to M’s. Everyone was playing Euchre in the garage. About 2am, people started talking about being tired. Tired? It was my birthday. I was having fun and all the sudden starving. I tried to talk firefighter into going back to town and getting a burger and a piece of cheesecake. He was smiling, but telling me no. It didn’t sound or look like a firm ‘no’. I figured I could win this one…and I did. He said, he’d do it on one condition, we go back to his house and I would massage his back. Eh, whatever. I was in.

We had a lot of fun. When we got back to his house, I was thinking I was crazy. Unlike other dates, I hadn’t felt creeped out. Maybe because I knew we were just friends. He was into someone else. When we got to his house, we went to the bed, where I massaged and scratched his back for an hour. It was 5am. I knew if I didn’t go home and get in bed soon, I’d wake up there in the morning. Or, he would try something that I wasn’t sure if I was ready for. I left, happy.

Monday, me and firefighters friend, MM, who did like me, took the kids to 6 flags. We were just hanging out as friends. He loved 6 flags and I figured the kids would too. While we were there, my phone rings, it was firefighter. I figured he was calling to talk to MM, but being me, I played it up.  I answered the call with, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist me.” All I heard was laughter. I waited to see how he would answer.

“Actually, I wanted to talk to MM.”

Now, I laughed, “Oh, okay then. I see how it is. Too bad I bought you something today, because I am nice, unlike you.” It was flirting at it’s best.

“Really, okay. Should I come over after work?”

“If you want to, it isn’t a big deal. I was just messing with you.”

“I’ll be there about 11pm if that’s okay.”

“Yup. See ya then. Here’s MM.”

We were friends for months after that day. I quickly learned that f-bomb, bar hopping man was really just a lonely guy trying to be with people. He was a soft-hearted, caring, and loving man. I told him it was okay if he wasn’t interested, but we had to figure it out. We talked about the other girl and where he stood. I even helped him work on their relationship. I didn’t ever want him to wonder ‘what if’. One day I bought him a bear and told him I was falling.

My friends thought I was crazy. The truth was, I had no hold on him, no reason to be angry. And, to be real honest, I didn’t need anyone. Certainly didn’t need someone for the sake of saying I had someone. I wanted someone who really wanted to be with me and no one else. Eventually, that girl ruined it all and we both were okay with that. I did encouraged him to be friends with her because I felt like she really needed one.

That firefighter is now my best friend and husband, Tim. We rarely go out and when we do, it’s to a movie or the occasional get together. He doesn’t drop f-bombs every other word anymore and he is a great dad, to all of the kids.

I guess my friend, V, was right. He was a good catch. We have been married 8.5 years now. He has supported me through the anniversary of Randy’s death and birthday, school, two pregnancies, and now through taking care of our own family and my grandparents. I can’t imagine not having him in my life. And, now, over a decade later, I can answer my friends’ question: Yes, love can strike twice. You can find a second soul mate.

Unexpected Anniversaries

It’s been 11 years since Randy died. He died August 18, 2001. It was only four days after his 26th birthday and three days before our son’s 5th birthday.

August 2002 marked one year, an anniversary I never expected to have. The anniversaries for the death of your husband, spouse, or anyone close to you are unlike any other  anniversary you will experience. Usually, leading up to an anniversary, you might pick out a gift and card. Perhaps on your anniversary you might go out to dinner, movie, or just curl up on the couch together.

Death anniversaries are much different, of course. I expected to be sad and lonely on the anniversary of his death. What I did not expect was to completely shut down from the world and experience horrible anxiety for the month of August.

That first year anniversary was terrible, as you can imagine. I felt like I was losing my mind again, like I felt in the beginning stages of my journey. The panic attacks returned. They were mild, but there. I couldn’t sleep again. I didn’t return phone calls. My bills were all late. And, my kids were suffering too;I quit leaving the house for dance classes and homework suddenly wasn’t a priority. If I’m being honest, neither was showering. It was complete regression. I was seeing a counselor, but all of a sudden I could hardly make myself go. When I finally made it to the counselor, we talked about it.

She asked if I thought I was having a hard time because the anniversary of Randy’s death was getting close. My immediate reaction was “I don’t think so”. She was satisfied with that answer. Now I know she was probably hoping I would think on that and realize it was because the anniversary was looming. She was right. I left the office thinking. What if it was the anniversary. What do I do about that? How do I fix that? She and I worked on it, every week. I discovered when I left the house, I did feel a little better. I also realized I withdrew from my friends because I didn’t want to talk about Randy. I didn’t want them to notice something was wrong either.

I had started talking to Tim. We were just friends, but he was already a good support system for me. He often came over after work and we would watch movies and talk. I’m sure he noticed a difference, but I was pretty good at hiding my pain. Tim isn’t a big talker and for that whole month of August, I was glad. The night before Randy’s birthday anniversary, we were talking. I could tell he wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure how to say it

“Tomorrow is Randy’s birthday, right? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I guess. As good as I can be.”

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. My grandma is coming over to watch Emily and give me some time. Maybe I’ll go shopping. Jewelry shopping.”

He laughed, “Yeah, right. You are going to go shopping? And you’re going to buy jewelry.”

I knew what he was getting at, I hate shopping. Now, I know that is so un-girly, but it’s true. “Yeah, I know, it’s strange for me. I think I do really want to go shopping. I think I want a nice piece of jewelry to remember.”

Still smirking, “I don’t believe you.”

“We’ll see.” I answered.

But I did what I said I was going to do, a personality trait Tim came to admire. I saw some jewelry that I had never seen before–past, present, future jewelry. That was meant to be, I was supposed to be there. I bought a sapphire past, present, future ring. It was perfect. I brought it home and he came over that night. I was in bed watching TV. I had cried, maybe off and on for hours. He laid down behind me, wrapped his arms around me, and let me keep crying. Eventually, I rolled over long enough to show him the ring, which he liked. We had a good laugh about the shopping for jewelry thing. It didn’t last long, we watched a little TV, through my tears, and eventually, I fell asleep just as I was, while he held me. I woke up the next morning in his arms.

The date of Randy’s death was the same routine, minus the jewelry shopping. Strangely, after those two days passed, I felt better. I seemed to be back on track to healing, as if I never had a detour to the  journey.

The next year, towards the beginning of August, my friends called me out on my strange behavior. I couldn’t really explain it. I had felt okay. I didn’t feel like there was a reason that I would almost disappear from the world. Same with the year after, and then it dawned on me: the body and mind remembers. No matter how far removed I was from the date of his death, my body carried that pain and it resurfaces around the anniversary. On the surface, I knew the dates were coming, but I never felt like I was focused on them. I always felt like I was doing pretty good, considering. I always felt like I continued to move forward. Sure, we all have moments, even eleven years later. We miss them, but over all, we are doing good. Our lives are generally happy and life is good.

Once I became aware of what was happening, I explained to my friends. My family understood, they were experiencing the same thing. My friends made sure to try to give me some space in August, but not let me have too much space. They helped me not sink back into all the pain. They were perfect. Tim understands too. He has a terrible memory, so I often have to explain what time of year it is, but once I remind him, he is wonderful. I quit thinking about the anniversary date all together because that day is nothing but pain for me and my family.  And, honestly, the more time went on, I was okay to be happy. I didn’t feel the need to make sure I was miserable as proof that I still loved him. I was going to be happy, the way I was, and think of him when I wanted to think of him. It was okay to be happy. The anniversary was not going to control me.

My subconscious mind and my body had other plans. Your body remembers, even if you don’t want it to. The last few years, I have finally been able to function through August. The feelings still surface. Because I don’t think about losing him every day anymore, it hard for me to realize what is going on. I’m a thinker though, so when I see that I am withdrawing (not returning calls, irritable, and staying it bed) I evaluate what is going on. It’s always that anniversary month. I work hard at not letting it get the best of me. Now, I control it, instead of it controlling me.

The body remembers, even if we don’t want it to or think we are doing fine. Be prepared. Cut yourself a break. It’s okay. Find something to do that gets you out of the house or re-connects you with people who love you. Just like everything concerning grief, it will get better. You have to work a bit and it isn’t easy, but you can get through it. You can get through anything. Don’t give up.