Demons, Be Gone!

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is the night of ghosts and goblins. Luckily, many of  these night creatures are cute kids dressed in retail costumes in search of free candy. The worst of tonight is the inevitable candy coma and tummy ache. For some of us though, Halloween isn’t the only time we deal with demons.

For those of us who have loved and lost, it is hard shedding those haunting feelings–it is easy to let fear, shame, and guilt consume our lives. I know those feelings well; I had my own set of goblins following me around. The should-haves, the what-ifs, and fear of moving forward alone cloud our heads every day.

Many chapters in our lives end neatly with a nice segue into the next. When we graduate its sad because we are closing a chapter, however, they give out those nice diplomas that allow us to move on to jobs and colleges. When we leave home to live life on our own, it’s sad leaving our soft place to fall. We move on with joy because we know we can create our own comfort space. Even when we crave change and can’t wait to pass our tests and move on, changing and growing is never easy.

Chapters that end abruptly or against our will are not as easy to transition through. They leave us with “stuff” to deal with. And this, well, this will probably be the toughest transition yet. It may or may not feel like you can make it through.

I promise, you can make it–I also promise, you have to try or you won’t.

The subject of my husband’s death, even 12 years later, comes up more than you might think. There are always people we meet who wonder about something they see or hear and I find myself explaining why it is the way it is. I don’t mind. I’m sure they often are sorry they asked, but by then, it’s too late. I don’t mind because every moment is a teachable moment and I always want people to a) not drink and drink because it does kill b) know histories run deep and c) know suffering a life of a victim is a choice.  Often, especially women, will say, “I don’t know how you did it. You are so strong.” I know what they mean. When I see someone suffering, I often wonder the same thing because it is so hard to fathom how difficult it is to weather a storm that big.

My answer is always the same: I did it because I didn’t have a choice. That’s how it felt to me–no one asked me if I was ready or if I had a plan–I just had to do it. The whole truth is, there is always a choice.  Every day when I am out in the world I see the choices people make. Some choose a path similar to mine and all too many chose a path of suffering.

Those demons and ghouls stifle our thinking and trap us in a place we do not belong. Working through our “stuff” is not easy or pretty. It hurts, it is ugly, and it requires a lot of work. It’s time to cast the demons out and get your mind healthy.

Guilt is a terrible thing to carry. It’s heavy and cumbersome. When you carry it, it leaves little room or energy for anything else.  When Randy died, we were happy. Happy as people, happy as a couple, and happy in our role as parents–that wasn’t always the case.  The short version is we found each other young and had a lot of growing pains. Many of those pains went unnoticed by him and I felt alone, which led to a lot of problems. We were barely a couple for about a year and a half of our 8 year relationship–by my hand. We worked it out because of his tenacity and willingness to change. That relationship developed into a phenomenal marriage–not just on the surface, but through and through.

When he died, the guilt consumed me, literally. How could I have possibly wasted that much time–time I will never get back. There would be no more memories to make, it is done. I just felt terrible. It took me about a year to figure out that if we had not been through those rough years we never would have found each other in the way we did.  Fortunately, we died after we had truly found each other and we both were happy. It felt good to let myself be joyous in the fact that we were living the truly happy life we had dreamed.

Fear paralyzed me from the beginning of this ordeal. I didn’t know how to be alone with kids. I went from my parents house to his house, I never lived alone. Now I was alone and responsible for little humans. Terrifying.

I used to tease people. I would say I was a single mom because he worked so much–or a hunting widow because if he wasn’t working, he was hunting something. When he died, so much was lost–my security was one. Going to the store alone at night sent me into a panic and sleeping in the house alone amplified every single sound,  inside and out.  The fact is, he he was alive, he always came home. He was there to fix things, protect us, listen to me, and build me back up when I needed it. All of it, gone.

Every day, sometimes in the beginning it was every hour, I took a deep breath and did something that was hard for me to do. I had all of the day-to-day tasks to complete: homework, grocery store, supper, church, dance class, etc. Then, I had the big tasks that to complete: move our stuff back home (it was all in a new house waiting on us to move in on Monday), change my bank accounts, create a will and testament, start Social Security for the kids, etc. None of the firsts were easy, in fact, I often had panic attacks. I didn’t let it stop me–I couldn’t let it stop me. Breathe in, breathe out.

As the days passed, the daily tasks got easier and the fear lessened.  I learned, how ever gradual, to stand on my own two feet again. I began to realize that I could do this, I was strong enough to do this. I could make it through.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Pressure to wear a smile so others feel okay about how we feel–wouldn’t want anyone to lose sleep over our pain. Pressure to be sad, but not too sad because people might talk. Pressure to heal, but not too fast because people might think you didn’t love him like you should. Pressure to be the mother and father for your kids. Pressure to be the widow you think you should be is second only to the pressure to be the wife and mother people think you should be. If we don’t reach our expectations, we feel guilt and we fear the response of the masses.

Fear and guilt feed each other until they merge into one big monster we call shame. You must tame the guilt and work through the fear. You have nothing to be ashamed of. No one is watching you in the way you feel–if they are, they should feel the shame, not you. 

The bottom line is, this is your journey in your time. You have to take some time to just worry about getting through this. Even if you have small children, they will not get through this in one piece if you can’t. It’s time to push the monsters out the door and start truly healing. I always, always suggest talking to a counselor. I know it sounds strange, and will feel strange at first, but it really helps keep the demons in check until you can push your way through.

I don’t want you to suffer through life, I want you to keep moving and growing. I want you to make the choice of a happy life instead of victim. From early stages of grief through later stages, it’s a battle–a battle worth working for and winning. I know you can do it. Hang in there, even if it’s only by the nail on your pinky finger. You will climb your way out before you know it.





Unexpected Beauty

We go through life eyes wide open, yet somehow we miss so many things—important things. So often those missing things are the small breaths of fresh air that keep us moving forward. Some might say the only thing that keeps us going. Often we get caught up in living life—struggling to get through this or that—and we forget to really look around us. I have noticed that often these pieces find me. In the moment when I am caught up in my anger and frustration, or even when I am simply being an observer of the world around me, these things sneak up on me. Whatever the pieces are, they are a little bit of unexpected beauty. They feed my soul and make me smile.

The other day, as I was at a relative’s home, we were having a conversation about college. I looked at my son to gauge his reaction on his future when something funny happened—he smiled a crooked little smile. His hand in his pocket of his athletic shorts, his weight on one leg as the other was out in front a little and relaxed. That smile is cute and made me happy—what really made me happy is that is exactly something his dad would have done. It was his dad from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. That made it more precious. In fact, I’d say it was absolutely beautiful.

Tomorrow, his dad has been dead (that is still such a harsh word to me) for 12 years! My son was 3 days away from being five when my husband died. Brendan remembers very little of his dad.  He does not remember what he liked to do or any of this favorite things. He remembers a couple of memories of him alive and he remembers all the activities surrounding his death—that’s all he has. Seeing his dad live on, through him (and the other kids), never ceases to amaze me. Through the years, each of the kids have smiled a certain way, or made a certain joke, or acted in a way that allowed me to see their dad again. That is beautiful.

Under Pressure

Pressure to move on. I have two thoughts on this. Thinking back, I think there are external and internal pressures–both very real.

I felt like the world was telling me to get over it already. I was still in counseling and still navigating my new world, but I felt like they were tired of it.  People still couldn’t look at me without feeling sad. They still avoided me when they saw me, if they could. They even occasionally asked if I was okay or if I needed help.

More often, though, I was asked if I was dating yet, did I enroll in school, or where was I working. People wanted to see signs of progress. They wanted to know that I was doing more than laying around the house. I mean, it had been a year, I should be over it. As widows and widowers, we know that isn’t how it goes. We know it might not take that long to get our acts together, but for the most part, we are just getting started.

It didn’t even feel real for the first 6 or 7 months, at least. I mean, whose life was I living anyway? It sure wasn’t mine, or at least not the way I had planned my life in my head. Sometimes, out of habit, I would still think, “Oh, good. Randy will be home soo…” and catch myself mid-thought and suddenly remember that he would never come home again.

Loved ones and friends didn’t see those thoughts. They didn’t know what it felt like to go through this. I was supposed to be getting better. And, I was–just not on their timetable. I remember an instance (more than one, but I’ll spare you) specifically that has really stuck with me. I don’t hold on to it out of anger. I remember it because it is a clear example how different things are on the inside compared to those on the outside.

I had three kids under the age of 7 when Randy died. After, I was doing good to get out of bed in the morning, but I had to find a way to take care of the kids too. I couldn’t quit being a mom. You have to understand, during a normal time in my life, I am one together girl. I am on time, with supplies in hand. We don’t miss appointments or skip out on commitments. During the first year and a half after Randy died, I was a wreck.

Sometimes they were late for school, sometimes I couldn’t get their homework done, and often we skipped dance because I had just run out of energy or one of the other kids was sick. The baby took an extra nap sometimes. Luckily she was a sleeper and didn’t usually mind. Maybe some widows have their act together. Maybe some are really good at pretending, but I was very honest—I was doing good to tread water, I wasn’t going to worry about winning the race right now.

One night, Kayla had a Girl Scout meeting. They were having a dress rehearsal at their meeting that night. The leader, who was also a casual friend, took Kayla to the meeting for me. I was thankful to stay home. She (we’ll call her Candy) called me when she was almost to the meeting site. She wanted to know where the shirt was. Oh no. I had forgotten to send it. Big surprise.  Candy continued to explain to me how insensitive I was and how she was tired of Kayla not having her stuff or needing rides.

I quite honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She was right, I should have my act together, but well, my husband died and kind of put a kink in my plans. Did I tell her that? Well, yes, something close to that. It wasn’t a pretty conversation. I mean, how dare she? She continued to tell me that it was time, it had been a year. Maybe she thought I needed a wake up call, but the fact is, I was well aware. I needed no reminders or criticism.  I was doing the best I could.  She called a few days later and wanted to talk about it. I explained my side and she explained her side. We still couldn’t agree. Kayla finished her Girl Scout year because we finish commitments we start. Candy and I never talked again, besides pleasantries.

The real point of that story is everyone’s life moves on while ours stands still. We are on a journey they could never fathom, unless it happened to them. And, we wouldn’t wish that on anyone. We are also a painful reminder of their worst fears come true. That’s hard. If we manage to move forward and quit talking about it all, that fear can subside. Death is uncomfortable and if people don’t have to live it day in and day out, they would rather not. So, whether they mention it or not, chances are, they probably would like you to move on.

I also remember having that internal pull to quit talking about him. By the time a year had rolled around, I was missing companionship. I missed Randy terribly and I missed having a partner. Those ideas are separate ideas, but closely linked. I craved that relationship, that intimacy. I don’t mean sexual intimacy. I mean the physical and emotional intimacy that can only happen in spousal relationships. I felt like to move on, I had to push Randy aside. I didn’t know that I was willing to do that.

I mean, Randy and I didn’t separate, we weren’t divorced. He died. We were in a very committed, loving, and deeply intimate relationship until he died. How do you hold on to him and find someone new. It just doesn’t seem to work. I wasn’t sure how to move forward. I knew I couldn’t forget him and I knew I didn’t want to. I struggled for a long time with the idea of how to make it happen. I finally decided I just didn’t know how to do it, and set the question off to the side. I just kept talking about him and loving him.

I even dreamed about it. After Tim and I started dating, I had dream after dream after dream about Randy and Tim. Every dream was about Tim and I dating and then Randy would just show back up. It was as if Randy had been on a long vacation and I had cheated on him with Tim and I had to figure out who I was going to stay with. Each dream left me feeling like Randy was okay and he was going to let me do what I wanted to do.

After a while, I gave up trying to separate my relationship with Randy from my love for him. He was part of who I was. We made a life and kids. I never wanted to forget him. I did have to find a way for him to fit in my life. Tim, my current husband, helped. He told me that he understood Randy was part of my history and he was the kids’ history, too. He knew that my life with Randy helped make me who I am today and he was okay with that.

You are not crazy, there is definitely an indirect pressure to quit talking about him and move on. You need to walk your path and do what you need to do to be whole. If that makes someone uncomfortable, then that is their problem to work through. You have enough to deal with. And, as far as I am concerned, your husband will always be part of you.

If you have an internal pressure, like I did, you will find a way to dismiss it. I had to give myself permission to move on and stay true to who I know I am. I could live a happy life and not forget Randy. I knew I had to find a way to re-direct that internal pressure. Re-categorize where or how Randy fit into my life.  I don’t think I set out to do it, I think it just happened. As I healed and worked through issues, Randy slowly moved into the spot he is now. He is very much a part of our lives, as is the experience itself. I could never live happily if that weren’t true. Tim had it right. He is our history and we should never forget where we came from.

Ties that Bind

When  Randy died, we were living with my parents until our new house was done. It was supposed to be done the week before, but an incorrect countertop measurement delayed it. We moved all of our stuff into the house, except for a few items of clothing and the essentials.

When he died, all I wanted to was hold something that reminded me of him. Everything was packed. We weren’t sleeping in our bed or with our sheets. We washed clothes often because we didn’t have much with us. He had one pair of underwear, one pair of socks, a pair of shorts, and one T-shirt that he had worn the day before. I wasn’t going to cozy up to his underwear or socks, so I grabbed the T-shirt.

I slept with that T-shirt every night. I held it tight when I cried. It probably was beginning to smell more like me than it smelled like him. It didn’t matter. It was his. It was the only thing I had left to hold besides a broken watch, a wallet, and a bloody $20.

It was about 3 weeks later we finally moved back home, into the house we had moved out of. We never moved into our new house. When you have a contract, with your dead spouse’s name on it, and he/she dies, the contract is null and void. I could have tried to do it on my own. I had a big decision, move to where I know we both wanted to be and hope people I didn’t know would rally around me to be a support. Which, I think they would have. Or, move back to the home I already owned. It was old, but it was us. We had lived there for almost 5 years together. It was our first house that we picked out together, decorated together, and shared with our kids. I knew I would have a good support system there. It’s a small, close-knit group. I figured my kids had been through enough, I moved home.

My family would help, a lot. In the beginning, they came over and watched kids so I could sort my thoughts or go to counseling. My grandma was the one who came over often. While she was there she often cooked us supper and cleaned my house, spotless. It felt so good to come home and know there were two less things I had to try to figure out how to do. It’s hard to get even the smallest things accomplished.

It was about 2 months after Randy died. Grandma had come over during the day so I could  go to counseling. As I was pulling in the driveway from an emotional session, I was relieved just thinking about supper being done and the house being picked up. I walked in the house and saw she had even done my laundry. Wow. I was so lucky.

Until I saw something familiar in the stack of folded shirts. I immediately filled with sadness and rage. She had washed his shirt! I was so angry. I asked her why she did that. She didn’t understand what I meant. She didn’t understand how I could be upset over her doing something so nice. I explained that she washed THAT shirt. I had other things of his, but none that smelled like him. That was the only thing I had from the night before he died. I had it wadded up in my bed. It wasn’t like I left it in the floor or the dirty clothes. I mean, why would she look on my bed and take what was there. I felt like she had stolen from me. I felt like she had invaded my intimate space and stole from me. I also felt a little like an idiot yelling at her about my crutch. I was an adult, I shouldn’t have a ‘blankie’ to sleep with. But, I shouldn’t have to live without my husband either. I figured I deserved to have a crutch for awhile. I didn’t care what she thought about it anymore, I just kept yelling and crying.

She felt terrible when she realized what she had done. If she had known, she never would have done it. I did apologize eventually, months later, because guilt got the best of me. There is no one that has ever been there for me more than her. In that moment, I couldn’t calm down. We talked about it, she understood why I felt so bad. I still slept with that shirt, it didn’t have the same feel though.

Now, my oldest daughter has that shirt. She wears it to bed when she wants to feel close to her daddy.

We all have our stuff. Don’t feel pressured to give it up. Don’t feel pressured to clean out his/her closet or drawers. Or apologize before you’re ready for something maybe you wouldn’t have said if you weren’t sitting in a large tornado.

It was years before I could watch a video or go through boxes. I still can’t watch a video without crying. It took me about 8 years before I could go through a box of his–and even that hurt. Our stuff was already in boxes from the move and I just left it there. I just couldn’t do it. Just recently I went through some of this stuff that my mother gave me. I did it without crying. First time ever. I didn’t even feel like I needed to cry. It was memories and they were good.

Don’t feel stupid for having a crutch either. It’s important. You know, there is never going to be another memory made or another conversation had. If you want to hold on to the things you shared, the moments together, the conversations–do it. There is nothing wrong with it. Keep it in a safe place or don’t let well-intentioned, loving members of your support system in your house. And, if something happens to it, find a way to be at peace with it. As you have learned, life is too short to be angry over anything for too long.

Take  your time. When you are ready to move his/her stuff, you will. When you are ready to pack up your crutch, you will. This is  your journey and you need to do it your way.




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.


Kids Grieve Too

When Randy died, my kids were 7 years old, almost 5 years old, and 7 months old. I hoped the older two would remember their dad, but I knew there was no chance for my 7 month old to ever know her dad.

The oldest, Kayla, remembers certain things about her dad. She even remembers things I don’t. Her perspective was different from mine. She noticed things that I took for granted. When we compare notes, it’s interesting to see the differences. Together, we create a whole picture. Her memory wasn’t always so clear. After her dad died, she placed him on pedestal higher than God. No, really, she did. He was the best at everything and bad at nothing.

No one could measure up, not even me. Out of frustration, or maybe jealousy, and sometimes out of wanting a good chuckle, I would mention something about him that was not so flattering. Like, I might mention that he was really great at annoying people. So much so,his dad referred to him as ‘annoying man’. Randy would sit and flip the remote over and over or tap his fingers or whistle or anything he thought might grate on your nerves the tiniest bit…then he’d giggle. That was enough to send Kayla off the deep end. I would have to listen to all kinds of negative talk about how I must be glad he was gone and how I just wanted to date (it all stemmed back to that time period when we weren’t getting along). Eventually, as she healed, Randy joined the land of the mortals and the pedestal came tumbling down. Now, 11 years later, she can talk about the good, the annoying, and even some of his bad habits with honesty and a smile.

The important thing is, she has a whole picture. He mattered and I want her to know it, but I want her to have a healthy memory. If she left him on that pedestal, she would never be happy with a step-father, or probably any man. I didn’t want her to turn away boyfriends because she compared everyone to this unrealistic image of her father.

Brendan was just days away from his 5th birthday when Randy was killed. In fact, his party was supposed to be that day. Because Brendan was so young, I worried about his memories. I know that I remember very little from when I was four and five. I worried he would only remember the traumatic memories. I worried they would trump the good memories. I was right, they have. He remembers one or two things about his dad. What he remembers how it felt losing him, what it was like looking at him in the casket, and other things I wish he could forget.

Brendan is quieter than his siblings, much like his father. He rarely says anything, but when he does, it’s because it is important to him. Occasionally, he will ask something about his dad that we haven’t talked about. When Kayla and I talk about Randy, he is always listening. He gets very emotionally, very fast, whereas Kayla usually is a little calmer. We all have our moments, but his emotional responses come much faster. When they come, he’s done talking. His response has stayed fairly consistent since I told him his dad died.

When I told him Randy was dead, he intentionally fell asleep. It still hurts bad enough, that when emotions surface, he is out of there. There have been moments when he has asked me questions and finished the conversation, even through the tears. I see very gradual change in him. He functions well and we have had no problems with him. I do wish he had more memories and I hope if we talk about Randy enough, he will be able to picture it in his head and at least have some non-traumatic memories. Poor Emily has no memories at all.

Emily was only 7 months when Randy died. In some ways she is the luckiest of all, and in others, the most impaired. She doesn’t know the pain we knew. She doesn’t remember how terrible it was to walk that path. That’s the good and the bad news.

I often wondered as she was growing up when she would ask about Randy. When, or if, she would ever grieve him. Would she be the crazy kid who fought the law and parents her whole life because she never heard my incessant speeches about compassion, strength, and faith? Would she end up pregnant at 16 to fill the void of her dad?

I got remarried to my current husband in April 2004. It had been 3 years since Randy died. Tim entered our lives, as a friend first, when Emily was only about 16 months old. No one told any of the kids to call him dad. No one told Tim he had to be their dad. The two pieces just fell together. All of the kids think of him as dad. They tell everyone else he is their dad. When we are at home, usually the older two call him Tim. He doesn’t take place of their dad, but he is one of their dads. How lucky are they to have not only ONE dad who loved them, but to have TWO? That is amazing. I know that Randy and his family are happy to know there is a man out there, here on earth, who loves them and treats them as if they were always his. Everyone needs a dad and Tim makes a great one. Emily and Brendan do not remember a time when he wasn’t their dad. We differentiate between the two when we need to by using the names ‘Daddy Randy’ and ‘Daddy Tim’.

Since we think of Randy as their dad in Heaven and Tim as their dad on earth, we feel no need to clarify to others. Tim isn’t a step-dad and Randy isn’t the biological dad. They are both dads. How that came to be is no one’s business, but ours. When we mention ‘dad’ or ‘daddy’ to others, usually it refers to Tim.

One summer, when Emily was about 8 years old, she started talking about death a lot. She also started asking question after question about her dad. We spent every day at the pool because she was on summer swim team. One day I go strolling into the pool, sun shining bright, with the intent to grab a chair and soak up some morning sun during their two-hour practice. Before I could even get comfortable one of the other moms hurried towards me. I waited for her since it seemed important. She placed her hand on my arm with concern and said, “Oh my gosh! Emily told me her dad died.”

“What?” I said, quite confused.

“She said he was killed in car wreck.”

“Ohhhh!” I replied with a small smile.

I explained the situation. I think that mom was more concerned about Emily’s strange e obsession with her dad’s death after the explanation. I don’t think she understood what was going on with Emily.

To me, it suddenly made sense. Emily had told everyone about Randy’s death. All the concern and fascination about death and Randy all made sense. It had been almost 8 years since his death and she was grieving. Apparently, she was telling everyone we knew that her dad had died. She was going through all the questions the kids had been through. Just like Kayla and Brendan, she was concerned I would die too. She needed to picture that sad time in her mind and work through all the exact issues that the other kids had already mastered.

I worried about her, often. I wondered if I should take her to counseling, like I did with the other kids. We spent hours talking. Sometimes the topic came up at strange times, but we always talked. I answered her questions, we talked about her concerns. We talked about how it was okay to go through this and that it all would work out. I offered her the chance to go to counseling and she declined. Eventually, the topic subsided and she was content with her knowledge. The stage lasted for about 6 months.

At 12 years old, there is much unknown about her future, but some of my questions are answered. She will grieve him just like the other kids did and she will work through it and heal just like the other kids did.

Even kids walk their own path when it comes to grief. It’s our job to support them. Try not to be shocked by what they say. Kids are very direct. They are trying to figure the world out and decide how they feel about it. They are not big picture thinkers. They have little or no thought about how their words might hurt someone else. So, keep up your armor when talking to them about sensitive subjects. Talking about it might be painful for you, too. Doing it together might allow you to learn something about your child or yourself. It also might help you heal a bit more. It was always easier for me to deal with my own grief when it seemed like my kids were healing too.

However you do it, remember there are no right or wrong answers. There are no hard and fast rules. And, whatever the age of your child, they might experience their own grief and will need your support. Together, you can do anything.


A Letter

Dear Reader,

I hope this letter finds you well. I know things haven’t been easy for you. That’s probably an understatement. I have thought about you often. I have worried and wondered how you are doing. I never wanted you to think you were alone. I had to wait for you to find me. The important thing is you are here now. And, you definitely are not alone.

I know you are a strong, capable person. I am confident you can handle anything that comes your way. Sometimes, it’s just nice to know you don’t have to do it alone. It feels good to know you have someone to walk along side you. I wish had answers. I wish I could tell you how to make it hurt less or how to make it all go away. Unfortunately, that’s something no one can do.

People will try to solve your problems, or at least make you feel better. There are many reasons they do this. Most of them care about you deeply. The rest, well, they are probably carrying their own pain. Your pain and their pain may be too much for them to bear. They will tell you all those clichés people say to each other during hard times. You know the ones I am talking about. Try to be patient with them. Try to remember they do care about you, even if it isn’t in the way you need them to.

Firsts. Oh, there are going to be many of these. Usually we view firsts as exhilarating. They make us nervous, anxious, and excited all at once. The firsts you have now will probably bring you little more than apprehension, sorrow, and pain. Even the simplest task might make you weep. At least, that’s how it felt to me. Firsts are hard for another reason. They don’t all happen in a certain time frame. It might be 10 years down the line and you might experience a first. And, just so you know, it doesn’t feel any better than the first time you slept in your bed without him. Those are things that always bring you back to the pain.

The first dance our daughter went to, I cried. He was supposed to be there. The first baseball game our son ever played, I wept like a baby. The first time our youngest won a swim meet sent me to a room where I sat in tears. Those moments were all firsts for me, even though they were years later.  And they hurt just as bad as if they had happened right after his death.

Now you know; time does not heal all wounds. It does make it easier. It’s easier for a lot of reasons. Those moments that bring you to your knees come less often. And when you find yourself on the ground, getting up isn’t as difficult. And most importantly, time allows you to be happy more often than you are sad. It allows you to find yourself again. It allows you to sleep at night. It allows you to love and be loved once again. Time is a beautiful thing, and it does help.  Just don’t expect too much. It will not separate you from your past. It cannot build a wall between you and pain.

Time is only as good as its accomplice—you. It won’t happen overnight, or even over a month. It will happen. It will happen when you are ready for it to happen. There is no rule book. No one can tell you to do it this way or that. There are tricks and tips that can help you walk through the process, but nothing that can replace.

I can tell you what I went through and I can tell you how I got through. You might find comfort in knowing though, our experiences are different, many of our feelings are the same. Perhaps you will want to try some of my tips and hopefully they will work for you. I should tell you, I didn’t do this alone either.

I found a grief counselor. I never thought I would be a person to share my pain with someone so openly. I have to say, not only did I share with a stranger, but I’m not sure what I would have done without her. I used my husband’s Employer Assistance Plan to help me find the one I used. It’s something to consider.

Please don’t let fear inhibit your healing. I remember being terrified. I was afraid of forgetting him. What he sounded like. Afraid of not remembering his voice, or the way held me at night. I never dreamed that healing actually allowed me to remember him better. Randy is never a closed subject here. Sometimes it still brings tears, but those tears are sweet tears. I can think of him, talk about him, and still be okay. That is what time and healing can do for you. It isn’t the way I had imagined our lives together, but it is all I have. I feel thankful to have that. It’s a good feeling.

I am so proud of the path you are on. You have already made great strides towards recovery. There is a lot of road left to travel, but please don’t be discouraged. Like I said before, you are strong and capable. And, when you feel like you are not strong enough to take one more step, ask for a hand. If we walk this path together, we can learn from each other. We can lean on each other. We are not alone.

I hope to hear from you soon. Until then, please, take care of yourself.

Your new friend,


Every Long Lost Dream Led Me to Where You Are

When your husband dies, so do all of your dreams. 

How do I know, you ask? I say that from experience. The hole left in my heart reminds me. When I was 26 years old, my husband was killed by a drunk driver. It left me with three children under 7 years old. He was more than my husband. He was my protector, best friend, boundary to the world, my lover, and my future.

Near the anniversary date of his death, I found I was very lonely. I craved companionship. I craved that connection. The kind of connection you only get from another man. Not sex. Not even intimacy. Just a connection to let me know I was still alive.

Friends tried to help. They set out on a mission: Find Sara a new husband. Their intentions were noble. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t ready for that. Not just yet. I did need to talk, laugh, and have fun. I also needed to lean on someone. I had no one I felt could share my burden. Everyone I knew had their own.

Once I realized this search had potential, I was on board. And, it worked! Although, I don’t think it went as they had planned. At least not in the beginning.

I did meet a guy. A guy who was already interested in another girl, of course. That figures. I wasn’t sure he was someone I could or would date anyway. People kept throwing us together, and we both kept showing up. He had a great smile and the thought of finding someone to just be with, was appealing.

After awhile, we realized we did have a good time with each other. But, there was this problem of this other girl. We had to have the I-am-pursuing-other-avenues-talk. He was very honest with me. He had no idea that I already knew what was going on. I was okay–with all that. The number one reason? I don’t want someone who doesn’t want me. I was happy being friends. We could keep learning about each other and he could keep working on figuring out what he wanted.

Everyone needs to start where they are. Being friends is what I was ready for. He was there for me. When I needed him, he was there. Holding me while I cried.. Watching movies with me. Helping me with the kids.

After a month or so, we were dating. Still not exclusively, but dating. She was still in the picture. That was okay with me, although it was getting harder to put out of my mind. I wasn’t ready for anything more serious, but I could feel myself falling.

My friends bothered often bothered me with pesky questions. Wanting to put my feelings for him in a neat little box. Wanting clarification for my relationship with Tim.

Them: Is he Mr. Right?

Me: Well, I don’t know, but he is Mr. Right Now.

Them: Why do you let him go see that other girl?

Me: I have no hold on him. I have no right to say anything.

Them: Why are you so patient?

Me: Why would I want someone who isn’t sure if they want me?

We took our time and when I was ready, I told him he had to make a decision. I told him I didn’t want someone who didn’t want me, so if he wanted her, it was okay. We could stay friends. I just needed to know my boundaries. He cried. I wanted to make it very clear that I am fine on my own. I don’t need anyone. I want to share my life and if he doesn’t want the same thing, we need to go our separate ways. I was falling, and falling fast. I needed to know where I stood, where we stood. He told me that I was too good for him and deserved more. I left it in his hands to do with what he wanted.

It took him awhile to make a decision. I even helped him help her through some rough points in her life. For instance, she crashed her car. We cut our plans short to get her car from the tow yard. And when she ignored him until it broke his heart and  he refused to ever speak to her again,  I talked him into being nice and staying friends. I didn’t want to leave questions unanswered in his head.

I don’t ever want someone to be with me because they can’t have someone else! What a terrible feeling that would be. I wanted him to try to make it work. I wanted her to flub it up so he didn’t want her anymore. I wanted to sit back and watch it fall apart or watch it flourish and move on.

Over the next few months his choice became clear, and he moved in. Big steps! Strange things started happening. When he brought in his furniture, we realized it matched mine. His silverware matched mine, too. His style in decorating, matched mine. There were no questions in our minds that this was supposed to happen.

Within 2 years, we married. He had supported me going back to school, watched me grieve the loss of a husband I loved dearly, and slowly turned into a parent, without me asking. He had gone from Mr. Right Now, to Mr. Right. And he did it because he wanted to. Because it felt right. Because we belonged together.

When Randy died, I didn’t know if I would ever find someone else who completed me. We were such a great match. I’d be lying if I said I always knew there was a plan. Many times I doubted if I would find anyone, especially anyone like this. I struggled with the fact I had been so blessed the first time. I didn’t think I deserved that kind of happiness again. Some people haven’t been fortunate to find one love of a lifetime. Why did I deserve two? I did have hope that true love would come my way again. I hoped and I prayed, often.

Even when Tim and I decided to get married, I wondered, is this right? While shopping for wedding rings, Tim picked out the same ring as Randy’s wedding band. He picked because it was detailed, but simple and he liked it. I sat silent. He could tell something was on my mind.

“What? You don’t like it?”

“No. I do like it. I don’t think you really want it that one though.”

“Why? We have looked at 100 rings and this is the only one I have liked.”

“That was Randy’s ring.”

His eyes immediately popped open. “Yeah. I don’t want that one. Are you sure its the same ring?”

“Oh yeah. I’m sure.”

“Okay. Let’s keep looking.”

I struggled with that moment. It felt like a sign. My problem was deciding if it was a good sign or bad. I thought about it and even dreamt about that night. Randy was in that dream. I was torn between two men. It felt so real. Then, Randy disappeared. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I feel like Tim picked that ring because Randy let him know it was okay.

I have never felt like Randy dying was the way it was supposed to be. I don’t think that was ever in the plans for me. However, I have always felt like since it happened, I couldn’t let it be in vain. I had to learn, I had to do something with my life, and I had to be happy. Randy loved me so ferociously and wanted the best for me, even if it was at his detriment. I know he would want me to feel that love again and I know he would want his kids to have a male in their lives to look up. Someone who could and would take care of them. Someone to love them like he did. Tim did all of that, on his own, without anyone asking. That’s a man.

I will love Randy for eternity and no one could take his place. With that said, I have to also say, I love Timothy so much, that life without him is unimaginable. Tim is everything I need and want him to be–maybe more.

The dream I had of me and Randy together forever may have been shattered, but it led me exactly to the place I am supposed to be.

Tell me, How Long Does it Take to Get Over Something Like That?

We have tried to sell Grandpa’s car for months now. We finally set up an appointment for an older couple to come look at it. The couple were nice enough. They did like to talk. After an hour of looking at the engine, driving it, crawling in the trunk, and trying to talk us down from a steal, we come to an agreement. They were going to take the car.

That’s when we discovered exactly how much this couple liked to talk. Some how the conversation moved from the car to how much space we have, to kids appreciation, to life can change in a moment. This is a statement that grates on me. It shouldn’t, but it does. It bothers me because no one knows my walk. Do not assume because I am 20 years your junior that I am lacking any sense of strife or experience. Assuming that just makes me absolutely crazy. I can’t help it. I instantly go in defense mode.

“Believe me, when your husband is killed by a drunk driver, you know and understand quite well exactly how fast life can change.”

He turned me and said something no one has ever asked me before, “Tell me, how long does it take to get over something like that?”

“Well…” I started as I glanced at my husband. Tim took over. “Never. You probably never get it.”

I nodded my head. “It’s just different. You just change. It changes you and the way you view it changes. Tim helped me. Without him, honestly, I probably couldn’t have done what I have done.”

The gentleman, still staring at Tim and I. “Hm. I just can’t imagine how hard that was. You made it, and did it together, and now you are married. That’s interesting.”

And, with that, we ended the subject as quickly as we found it.

The question was jarring to me because, Tim is right, it’s never over. It’s all the time, sometimes every day. Each time it comes up, it’s different. Sometimes, a smell or the weather set me in the wrong direction and it’s all tears. There are times, of course, when it comes up and I am fine. It just feels like a fact of life.

There is another reason I was shocked by his straightforward question. It’s because that question is nearly impossible to really answer. Impossible to explain it in a way that someone (who hasn’t been there) could understand. And, let’s be honest, much of the time the person doesn’t really care. They are just responding the way they think they should.

To answer that question, I have to decipher how much the person actually wants to know. Then, I have to give them a very concise answer that fits into the box they have created.

Just another example how fast the topic, and the feelings, rush into conversations. Ten years from now, that question, or others like it, will still give me pause.

April 12, 2002: Eight Months After My World Quit Turning.

This is a journal entry that I kept online after Randy died. It is as it was when I wrote it. Mistakes, passion, and at times unintelligible blabbering all included. It isn’t pretty. It was real, though. This was a vent. If you haven’t been where I was during the time I wrote this, then don’t judge. If you have been in this state… then, you completely understand.

April 12, 2002

I am so tired of being by myself. I am tired of having little conversation outside of this house and the only communication inside the house consisting of direction to my children. I am tired of everyone depending on me to come up with the best answers. I am tired of it being me alone that cleans up everyone’s messes all the time. I am tired of falling asleep to the cold pillow on my face. I am tired of having no one to depend on for the type of support I need. I am tired of not being hugged or kissed. They say that it is proven to be necessary for people to thrive. While the kids give all kinds of them to me, there are feelings between a man and a woman that no family member can offer. I want those feelings. I need those feelings, and without them, I am just one heap of sludge. If the sludge doesn’t show, it is only because no one wants to see it. I am angry. I am oh so lonely. I miss Randy so much. I miss the talks, hugs, and even aggravation.

I am making it, but I am tired of trying. I am tired of never having down time. I am anything but energized and happy.  I find times that make me smile. Often I can hide how distraught I am by the whole ordeal. I can even keep trudging through, but how I would love to have some type of the peace that I long for. Just a few moments of an ant free house, no kids yelling, time to breathe and not have to clean house at the same time. I need a vacation from life, but I don’t know where to find one.

I am going to stop somewhere and take a break. I am going to smell the roses, I am going to breathe. I am going to catch up on everything I need to catch up on. I want to find myself …

I want to know who I am. Before I can find anyone that I want, or who will want me. I have to know what I want and who I am.  I have to know what I want and who I want. I have to find the laugh that I used to have and the time I used to have and the fun that I know that lies deep within me. I need that piece of me that calms me when the world is in complete chaos.

I need my life back. So, how do I do that?