Friday Favorite: I’ve Learned…

Preface: This was written just over a year ago. I have always liked this piece. For me, it is simple and to the point. When we grieve, we go back and forth between emotions (stages) and we get sort of lost and stuck. We have to take a little time to remember how to redirect ourselves. This is the way I stayed on the right path–this was my roadmap of sorts.
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I was 25 years old, thought I had my life figured out. I had dreamed of these days since I was young and now, after some hard times and a lot of growing pains, my dreams were coming true. Randy and I had the family we always wanted, his new job provided more than we had hoped for, and to top it all off, we were happy. Couldn’t ask for more than that. We knew there would always be challenges in life. Challenges that we couldn’t predict, but that was okay, because we always had each other. We never dreamed either of us would have to face life alone. 

I was thrust into a new life. This new chapter, unlike the first, came with no one to guide me. Growing up, I always had my parents guidance, this time, I was the leader. While sifting through the ashes of the life I once knew, I learned many things.

Life Doesn’t Knock
I learned very quickly that life doesn’t knock. This uninvited guest walks right in and makes itself at home. Sometimes, life brings wonderful surprises that we never could have imagined. Other times, it brings our worst nightmares to life. This time was worse than any nightmare.

Losing him in a car wreck ripped my future from my grasp. Every dream I had ever dreamed, gone in a flash. Everything I thought to be true was now under a microscope. How I felt about God, my future, and even my past scrutinized every single day. Nothing made sense anymore. I quite literally had to accept my past and redesign my future.

At first, I took life step by step. Often it felt like I was walking on tiny stones across a  wide angry river, hoping to get from one shore to another. One mistake and I’d drown. Over time, with help, the stones became larger and closer together as the angry river quietly receded. I made it to the other side. I built a different life, never forgetting the old.

 “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”  –Joseph Campbell

Life is Undetermined
There is no way to know when our uninvited guest will show up again. All we can do is live the best we know how with whatever surprises have been thrown our way. There is no shame in falling and no absolution for standing up again. There is a time and season for everything.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.

Life is Best Lived With an Open Heart
When life is full of happiness and rainbows, we let the world in. We live life outloud. We want everyone to share in our light. Maybe we even want to make sure they know our light is as bright as theirs. Living in the best of times is easy.

When life gets us down, we close ourselves off, sometimes we give up. We place blame and get angry. We shut down. No one likes to feel vulnerable and no one likes to be looking up to see someone elses light shining bright while their own barely flickers. Those gloomy, dark times are when we should open up. Open ourselves to possibilities and blessings.

When my grandparents started slipping mentally and physically, it was hard to reach out and ask for help. We wanted to close ourselves up, hide, and handle it the best we could. It came to a point where we felt like we were going to drowned if we didn’t get help. We hired a home helper. A friend of a friend. Recently, I learned that she was in a bad place before stepping in to help my grandparents. She was losing weight, had no money, and was slipping into a serious depression. We knew hiring her would help us. We knew she was in need of a job and it would help her. What we did not know was the depth our help would reach. She smiles now, she has gained some weight back, and she has found love. All of that might have happened without us. It seems from this viewpoint that both of our lights were flickering and when we combined them, it gave us both strength and our lights were shining brighter. To be honest, she would never have been my first choice, but we opened up and gave her a chance. Who knew the good that would come from that decision?

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. –Maya Angelou

Life Continues
Our lives cannot stop because we have lost someone or something. We can’t quit going forward because we hurt or because it is difficult. We have to keep living. We have to face our fears, stare them in the eyes, and walk right past them without flinching. Once you have faced that fear and conquered it, what is there that can hold you down?

           You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really step to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

We need to keep living for the things we have lost and living for the people and things yet to come. Life is meant to be lived moving forward.  I don’t mean to make that sound easy, because it isn’t. It is something that is possible and things that are possible deserve a chance. There are amazing and wonderful adventures and wonderful endings for those who take a chance. 

“The great courageous act we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.” –Oprah Winfrey

So, take that step, keep moving. Day by day things will get easier, dreams closer. Life is definitely different now, but it doesn’t have to be over. Live life, heal your wounds, and reach your dreams. 

Friday Favorite: Mantra, War Cry…Same Thing

Most who know me, and many of you who read this blog, have noticed I find, create and live by different words, poems, or quotes. I don’t go around looking for words to live by. Instead, they seem to find me. They find me when I am unsure how to make the rain stop or the wind subside. They jump out of movies and books. Sometimes a friend’s story or blog makes me think in a way I never thought before. Those are words to live by.

I have my favorites. Typically, it is what ever got me through the most recent storm. There are storms so deeply personal or intense that no one else’s words seem to fit. In those moments, one has to look deep inside and muster some sort of reason or logic to survive. See, in times of trouble, I often do a lot of thinking and analyzing. I run through scenarios and possible answers to my problems. It’s in those times, I create my own mantra. It’s my war cry.

It’s the words that say, “You will get through this.” It’s the words that remind me this crisis will not last forever. There will be an after. Bad things don’t only happen to bad people. Good people see plenty of trouble, sometimes more than their share. And, often, when good people suffer, there is no logic or reason to the suffering. No way to explain it away or change the outcome. It’s those times that I know I couldn’t make it without my mantra, my war cry.

Until recently, I have always kept my mantras quiet, my war cry more of a whisper.  I protected myself because I was afraid. Afraid people would view me as stupid, simple, or naïve. I am not afraid anymore.

I realized long ago, I am average. If something has benefited me, chances are it will also benefit someone else.  No one gets through this world unscathed. No one can effectively navigate the rough seas alone. People need other people to survive. People need their own ideas to fill in the gaps where logic and reason fail to explain devastation. Everyone needs a mantra. When life leaves us feeling like wounded soldiers, we need a war cry.

Be listening for those unexpected words. Often, they are as much as one knows how to give. Allow them to seep into your heart. Let them be the mortar, holding the pieces together until you can heal. Find your mantra, your war cry.

I’ve Learned…

I was 25 years old, thought I had my life figured out. I had dreamed of these days since I was young and now, after some hard times and a lot of growing pains, my dreams were coming true. Randy and I had the family we always wanted, his new job provided more than we had hoped for, and to top it all off, we were happy. Couldn’t ask for more than that. We knew there would always be challenges in life. Challenges that we couldn’t predict, but that was okay, because we always had each other. We never dreamed either of us would have to face life alone. 

I was thrust into a new life. This new chapter, unlike the first, came with no one to guide me. Growing up, I always had my parents guidance, this time, I was the leader. While sifting through the ashes of the life I once knew, I learned many things.

Life Doesn’t Knock
I learned very quickly that life doesn’t knock. This uninvited guest walks right in and makes itself at home. Sometimes, life brings wonderful surprises that we never could have imagined. Other times, it brings our worst nightmares to life. This time was worse than any nightmare.

Losing him in a car wreck ripped my future from my grasp. Every dream I had ever dreamed, gone in a flash. Everything I thought to be true was now under a microscope. How I felt about God, my future, and even my past scrutinized every single day. Nothing made sense anymore. I quite literally had to accept my past and redesign my future.

At first, I took life step by step. Often it felt like I was walking on tiny stones across a  wide angry river, hoping to get from one shore to another. One mistake and I’d drown. Over time, with help, the stones became larger and closer together as the angry river quietly receded. I made it to the other side. I built a different life, never forgetting the old.

 “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”  –Joseph Campbell

Life is Undetermined
There is no way to know when our uninvited guest will show up again. All we can do is live the best we know how with whatever surprises have been thrown our way. There is no shame in falling and no absolution for standing up again. There is a time and season for everything.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.

Life is Best Lived With an Open Heart
When life is full of happiness and rainbows, we let the world in. We live life outloud. We want everyone to share in our light. Maybe we even want to make sure they know our light is as bright as theirs. Living in the best of times is easy.

When life gets us down, we close ourselves off, sometimes we give up. We place blame and get angry. We shut down. No one likes to feel vulnerable and no one likes to be looking up to see someone elses light shining bright while their own barely flickers. Those gloomy, dark times are when we should open up. Open ourselves to possibilities and blessings.

When my grandparents started slipping mentally and physically, it was hard to reach out and ask for help. We wanted to close ourselves up, hide, and handle it the best we could. It came to a point where we felt like we were going to drowned if we didn’t get help. We hired a home helper. A friend of a friend. Recently, I learned that she was in a bad place before stepping in to help my grandparents. She was losing weight, had no money, and was slipping into a serious depression. We knew hiring her would help us. We knew she was in need of a job and it would help her. What we did not know was the depth our help would reach. She smiles now, she has gained some weight back, and she has found love. All of that might have happened without us. It seems from this viewpoint that both of our lights were flickering and when we combined them, it gave us both strength and our lights were shining brighter. To be honest, she would never have been my first choice, but we opened up and gave her a chance. Who knew the good that would come from that decision?

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. –Maya Angelou

Life Continues
Our lives cannot stop because we have lost someone or something. We can’t quit going forward because we hurt or because it is difficult. We have to keep living. We have to face our fears, stare them in the eyes, and walk right past them without flinching. Once you have faced that fear and conquered it, what is there that can hold you down?

           You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really step to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

We need to keep living for the things we have lost and living for the people and things yet to come. Life is meant to be lived moving forward.  I don’t mean to make that sound easy, because it isn’t. It is something that is possible and things that are possible deserve a chance. There are amazing and wonderful adventures and wonderful endings for those who take a chance. 

“The great courageous act we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.” –Oprah Winfrey

So, take that step, keep moving. Day by day things will get easier, dreams closer. Life is definitely different now, but it doesn’t have to be over. Live life, heal your wounds, and reach your dreams. 

Mantra, War Cry…Same Thing

Most who know me, and many of you who read this blog, have noticed I find, create and live by different words, poems, or quotes. I don’t go around looking for words to live by. Instead, they seem to find me. They find me when I am unsure how to make the rain stop or the wind subside. They jump out of movies and books. Sometimes a friend’s story or blog makes me think in a way I never thought before. Those are words to live by.

I have my favorites. Typically, it is what ever got me through the most recent storm. There are storms so deeply personal or intense that no one else’s words seem to fit. In those moments, one has to look deep inside and muster some sort of reason or logic to survive. See, in times of trouble, I often do a lot of thinking and analyzing. I run through scenarios and possible answers to my problems. It’s in those times, I create my own mantra. It’s my war cry.

It’s the words that say, “You will get through this.” It’s the words that remind me this crisis will not last forever. There will be an after. Bad things don’t only happen to bad people. Good people see plenty of trouble, sometimes more than their share. And, often, when good people suffer, there is no logic or reason to the suffering. No way to explain it away or change the outcome. It’s those times that I know I couldn’t make it without my mantra, my war cry.

Until recently, I have always kept my mantras quiet, my war cry more of a whisper.  I protected myself because I was afraid. Afraid people would view me as stupid, simple, or naïve. I am not afraid anymore.

I realized long ago, I am average. If something has benefited me, chances are it will also benefit someone else.  No one gets through this world unscathed. No one can effectively navigate the rough seas alone. People need other people to survive. People need their own ideas to fill in the gaps where logic and reason fail to explain devastation. Everyone needs a mantra. When life leaves us feeling like wounded soldiers, we need a war cry.

Be listening for those unexpected words. Often, they are as much as one knows how to give. Allow them to seep into your heart. Let them be the mortar, holding the pieces together until you can heal. Find your mantra, your war cry.

Change.

 

I hear ‘time for change’ and I shudder. Anxiety sets in. I know no one is going to throw pennies or quarters at me; that might be rather exciting. Change means there is something different about to happen. It means my normal routine, or at least part of it, is going to be transforming/morphing into something that is different. That always makes me nervous.

I am the girl who stays up late to plan. I make a weekly schedule. I stay up late at night and plan the next day from my weekly schedule. I often have been told how much more time I would have during a day if I would just not plan or if I would just skip the list for the day. That might be true, but I also would have less sanity, more missed appointments, and angry phone calls from kids I accidentally forgot to pick up (yes, that might have happened). I have been so busy, on occasion, that I haven’t had much time to plan. And, as backwards as it seems, during those times I am so tired I can’t make myself make a list, plan, or I just forget to do it. During those times, it literally feels like my life is spinning out of control.

In order to get my life back on track, I make myself spend the time and I plan. Its pretty simple, I feel a little lost without a plan or a list. I have noticed when I am not planning my day, my car gets trashed, my purse fills with junk, I never know where my stuff is (keys and phone specifically), and I’m not able to get as much done. I feel like I am chasing my tail.

I have always been a list maker. It didn’t start with kids. I have made lists as long as I can remember. Pros and Cons lists, To Do lists, Schedules, etc. There are some people who have to schedule in their spontaneity. I’m not that bad. If I have a schedule and a list, I can deviate from it. Sometimes the deviation is even a nice little break for me.

Besides my lists, I am also a binder keeper. I like totes and I like binders. My grandparents have a binder, my fundraisers have a binder, my main recipes have a binder, my toddler activities/themes have a binder, my writing has a binder, and my home organization has a binder. When I need a go to recipe, I know exactly where to find it. If I want to find an apple activity or an acitivity for the color blue, I know exactly where to find it.

People say that I must be so neat. Well, not so much. I should be much neater. I like to leave things everywhere when I am working on them and I never keep up with the house like I should (who has time for that). But, I do know where everyone and everything is, or needs to be, and my kids have a great life. Which is exactly why the word ‘change’ puts a huge lump in my throat.

I can deal with the little changes. I can even deal with medium changes, most days. Big changes, well, that’s not so easy for me.

Don’t be fooled, on the outside, I will convince you that I am perfectly fine. I have to convince myself first.

I can handle anything. I have been through worse, this is nothing. I got this.

Yeah, right! Most of that is true. I can handle anything and I will be fine, but until I am those things, I will feel terrible. My heart will race, I will have trouble sleeping, I will feel like throwing up at times, and I will ask a million and one questions 100 times over again. I can’t help it. I get so pre-occupied with how nervous I am, how unsettling it is, that I will completely forget what I have asked or where I am in the process. I will wake up in the dead of night in the same worrisome thought that I fell asleep to. I try to shake it. I pray, I try to change the subject, I pray again, I count blessings, I go to the bathroom, I get drinks, and I repeat mantras to myself until eventually I fall asleep. Usually, I won’t even need an alarm clock because it’s almost a guarantee that I will wake up to the same worries in the morning. The only good thing about having that much on my mind is when I wake up worried, it actually startles me and then I am absolutely wide awake. Change and how to get through it occupies nearly every thought I have until I either have a solution or enough time has passed I feel at ease again.

I’m not sure why I have the reactions I do. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say it’s a fear of failure. I don’t mind minor failures. I call those ‘learning experiences’, but when something major is changing and there are real consequences for messing up, especially if it’s at the expense of someone else, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Somehow, amid all the chaotic internal panic, I settle myself and come up with a plan. How can I get through this? What do I need to do to make this successful? What is my goal and if I can’t reach the goal, what is the bare minimum I am willing to accept and still be satisfied?

We all want to rock out every endeavor, or storm, that crosses our path, but sometimes, you just have to survive for a while. And when we think we can finally keep our head above water, we make a plan. Even a plan isn’t enough to reach our absolute goal, but it’s a great place to start. My motto for reaching a goal is: Reach for the moon, grab the tail of a star. To me, that means I should always want to be the absolute best I can. I should always have the highest dreams and goals in mind. I also have to be okay if I don’t obtain that goal. If I am trying with all that I am to reach my ultimate goal, I should be able to at least get most of the way to it and that makes me happy because I know I did the best I knew how. It also leaves me much closer to my final destination. The next time I try, and there will be a next time, I have so much less space to cross. My chance of succeeding is much higher.

I have spent this whole year complaining about all of the blah that has covered my life. I have spent the last however many months hoping and praying that 2013 is different. I’m ready for some pizzazz to cover my life in the new year. I have hoped and prayed that exactly that would happen. But, then, there is that scary word ‘change’. Change has to happen get rid of the funk that has been over my life. Now, 2013, is right around the corner. There could be some big changes heading my way and I don’t even know it yet. As the new year approaches and the potential for change starts toward me, I can feel the anxiety building. I know, no matter good change or bad, I (we) will make it. We will come out the other side with lessons and memories.

So, come on 2013, show me what you got.

10 Steps to Healing

The pain is deep right now. Perhaps, you can’t even imagine moving past this heartache. Definitely can’t imagine living life without them. I have been where you are. Circumstances probably different, but pain and heartache know few forms. There is a path to wellness.

I am not an expert  on grief, but I know how deep my heart ached and I know what I did to  help it heal. I will share my list with you. Maybe you can use it as a guide for yourself, or alter the list to fit you.

1. Get out of bed or off the couch, take a shower, and get dressed.

It’s hard. It’s very hard. Some days will be easier than others. Do it every day, even on the hard days. There is something about a shower that lifts your spirits and gives you a better outlook on the day.

2. Eat regularly.

Don’t skip a meal (or several). Don’t  binge at night when you are alone and in pain. I rarely felt like eating. I simply had so much on my mind and heart that food didn’t cross my mind–at first. And, when I was alone and hurting, I would go to the kitchen and just eat and eat and eat. I gained 40lbs. Not eating at all or eating too much isn’t good for you. It’s bad enough that your heart hurts, don’t allow your body to deteriorate too. Be mindful of meal times and emotional eating. Not every meal has to be an event. Eating at the table painful? Sit on the couch with a sandwich and fruit. I know eating in front of the TV isn’t the best, but that’s an easy enough habit to break later. Replace binge eating with healthy habits (see #3, #4, and #5).

3. Write.

No one has to see it. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It doesn’t even have to make sense. Just write. Write down the ugly things you are thinking. Write out all the pain. Do not hold back. It helps.

It helps for a couple of reasons. Normally, you have all these jumbled thoughts running through your head. The could have beens, the need tos, and the what ifs. Writing allows you to put all that on paper. It clears your mind for more organized thoughts. It also puts all of that confusion on paper. You can read it and sometimes that helps you see things a little more clearly. You can mark things off the list, expand in another writing, or just spew and forget it. The important part is that it isn’t taking up space in your head.

Writing also leaves a trail of your process. Meaning, you can go back and look and see how far you have come. That is important. It’s important because there will be times when you feel like you will never grow, never heal. Intellectually, you probably know that isn’t true, but it is hard to convince yourself of that in those sad moments. It’s in those moments you can go back, look and see where you started and how far you have come. It will remind you that you are well on the way to healing and might give you some renewed strength to keep moving.

4. Exercise.

I don’t like to exercise, until I get started. Like I said earlier, I gained nearly 40lbs after Randy died. I knew I couldn’t stay like that. I had to do something.

I hoped I’d lose weight, but it came with other benefits too. When I felt anxious, I would exercise. Even if I couldn’t leave the house, I would stretch or do some simple sit ups. It took the place of the binge eating and gave me something to focus on other than how miserable I felt.

It also wore me out. Sleeping was always a problem for me. I fell asleep to the TV every night because I just couldn’t fall asleep. Between the thoughts and the loneliness, I was a mess. With exercise, I was so tired, when I laid down I fell asleep. No need to fall asleep with sad thoughts or the TV.

I also didn’t realize how angry I was until I started exercising. Exercising allowed me to pour out all of anger and frustration I was feeling. What a relief not to carry that with me anymore!

5. Volunteer.

Volunteering gets you out of the house and giving feels good. I volunteered at a christian pregnancy center. It’s a subject dear to my heart since I was a teen mom, but you can volunteer anywhere you want. It sounds strange, but volunteering reminded me that my life was tough, but in some ways, others had it tougher. It reminded me how many blessings I had and how amazing my support system was.

6. Get help.

There is no shame in admitting you can’t do this alone. It takes a village, my friend, to have an amazing life. We were not made to be alone, especially in times of trouble. You might think that your kids, spouse, or friends are enough. It’s true, you are so fortunate to have them in your life and any one of those people would do anything they could for you. Often, they are hurting too. And, usually, they don’t have a degree. A counselor is an irreplaceable tool for healing.

It feels silly at first, I admit. The rewards are many. Your counselor can help things make sense, answer questions, relieve stress, give you tips and advice to make life easier, and look for more serious signs of real depression. I’ll be honest. I dreaded every single appointment. I would fill with anxiety, and look for a way out of the appointment every week. Some weeks, I succeeded and stayed home. I’ll tell you what I noticed. When I stayed home, my weeks were terrible. I felt burdened and overwhelmed. I rarely did the other things that helped me and I stayed on the couch more often than I would like to admit. When I went to my appointments the opposite was true. I left the fear and anxiety at her office. I found I had more energy through the week to start tasks, and I actually accomplished some of them. I could sleep, eat, and even smile. It was a huge difference in my daily life from one short office visit.

There are many types of counselors to see. I chose a Social Worker. You will probably see the letters ‘MSW’ or ‘LCSW’ behind the counselors name if they are a Social Worker. Social Workers are not trying to find out what is wrong with you. They allow you to talk and they let you know what they hear, and what they have seen in other clients. Their approach is a little more casual. Find someone you like. It’s okay to meet someone and not like the way they talk to you or their approach to healing. For this to work, you need to have someone you can connect with, talk to, and trust. Little by little, month after month, you heal.

7. Do the work.

Healing doesn’t just happen and it isn’t a straight path to the finish line. Healing is hard work. If you slack, you dip backwards. Sometimes, you just go backwards for no reason. If you do the work, you will gradually keep moving forward, and that is what is important.

I’m sure you are wondering what ‘do the work’ actually means. There are 5 stages of grief as established by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (in no specific sequence). Just because you have worked through anger, doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. It could resurface. And just because you think you have finally reached acceptance, doesn’t mean you are done. It is possible, in fact probable, you will re-visit at least one of these other stages off and on for years. That’s okay.

I call it work because it is. It isn’t easy. There is no way to go around it. You just have to trudge through and work at healing every single day. It might even be work from now until forever. There is no right way, wrong way, or timeline. We are all different and move through it differently. No matter who you are, or what your personality is, your healing is solely dependent on how willing you are to work and your drive to live a full life again. You can do it. I know you can do it because I did it. Just don’t be afraid of the work, my friend.

8. Resolve issues.

Life is messy. There are no clear paths. We are all human with faults and insecurities. Often there is unfinished business to contend with. If you lost a spouse or child, there might be bills that need to be paid, accounts to change, or personal possessions to get from law enforcement, work, or school.

If your loved one died as part of a criminal act, try to resolve the legal aspect and your emotional response to the act. Randy’s death involved a drunk driver. I had to think about what punishment I could live with in order to be able to forgive him and be okay with my decision. I also had several types of court cases to contend with. Every time I had to do something in the court system, it brought up all the pain from the day he died. So, if you can, try to resolve these issues as quickly, honestly, and completely as possible. Remember, forgiveness does not equal forgetting. If you choose not to forgive the person responsible, you give that person the power to control your life. I think he/she has had enough power. It’s time to take it back. Find a way to forgive the act so you can keep the focus of your life on you and your family.

Because we are not perfect, often we have a sense of missing out. We carry an internal dialogue of what we could have done, should have done, or would have done if given more time. We wish we would have said goodbye before they left or made sure we got up that morning to make their lunch. Perhaps you were in a hurry and skipped the scheduled goodbye kiss or maybe you had been fighting. It could even be that they did something so hurtful that you didn’t know how to forgive them and now wish you would have done it. Whatever ‘it’ is, resolve it.

Please understand, they knew you and loved  you. They know as well, as you do, that you felt the same way. It’s never too late to say it, though. It’s never too late to apologize or say what needs to be said. Find the place that you feel most connected to your loved one and say it. Do what needs to be done. You will never be able to move forward completely if you don’t do it. There will always be that wall that stops you. Your sister, child, spouse, friend, mother, uncle, or grandfather would never want that for you.

9. Forgive yourself.

There is never a way to change history. This wouldn’t be a problem, except, we are human. We make mistakes and we can be mean. We forget things, we over-react to others. We have good days and bad days. Heck, sometimes we have bad weeks or months.

Randy and I started young. We didn’t know who we were as people, how could we possibly know how to love each other? We didn’t. We made so many mistakes. I tried fixing us, but I couldn’t do it alone and he didn’t seem interested. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have answers and couldn’t do it by myself, so I made a choice and was willing to accept the consequences. What I wanted was to wake him up. I knew that instead, we might lose it all. I told him I wanted to separate. He wasn’t happy. I got a job, put kids in day care, and told him to move out. He refused. He tried so hard to fix things, but nothing was changing. I demanded he leave. That was his breaking point.

He came to me, we talked and talked and talked. We cried for hours. We did this for days. We came to realize that we needed to find ourselves, redefine love as adults, fix the misconceptions we had, and learn to be the people we needed to be. Above all, we realized we really did love each other and we could make it work. We really put in the work. We ended up with an amazing marriage. One that most wish they had. We were both so ecstatically, down to the depth of our souls,  happy. And then, a year and a half later, he was killed.

All I could think about was how much time we wasted. How many years we spent fighting and hurting each other. I felt so much guilt that I wasted what few years he had on this earth. Terrible guilt for him, terrible guilt for messing up what little time the kids had with their dad. That guilt turned to anger, anger to sadness, the sadness to depression…you get the point. I had to work hard to move past that. I forgave myself.

After many hours of thinking, beating myself up, and talking to friends and my counselor, I came to some realizations. I couldn’t change history. There was a variety of events that brought us together as a married couple so young. That was a tough spot and we did the best we knew how. All of that fighting and the ‘separation’ was learning. It was part of growing up. There were definitely growing pains, but wow, what a reward. I finally saw that had we not been through the turmoil, we never would have had the marriage we did in the end. Had we not been through the storm, we never would have re-built such an amazing, strong marriage and family.

The real tragedy would have been letting us continue to live like that. That year and a half of complete happiness was worth the pain that led to it and I don’t think that either one of us would have changed that course of action. We were who we were supposed to be.  I finally was able to forgive myself. Forgive yourself.

10. Live.

You deserve it. Your loved ones deserve it.

Moving forward doesn’t mean moving away from the life you once knew.  Randy is not a closed subject here. Stories are shared often. I never want the kids to forget (two of the three have little or no memories). Moving forward allowed me to share in a healthy way. I remember his likes and dislikes and guide my children in some of those. He lives on through them, even if it’s on a very small scale. I know they appreciate it, his parents appreciate it, and I feel good about it. He rarely is out of our minds. The difference is now, we don’t think about the day he died or his funeral every day. We remember the man, the spirit, the life we shared. That is a big difference. One you may not be able to imagine right now, but I assure you, life can be happy and complete without forgetting the person you lost.

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I hope this all helps you as you travel down your own path. I’ll leave you with one parting note. It might seem a little hokey to you, but I’ll share nonetheless. I often create my own mottos to get me through whatever I am going through. It’s just a simple phrase that I can say quietly to myself, or just think, and it reminds me of my task at hand. On my own journey of healing my motto was ‘strength, compassion, and faith’. That simple. It reminded me to stay strong on my weakest days, have compassion for others, even the man who killed my husband, and remain solid in my faith in God. After all, it was God who carried me when I couldn’t even stand. More than anything, those three words are what I wanted my kids to remember. Not hate, victimization, and pain. It’s amazing what three small words can change.

May you always keep your strength, compassion, and faith.

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“The power to change your life lies in the simplest of steps.”
― Steve Maraboli

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.