Life…where I am

what-is-critical-thinkingAs I sit here, finally writing again after a hiatus, I begin to think about life and all the events that have led me to today.

A little over three years ago my late husband was killed in the line of duty by a drunk driver.  The drunk driver has since been charged and is incarcerated.  She will be let out next year and will go to a rehabilitation center.

Mike siteMy children have grown three years older…they have begun to be removed from the immediate tragedy of their father’s death.  I hold their not so little hands now and feel such gratitude to have these two in my life. They are moving forward with the memories their father left them and of what I remind them.  Each year we visit the site where their father took his last breath.  Every year it is different with new emotions and new perspectives.

My own life went from safe to chaotic and back to feeling safe again with a change of perspective.  Knowing that life can be cut short and being present (in the now) is far more important than I thought it would be.

I was an emotional basket case, although some may think that I have a little bit of that emotional roller coaster hanging in the balance.

I am at a point, wondering what next?  Where do I go from here?  There have been many paths that I have carved out in the road that I have walked these last three years.  Going forward, I am at a crossroads.

I have volunteered with a couple of organizations that support fallen officers, done many speeches about my book and being a surviving spouse. Maybe the most challenging of those speeches comes when I am speaking about the effects of drunk driving.  Trying to educate others on what it is like to lose someone to a drunk driver and the impact it has on one’s life and to children. This is hard to put into words.  I wish that at times I could have a video of all that I went through to show people.  The raw emotion is unforgettable.

weddingThis summer I got remarried to a federal agent.  This has created a family unit again.  My children were glowing, as I was at the wedding.  They think very highly of their step dad, as do I. We are a unique family, as I believe all families are.  As my youngest son puts it…he has a dad here and one in the sky.

My question still remains…where do I go from here?  I feel a great sense of accomplishment in my life now, but I am searching for where my place should be in this world.  When I ask this question, I mean with a career.

How can I continue to impact lives and continue to create a sense of accomplishment with what I do?

Which path do I take and should I continue to follow what Ralph Waldo Emerson said…Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

I am in search of answers and know I will find them, until then…I remain searching.

 

December’s Widowed Blog Hop!

an egg with bold letter HOPIt’s the first Wednesday of the month and you know what that means…Widowed Blog Hop! 
 
Life is full of surprises.  There are moments when you feel like nothing good will come of it and others when a light shines on given opportunities.  I asked myself quite often how I can change or influence others in a good way.  How I can take the death of my husband and use it to benefit others. This may sound like a “crazy” question, but that is what goes through my mind.  I want other widows and widowers to not feel alone in their grief.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a journey that you will get through on your own but we all need support. I feel blessed that I have been able to connect with some great people who have something in common with me.  And that’s losing their spouse.

We are all in different places in our journey, but have taken a step forward in our life story without our spouse.   The support you get from someone who has been down your path or some variation of it is irreplaceable. 

I want to commend all of the men and women that take the time to give us a glimpse of their reality.  The words they share can bring a whole realm of emotions and that is when you know it is written honestly from the heart. 

We have some new participants this month and I encourage all of my readers to check out what they have been doing and posting. 
 
For ease, below is the list of participants in the hop. 
Thank you for taking the time to hear our stories, feelings and what we think. 
Samantha

Being Thankful!

Scrabble letter spelling out being thankful. on white background with pink flowersOn the day before Thanksgiving, I think it is suiting to talk about what I am thankful for.  There are several family traditions that happen during this holiday, but I believe the one common practice is to give thanks. 

I am thankful for my two children.  They are two amazing boys that make me laugh, cry and frustrated, amongst many other emotions.  What they do most is make me feel proud to be their mother.  They have accomplished and overcome so many things in their short lives.  They show me that anything is possible.  I am in awe at their strength and unconditional love they have for others.

The time I was able to spend with my late husband is something to be thankful for.  It was not as long as I planned for, but he taught me so much.  He helped create the person I am today and his death has created an undefined appreciation that I have for life now.  He left me with that one final gift in my life.

My family and friends have been there for me in the ups and downs.  With their help I was able to get through things in my life, I once thought impossible.  I probably could have done it on my own, but their support made it so much easier for me. 

I am thankful for the organizations that have supported my families and other families throughout the United States.  For all of you that follow me and read my words.  You give me inspiration and confidence that what I am doing is important.

I am also thankful for my admirer.  I did not think that it would be possible to love another man after losing my husband, but it is.  I am grateful he has entered my life.  We are able to look into one another’s eyes and really see each other.  He shows me each day who I am and gives me boundless love.

So thankful for all the love that surrounds me, strength, beautiful moments and joyful memories. May beautiful moments, joyful memories and love surround you during the holiday. 

A Little Regret with a lot of Joy!

Rhyan kissing a dolphinRecently we went on a family vacation.  It was something that my husband and I had been discussing to start doing in 2010.  But he died before we took our first family vacation.

Our vacation reminded me of this and seeing the joy on my Quincy kissing dolphinboys’ faces as they discovered new places was unbelievable.  It brings sadness, yet a lot of joy.  It made me realize how important I believe family vacations are.

We can come together for those days with nothing on our schedule.  No school, no work, no dishes to do.   There is only time to spend with each other.

We ventured out on our very first cruise.  We stopped in Jamaica and the Grand Cayman islands.  In Jamaica, my oldest swam with the dolphins.  My youngest was not old enough to swim, but he was able to kiss and hug a dolphin.  It is an experience that they will always remember.

Those are the memories I want my children to have, the memories that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Kids go where there is excitement. They stay where there is love.” – Zig Ziglar

A widowed mother…

Black and white picture of Samantha and her two sons

Samantha and her two sons

Being a widow is hard, but being a parent to children who lose their dad is even harder.  When our children are born we bring them into this world with endless hopes and dreams.  Their innocence is refreshing and often time makes me laugh.  As a parent I believe our goal is to raise capable adults, self sufficient with the least amount of obstacle.

As mothers it is hard for us to not protect our children.  To prevent them from getting hurt, being sad or scared. After my children lost their father I was unsure what to do.  I could not comfort them.  I could not make their pain go away with a simple kiss.  That was such a helpless feeling for me.  Before this, I was a confident mother.  I thought I had the answers or knew how to find them. 

My oldest son was transformed into an angry child and I did not know him any longer.  He thought that he could not cry, that he needed to be strong.  After many sessions with the counselor and holes in a punching bag, he began to understand how to identify his anger.  He slowly became the son I had known for 8 years.  He was not as innocent as he once was, but his fun loving personality came back to him. 

My youngest son was only two at the time of his father’s death.  I was worried that he would not remember his father, but somehow he does.  He often says “Mom, remember when daddy used to…”.  The hardest thing to hear after his stories of his father is, “My daddy is dead, right?”

When he would first ask me that question, I would cringe at those words coming out of his little mouth.  Now it is part of our lives and somehow seems like a normal question.

He also has his father’s walk and does some of the same movements with his hands.  When I watch him I see so much of Mike that it makes me smile.

Sometimes my children would play and I would get angry.  I thought they were not grieving properly until I educated myself and understood it.  Finally I began to play with them and it was therapeutic for me.  I was able to become a part of their world for moments at a time.  It was as if my brain was able to rest from all the pain and anguish that ran rapid through it at the time.  They allowed me to be silly.

I believe being a mother is one of the most rewarding things on earth.  My children have taught me a lot.  They taught me to not feel sorry for myself.  They were victims, but did not use it as a way to earn any special privilege.  They have continued to grow, mature and love their life.  They have embraced something you would not want your children to bear, but they do every day with a smile.

7 Tips on Handling Grief

Red and green rollercoaster in the shape of a heart

Grief is an emotional rollercoaster

Grief can be caused by many things.  For me, grief came to visit when I lost my husband.  Grief is a natural response when we experience loss.  If I could only share a few things with someone on grief, this is what I would share:

1. Grieve with your children.  Don’t tell them how they should feel and don’t let anyone tell you how to feel.  We can also get lost in telling ourselves how we should feel.  We are our hardest critics.  Don’t let your children’s perception be ruined by allowing others to tell them how to feel.  Make sure that they know it is okay to cry, to yell and scream.  You might want to let them know that the library is an unacceptable place to do that though.

2. Pay attention to your health.  Get physical.  Run, walk, skip, whatever you can do, but keep moving.  Exercise has a way of clearing your mind and allowing you to focus. 

3. There is no timeline.  Cry when you need to, laugh when you want to and smile because you can. Do not let anyone tell you that you get a year to grieve or you should be over that by now.  Everyone has their own grieving period.  Grieve as fast or as slow as you need to.

4. Feel sorry for yourself.  It sucks your spouse is gone. But at some point you need to stop.  We cannot wallow in self pity forever, but it’s normal to do it for awhile.  So many people ask themselves…why me?  You will not find that answer, but if you need to search for it…do it.   Find a way to not dwell on the idea for too long or you will spend the rest of your life looking for the answer.

5. Don’t ignore the pain.  It will be hard to want to face your life, but do it with your arms open as wide as you can handle. This is how you can work through your feelings.  There might be times when you can only handle so much, so back up, cross your arms and don’t let any more pain in at that moment.  When you feel it subsiding, open up a little more and face it.  Trust me, it is scary, you feel vulnerable and it will not be fun.  One day, it will be worth it.

6. Find support…from friends or talk to a counselor.  Facing your loss is hard, and you do not need to do it alone.  Talk to friends when you need to.  Find the people you trust and share your fears and vulnerability.  You should be able to lean on your friends. Talking to a counselor helps.    An unbiased opinion will listen and guide you to a rational mind.

7. Plan ahead when you can for triggers.  Prepare yourself for the emotional rollercoaster.  There are anniversaries, holidays, birthdays and so many firsts.  The anxiety that happens before the event is almost worse than going through the event.  There will be some triggers that will catch you off guard.  It happens.  It was hard for me to remove my husband’s name from accounts we had.  I did not prepare myself for it and it triggered my emotional rollercoaster.

I hope these few tips will help you get through another moment when you feel like hiding under the covers or look in the mirror and see the stranger looking back at you.  Take the time to grieve every day if you can.  If you can put aside an hour or even a few minutes it will help.  Let your mind wander, validate your feelings and use your crazy courage.

How many stages of grief?

A woman sitting in bed with head on knee.  White backgroundIf you Google the term grief, you will find that there are anywhere from 5 to 8 stages of grief.  I can only talk about the stages that I went through.  I do not believe that I went through them in any sort of order, but I can confirm that I revisited several of the stages more than once.  When I thought I got through something like the anger, it came back in another form and I was forced to go through it again.  We never know what might spark the feelings that are associated with a stage.  This is why I believe we need to educate ourselves on grief and what we might expect.  It allows us to recognize what we are feeling and why.  This will help us get through and feel more control over our behaviors.

The very first thing, I believe everyone feels is shock.  I think back to the moment that those words came out of the agent’s mouth…you’re husband is dead.  A feeling shot through my body that is hard to describe, but it started in my heart and spread like wild fire to the bottoms of my feet to the top of my head.   I only cried for a few moments.  I believe my body was not ready to handle all the pain that was coming with my husband’s death.   I adapted into a project manager to make sure I had taken care of all that came with his death until his funeral.  I still cried a lot…every time I spoke with someone of his death, when I laid in bed, spoke with my children, discussed the funeral and many other moments.

I saw my children go through shock.  Moments after I told my son, his father was dead, he stopped himself from crying and wanted to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants.   It was his way to save himself from the life changing news I shared with him.

In the mornings, I would sit on my patio saying to myself, I cannot believe he is dead.  I wanted to deny any knowledge of his death.  Not one ounce of me wanted to believe that he died.  There was no way my husband would have died.  He was too strong to die. For so long, I believed I would hear the garage door swing open, hear the deep clump of his boots and see him walk into the kitchen.  He would give me a hug, telling me to smell his stinky arm pits and laugh (it sounded like crusty the clown’s laugh), take his duty belt off and I would watch him in his green uniform walk up the stairs to put his gun in the safe.   I NEVER wanted to believe that this would not happen again.

I wanted to see him after he was killed, but no one would let me.  They thought I could not handle it; that I did not want to see him like that.  It was easy to deny his death, because I did not see his dead body until I went to the funeral home.   There I did not see his injuries; I saw his lifeless body with a lot of makeup covering his face.  It reminded me of the picture I saw of him when he was sleeping on the floor and a few people thought it was funny to put makeup on his face.  I reached to grab his hand and it was hard and cold. Those were not the hands that I held so many times before.

It was not until I asked the investigator to show me all the pictures of the crash, which included the pictures of Mike.  Reading the autopsy report and EMT report did not provide the proof to me that he sustained the extent of injuries that would have taken his life.  Those were only words on a piece of paper.  I needed to see if for myself.

Recently a friend asked me why I would want to look at those pictures.  I told her that I needed to see if I would have been able to go to him and hold his hand.  That I would have seen him no matter what, embraced him and kissed his forehead.  I was able to validate that I would have gone, that it did not matter what he looked like.  I needed to tell Mike goodbye when there was some resemblance of life, not after he was embalmed.  I thought that was the only reason until I began to write this blog.  Now I know that I also needed to understand and see his injuries with my eyes.

My husband’s sister lived with us for a while after Mike’s death.  My two year old would ask his aunt to bring his daddy home to him every time she left for work.  He would see her uniform and he knew where she was going.  I know you may believe that a two year old may not understand what happened completely, but denial happens to all of us.  He turns five soon and he still asks me where his dad is.  I tell him heaven.  Other times he asks, “Daddy, is dead, right?”  I tell him yes, every time.  I wish I could say no just once to see him smile, but it is not our reality.

I bargained with my own life, just to have my husband back.  I was willing to replace his death with my own.  If I could have turned back time and needed him to stay home, then it would not have happened.  Talking to the life insurance company made me sick.  I thought that if I did not accept the money, there may be a chance he would come back to his children, back to me.  But I would look at my children and it would bring the reality that I alone was now financially responsible for them.  I bargained for days, weeks, months, except there was no one that could bring Mike back.

The pain that came with his death was unbearable.  There were moments I could not breathe.  The pain gnaws away at you.  It over powers your body, your brain and even your heart. It takes away all the control you had. I thought that the pain may take my own life way. My children’s whimpers, in the middle of the night, were even more painful to hear then my own.   There was a decision that I had to make.  I had to decide that I wanted to push through the pain and live.

The guilt that I felt when Mike died was for anything that I might have done in my life that could have been deemed as “bad”.  I thought that maybe if I hadn’t done this or that, then I would not have been punished.  Fortunately, I did not carry too much guilt or ponder it for very long.  What I felt were the many regrets.  The heartache that came with we could, should or would have done this sooner if we knew what was going to happen.  The hardest regret to overcome is the little baby girl that we planned.  We had two amazing sons and all we needed was a little girl.  She would have had Mike wrapped around her little finger (just as his two sons did), I often told him.  He would laugh and I would say your little princess.

The anger that I felt towards anything and everything was the most negative stage that I experienced.  I was mad at Mike for dying.  I was angry at the lady that killed him.  I was angry at my children for not grieving properly (so I thought until I educated myself on the ways a child grieves).  I was angry at the cashier, at anyone that would smile and laugh, that was living their life when I was lost.

A story I shared in Crazy Courage, was about this cashier that I did not treat so well.  I refer to it as an episode.  I was in the grocery line, paying for groceries and I was using several gift cards I had received.  As I was taking them out and swiping each one, the cashier started to giggle.  When she did this I literally wanted to slap the giggle out of her.  I could not understand what was so funny.  She said “wow did you just get married?”  I looked up and gave her the ugliest glare I could give and said with a snarl, “No, my husband just died!”  The look on that woman’s face turned from smile to a look of humility and she was horrified and unsure what to say.  I actually felt better for making her feel bad for saying that to me.

Anger is so hard to control and has a way of consuming you.  I punched my pillow many nights.  It’s a good thing my pillow’s bruises did not show.  My son would beat our red punching bag, sometimes with a plastic bat.  When he left the exercise room, he usually left the anger there.  With rips on the bag to mark where he had released it.

Depression and loneliness hovered over me like a plague.  It was hard to recognize but my behavior was a tell-all sign of it.  I did things that I would not normally do and just wanted to have someone with me.  I did not want to be alone, because it would remind me that Mike was gone.  I wanted to interact with people and feel the loneliness drift away.  Only at night I would find, lying in my bed, the loneliness would appear seeping into my pores and filling my body.  I would look over and see the empty space.  It would force me out of my bed to the corner of my room to cry.  To curl up in the fetal position, just wanting this all to end.  For all of it to be over!

There were moments when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I was having an upward turn.   I thought that I was getting passed all the pain, denial, guilt, regret, bargaining, anger, depression and loneliness.  I would feel “good”.  But I would continue to experience the feelings over and over again.   I thought they would never go away.  Although the period of time that I would have “good” days would increase compared to the other days.  I believe we can all expect to relive the feelings more than once.

Accepting Mike’s death was hard.  So many times, I believed I had accepted it, but I had not.  I spent time not wanting to accept it.  I refused to accept it.  I did not want to lose any part of Mike.  I thought all the memories, the way he smelled and the look on his face when he found out I was pregnant would fade away.  I was scared.  I had no hope, I thought that I would just have to “deal” with it all of my life.  When I say deal with it, I do not mean in a positive way.

 Accepting his death was a slow process. It happened over time, almost like pieces of a puzzle.  I started by putting it together, building the outside first, then working towards finishing, searching for the right place for the inner pieces.   It was hard to figure out where they all belonged, but I did it.  I began accepting my life without him, accepting that I cannot control everything. Writing helped me with this.  I accepted my path and walked with one foot in front of the other.   There were many days that I took far more steps backwards than I did forward. Finally, I accepted my life story was not over, but Mike’s was.

My Forever

Mike and Samantha kissing on their wedding day.  Flowers in background

On our wedding day.

Mike and I were married in Las Vegas.  We joked about it and thought it was pretty cool to be married in the Garden of Love.

There were so many people that walked down the aisle before us, but when I turned the corner our eyes met.  It was as if this was our place where our intimate bond would be the first and last to have united in marriage in this room.  It did not matter where we got married, what mattered were the words we shared with each other in our vows.

When I said “I, Samantha, take you, Mike, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” it never once crossed my mind that death would part us before we both were retired, with grey hair, barely able to see and walk with great-grandchildren running around.

Hearing his shaky voice with tears welling up in his eyes as he said, “I, Mike, take you, Samantha, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part” I never thought that he would ever leave me behind.

I took our vows to mean forever, that there would be no end to our time together.  That we would die together in a bed, lying next to one another with my head on his chest holding hands.  That our family would cry, not that they would be sad we were gone, because the end of our life story ended the way we did everything else in our lives…together.

On September 2nd 2010, my sense of forever changed.  The part of our marriage vows “until death do us part” happened.   A woman’s bad decision changed my concept of forever.

I thought our vows would last until the end of my time, not Mike’s.   Just thinking about this and writing it down makes my eyes well up with tears and here comes the tightness in my throat.  Why did my forever have to change?  It was unfair that I had Mike taken from me and my children. I realized that I am not in control of everything and what I did with that was important.

After I watched my husband’s casket being carried away, I knew my forever ended.  I needed to redefine what my forever meant.  To me it was about love.  I can carry love…that love with me forever.  I can hold onto the look in his eyes on our wedding day and the days that followed.  Love is something you cannot touch, but you can feel.

It was no longer about rolling over in bed and watching his hair turn even grayer.  Yes, at 32 he had several grey hairs.  It would no longer be the intimate moments, making coffee before he left for work, talking on the patio about our future and laughing when we imagined our children growing older.   It was about the love we had for each other, our children and the memories we shared.

Forever is the desire that I have in my heart to write this blog, my book; to educate people about trauma, about loss and what it feels like to have your marriage ended without having a choice.  It’s telling my children when they do something just like their father.  It’s fulfilling the promises I made to Mike when he was alive.  It is about letting go of my anger, forgiving him for dying and remembering our life together.  He still holds a corner of my heart, but has a different place in my life now.

My forever is about facing my new life with courage and living again.

The different journeys during the healing process.

Woman with white coat, hand on her forehead sitting in graveyard leaning on headstone.  With grey skies

We have our own journey to healing.

If I were to compare my own journey with others during our healing process they would vary in some way.  You might have a mother that lost a son, a sister whom lost a little brother, a son that lost his father and a wife that lost her husband.  Each of these people will be impacted differently.  They can be impacted by what role their loved one played in their life story:

  • A mother who gave birth to her son who is not supposed to die before she does
  • A sister who grew up with her brother and was at his side through many accomplishments; you might say they were best friends
  • A son who relied on his father to protect and comfort him
  • A wife who made those sacred vows with her husband and made so many plans together

All of these individuals will have their own personal struggles, but will definitely have one thing in common and that is the loss of their loved one, the fact that they will miss the presence of them and will have a long journey of healing.

As a widow, I thought as I was meeting other widows during their journey that we would have experienced our healing the same way.  The fact is: we don’t!  During my journey, I have met many other widows, and each widow went through her own individual process of healing.  We will likely experience some of the same things, but not every thought, feeling, or experience will be the same.

There are so many factors that will affect the way a person heals.  I noticed things that, I believe, have affected the way in which someone has healed or is healing. If they have children, that can impact the process.  The widow/er will need to be a mother or father to the children as each of them is healing. Maybe a spouse died before the couple could have a child; then the spouse left behind must deal with the fact that they will never have a child with their spouse.

How the last moments were spent with their spouse alive, as well as the marriage overall, impacts the healing process.  The couple’s financial status can have a very big impact on how a widow manages through the process.  Other factors that will impact healing are how well you get along with your in-laws, friends that you have and the overall support of the people around you.  

Another thing will be how the person died.  You may not think that it could play that big of a role in the healing process, but it does.  What if the person left one night and did not return or you might have watched your spouse suffer from an illness before dying?  Maybe they were murdered or they could have taken their own life.  These instances bring different questions and trauma with them.

In the end, after you watch your spouse’s casket being carried away, you realize that you are left alone; without the person you had dreams with, the person who was a part of your everyday life, the person who brought you purpose, the person you love. This is when your journey of healing begins.  The one where you will meet many crossroads and where you will have to choose a path.  Choosing your path is difficult; the whole healing process is difficult.  There is nothing easy about it. 

This trauma brings you to your most vulnerable raw state as a person.  The people around you will really get to know the person you are and watch you transform as you walk the journey of healing.