Monday, October 15, 2018

What Kind of a Widow does that make Me?

I never understood the workings of widowhood until I entered the ranks myself.  I always felt such pity for anyone who became widowed, and especially to those who were widowed without warning.
The ones who were in the middle of experiencing a normal life, a normal day, a normal hour, and then all things changed literally with one final second. One final heartbeat.

*Disclaimer - I am by NO MEANS saying a person widowed without any warning suffers any more than a widowed person who has had to struggle through sickness beforehand.*

When I first lost Mike, I had no clue how to navigate widowhood. My own grief.  My family's grief. Mike's family's grief.  My son's grief.  No clue.

I of course did not handle the role of widow very well in the beginning.  I didn't handle any role well. I fell off the course of being an involved, energetic teacher; I fell off track of being this funny, dance in the kitchen mom; I fell off every path that I had followed for thirteen years as Mike's wife.  I just had no clue how to navigate this new world in which I had been so violently thrust.

So many thoughts ran through my brain a mile a second every single day and every single night. I became a non-functioning shell of who I was before.  Being thrown into probate court increased my anxiety and it seemed that every time I turned around, someone or something was kicking me in the throat.  A foot held on my chest, pushing on my will to breathe, making me want to scream but not being able to.  It felt that I was literally clawing my way through the days.  It was awful.  The worst pain I have ever known.

And then the next thing I knew, months had passed and I was back to work.  Not full-time; my son and I barely made it a full week for about four months. Thank God we had such an amazing support system in our school (where he attends and I teach).

Before too much longer it felt, we reached the Holidays and our families (Mike's and mine) supported us in whatever we wanted to do - which was evade, evade, evade!  The faster the better. So we fled our home Christmas Day that first Holiday season alone, to a friend's in Oklahoma and did not return until we absolutely had to.

I blinked and a full year had passed.  365 days I had survived.
It did not matter how many family members and friends had surrounded us those 365 days; Conner and I were utterly alone.
It felt so cold and gray.
The colors left everything.
Joy in the music we used to love to sing disappeared.
Laughter vanished from our home.

But I had become the model widow.
I paid all of the bills, all of his bills.
I hired a lawyer to navigate the issues that arose in droves.
I took our son to church.
I visited Mike’s headstone often.
I threw a huge party for his birthday and continued with our Fourth of July traditions.
I worked. Hard. At being a teacher, a mom, and as a farmer.
I bought cattle myself and learned to feed them and move them on my own.
I mowed fence rows and maintained the farm as best I could.
I didn’t date.
I stayed in my proverbial cloak of grief

Only sorrow, regret, fear, and self-doubt filled the walls around us and both Conner and I found that isolation in our own home was where we grew to find the most comfort.

Once we avoided the Holiday traditions we had practiced for years, we figured out that we could avoid anyone and anything we wanted to.  So we did. For a long time.

Then as you all know, my career changed that.  I became a principal and fled not only our sad home, but also our sad hometown.

I avoided the looks of pity from literally every person who passed me on the sidewalk, in the grocery store aisle, in church.  I guess a part of me felt like if I could avoid all the sad looks, maybe I would forget how sad I was too.  Maybe if I could keep Conner and me in this bubble of safety, of just the two of us, then we could never be hurt again.

We made changes to the house.  Cosmetic changes, but changes that we hoped would bring a different light to the pain that filled the walls.  We changed flooring, paint color, outdoor features, furniture, much as finances would allow.  We tried to make it a "new home".

How naive.

So, even with all the changes, we stayed busy and out of the house as often as we could for two years. We were hardly ever home. And when we were, it was so quiet and lonely.  We hated it.  We looked for opportunities to get out of the house. None of the changes "fixed" our grief.  The new paint, new deck stain, new recliner...they couldn't hide the reality.  They could't mask the pain we feel in every corner of this house.

Within two and one-half years, finances forced me to sell the majority of the farm Mike had worked so hard for. The farm that pushed him too hard. The farm that brought exhaustion that I know ultimately caused his death.  I grew to hate this farm.  As much as a part of me wished I could keep it and be this "Super Widow" who farmed, worked full-time, raised a God-fearing son on her own, and kicked butt doing it all...there was no way.  So, with the sale of the majority of the land, Conner's and my anxieties about the farm and our home increased.

Everywhere we went there was a gate that was not there before.
Vehicles drove up and down our road and they weren't ours.
Tractors cut, raked, and baled hay, and we didn't deliver a million bologna sandwiches to the fields.

The feeling of loss intensified.
Guilt grew.
Regrets increased.
Grief kept her stronghold.

So, for a little more than three and one-half years, we have experienced daily reminders of what should be but no longer is. We are reminded of his absence. In every corner and crevice of this house and farm.

And I’ve had enough.

I’m leaving.
We’re leaving.
We’re leaving all of it behind.
All of the pain, the sorrow, the memories, the emptiness, the loss of joy, the loss of hope.
We are leaving it all behind for a fresh start.
It is time to start anew.
On fresh ground.
On a clean slates and I know that God is blessing this whole part of our lives.

My closest family members and friends know the news, but now I share it with the world.
We are packing up our home we shared with Mike and moving to a new home.
We have so much hope that a new home will bring new memories.
New laughter, joy, and hope.
New beginnings are on the horizon and if I am ever going to truly be able to step forward in hope and in love again, I cannot battle the war against this house and this farm and all that it reminds us of daily.

I am simply walking away.

So what kind of a widow does that make me?

A widow who is no longer allowing herself to be held prison by the memories.
A widow who is no longer willing to sacrifice her own happiness, and that of her son, in order to continue being the “model widow”.
A widow who is tired.
Tired of hurting, of feeling regret, of feeling the pain he left behind.
A widow who knows she has been judged every step of the way and will surely be judged once more.
A widow who cares not what others think or say anymore, but only cares about filling her life and her son’s life with laughter.
New traditions.
New hopes.
New dreams.
It makes me a widow who is trusting God.

We all do the best that we can with the hand we are dealt.
I’ve played my hand.
Time and time again I held the cards that were dealt and kept the poker face as best I could.
I didn’t give up.
I didn’t fold.

But I am so beyond ready for a new hand.

A widow reborn is what I feel like. I will love my husband Mike for the rest of my life and beyond.  There is no doubt about that, but I’ve paid my debt, financially and emotionally, and it’s time for me and my happiness.

I am excited, nervous, eager, and ready for our new home. For our new memories. Our new hope. Our new life.

The day this home is empty and we walk away for the last time, Lord knows I’m gonna need the strength of a million men. But the day we sleep in our new home, with so much hope for healing in our hearts, the strength of a million men will not be able to tear us apart.

So I ask that you keep us in your prayers and wish us well on our new journey. Sending so much love and light today and always.

Love, Roni

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I Blinked...

I always wanted to be a mom so badly.
From the beginning of when I understood what being a mom meant. A couple of health scares and relationship ups and downs later, and we were pregnant.

I loved every part of pregnancy. Well, except these darn stretch marks. Grrrrr...
I didn’t have heart burn or any crazy cravings. No Braxton Hicks. No major issues at all.
Hot flashes, well yes, those still haunt me almost 14 years later! Aye aye aye... Bladder issues because my son sat so low it was immediately recognized by the first little ultra sound technician? Yep, I literally pee all the time. (Sorry dudes who may be reading this, but it happens to us moms.)

I loved the maternity clothes, which by the way were not nearly as cute as today’s maternity styles! I loved his moves that began as tiny tickles in my belly. I loved and cherished every minute of pregnancy.

And then I blinked and those nine months flew by and my beautiful, perfect, 6-pound baby boy was placed in my arms.

We spent that first summer together, laying in the floor all hours of the day, screaming and crying (both of us, lol) through that first bath, fighting the exhaustion, cherishing the snuggles, the rocking and the singing. I held him on my chest and napped with him, both of us so warm against each other. Safe.
We both cried through shots at the doctor’s office and I thought I was going to lose my mind when we would go somewhere, him screaming until he threw up in his car seat.

And then I blinked and he was walking and talking, of course saying “Dada” first. Little turd. Just kidding.

He would try to cuss like his father, saying “bam it,” if he dropped something. Good times.
He would grab his play tools and try to be just like his dad, saying “gotta go to ‘erk (he couldn’t say work correctly), momma,” as he’s leave the living room only to return seconds later saying, “back, momma.” He would perform this extravagant fake cry that was so stinkin’ cute I couldn’t not give in! Yeah, I’m a sucker for my boy and always have been.

He had his first “girlfriend” in those toddler years and since he couldn’t pronounce her name right, we’d ask who his girlfriend was and all we’d get was “Ass”. Her name was Addison, lol. He fought with his best friend Katie at all of his brother’s and her brothers’ baseball games. He even conked her in the head with a rock one time and blood cane rushing down her skull. Scared the crap out of me and her mom, Erica. No permanent damage was done, well physical damage anyway. Pretty sure Katie doesn’t trust Conner around rocks still to this day.

And then I blinked and he was attending daycare and then head start, learning so much every single day. He is so smart it’s crazy. This is the time when his anxiety really began, hard and strong.

He would get all excited to see me enter the doorway to get him at the end of the day, running to me with his arms open wide, smiling this smile that lights up the sun. He would show me something he had created that day, jabbering a mile a minute the whole drive home. He loved Halloween, Christmas, and Lightning McQueen. We wore out two discs of the movie Cars. He began his collection of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, many of which he still has to this day. Stuffed under his bed. Hidden away from his “teenage-ness”, but not hidden from his memories of playing Cars in the floor with his dad.

And then I blinked and he was in elementary school, struggling with anxiety every single grade, but learning and changing and growing so much each year.

I think I’m the only mom who cries every LAST day of school each year. It means he is no longer that kindergartener, that third grader, that fifth grader. Elementary school was the end of his childhood. He lost his best friend, his hero, his dad during his fifth grade year. His anxiety increased. He missed lots of school that year, and has in all the years since. But we survived fifth grade, with the help of YouTube, his amazing teachers, and his amazing principal and counselor. He made it.

And then I blinked and he was in junior high and the anxiety worsened. His fear of losing me in the same shocking and terrible way as he lost his dad settled into his every thought.

Seventh grade proved to be terrible. Like, the absolute worst year of his schooling thus far. I served as principal and flourished, all the while my little boy was crumbling every single day. I don’t want to relive the details as they make my stomach churn with every one. So we changed our lives. We came home. And I watched this boy stop throwing up every day. I watched him stop crying every day. I watched him grow, inches at a time. I heard his voice deepen. I began to buy men’s jeans, as the boys’  sizes no longer fit. I watched him struggle with things he should have a father here to help him with.

And then I blinked.

He will start his freshman year of high school in August. He will be fourteen years old next month.

I have watched this boy do so much over these past fourteen years. I have watched him do the most in the past three.

He has learned to control his anger, his fears and his anxiety. That takes courage and strength.
He has taught himself how to take apart and rebuild guns because he knew he must learn things on his own. That takes courage and strength.
He has watched his mom fall apart more times than he can count and he has picked me up every single time. That takes courage and strength.
He has laughed and smiled  through his pain and fears. That takes courage and strength.
He has gone on adventures, just him and his mom, to places they’d have never gone before. That takes courage and strength.
He has talked to a concrete stone way too many times for what a young boy should. That takes courage and strength.
He has thought about his future and all the huge milestones, and even the tiny  moments, that his dad will miss and has missed already, but he has kept pushing forward anyway. That takes courage and strength.
He has grown his faith in God and has prayed countless prayers, never questioning where God is leading us next. That takes courage and strength.
He has worked his first job, came home filthy and tired but proud of earning his first paycheck working a job his dad would approve of. That takes courage and strength.
He has welcomed a new man into our lives with excitement and hope in his heart for the first time in a very long time. That takes courage and strength.

My greatest accomplishment, my most cherished gift, is being Conner’s mom. I will love this boy until the end of time and then even longer. Growing up without a dad is not easy. Conner is doing it. I wish I could fix it all, just like every momma does. But all I can do is pray and hold him when he needs held, and give him space to fall when he needs to fall.

I love you more than words, to pieces, always and forever, to the moon and back, and more than any mom has ever loved her son before (please don’t take offense all you mommas who are saying “nope, not true”; it’s jsut our list of things we have said over the years).

Grow my boy, keep growing and learning. Keep leaning on God and  your momma. We will neither one ever let you down.

Thanks for loving me through all this pain and now through all this healing and through our new beginnings. I couldn’t ask for a better “ride or die”.

He may not be a man yet, but this boy of mine sure is well on his way. And all I did was blink.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

All That Comes After...

Before and After become very defining words in the grief journey.

Losing a job
Losing a home
Losing a child,
a parent,
a sibling,
or a spouse

Grief comes with so many parts of our lives; widowhood is definitely not the only or the worst journey through grief, it’s just one of many that our human hearts experience.

As soon as loss occurs, we immediately go to the “what now” train of thought. We go to the “how”, “what if”, “why”, and more.

We begin to wander through the memories of life before loss.

And we begin to fear that we will never again have all the “befores”. We fear that all that comes after will forever be our sorrow and suffering.

But I’m here to tell you that all that comes after CAN be beautiful and that life anew, after loss, does not have to or need to have all the “befores”. All that comes after will, can and should be different. And it will be gloriously wonderful, in its own way and in its own time.

Before Mike died, I thought I had it all figured out. I submitted to my husband’s and son’s wants before those of my own. I did not go on many “adventures”, as financially we could not afford them. We did not go on vacations hardly at all because my time off from school fell in the middle of hay season; farming and his career took priority over family time every single day of the week. For the thirteen years we were together. I had my part of the marriage: housework, yard work, groceries, my cell phone, my vehicle, our son’s insurance, and most of our son’ doctor’s bills. Mike took care of the “big stuff” like our mortgage, farm, etc...

I was oblivious to the secrets that didn’t surface until he was gone. Too many emerged just a few months post-loss and have kept me legally and financially drowning for a little more than three years now. So, I disappeared. So much of the “before” Veronica vanished.

She was broken.

After Mike died, I immediately withdrew. On every level. Avoided family, friends, church, work. I even avoided parenting. Not on purpose, mind you. I was just so enthralled with my own grief and fear that I couldn’t parent. Thank God my son was ten and could handle my being in bed for long hours. He fed himself, entertained himself, and even took care of me sometimes. I’d say this terrible stage of my own sort of death (mentally, spiritually and emotionally) lasted a good 6 months. Well, nothing about it was good, but you know what I mean.

Then at six months, a new job forced me out of bed and out of the familiar. I began working as a high school principal and began to create a new me. An “after” Veronica. I began to like this new Veronica, this adventurous, strong, independent, hard working, aware self. Having never been one who is sure of myself or secure in my looks, my body, my abilities in so many levels, I soon began to think she is pretty awesome and I am proud to be her. I am sure of this.

I opened myself up to new. New blossomed all around and within me.
I took my son on adventures. ALL BY MYSELF!
I worked hard to rock the role of principal.
I spent more time with family and friends.
I spent more time outside.
I wrote.
I published a book.
I started a company.
I created a home that looked like I always wanted it to.

I began thinking about where this new Veronica, this “after” Veronica would end up. Who was she going to become? The possibilities are endless after a tragedy like the one I have faced, the one that did not just bring a single loss, but brought so many tertiary losses that I honestly have lost count. The kind of tragedy that completely changed me.

It was not a me of whom I was proud in the beginning. It was a hollow version left. But within a couple of years, I began looking at the future with hope.
Hope for happiness.
Hope for healing.
Hope for stepping forward.
Hope for love.
Hope for a feeling of family again.

And let me tell you, the universe has not failed to deliver on my hopes. God has not failed to deliver.

All that has come after, even on some of the hard days (yes, grief still exists and definitely when it comes to our son), has proven to me that all of us who have walked the path of grief, of loss so powerful, deserve so much good and that if we are patient and open to new possibilities, they will come.

All that has come after makes my heart almost burst every single day.

I can actually see a future again, one filled with love and happiness, of sitting on the front porch drinking our morning coffee together, of taking Conner on adventures, of snuggling on the couch watching scary movies, of living once again. My smile and laugh have returned, the genuine ones, and people can see the difference. My heart will always have a place for Mike; my heart will always be sad on December 29 and other important dates; and my heart will always wish he was here for our boy’s milestones (all of which seem to be coming at me at lightning speed)...but my heart is also so excited for what possibilities may come our way.

All that comes after may not be what any of us planned for, but it sure is a pretty darn beautiful plan of it’s own.

I love so much who the “after” Veronica is today and I am so excited about her journey of continued growth, and I am forever grateful for and love all those who stand beside her every step of the way.

Sending so much love and light your way, today and always.
Keep the faith.
Keep pushing onward.
He never fails.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

What Ifs...

That’s the thing about grief and loss. That living, breathing entity inside of us breaks all of us, literally our entire existence. It brings us crashing to our weakest point.

I have written about how it claws it’s way from within and consumes all of us, and often this happens years later even when we least expect it. It rips and tears our organs (which give us life and hope and our heart that gives us love) to shreds and it snaps our bones (the parts to hold us up and keep us standing strong) like nothing. Literally every piece of my old self has not just been bent and bruised. Every piece of me has been broken, ripped, shredded. 

It has taken me three years of “hard time” in the throes of grief to finally feel a bit of a flutter at the possibility of happiness again. To feel a bit like my brokenness is starting to mend. 

I’ve never had a broken bone, but I know that sometimes the break heals back nicely and the bone is just as strong after. I also know that sometimes when bones break, they don’t heal properly or mend back together in this nice neat package.  There are ripples and intentions left; there is a bit of tenderness remaining where pain can easily return. Often times the person who has suffered a broken bone is cautioned by medical professionals to be careful so as not to re-break that same bone. 

But what do we do, the grievers, when it’s our entire existence being broken again that scares us? How do we use caution against literally living? 

In the end of my book, yeah I’m gonna have to practice what I preach, I write about the strength we all must gather, whether we want to or not. I write about the possibility of finding someone new who we will want to go tell our deceased spouse about (yes that may seem weird but it’s legit a thing) and finding the strength to speak those words, “I’ve met someone and I think you’ll like him.” I write about the strength it takes to actually want to get dressed up to look good for another man. I write about the jitters behind that first text or call, the plans for a first date, and then maybe another. 

But what I don’t write about in my book is how that glimmer of hope, that hope for actually moving forward (remember, we never “move on” from a loss like this, but we can and do “move forward” grace and hope and love) scares us beyond anything we’ve known. 

I have dated since Mike left, not much, but neither experience proved worthy of my heart or time. And neither brought that gut feeling of, “woah...this might actually be real,” kind of feeling that I felt with Mike. I SO want to feel that again. You know, the butterflies? The heart beating faster at the sound of someone’s voice? You know the feeling. It’s beautiful. 

And I have hoped and prayed for three years that God will send me, Conner and me, a man worthy of our broken selves. I have prayed that He will put His Will at the forefront of really anyone who comes into our lives. That He will bring us happiness again. So I sure keep praying for the people who come into our lives, for the man who will enter my life, to be who God and Mike sent. 

But all this hope does not come without fear attached. Of course as widows, we live in constant fear. Of E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. 

But when it comes to the idea of dating again post loss, it makes us feel batcrap crazy! 

What if he doesn’t fall in love me, respect me, value me, or appreciate me? 
What if he doesn’t do that with our son? 
What if he doesn’t believe in God and won’t go to church with us? 
What if he doesn’t recognize that my grief, my son’s grief, will always be a part of us but that it will never be our whole sum? 
What if he doesn’t turn out to be as great as he may seem? 
What if he breaks my heart? 
My son’s heart? 

And here is the icing on the cake: What if I fall in love again and he dies too? 

And my dear, sweet, broken wisters and brothers in widowhood, here is where the whole “practice what I preach” bit comes in. 

What IF he DOES fall madly and deeply in love with me, with all of me? 
My flaws, the ones he can see and the ones he can’t? 

What IF he DOES respect me and my hopes and dreams, and even my every day routines? Enough to hold me tight when I need it but to also give me space when I need it? 

What IF he DOES value me and my life and my time and my heart? Enough to send me flowers for no reason, to run me a hot bubble bath and cook dinner for us? Enough to spoil me as much as I bygolly deserve to be? 

What IF he DOES appreciate me and how hard I work and all that I do for my son and 
myself and others? Enough to respect and appreciate my widow advocacy work? 

What IF he DOES believe in God and takes us to church? What if we have prayed for each other? 

What IF he DOES do all of respect, value and appreciate my son, our son, a boy who is turning to a man without his father? 

What IF he DOES recognize the grief and wants to visit Mike with us so that we can tell him how great of a man God has sent us? 

Just what if he DOES? 

Guys, there is no textbook answer to any question in life, and there sure as heck is no answer to how we navigate life after we lost so much when we lost our husband or our wife. There is no “how to” manual with nice diagrams, well I mean there are diagrams of the “grief cycle” (GAG, I call Bull every single time), of how to put ourselves back together in proper working order. 

And we all have scars. Whether we are grievers or not, every single one of us who has been given the beauty of life have scars. Grief scars just tend to run deeper than others. 

But, my point is this - I lived with so many “what ifs” after Mike died. 
What if I had gone to surprise him with lunch that day? 
What if I could have saved him?
What if I had fought harder for him not to buy that damned concrete plant?
What if I had gone with him that day?
What if I had gone with him more often when he asked?
What if I had called to check on him sooner? 
What if...what if...what if...

None of those got me anywhere. None of them brought me peace or less heartache. None of them brought me solutions to why he had to die just as we were in the prime of our life together. None of them have healed me or my son.

So what in the world am I still doing with them rattling around in my heart?!?! 

I am SO tired of living in the “what ifs”. So you know what I am going to do instead?

I am just going to LIVE.
And I am going to LOVE.
And I am going to HOPE.
And I am going to BE OK. 

Remember? God has me. I am Still His, a daughter of The King. So I can’t go wrong with just living the life He has blessed me with. And neither can you.

Sending so much love and light to you today and always.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year...

At this exact time, 8:36 am, three years ago, I was preparing for a funeral. The most difficult funeral I have ever attended. My husband’s.

I remember vividly the details of Mike’s funeral, from what I wore, what I felt, what our baby boy looked like, and more. Someone who is reading my memoir texted me the other day and said, “I can’t believe you remember this much detail. I can’t imagine what you must feel.”

The memories of Mike’s death and of his funeral are seared into my brain, my heart, and my soul forever. No matter how much I try to will them to lessen, they flood me just as strongly three years later as they did the day they unfolded before me.

In the sorrow and shock of losing my best friend, I could not fathom a thought of it being New Years Day. “Normal” people were partying the night before, oblivious to my family’s and my pain. They were dressed up, kissing their significant other as the clock struck midnight on NYE. I was in my days old pajamas, awake with sobs, when a New Year, 2015, rolled over. I was lying in our bed crying to God to help me just make it through the day. I could not believe I was about to bury my husband.

So much of me died that first day of January, 2015. So much of me went into that dark hole with Michael. So much of me was left in the wind that whipped through the cemetery as cows bellowed at the fence. I died with him. I became so much less than I used to be: less happy, less vibrant, less cheerful, less sure, less strong, just less everything.

With each passing year I have fought to bring parts of myself back to life. I have cried more tears than I knew a human body held. I have felt depression in my bones and in my muscles, something I never realized was so physical. I have sat in silence, shutting myself off emotionally and mentally from everyone, including my son. I have turned down more invitations extended by friends or family than I care to count. I have left our church and have not found a new one yet. I have neglected my relationship with God, with my son, with Mike’s family, with my own family, and with just about everyone I know. I have promised to “come back” and have failed to epic proportions.

Wow. That is a lot of sucking at life I have done.

But here is the good that has filled my life the past three years, against all odds.

I have watched my son grow into an amazing teenage boy, who is so funny and smart and kind and thoughtful and resilient beyond my expectations. He has made me laugh, and cry, and yell (his room is a disaster and he is a teenager, so mouth = high speed), but he has also saved me. I have watched Mike in Conner. I have seen my husband in Conner’s ornery grin; I have heard him in Conner’s chuckle and seen him in the way Con tilts his head back and claps his hands when something is really funny. That has brought me joy.

I have prayed. Every single day I have prayed. Multiple times I talk to God, asking Him to bless our family and friends with good health, safety and happiness. I have asked Him to tell Mike how much we love and miss him. I have thanked Him for blessing us with a home, my job, our vehicle, our groceries, our family and friends, our own health, safety and happiness, our everything. That has brought me peace when nothing else could.

I have had experiences I never imagined would come to fruition: serving as a high school principal; driving to Chicago, Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma, and more all by myself (seems small, but Michael drove all the “big trips”); publishing our love story for our boy; humbling myself enough to return to teaching when my principal life was not good for my son; repairing things in my house and on my farm (from spraying and mowing fence rows to replacing a car orator in my weed eater to replacing the bake element in my oven). I have dated again (that wasn’t easy at all); I have allowed myself to feel; I have developed new friendships and rekindled old ones. This has all brought me strength.

Three years. Wow. No part of me can believe the calendar has rolled over that many times since my life changed drastically, in a horribly debilitating and final way.

I have never been one to make, well to keep anyway, New Years Resolutions. Sure, I always think in my head: I have GOT to get in shape and lose some weight (ha, fat chance...pun intended), or I will do this or do that. But the truth is, I simply have learned that with each new year since Mike, my goal is just to survive. To grow from this tragedy. To be a better mom. To have a better relationship with God. To just BE and DO better.

But God has me and He loves me just the way I am. I have experienced enough failure and sorrow in my years to not set myself up for more by setting goals I’m not sure I can meet. I just want to continue on my path of loving, living, and hoping, and through God all that is possible. With my son by my side, all that is doable.

So I send good wishes to you all for a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous 2018.

As for me and my boy, we will just keep keepin’ on. And heal every step of the way.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Three Years.

Three years.

1,095 Days.

Some days it seems so much shorter, and some days it seems so much longer.

His middle name was Richard.
His hair was dark.
His eyes were hazel.
His skin was golden.

He was born on the East coast and moved to Missouri when he was about 6 years old.
He used to tell a story of when he rode his bike in their neighborhood.
Once he was even hit by a passing car.
He just hopped right back up and went on.

His first day of first grade ended with him going home upset.
A classmate made fun of his buzzed haircut all day long.

His second day of first grade began with a punch to that classmate's mouth.
His dad told him he better stop that bully, or he’d get a whippin’ when he got home.
He stopped the bully.

One time when as a young boy he chose the less than acceptable vernacular.
His mom decided to wash his mouth out with soap.
He bit the end of the soap off.
He cussed often.
The soap incident did not deter him.

When he was just 17, he enlisted.
He spent two years in the Marine Corps, exploring places like Hawaii and Taiwan.
But never anywhere for very long.
He taught our son some of the “clean” cadences.

His momma tried to protect him, and to teach him
to forgive,
to love gently,
to be patient.
Not just with others, but also with himself.

He never could.

He spoke in a graveled voice that stole my soul with the first, "Hey, this is Mike Hollis, how are you?"
His hands were calloused, scarred, and bruised.
His smile was perfect and his teeth were crooked.
His walk showed a commanding gait.
He knew where he was going and what he was doing with every step.

He couldn't dance to save his life, but he sure swept me around our kitchen floor several times.
His laugh was contagious and carried notes of happiness with every ounce of it.
He was up for anything, as long as it was his idea.
He worked tirelessly and endlessly to build a dream he hoped he would see carried through.

His heart was tender.
His love was pure and endless.
His temper was wild.
His sorrows ran deep.

He was so proud of his two sons.
He saw a future with them working together.
Growing together.
Raising their children, our grandchildren, on this farm.
Happily married, visiting mom and dad for dinners in this house.

He did not get to live out his dream.

He did not get to grow old.

He did not get to grow old with me.

He did not get to watch his sons grow into men.
To see them graduate.
To see them become husbands.
To see them welcome their babies into the world.

He did not get to become a grandpa.
He did not get to say he was sorry.
He did not get to forgive.
Or himself.

But what he did do was make an impact on all those he encountered.
He left his mark on this world.
On this farm.
On his sons' hearts.
On his wife's heart.

Three years.

1,095 Days.

Some days it seems so much shorter, and some days it seems so much longer.

His middle name was Richard.
His hair was dark.
His eyes were hazel.
His skin was golden.

So, I say his name.
Over and over again.
I say his name.

I hope that Heaven is the most beautiful place we always imagined it to be. I hope that the sun warms your skin and that your laughter is endless.  I hope that you smile all day long and rest in the glow of those you love.

We are making it down here.  It is a struggle some days, but others bring new happiness. Happiness we never expected to feel again.  Hope.  Hope we never dreamed could form itself within our broken hearts and souls. But happiness and hope come anyway. They come in spite of the scars.

I love you more than words can ever say. I will love you for the rest of my life.

I am so lucky, blessed, grateful, all the words you want to call it, to have been loved by you.
Loved by you for the rest of your life.

I wasn't your first love. I wasn't your first chance.
But I was your last.  And that is more than enough.
To know that you left this world loving me is more than enough.
 I know that you would have stayed home with us that day, had you known how it would have turned out.

But, none of us know.  We only know what we have in the here and now.

I had you.
And now I have our son.
A part of you.
The best parts of you.

Thank you for loving me, Michael Richard.
Thank you for giving me all of you. The best of you. The last of you.

Rest well, my love.
Until I see you again, I'll be loving you.

Your Wife

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lonely SUCKS...

I have struggled my entire life with self esteem. I never have understood why I allow comparisons to sneak into my mind and leave me wishing I was skinnier, prettier, smarter, wealthier, happier, etc... but I do. And now I wish I could have what I want like so many people.

I wish it.


I have recently found myself comparing journeys of widowhood and comparing my personal journey in this stupid club with other widows'/widowers' journeys. 

I see so many widowed people who appear happier than I am. Some of these people I envy are ones I actually know, and some are ones with whom I have connected via social media.  They are in relationships, moving forward from their grief with a new love worthy of their tender hearts.  And I am SO INCREDIBLY HAPPY FOR THEM.  I am so proud for them.  I just wish I was them. 

My story is unique. It is mine and mine alone; therefore, my journey moving through this tragedy of loss is mine as well. Everyone of us has a unique story.  

So why in the world should I, or any of us, compare our grief or our moving forward from it to others'? Why do we find ourselves envious?  And I am not the only one to feel all of this; trust me, I have made plenty of connections in the widow world and there are several of us who talk about it all the time.

And we have a one word answer to the why: LONELINESS.

I have been widowed 2 years, 8 months, and 254 days. 
I am alone.  
I am lonely.

For the first six months post-loss, I was in shock and in the deep throes of grief.  I could not breathe or dare imagine dating anyone again, falling in love, any of it.  

Then for two years I was immersed in the life of a high school principal and had about 5 seconds to myself.  I was so busy going to events, supervising various functions, throwing myself into my new role, that I never had the experience of the depth of loneliness.  I was never alone.  

And when the rare moment came when I was alone, no event to supervise and the boy with his brother or something, I relished in those moments.  I caught up with house work.  I wrote.  I watched meaningless tv.  I escaped and very rarely felt the true magnitude of lonely.

Now, holy cow has it hit like a ton of bricks.  

I am lonely.  

And lonely SUCKS.  

It does not matter where I am, what I am doing, who I am with or without, what time of day it is...I am lonely. Some friends have stopped inviting me to events. Many have stopped calling or texting to check in.  A couple still remain, but mostly, it is me and the boy.  And being with Conner is totally different than the companionship I miss. My heart literally aches for companionship.  I ache for the comforts of love and togetherness.  

And then with this lonely ache, I also become so frustrated when I'm still "alone" after this long because of what some people have recently said to me.

"Your intelligence, success and looks intimidate men.  Maybe that's why you haven't found someone yet." Or, "You need to be alone for a while.  Figure out who you are."

First, I know who I am. I know my worth.  I know that I am happiest when I am with someone who makes me happy and who I can make happy.  I love being in love.  I love being in a relationship.  I love sharing the adventure of life with someone.

And second, are you kidding me? What the heck does the first question even mean?!?! I'm supposed to look like death warmed over, NOT work hard, NOT do anything positive or productive in my life and THEN I'll have a man?!?! I am intimidating?  HOW in the world am I intimidating?  I wear my heart on my sleeve.  I am a caring person.  I am gentle and kind and giving.  So, I'm supposed to NOT be me in order to NOT intimidate a man, so that I can have a man???

Um, what?!?! Why??? 

Why do I have to be and do LESS to "get a man"?  Why do I have to stop working hard to advocate for widows to get a man?  Why do I have to lower my standards and expect less to get a man?  Why do I have to change how I think and how I behave when it comes to dating and my routines to get/keep a man?  

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am NOT above anyone.  I'm not by any stretch meaning that I have to "lower my standards" and "settle" for any man.  I simply mean in the process of dating and communicating, spending time together, making a relationship work, I have expectations and wants.  But never have I been and never will I be "above/better" than anyone else. Does that mean I want to date a man who dates multiple women, drinks in excess, etc??? No. 

It means when a man in whom I am interested and to whom I am attracted comes along, then I am so ready. It just means when I date someone, I want to DATE them. I want more than just casual.  I've never dated casually and I honestly do not know how to date without establishing feelings.  

I have dated two men since becoming a widow.  They are both equally great men.  One, I felt less of a connection to, even though I tried to make myself, and I ended it because I knew I was not feeling in my heart any chance of moving forward and developing an actual relationship.  

The other one, I wanted everything with. 

Either way, I am not above anyone, but I am not about to change my expectations of an "old fashioned, this is how it's supposed to be done" dating scene.  

I learned at a young age that dating means something. There is a point to dating, at least at my age: a relationship. 

Of course I know many young people, in their late teens, 20s, and even in their early 30s, who have no desire to settle down yet.  And they date casually, or they bounce from "boyfriend/girlfriend" to the next one.  There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever, but dang it, I'm 39 years old.  At this point in my life, after two marriages (first one ended in divorce), a 13 year old son, my own house/land, etc... I don't know if I want to get married again. I honestly don't. But I sure don't want to just go from one date to another, with a different man each time.

I'm a relationship kind of girl.  Always have been.  

I had two relationships which gave me chances at happily ever after already in my life.  They each taught me valuable lessons.  

The first, taught me how to be a better wife.  I wasn't the best wife to my ex-husband; I was a kid who didn't grow up until our last year of marriage. He taught me the value of compromise. He prepared me to be a better wife when Mike came along. 

Then in my marriage to Mike, I compromised all of the time. Sometimes I think I compromised too much.  He was stubborn.  He kept things from me.  I didn't know it then, but I do now.  But, I loved him with all of myself and he loved me back.  He taught me to never take one day, one breath, one second for granted.  I lost him way too soon. 

And now I am alone.  I want a final chapter.  We won't be each other's firsts, but I want so much to find someone who loves me enough to be my last and for me to be his. 

I want so much more out of life. I deserve so much more out of life. So does my son. 

Life is precious and I don't want to do it alone.  

I want someone to share it all with.  

I want happiness again.
I want love again.
I want a relationship.  
I want to hold hands and go to a Cardinals game.
I want to take rides on the four wheeler or ranger and laugh together.
I want to hunt together.
I want to gig together. 
I want to plan weekend getaways together. 
I want to be held and kissed and wanted.
I want to have meals together at my dinner table.
I want to snuggle on the couch and watch a movie.
I want to be seen together in public, as a couple. 
I want to be a priority.  
I want to be loved again.  
I want to see him with my son, laughing, teaching him important "man things".
I want to go to church together and pray together.
I want to laugh until tears run down my cheek. 
I want him to look at me, really look at me, in awe of what we have together.
I want texts throughout the day.
I want an occasional surprise bouquet with a simple card that says, "I love you."
I want him to have his guy time and me to have my girl time, but come running back to each other after.
I want to hang out with him and his buddies and hear stories of their friendship.  
I want him to join me and my friends at our impromptu class dinners and I want him to be proud he caught me.
I want to feel safe in his arms.  
I want to feel secure in knowing I am all that he wants, for the rest of his life.
I want to make him feel the same.
I want happiness again.  
I want love again.

Because grief is hard. 

Widowhood is hard.

I didn't choose either.

And they have robbed me of all that I had and all that I want.  

And they have made me so lonely.

And being lonely SUCKS.