The First of the Fours

Credit: Valene Valich

Credit: Valene Valich

Nine years ago (today) I married my best friend. It was the best day of my life.
Fast forward, and today marks my entry into the 4th year of events without Steve. Steve died the week before our 6th wedding anniversary.

Last week was the angel-versary of the day I lost Steve. It had been 3 years. It was hard. Certain days just do not get easier with time.

Flashbacks…nightmares…horrible memories. The gut-wrenching memories are paired with the memories of our last day together – and wow, was it ever a perfect last day. I went from an amazing high to the lowest low I’ve ever had.

Remembering the high points is both devastating and comforting at the same time. The flashbacks of finding Steve and the million minutes that passed after that make me sick, but they also give me courage. Once you lose your spouse you realize there is so little in this world that you cannot overcome – even when life is overwhelming. What used to be big challenges now appear as insignificant events. You come to appreciate just how important the “little” things are in life and how meaningless focusing on the negative parts of life truly is.

I usually try to leave anyone that reads my post with something that you can take away – something that may be actionable for you. The only insight I have to share with you today is how important it is to give your attention and focus to those that you love most in life. Unfortunately, life is short and your days are never guaranteed.

Today I have three simple requests:

  1. Go hug your loved ones and give them a few words of love and praise – watch how it brightens their day.
  2. Handwrite a heartfelt note and deliver it (mail works too).
  3. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while and give them your undivided attention.

Take note of the impact you can have on others through these simple actions. I’ve added a reminder to my calendar to write a handwritten note each Friday – the impact on me and those that have received my notes is indescribable.

I’m going to take this a step further and challenge you to do the three things listed above – today – then share your experiences with the rest of the Young Widow Living community through our Facebook page or in the comments below.

Happy September 1st – go out and share the love!

 

 

Widow + Divorcee = Love?

One awesome Facebook follower sent some questions about dating after being widowed. I couldn’t wait to answer!

Should she date? How can she really like someone new? He’s divorced, does that change anything? When is the right time to date?

My initial response – do what feels right! BUT…I’ve recently done a lot of reflection on this very convoluted topic. No, it isn’t as simple as my initial response.

Dating at any age is challenging – go no further than Facebook and your TV and you see all sorts of drama and self-help ideas.  Now, add the emotions of a widow or a divorcee into the mix and you have a melting pot of emotions.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned from dating a divorcee for the past 2.5 years.

  1. Do what feels right! Ok, so this was back to my initial response, but seriously, if being with that person helps you smile after your loss, then do it.  You will encounter many people saying you are getting back into dating too fast, too slow, with the wrong person…all comments that are not needed and frankly, unwelcome.  YOU make your own choices.  If he/she doesn’t make you happy, then stop – simple.  You’ve been through worse than a break-up, you can handle this.
  1. So is there a “right time”? There is no magic formula and no magic answer to this question.  Do a self-check – where are you at with these questions?
    • Have you been able to get into a rhythm with your “new normal”? This doesn’t mean you are done grieving what was lost – this means feeling like you have at least a basic part of your life under control such as your finances.  Why would this be important? You want to get into a relationship because it is what you want not because you feel like you need something in your life.
    • How is your confidence? You don’t have to be confident in everything, but you need to have confidence about what you want and expect in a future relationship. Take the time to reflect on this so you don’t accept the first person that comes into your life (unless they are awesome!).
    • Are you strong enough to say “no”? Unfortunately there are bad people in the world that may try to take advantage of you. They may be nice, say all the right things, and then ask you for money (“It’s just a small loan, I’ll pay you back”).  Be wary – very wary of anyone that asks you to buy them anything or give them money.  You may feel like you are offering out of the goodness of your heart – don’t. The best manipulators are good, very good. Have boundaries in your head of what you are willing to do before you get into a relationship and stick to it!
  1. Getting serious – using the B and G words. Using the word “boyfriend” still feels ridiculous to me. I have a mental block. When my boyfriend and I decided to date exclusively (i.e. more than a strong friendship) we weren’t really ready – we knew this, accepted it, and decided to take it slow. We had feelings for each other – strong and real feelings – but we weren’t truly ready to use the language associated with dating.  I was introduced as a girlfriend for one of the first times just a couple of weeks ago.  I have to admit that it felt good (I was so over “friend”) even if it still seems weird.  Going from wife to girlfriend status was hard for me – it may be hard for you too.
  1. Getting serious – in public. Depending on where you live, going out in public with a new date may be awkward. Small towns are wonderful, but they are also cesspools when it comes to gossip. You may want to consider this as you decide how you want to date (not IF) – never let gossip keep you from being happy!
  1. Meeting the family. Yikes! In my situation both of our families were not ready to meet anyone “new”.  We introduced each other to our families before we ever even dated – probably a mistake in hindsight. We knew we liked being together. Talking gave us smiles that were missing from so much of our life. Being together meant a reminder that we could have fun with someone other than our missing spouse. We weren’t a third wheel together. Being together meant hope – even though we weren’t dating.  We knew this, but that doesn’t mean our family was ready.  I’d say test the waters first.  I had a lot of heartache over the reaction, and it hurt – even when I didn’t think I could hurt any more. Everything is good now – it just took some time!
  2. The in-laws. This could be a whole post in itself (and maybe will be someday). I have been blessed with amazing in-laws. They have supported me and my new relationship without wavering. If you have a good relationship with your in-laws I would be open with them about anyone you are seriously considering dating. The conversation is hard – but necessary. If they treat you with respect, then do the same to them and have the conversation. These conversations will help keep your relationship close.
  3. The Divorcee. There are “special” things that come when you decide to date a divorcee – just like there are “special” things that come with us as widows. The divorcee likely went through a lot of pain. They lost the person they thought they would spend their life with. Find out why the divorce happened and ask for honesty. Did they just grow apart? Was there infidelity? Did they do everything possible to take their vows seriously? The “whys” behind the divorce matter.What did the person learn from that experience? What would they do different? Where are they on their grief journey?

    You also need to be prepared to answer some of those same questions. Widows typically don’t have a marriage that was already headed for divorce (although some do), BUT almost all of us have some guilt about how we could have been better spouses. What did you learn? What do you want to do differently?

  4. The Divorcee, Part 2. Memories. Oh, the memories. As widows we are given a little more space to have memories. We can openly talk about how a certain song or place reminds us of our loved ones. We can share happy memories as we retrace steps we took with our spouse. We can and should do that. A divorcee also lost a relationship that was important to them and yet, they don’t have the same freedom to share their memories.  People look at them like they are crazy for remembering the good times.  It is much more awkward for them as society acts like divorcees just pick up and move on without a thought to what was – and that couldn’t be further from the truth (at least for those who truly committed with their vows).  This is a challenge. If you want to share your memories or what is on your mind as memories hit you, then encourage the person you are dating to do the same.  You both had good times and good memories with another person – be confident enough to recognize both of your pasts and encourage the conversation.  I’d rather hear the memory so we can move through it together – after all, you are there to support each other as you build a new life.
  5. New Love. Ok, so you decided this guy/gal is a keeper. Now what? This is a question I’ve been asking for the past 2.5 years! Seriously though, loving someone new is not easy! Falling in like then love – that is actually the easy part. Learning to love and be loved differently? Now that is hard.The “I like youa lot” phase: you do nice things for each other, send sweet texts, and try to spend as much time together as possible. This phase is awesome – enjoy it!

    The “Ok, so is there anything next?” phase: This one gets dicey. Based on your history the desired next steps may not be the same or come at the same time. I’ll honestly say that I misread this one in my relationship – I thought “we” were ready when in fact [honestly] neither of us were.

    With Steve, he knew exactly how he felt about me – fast – like within weeks of us starting to date. He knew he wanted to marry me and I never felt anything but that commitment from him. I’m a person that likes direction and goals, so understanding what you want and then going for it is my norm. I prefer forward progress toward something!

    I thought this whole process would be similar with anyone else (If I think you’re awesome and I believe I’m pretty awesome too…2+2=4, right?). However, just like the normal dating world, you may think one thing and the other person is not on the same path – maybe not even on the same map. This was the hardest part for me – I took this lack of any direction as a sort of rejection – I wasn’t good enough. In reality, that wasn’t the case, and that was never even implied. But, my mind got stuck there for a period of time – not fun. Back to point #2 and the confidence question – are you ready for something different?

    The growth phase. If you make it out of the “now what?” phase you will hit a place that is actually pretty awesome. It isn’t as spontaneous as the initial dating phase (bummer!) but that is because you have a rhythm.  You’ve figured out that you need to love your new person in a different way.  Read The 5 Love Languages if you have no clue what it means to love differently.  Better yet – both you and your partner read it and discuss what you need out of the relationship – then commit to doing it.  I’ve had to adapt to being loved differently, but also communicate what is important to me so he can adapt also.  He cannot love me the same way he loved his wife – we are different people with different needs. Flip it around and I’ve had to figure out how to love him differently too. Yes, we made it to that point and I’ll just say it is so much better than the “what’s next” phase.  Simply by committing to love each other differently we committed to something together.

    …Phase. My expertise ends at the growth phase.  TBD what happens next!

Whew!  That is quite the list.  To my Facebook friend that asked this question – thank you!  I love reflecting on my journey and appreciate the chance to do that on this topic.  I’d love to hear more questions!

For those that have already been on this journey, what else would you add?  What advice can you share with the widowed community?

 

The Dream Is Real.

My heart YWL_silhouetteis overflowing and it is coming out of my eyes.  At least that is what I think is happening to me as I write this.

The USPS delivered a letter which seems pretty simple but to me it means so much. The Young Widow Living Foundation is a thing. A real, tangible, thing. I’ve been dreaming about helping other widows through the darkness for over two years. Today, that dream is something real. The 501(c)3 approval came today and I am beyond excited.

What will this foundation do?

This foundation is intended to help widows stay out of poverty through education. This foundation is intended to make sure children who lost a parent don’t end up one of the statistics – statistics that say children from single parent households tend to score lower than their peers in school. This foundation is intended to bring families together for hands on activities such as STEM, character developing adventures, and the ability to connect with others going through the same challenges.

In short, the Young Widow Living Foundation is going to make a difference. Education can (and will) change the world – one person at a time.

The Back Story

Steve told me on many occasions that education was the only thing that would change the world. He had a passion for teaching, and honestly had a rare skill in doing so. He could teach you something without you realizing you were being taught. He was a tutor in college and later taught accounting and business courses when VCSU needed an extra professor. He did this at night – after his day job. These experiences ignited a passion for education and a drive to leave a legacy through helping others.

Starting the journey toward this goal included enrolling in an MBA program together. My goal was to advance my business knowledge. Steve wanted the degree so he would be eligible to be a professor. He died during the third quarter of our program. Steve was awarded his MBA posthumously. I earned mine a year and a half later. It was hard. It was even harder when I was grieving, raising two children, and trying to be successful in my job so I could provide for my little family.

When Steve died I knew almost immediately that I wanted to start a scholarship in his honor. Steve had been a member of the Valley City State University Foundation Board for many years. He was passionate about the school and scholarships. The Steve Welken Endowed Scholarship was announced at his prayer service and within the first 3 months we had raised over $10,000. Within 2 years we were over $30,000. This year will be our third year awarding scholarships in his name and it is an absolute honor to do so.

When I became a widow there was a lot of fear mixed in with grief. The fear revolved around raising my children alone and finances. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to provide enough for them. I worried about my ability to help them financially in college. Heck, I worried about the mortgage, taxes, and just about everything you can imagine. As a family our income was reduced over 50% in a day. To top it off, it seemed like all the articles about the deficits of children from one income families were coming out around the same time and it made me sick. We were now in that statistic – good or bad. I knew someday I wanted to come up with a way to help children that lost a parent through education. This dream blends Steve’s legacy of education with my experience as his widow.

The Young Widow Living Foundation is going to give hope to widows and widowers. We will build up the knowledge and capabilities of those left behind in honor of those that watch over us. .  

I hope you will consider joining this journey with me – either by helping connect new widows to the foundation or giving of your time, talent, and treasure.

There is so much more to come – stay tuned!

 

Life, Leadership, and Legacies

Life, leadership, and legacies – how have you changed the world?  Leadership Pic

Ten years ago was my first date with my husband Steve. It breaks my heart to hit another milestone without my best friend, the person that made my soul complete.

Steve consistently spent time trying to be the best possible person and leader in all areas of his life. I wanted to honor the years by highlighting ten ways Steve made a difference in my life and the lives of others through his leadership.

1. Know (and do) every job.

I met Steve on Saturday night and he informed me that he was going to help a crew in Gwinner, ND the next day. He was the CFO (chief financial officer) and he was going to help a crew pull wire. It was a Sunday and they were away from their family – he wanted to help get them home faster. Steve dug trenches, delivered supplies, ran pipe, and did inventories just to name a few. There wasn’t a job that Steve wouldn’t do.

2. How can I help you?

Our first “real” date occurred one week after we met. I was convinced that I did not want to be dating anyone and gave Steve a laundry list of reasons why he should not want to date me. His response? “How can I help you?”.  Within one week of this conversation he had put [significant] time into helping me. Fast forward two weeks he invested money in a lawyer to help with the rest.

Steve’s willingness to help others trumped everything else including time for himself and the money that he earned. He believed in saving and being conservative with money, but never at the expense of helping someone else. There are so many stories I could tell. Steve never made me feel alone with a problem. His response was always “how can I help you?” or “what can we do?”. He never asked me what I was going to do or implied that the problem was my own to solve. We won and lost as a team – from the very first date.

3. Success is measured by what you do with what you have

Steve believed in investing time, talent, and treasure into the things that mattered most to him. Steve bought things for friends just because he knew they needed it – like a dishwasher. He gave multiple 0% interest loans because he knew it could make a significant difference in the lives of others – and he was right. He taught me that being financially secure is important, but the impact you can give to others with the money you have is even more important. It can change lives. No matter what we had or didn’t have, Steve’s philosophy never wavered. He always did what he could to help others whether it was his time, his talent, or his treasure.

4. Being a team player is more important than winning

Softball was one of Steve’s passions in life. He loved to play. Even with this love of the game there were numerous times when I would go to watch him play and he would be sitting on the sidelines. When I asked him why, he would simply say that the other individuals would have been upset to sit on the sidelines even though Steve was often the better player.

Steve loved to play, but he loved to be part of the team more. He was most happy making other people happy even if that meant the team lost or less accolades for him. A leader like Steve gets as much satisfaction out of seeing others succeed as he would have felt achieving the end result himself.

5. Happiness sometimes means letting people go

Steve always wanted people around him happy, often at the sacrifice of his own happiness. He truly struggled when those he cared about were not happy. For example, one of his really good friends worked for him and struggled finding true happiness and satisfaction with the company. It ate at Steve – he felt like he was failing as a leader and as a fried. Steve tried everything he could think of to help this person be happy but you cannot make someone happy that doesn’t want to be happy. There was nothing left to do. His friend left the company and a few months later they were able to talk as friends again.

This was one of the most difficult things for me to watch Steve go through. In the end he was happy to see his friend find happiness and he was humble enough to look past all the pain this individual caused and re-kindle the friendship.

6. Education can change the world

Passion for education was something people recognized about Steve almost immediately. Steve truly believed that education could change the world. He put this belief into action by serving on the Valley City State University foundation board and the Century Club working tirelessly to raise scholarships for students and make the university a better place.

Before we met he taught accounting classes at VCSU when the needed a professor. He spent his evenings after work teaching and tutoring students. His career goals included retiring from his role as President/CEO and starting a second career as a professor teaching entrepreneurship, business ethics, and finance. We enrolled in MBA classes together so I could enhance my business knowledge and he could gain the degree required to teach consistently at the college level. I was excited to learn beside him.

Steve put his time, talent, and treasure into making this world a better place for the next generation. His legacy continues on through an endowed scholarship at VCSU – we are currently awarding four $500 scholarships each year!

7. Coaching: the most important job a leader has

Steve always felt a little awkward stating that he was the president of a company. In his heart he was the head coach. He believed his job as a leader was to develop a winning team and identify strong “skills” coaches to continuously bring the team to new levels of performance. Steve believed in the power of positive reinforcement and knew his team could overcome any challenges. He analyzed his competition, drew up accurate plays, and worked hard to engage everyone in the vision.

Steve enjoyed watching the team succeed together. He was a positive force that made you believe that you had all the capability in the world to succeed.

8. Seek the advice of others

Before I met Steve I believed that being “smart” meant being smart enough to solve problems on your own. What I observed with Steve was his consistency in seeking advice from those he respected and trusted. He utilized mentors, had a coach for a short period of time, and used trainers/facilitators to help him new strategies with his board.

Steve was my coach and mentor. We talked through our challenges from work most nights because we knew we could count on each other for support, advice, and feedback. We also loved to learn from one another and our conversations were fun and challenging. Steve was the smartest person I knew. He consistently made himself better by using his network, being humble enough to ask for advice, and smart enough to truly listen.

9. Lead with your mind…and your heart.

Servant leadership is about being a servant to those you lead and focusing on enriching the lives of others as you work together to achieve a common goal. Steve embodied this more than any other person I have met – and I’ve met some pretty great leaders. I don’t believe I am biased either – I’ve got two stories to share.

One of Steve’s employees was travelling almost an hour each direction to go to work. This person’s wife was pregnant and a job bid came open that was within 10 minutes of this individual’s home. It was a one person job and a location that wouldn’t make sense to bid in any other situation. However, Steve strongly believed in family and wanted his employee to be able to spend as much time with his new baby as possible. He bid the project, and intentionally bid it low to ensure he won. Steve was a leader that balanced profit with people.

My second example is from Steve’s wake. An individual approached me with tears in his eyes and said, “Steve saved my son’s life and made my family whole again.” Steve had hired this man’s son after he was released from prison with a felony on his record. This was not typical, but the family was local and Steve decided to give him a chance. Steve took it a step further and assigned this employee some jobs that would require travelling with Steve almost weekly for 2-4 hours in a truck. During these times Steve listened, coached, and helped this individual believe in himself again. When his Dad came up to me at the funeral he said that his son would have been back in jail if Steve hadn’t spent the time with him. Steve gave him more than a job, he gave him confidence to get his life together. Instead of being in jail his son was engaged to be married. That is the power of true servant leadership.

10. Priorities: Family, Friends, Community, Work

I once asked Steve how he wanted to be remembered and he said, “I want to be remembered as a good husband and father first, a good friend second, someone that contributed to the community third, and finally, someone that made a positive difference at work.” He was clear about the order, and lived a life that represented his priorities. There was never any doubt with Steve that family came first. He did more than his share of child care and was a very active parent. As a husband he was a great listener, believed in my dreams, and was totally committed to our family. Listening to people come up and talk about Steve during his prayer service and also the eulogies read by people during the funeral helped bring some closure to me. Steve was remembered exactly the way he had wanted – his priorities were more than just words. He left a legacy that will live on long after the day he died.

Steve was my mentor, my coach, and my best friend. I just happened to be lucky enough to be married to him.  This is a very short list of the things he taught me about life and I hope they can make a difference to you.

For those that knew Steve, what else would you add?

The Myth of Failure – An Open Letter to My Daughters

Failure is a negative word in our society and I simply don’t believe it should have that failuremuch power. Failure is an opportunity to learn. Failure means that you took a risk to try something new, something different. Failure gives you an opportunity to grow through challenges. I’ve heard a few adults talk about things they won’t do because they are afraid of failing themselves or others. That bothers me. Life is short – live it! 

As a Mom I have a powerful influence over my daughters and their perception of failure. I want to make sure my girls know what failure truly is, and what it is not. I want to make sure I am not the type of person that has children afraid to experience all life has to offer because they are afraid of failing themselves – or worse – me.

My Beautiful Girls,

I hope you read this letter when you are feeling scared, unsure of yourself, unsure of your next steps, or when you just feel like a failure.  I want you to read it – a lot. I hope that as you read this you gain the strength and the courage to take chances in life.  Don’t ever let the fear of failure hold you back.  So many people go through life scared of failure – and they miss out on the greatest parts of being alive.

First, I have to admit something…I have failed.  Many times. I will fail again.  Does this make me a failure?  No!  There are times that I feel like a failure in life, and you will too.  However, I hope in those moments you remember what I say in the rest of this letter.

There are really two different ways to fail at life. 

  1. You fail to try because you are afraid to fail.
  2. You fail because you tried

Girls, if you fail to try because you are afraid to fail, then I have failed you as a parent.

You will fail in life.  No one is perfect.  So what does it really mean to fail?

Failure is…

  • Quitting when you are not the best. Never quit just because something is difficult. Choose to end certain activities because you have found something you are more passionate about.  Prioritizing your life is important – you cannot do it all.  Never quit in frustration – you will get through it, and you will discover some amazing things about yourself at the end of that tunnel.
  • Being scared to love with your entire heart. I am very guilty of this.  Your father gave me the greatest gift I have ever been given – the gift of unconditional love.  He loved me from the beginning of our relationship until the end.  Without question, without doubt.  He loved me at my best, worst, and everywhere in between.  Never settle for less, and never give less.  Yes, you will get hurt by doing this.  It is scary. But loving with anything less than your best-self will only short change you.  Take the risk.
  • Not communicating. When you don’t communicate you don’t give others the chance to help.    I don’t mean whining, complaining, or anger.  I mean the simple act of telling someone how you are feeling, what you would like to change, and what support you need to be successful.  This is another one I am not good at, but I’ve gotten better through writing.  You will find that I write down my biggest challenges and that is OK.  Everyone needs a little help or support sometime.  Find a way that works for you.
  • Pretending to be someone you are not. You do not need to be anyone other than yourself – you are beautiful.  Don’t copy anyone – you can never be a better version of another person.  You were put here on Earth for a reason, never forget that.
  • Lack of kindness. There are mean people in this world.  They are failing themselves, their friends, family, and anyone that has to be around them.  Being mean or negative is VERY easy.  Never take the easy road and always be true to yourself.  Be compassionate toward others and you will find success in all you do.
  • Being scared to fail me. If you take anything away from this, please understand that you will never fail me. Your failure is my failure and I am here to help you through it. I may be disappointed in your decisions, but I also know that you have to make some mistakes to learn. My disappointment will be short-lived and we will look for solutions together. I am your number one fan. I will always love you. Be true to yourself, your morals, and your values.  Don’t ever limit your life because you are afraid to fail me.

Failure is NOT…

Failure is not…Doing your best and not achieving your dream.  This is the old “shoot for the moon and land among the stars” analogy. Dreams change.  Mine have changed so many times in my life it is dizzying.  However, I have always worked towards a dream until I decided that my dreams had changed.  You will live, you will learn, and you will find new passions.  Never be afraid to dream a new dream.  Sometimes you have the choice, sometimes you will be thrust into a new reality that requires you to change your dreams even when you don’t want to.

Failure is not…Final. When (not if) you fail realize that your failure can impact you for any amount of time that you let it.  Don’t let failure stick with you for a long period of time.  Pick yourself up, own up to what happened, and do what you can to correct it.  Then, commit to doing better the next time – there will be a next time!

Failure is not…A reflection of your value as a person. We all fail. You are not defined by your successes or your failures. You are defined by your character, your integrity, and the “how” of your life – not the “what”.  You will be remembered for how you handled the failure not the failure itself.

Failure is not…Defined by anyone other than you. What you see as a failure may be seen as a breakthrough opportunity to another individual.  Be hard enough on yourself so you commit to learning from the event or decision, but don’t be too hard on yourself. How you handle the tough times is a much better judge of character than how you handle the good times.

My greatest failures in life revolve around my fear of being me. I wasn’t true to my character, my values, or who I truly am as a person.  In many cases, I was afraid to fail others and that fear led me to fail myself.

I want you to know you don’t have to be perfect or have all the answers – I will be here for you as you learn, grow, succeed, and fail.  As your mom I will try to protect you even when I can’t, and I will be there to pick you up when you fall.

Finally, when I think about failure I wonder if the things I feel like I fail at today will be relevant at the end of my days. Almost always that answer is NO! Life is the big picture. Be true to you, and you will not fail in life. When I am gone, I hope you can say that I was a good mother that supported you and helped you achieve your dreams – whatever they may be.  I hope people say that I worked hard, but I balanced my life and prioritized my family first. I hope people remember me for the positive impact I had on their life, which means I made a difference to people. If people can say these things about me – then girls, I did not fail in life.

R & K, you make my life worth living and I am blessed to be your mom. We are a team – we will win and lose together many times, but there is no one else on Earth I’d rather have on my team.

I love you,

Mom

The Myth of Failure – An Open Letter to My Daughters

Remembering My Anniversary – Year 3

Today is the celebration of the best day of my life.  Eight years ago I was lucky enoughopost_ceremony0038_DSC_0063f to marry the best person I had ever met.  Today is my 8 year wedding anniversary, only it isn’t. Today is my third wedding anniversary without my husband. Writing this seems
unreal. How is this the start of the third everything? I love Steve more today than I ever have. Every day I appreciate him more. Every day he makes me a better mom, a better friend, a better person. How could this be my third anniversary alone?

Last week was Steve’s second angel-versary, and it seems surreal that it has been that long. I don’t know where the time has gone, and I honestly have no idea how I have made it without him. I feel like I have aged 20 years, but with that age comes some great reflections on life. Steve loved to teach and learn, so I thought I would share a few things I’ve learned on my journey.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about what it means to not only survive, but to thrive.

  1. Attitude really is everything. I have good days and bad days, but the difference now is that I know just how much control I have in my life. I do not get to choose what happens to me, but only I have the power to choose how I respond. How I respond is a reflection of who I am as a person – good or bad.
  2. Grief doesn’t stop. I thought the second year would be easier than the first. I was wrong. There are different challenges, but that doesn’t make it easier. I haven’t made it through a week without some song or memory causing tears while I drive. There are times I wish for my best friend, the person who just knew what to do without words. There is not another person on this Earth that can fill that spot. And I grieve the loss of those feelings, the memories that won’t be made, and the loss of someone who so positively impacted my life.
  3. Life doesn’t stop either. All of us only get a certain number of days on Earth and no one can tell us when our time will be up. Every moment I spend with a poor attitude or focusing on what I lost versus what I have is time that I don’t get back. That is time that I am not giving my best self to the people that I still have in my life. I still grieve, yet I am thankful for the wonderful gift that Steve was to me in life. There are things I miss about the past, but I also have a pretty great present. It is much different than I ever imagined, but different doesn’t mean bad.
  4. Dreams change. Steve and I had dreams together, and they all ended the day he died. All of my future plans were gone. I am a “type A” personality, and I no longer had a goal. I no longer had a direction. For me to move forward I had to identify new dreams. I needed to be brave enough to dream again because I always want my daughters to dream. The new dreams I created have already changed, and that hasn’t always been easy. To me it has felt like a loss all over again, but at the same time it has made me realize that I need to spend more time focusing on the present while still seeing a dream on the horizon. I don’t need to know all the answers or understand how it all works – even though I desperately want to.
  1. I am stronger than I give myself credit for. People comment on how “strong” I am. I don’t always believe them. They don’t see me hiding out in a garage because I can’t stop crying and I don’t want anyone (especially my kids) to see it. They don’t see the mom that feels like a failure because I don’t meet my own expectations of mom-perfectionism. They don’t see the inner struggle that I have just to function some days. I’m really good at putting on a “strong” face to the world. However, when I really stop to think, I realize just how much I have handled. My kids are happy, healthy, and safe. They know they can talk about their Daddy at any time and it is a safe and positive conversation. I am capable of providing everything my children need and a lot of what they want (good or bad!). I have a career that I enjoy. I volunteer when I can, and am looking forward to helping other widows in the future. I am 2 weeks away from finishing the MBA program that Steve and I started together. I have started another relationship and chose to love again.

There is an inner voice in all of us, and what it says is powerful. Make sure that voice builds you up, not puts you down – you are stronger than you give yourself credit for!

  1. Leave a legacy, everyday. We don’t know when our life will end. Someday it will end. If your life ended today, would people remember you the way you would want to be remembered? What would they say about you? Steve left a legacy at the age of 39. Someone once told me that Steve’s legacy was more impactful than most people that live to be 100. Two people came up and told me at his funeral that Steve’s friendship and life coaching literally saved their life. Steve and I had talked once about how we would want to be remembered, and it is so humbling to realize that he was remembered exactly the way he had hoped – a man dedicated to his family and friends first, community second, and his career third.

What legacy do you want to leave?

Starting the third year of events without Steve is daunting. I wonder what life would be like if he had not died. If I really stop to think about that I can honestly say that I would still have my old dreams. I would have a different career, and I would still be living in my house in a town that was familiar. Steve and I would have worked through more challenges as a couple, and would have come out even stronger each time.

When I pause that thought and think about the present I realize that because I lost Steve I became a better person, a better parent. I love Steve even more now because I appreciate how much positive impact he has had on my life. I cannot overestimate how many times I have struggled and just focused my thoughts around what Steve would say or do in certain situations. I can hear my angel talking to me when I just take the time to listen. His words can still bring me back to reality. Powerful. I love more openly because I don’t want to live with regret. I am more compassionate.

I would give almost anything to be celebrating my 8 year wedding anniversary with my husband, but I can only do that in spirit. I am truly blessed to have had such an amazing person in my life. Every day I know I have a choice in how I handle my day. I try to wake up thankful for the gifts I do have in my life.  I have someone who kisses me good morning
, I have two girls that make my heart swell with love, and I have the best family and friends a person could ask for.

Today I will celebrate the life I had with a man who truly loved me unconditionally.  I will celebrate the memories we made and the person I am because of the love we had.

Live, laugh, love, and leave your legacy.

My Easter Journey – An Evolution in Faith

Easter is all about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, his death, and his resurrection.  It seems like I’ve heard the story hundreds of times. I know I am supposed to feel thankful. Supposed to. There are those words again. When you are grieving it seems like you do everything the opposite of what you are “supposed to” do. Easter was no exception for me.

Last year was my first Easter without Steve. Yes, I put on a brave face. Yes, I did the Easter egg hunts, Easter bunny visits, and most importantly, we attended church. I’m being honest here…I wasn’t happy. I was mad. I was angry. Most of all, I was jealous. Yes, jealous. Why couldn’t Steve rise from the dead? Why couldn’t I have him back? He was truly an angel on this Earth – a person that lived his life for others. Why did he have to die when so many other people get to live?

I tried to listen to the words of the Easter story. What I heard was a different story than previous years. Loss and grief change everything – even stories you have heard hundreds of times. As the tears started to flow in church I knew I couldn’t take any more. I did what I have done so many times – block out my surroundings, retreat into myself, and do everything possible to change my thoughts to avoid a complete breakdown in public. What people see on the outside looks “normal”. Those that truly look can probably see the complete lack of emotion in my eyes or the struggle to contain the tears. This was my Easter last year.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities this past year to reflect on Jesus rising from the dead. I feel like I have come full circle. The Easter story has come to mind numerous times throughout this year. It bothered me to be jealous of Jesus – how could I have that in my heart??  I’ve taken the time to reflect.

This year, I am thankful. A small piece of me is still jealous at the thought of resurrection – but Jesus didn’t just rise and return to Earth. No. He returned and then ascended into Heaven so we may all have eternal life. Without Easter, there would be no heaven for Steve. He couldn’t watch over us – and I know he does. I still get signs that he is there and I will tell you I am a much better person because of it. The decisions I make align with the life we had, the lessons he taught me, and the type of person he was. Steve truly lived his life. He is with us every single day.

I believe in Heaven. I believe I will see Steve again. And, I am thankful for the events in the Easter story. I’m thankful our Lord gave his son so we may all have everlasting life.

1 Corinthians 15:14-20 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised... Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…reference

The holidays are never easy for people who live with loss. I was surprised at my feelings last year – and I am also equally surprised at how my thinking has come full circle. I’m surprised how much I thought about it – without prompting, without picking up a bible, and without focusing on making a change within myself. This was clearly something that existed in my heart – and when I allowed myself to listen to my heart, I already knew the truth. When I attend Easter service this weekend I will be attending with thanks, love, and gratefulness in my heart.

I hope sharing this story helps someone else feel just a little more “normal” – no matter where you fall on the emotional spectrum during this time.

What is the most challenging holiday for you?