Dear 2020

Dear 2020,

I’m not ready for you. It’s not you, it’s me. Really.

The 2000s brought high school graduation, college graduation, my first “real” (salary) job, marriage to my best friend, and even my first child. Everything was going great. Right on schedule. Big things were happening and I was excited. December 31, 2006 was my first real glimpse at what it meant to dream BIG dreams – and I was hooked.

December 31, 2006 was the day Steve asked me to be his partner forever. I’ve never gone into a year like I did in 2007…so many hopes and dreams. Wide-eyed and in awe that a man like Steve would choose a girl like me. More, he thought he was the lucky one! I dreamed of the wedding we would have in 2007, the family we would make, the home we would create, a future with him by my side. There is no better way to start a new year than knowing you have so much to look forward to! Every New Years Day after that was a reminder of how much I was loved, how lucky I was, and a time for us to dream of more together.

Then…well, then the 2010s happened. I almost want to say “the end” right there.

The 2010s brought child number two into our lives and everything was still good. We both had jobs that we loved, hobbies, and good friends to enjoy it all with . Everything was on track.

Then, 2013 happened. We had some marriage challenges, but the coming together was pretty life changing in itself. It’s like we found our true rhythm in 2013. Then he died. All my dreams, hopes, and goals were gone in that same instant. I lost myself. Steve was as much a part of my identity as I was. We were two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together in our differences. I didn’t want to go back to who I was before Steve – he had made me an exponentially better person, and I didn’t want to move forward without him. We were so much a part of each other I didn’t know if I could even do life without him. This was my rock bottom.

Like Anna sings in Frozen II, “You are lost, hope is gone. But you must go on and do the next right thing.” The one thing that got me through was a promise we made to each other to be happy and give our girls a good life. I didn’t know if I could do either on my own, but I was going to do everything in my power to give it everything I had. It was the last thing I could do for him.

A significant part of the 2010s are a blur. I literally picked myself up off the floor, tried to put whatever pieces I could find of “us” together into a new me knowing it would never, and could never be the same. I kept the little people alive and did the best I could to give them a happy life. We moved. Twice. Each time farther away from family that we love dearly. I traveled. A lot. I have loved seeing new cultures, trying new adventures, and finding joy in the world around us. Traveling gives me hope for the future and joy in the day – it gives me something to look forward to even if it is only a few months at a time. The 2010s also brought a “long-term” boyfriend which is something else I never thought I’d ever stand for in my life. So much for doing things the “right way” (I tried…and got it right, once!). We own a dream home together, enjoy the friendship we have, and have a solid relationship rooted in the present. Let’s just say there have been a lot of changes, learning, rebuilding, and adapting.

The 2010s included my lowest low, huge uncertainties and risk, but also some great highs with memories to treasure. I’d sum it up by saying this: I survived.

So, 2020…what could possibly be in store?

I know a few changes are coming this decade. By 2030 I will be an empty nester and my one final goal in life will be fulfilled – seeing our girls grow into young ladies. There may be a move (although we all hope not!). There will be new jobs. More travel, hopefully to some pretty amazing places starting with the Galapagos Islands in April.

One thing I hope for is to find my dreams again and have the courage to chase them. The 2010s paralyzed me with loss, then sapped all my strength just trying to keep everything together even if sometimes it was hanging by a thread. I went from knowing my place in this world and having big dreams well into the future to not being able to dream of the next year. There were glimmers of hope and new dreams, but eventually those seem to fade away too.

The new year celebration always brings a wave of sadness as I know I am moving into another year of so many unknowns and the contingency plans that make up a life on hold. I see my ring and remember the love that was given and shared on this same night so many years ago and I mourn the loss of the gift of a future. I miss the feeling of a new year, new dreams, new plans, and new beginnings. Tonight, New Years Eve, I will survive (again).

This will be my seventh New Year’s without Steve by my side and it is one of the hardest nights of the year for me. I’ve yet to be able to hold it together as midnight approaches – although I do the best I can to hide it. So, today, I will soak in the memories by myself, with the hope that I can step into 2020 determined to live a decade with dreams not only found, but achieved.

Dear 2020,

I may not be ready, but I’m thankful you are here. My word for you is determined and I am looking forward to all you have to offer this year. LETS DO THIS.

What is your word for 2020?  

Anniversary Identity Theft

IdentityToday is my anniversary, my 11th anniversary to be exact. It is my sixth time going through this date without my other half. My husband, Steve, died just more than five years ago.

Here’s the deal. Eleven years ago I became a wife. Around our town, I was “Steve’s wife” since he had grown up there and everyone knew him. I loved being Steve’s wife. I still remember his face and comment the first time someone introduced him as “Erin’s husband” at one of my work events. He looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been introduced as your husband before. I kinda like it!”. That was Steve – he was just as proud to be my husband as I was to be his wife.

Have you ever thought about your identity?

It goes to the heart of who you believe you are.

My identity was stolen the day Steve died. Not only did I lose the person that made my world go round, but I lost who I was. I lost my future as Steve’s wife and instantly became Steve’s widow – an identity I never wanted.

Widowhood is full of identity crises. The start of my blog highlights just a small portion of the challenge.

  1. Should I celebrate my anniversary? Is it even an anniversary if only one person is still alive? Should I say this “would have been” my anniversary or “it is” my anniversary?
  2. Husband. Do I say late husband? Just husband? Just Steve? For those that are remarried these questions are even more complex. Is it “first husband”? How do I share these moments without being uncomfortable, or making others uncomfortable?

Widowhood is full of with questions without answers.

Have you noticed that virtually all information forms (doctor, credit cards, school, etc)ask if you are married? What do you choose if the options are single, divorced, married, or separated? I’ve had that issue – many times. I am just stubborn enough to write “widowed” on those forms – because I’m not any of those other things. Identity.

What about the boxes for Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr. etc? What the heck am I? Can I be a Mrs. without a husband on Earth? Five years later and I still have no clue what box I fit in.

Then comes the big ones. School or medical forms that ask for the Father’s name. And if the father lives with you. I have cried over these forms so many times. I choose to write Steve’s name in those spaces. Death will never remove his identity as a Dad – an identity that he not only wanted, but loved to be every single day. I write “deceased” after his name to avoid questions. Address, heaven. It breaks my heart every single time.

Up next, single parenthood. Let me start by saying that I am not a single parent. There is no Dad that my children can visit. There is not a deadbeat Dad, or any other version you can think of that would make me a single mom – it wasn’t a choice either of us made. There are no automatic weekends off or anyone to call when a child is sick. No one to share in some of the scary challenges that come with raising a child. My kids have had some health issues (minor thankfully!) and there are days that I wished there was someone to validate my decisions or help make them. I am the only one left to do those things. It was’t a choice from either of us. I am a solo parent. I don’t know why it matters, but for some reason it does to me. Identity.

Dating.

Yes. This minefield deserves it’s own line – and has a few other blog posts like here and here. Let me be clear. I grew up believing in fairy tales – Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Dirty Dancing, and heck, even Pretty Woman. I believed that you would meet that one person and fall in love together, get married, have children, and do life (grow old) together. I truly believed that. Steve and I had a love like that. We “only” dated eight months before getting engaged. It seemed like we knew each other forever. He ordered the ring at month six. We had that crazy connection that you just knew you didn’t want to ever live without. We couldn’t wait to get married and start our life together – just like the fairytales.

Marrying someone is a recognition of love and commitment in the world. If you are with someone that doesn’t want to marry you and you’ve been together for awhile, well, they just aren’t that in to you. Harsh, I know. Yes, I eat crow.

Let me enlighten you to my today. Despite all of my fairytale ideas. Despite having that type of love and knowing exactly how it feels to be loved like that…here I am. I am “that girl” that owns a home with a boyfriend and has young kids (I mean, how good of an example is THAT?). I’m a “girlfriend” in my mid-thirties – something I never, ever imagined when I was younger. It sounds terrible. It goes against everything I believed in. I am living the life of the same people I mentally judged before. The shoe is on the other foot. I have struggled more with this identity than any other identity in my life because it goes against the very basics that I believed about a “good” life and being a “good” or “accomplished” person. Being a wife means that someone loved you enough to sign up to love you for the rest of your life – being a widow means they fulfilled their promise. “Girlfriend” does not have the same value. Today, I [honestly] hate introductions. I can laugh and say “I’m his better half” or some lame thing like that to avoid “girlfriend”. In reality, I am just trying to avoid letting other people know that we are not committed in the traditional way. In my head I am judging myself! To reduce potential judgements (or compensating for my own judgements/insecurities) I tend to ramble about the fact that I am a widow when I am introduced as a girlfriend. Like somehow that justifies my choices. Clearly, I have issues with this identity and have struggled with it for a few years…yes, years. Ladies, you are not alone if you are on this journey too.

With all that said, I have a great life. My boyfriend and I have a great life together. We have figured out how to pick up our pieces individually and make them into a pretty beautiful picture together. I doubt we will ever get married – lets be real, it would have happened already. I’m not sure how old we will grow together. But you know what? No one else knows how long they have together either – married or not. I just need to find the right box or identity to fit – consider it a work in progress!

If dating again challenges everything you believed about the world – you are not alone. Dating after you have been married is different. It challenges your beliefs and any identity you have.

Finding a new identity

Eleven years ago today, I said “I do” to a new identity. Five years and seven days ago I was thrust into the widowed life and dropped into this new identity. Death changes who you are – there is a period of time you have no idea who you are. It steals your identity.

Here’s what I want you to know. You don’t have to be widowed to have an identity crisis. I had one after child number two was born. Luckily, I had a man that not only stood by me, but helped me discover how to become what I wanted. I use every bit of that learning today to keep me focused on the identities that are truly important to me.

If you are a widow and struggling to define this new life you were tossed into, you are not alone. If you feel like you’ve lost yourself, you have. My advice? Start at the end.

How do you want to be remembered when your time is up? What do you want your legacy to be?

To achieve that legacy, what type of person do you need to be? What needs to be important? Who needs to be important?

Let these questions be your guiding star. Put your time into building that legacy and you will find your identity again. It may not hit every aspect of your life, but you will be able to focus on the things that you want to define you.

What identity challenges have you faced in life?Identity Wisdom

Lemonade and Widowhood: Finding Good in the Journey

DSC_1518When life gives you lemons…we’ve all heard that we are supposed to make lemonade, right? But how do you do that when the lemons involve losing your hopes, dreams, and the person you planned your life with?

Five years ago today I lost the person that truly completed me. My heart was torn apart, my soul was crushed, and every piece of me felt broken. Steve knew how to read me and knew exactly how to give me what I needed emotionally – and he wasn’t there to help me anymore. He was my best friend, my coach, my mentor, and I was so lucky to be able to call him my husband.

As a widow, it is really easy to focus on the loss in your life because everything that you planned, everything you worked for, every dream you together had was lost. I’ve read hundreds of widow posts over the past few years and I’ve realized that there is an opportunity to focus on the good.

All of us have the opportunity to write our own stories based on the events that happen in our lives. There are times that we have no control over the events that happen to us. Giving yourself the option to shape the perspective on the event is one of the most empowering decisions you can make.

I want to honor Steve today – his angelversary – by sharing some of the good I have found in this journey.

Here are the top six things that come to mind when I think about the positive impact of the worst event in my life.

Confidence. For those that know me you probably thought I had a good amount of confidence 5 years ago. Prior to Steve, a lack of confidence led me to be untrue to myself and to try to make myself someone that would be accepted by others. Once I met Steve, my confidence grew because he loved me for exactly the person I was – flaws and all. With him, I grew. My confidence grew because I knew that he wouldn’t let me fail – we won and lost together. He constantly lifted me up. He believed in me more than I ever believed in myself and he was really good at knowing exactly when I needed a boost. When Steve died, I lost it. I lost every bit of confidence I had. I didn’t even know if I could do my job without having him to talk to. He was part of everything that I did. This was the hardest piece to get back after loss. I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of anxiety doubting every decision I made. BUT, here’s the deal. Over the last 5 years I have proven to myself that I can do all the things. I can do so much more than I ever thought possible. I’ve looked back at his texts and letters and he still gives me a boost from beyond the grave whenever I need it (and I still need it 5 years later!). I’ve had to figure out how to take care of a house, buy a car, move, manage finances and investments, and raise two well rounded kids. Standing on my own two feet without someone in the firefight with me has shown me that I can do life – and I can do it well.

Prioritization. You have never realized what prioritization even means until your life falls apart and you have to do it all on your own. Today I am a master at logistics, work-life balance, and have gained clarity on what is truly important. In the past, prioritization was strongly linked to organization which meant being “good enough” to find a way to fit everything in. That is not possible anymore, nor do I want it to be. Today, my ultimate mission/purpose in life guides the actions I take (yes, you should have one too!). My ultimate mission involves engaging and inspiring others to do/be more than they ever thought possible while being a strong role model for my daughters. To me, this means balancing motherhood with a career and health while still finding time to give back through my foundation. Its been 5 years, and I am just now feeling like I’ve hit my stride. There are still plenty of challenges, but if you understand what your true priorities are it is easy to make sacrifices in certain areas to stay true to you.

Resilience. In today’s world of “safe spaces” and participation ribbons we have lost the ability as a society to be resilient. Let me be the first one to say that every single person in life will have challenges. Every. Single. Person. Everyone will fail at something or face an outcome that they don’t like. Resilience is one area I’ve become extremely passionate about. There are certain things in life that are completely out of your control, but what is 100% in your control is how you deal with it. I cannot even count how many times I have literally sat in a closet or on the floor in my room and just cried. I’ve cried until I cannot breathe. And yes, even at 5 years out, this still happen occasionally. I give myself grace to be imperfect and have the time to feel the loss. And then, I get back up. Every time. I get back up. If I can’t let it go, I write it out. Do you know what also helps? Gratitude. In those moments when I feel at my lowest, the one thing I do to bring my life into perspective is find something to be grateful for. I have experienced loss, but I have so much to be thankful for in life. Remembering those things makes me realize that life could be much worse. There are people that have been through worse. Gratitude gives me the clarity I need to stand up and get back to living this life I was given – and live it to the best of my ability.

Health. I’ve always been fairly active and healthy. The year prior to Steve passing I had started running and realized how good it was for me mentally. The pride I felt in running an entire mile without feeling like death is something I still remember! When he died, I felt like I would never have that freedom again. One, I couldn’t even breathe normally. Two, I barely had enough energy to shower and feed my kids. Three, I had a two and four-year-old that obviously could not be left alone. There were a lot of headwinds. When someone was at the house to watch the kids, I tried to take advantage and go for a run. Part of it was to have alone time (being honest – hello, introvert), but the other part was the fact that I knew mentally it would help. And it did. Running is still my outlet and one of the first things I turn to when I am not in a positive place. In the last 5 years I’ve even run two half marathons just to prove to myself that I could! Widowhood is not for the faint of heart and when you have young kids around you need to have both energy and mental positivity just to get through the day. A healthy mind and a healthy body are strongly linked. I want to be a picture of true health for my kids – someone they see that is committed to working out a few times a week, eating healthy in general, but still willing to bake cookies and eat cookie dough when we just need to have it!

Adventure. These past 5 years I have gone on more adventures than I ever thought possible. Even thinking about it leaves me in awe of life. Steve and I took at least one trip a year and had a goal of taking one trip as a couple and one trip as a family annually. Travel is not new to me. What is new is the deep desire to truly experience different cultures. I want to connect with people and truly take in the places I visit. In the past, vacation had been about relaxing with a little exploring thrown in. Now, it is more about exploring with a little relaxation thrown in. I’ve realized that adventures help me feel alive again and continually gives me the perspective I need to make the most out of the life I’ve been given.

I can. Death gives you a whole new perspective on life. One thing that has always drove me crazy is when I hear “I can’t” – whether from myself or from others. After Steve died, my list of “I can’ts” running through my head grew exponentially. One day, I was lying in the ditch in the spot where Steve died. I laid there in a ball of tears thinking that I couldn’t be a good mom without Steve, my kids would suffer, I couldn’t handle everything on my own, I wouldn’t be able to give my kids the life we dreamed of…you name it. And then, a song came into my head that became my battle cry against the “can’ts”. Steve had played it for me just a few weeks prior and I will never forget the feeling of dancing with him as it played in the background. The chorus goes like this “Give me strength when I’m standing, and faith when I fall”. In that moment, in that ditch, I realized that I was never truly alone. Steve was still with me (and playing that song) and I needed to trust in the Lord when I couldn’t shoulder it all. In fact, in order to see Steve again, I needed to grow my faith. Fast forward 5 years and I’ve been able to piece together a pretty good life. Every time I hear an “I can’t” running through my head I take it as a challenge that I need to overcome. Proving that little voice in my head wrong gives me immense satisfaction and continues to push me forward.

Five years.

I wish Steve would have known me as the person I am today. He certainly deserved this version of Erin more than the one he had. I’m closer to the person he believed I was. This change is largely driven from the desire to fulfill my promises to him – to be happy and ensure our kids had a good life. That promise has been my lighthouse at times – it’s guided me through the storms. I feel him watching over us, and know he is always there. Someday, I will see him again and I want him to be proud. We will have so much to talk about.

Every day I live to be the best person possible – in his honor.

The Journey…Chapter 2

I was talking to a widow earlier this week and she asked about my [Chapter 2] relationship. I spent some time explaining how it came to be – that we really came together under a cloud of grief. We started as semi-anonymous people who would text pastureour grief journey to each other into the night until one or both of us were exhausted enough to sleep for a few hours before waking to our nightmares again. We became friends, and eventually started dating. That was four years ago.

She informed me that she feels ready to start dating as it has been four years for her as well. I encouraged her and promised I would pray for her to find a person to enjoy her time with. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think about this journey I’ve been on. It’s been hard and wonderful all at the same time. Here’s the deal – it is different.

No one can love you like your spouse did. That doesn’t mean it is bad, or less, it just means it is different. You have to learn to recognize love differently. You have to learn to accept love differently.

If your potential Chapter 2 has had a less-than-stellar relationship history they will need to do the same. Oh, and love you knowing a chunk of your heart will always love another person. It’s not easy for either person and it takes a certain level of commitment to even have a chance to make it work.

The other thing I’ve learned? Even the journey will be different. Steve fell in love with me quickly and completely. He saw more in me than I could ever imagine and it took me quite awhile to have that belief in myself. We dated for 8 months, then got engaged (he ordered the ring at month #6). Eight months after that we were married, and 14 months later we welcomed our first daughter into the world. He was so excited to build a life with me and was truly all-in and committed from the start. It is a wonderful feeling to be loved like that.

My chapter 2? Well, as I mentioned, we’ve been dating for four years. No engagement and no marriage in sight. I would be dishonest to say this has been easy – because it hasn’t. When you are used to being loved in a big, committed way almost from the start, it is extremely hard to adjust to someone that does not do that. You can feel undervalued, unloved, and even have your self-esteem drop as you wonder if your late-spouse was the only person that believed you were amazing (so amazing that they wanted to spend their life with you!). Then add in grief…and well, its difficult! My head knows the truth, but there are days when the heart longs for the type of love and stability that was lost. For me, this was another grief journey – one that required me to grow and adjust. I had to stand on my own two feet, make two major life decisions (moves) that impacted my daughters, and grow my faith in God. I had to find my own confidence.

I don’t write any of this to say that one relationship is better – they are so different there simply isn’t a comparison to be had. Steve was amazing. Jon is amazing. I am blessed to have two amazing men to love – and I love each one differently just as they each love me differently.

Jon and I have been able to piece together a great life through our mutual grief. We both went through some dramatic grief, so the fact that we can celebrate life together is a blessing. We purchased a home this past year, and have continued to build an amazing life together. We have a passion for adventure, careers that we can support each other in, and time to enjoy life together as a blended family.

Finding that Chapter 2 is hard…all the lessons that come with it are harder…but I wouldn’t change the journey.

An Angel and an Elf

rocking horseThe holidays. The good. The bad. The downright ugly. The holidays have been tough these past few years. This year, maybe, just maybe I’m starting to come out of the fog.

The feeling of having a real home again definitely helps. Family visiting near the holidays resulted in the enjoyment of decorating our new space to welcome them. The ornaments went on the tree with less tears than years before.

I’ve been reading quite a few posts over the past few weeks from widows and widowers experiencing the numbness, dread, and sadness that I’ve felt the past few years. There have also been occasional notes about how to help someone’s friend or family member that recently went through the loss of a spouse.  Everyone is different, but I wanted to share my story with the hope that it may bring to some ideas to others.

My husband passed away when I was 29 with 2 and 4 year old daughters. That first Christmas was a blur – mainly because my eyes couldn’t quit crying. I couldn’t imagine going through the holidays without Steve, not sharing the joy of watching our daughters open gifts with him, or even not buying someone so special a gift at Christmas. Shopping was painful. When Steve was alive I struggled to find the “perfect” gift each year. When he died I saw so many things that would have been “perfect” that year, if only I had one more year.  I rarely made it out of store without tears flowing. There were tissues in every coat pocket and throughout my purse. Our Christmas tree that year was one of the table top fake trees that we set out at his headstone. I just couldn’t do Christmas without him.

If this is you this year, I’m sorry. The holidays can suck. They will never be the same and no amount of time will ever replace the person that you lost. This year will be my 5th Christmas without Steve – I’m not even sure how that is possible. The loss hasn’t lessened, but I have learned how to find more joy in the season than years before.

This story doesn’t end there. That same Christmas my sister asked if they could provide the Santa gifts for my daughters. I gratefully said yes – it was one less thing for me to think about. What they did for my daughters is something I will likely never be able to repay.  And honestly, it was the best Christmas gift I have ever gotten.

Steve loved to woodwork. He had made other children chairs and rocking horses for Christmas and was looking forward to making our daughters the same gifts.  He was just finishing up his shop so he could get it done. Little did I know that an elf would land in his shop and find the plans for the rocking horses just laying out on a bench.  Plans that I had never seen in all my trips out there. Fate? Maybe.

You see, this elf had a little nudge from an angel, my angel, and just knew he had to help make Steve’s dream a reality. This elf was my brother-in-law. He took the plans without my knowledge (I didn’t even know they existed in printed form) and crafted the most beautiful rocking horses for our girls. He wood burned an angel on one side of the saddle – the exact angel from a necklace Steve had given me. He also took samples of handwriting from Steve and combined it to wood burn the girls’ names on the horses in their Dad’s writing.

On Christmas morning the girls received a note from Santa explaining why they were given the horses.  The note stated that their Dad had asked Santa and his elves for help this Christmas.  He wanted to give the girls these horses, but couldn’t do it alone.  Santa and his elves delivered gifts that I will never forget.

If you are reading this post and know someone that needs some help – be Santa’s elf. You don’t have to handcraft something for it to be special. A small gift with a heartfelt note means so much – it means that person is not forgotten this holiday season.

Widowhood is hard, and during the holidays it seems to be even more difficult. Widows are at risk for being forgotten – after all, their spouse may have been the only person to do something special for them on the holiday. If there are children, a story of their angel parent or sharing something their mom/dad loved can mean a lot.

Pick up the phone. Send a note. Make a meal. It doesn’t matter how long it has been since you have connected or how many years it has been since death forever changed their world. They will never forget the fact that this year you remembered.

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

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