On April 1, 2008 my worst nightmare began. My husband, Richie, died suddenly while scuba diving in Bonaire, Venezuela. In the blink of an eye my world was turned upside down. Because he died in another country it would take 9 days for his body to return home. His funeral was held on April 11, 2008. During the 11 days I was bombarded with friends and family to help me through the initial grief process. All these people would reassure me they would be there for me whenever I needed them. What I discovered is the full extent of my grief had yet to begin. Some friends would remain in my life, but most would move on as did I.
The day after the funeral I put my daughter on a plane back to Pittsburgh. I kissed her good-bye and returned to my home. The house was quiet and empty. Although, I was used to spending time alone, this time it seemed very different. I sat at the kitchen table and wept. I wept for what would never be; the retirement plans we shared, the future vacations, continued enjoyment of our camper. I could not believe this was now my life. I had been a wife since I was 22. I was now 49 and no longer a wife. If I was not a wife, who was I? I no longer had someone to care for. I no longer had someone to share my life with. My initial days following the funeral consisted of working and taking walks with my dog to the grave site. I would just stare at the mounds of flowers and his picture. I would talk to him through tears. I knew I could not navigate the deep, internal pain by myself. I sought the help of a counselor and later joined a grief group.
Over the next 6 months, I cried often and like I had never cried before. This depth of emotion was very uncomfortable for me. Some nights the crying would be so intense I would need to call someone to talk me to calmness. I knew all the friends we had would go back to their lives as it is supposed to be. Unfortunately, I could not go back to my life. I had to find a way to forge a new life for myself. It was through this process that I discovered me.
When I entered a grief group I discovered so many had to overcome larger hurdles than I felt I had to. I went through the initial 13 week process and started to feel better. I repeated the 13 week process to help new widows and others deal with their grief and hopefully help them to move forward. I also met a special woman who lost her husband 5 months after I lost mine. We became quick friends and have remained friends 10 years later.
After about 6 months I made a conscious decision to seek a new life. I posed the question, what do I want my life to look like? I had journaled for a good number of years and I had been journaling my grief. The process of journaling my thoughts and feelings helped me move forward and begin the true healing of my broken heart. I discovered when I met another widow or widower I felt great empathy and would extend a helping hand to help them move forward. I decided to make a dream for my brother come true by taking him to the Daytona 500. I also booked a trip to Alaska and took a dear friend as this was her dream as well as mine. Slowly smiling came back and then laughter. I started to see signs all around me of God lending a helping hand by sending me people, books and situations showing me the way forward. I stopped thinking of or planning my future. I decided to just live in the moment.
After about a year something wonderful started to happen. I seemed to have shed my sense of fixing everything and planning everything. My heart and mind became open to possibilities. I felt more empathy towards others and was less likely to interject my opinion but rather listen to theirs. Well, I did still interject my opinion from time to time. A friend came to see me who had not seen me in over 20 years. She told me I looked wonderful and something was different. She thought about it and told me what was different is my face had lost its hardness. I told her I thought that was funny because I felt peace inside.
I started to date, but was not interested in a serious relationship. However, I was open to whatever God had in store for me. My dear friend from the grief group was ready to date, but wanted me to accompany her to social gatherings to meet someone. It was during one of these social gatherings that I met the most wonderful man and I fell in love with him. Although I was with my husband for 30 years and certainly loved him dearly I can’t say I fell in love with him. This had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. See, before I lost him I did not know how to truly open my heart and just let things happen. I always needed to be in control and be the fixer. But, because of the incredible pain I was forced to endure I learned a different way of being. When I met George I was able to fall in love for the first time in my life. By feeling the incredible pain of losing my husband I was able to learn how to experience great joy.
It is in this great joy I find true happiness. I get up in the morning every day and feel blessed for all the experiences I have had in my life. All of these experiences continue to help me grow into the person I want to be. I also feel blessed that I have been able to help others find their way and get unstuck in their own lives.
The greatest blessing to come from my tragedy was learning to be present. When we visit the past we feel sadness. When we visit the future we feel fear and uncertainty, but when we live in the present, we find peace, contentment and happiness. The life I now have I could not have imagined. God always has a bigger dream for us than we have for ourselves. Live in the moment and enjoy the people who are present, love deeply.