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Reflections; 5 years a widow…

I’m sure I’ll stay awake late tonight, trying to avoid having to face tomorrow; then again, we can’t stop the memories. I thought Father’s Day would be easy this year, it has been 5 years right? Wrong…Double blow. Not only is there a void that my kids are feeling by not having their father her, but it was the last day we saw Keith alive.
5 Years ago, I lost my husband and my kids lost their dad. I hate that phrase. I hate all the terrible memories that come flooding in not matter how hard you tell yourself you won’t let them.
As I slept, I reached for his hand and it wasn’t there to hold. This startled me awake. I sat up in bed and looked over for him and then realized that I wasn’t dreaming, he really was gone. I had to relive his death over and over, night after night. This summarized the first year after he died.
Reflecting back to that terrible first year, it’s caused me to reflect back and truly identify progress that I might have made in my life as widow and there are a few things that I have realized.
Surviving is possible.
After losing Keith, I wasn’t sure how I would survive or if I even wanted to. Losing him crumbled my foundation and the pain was truly unbearable. I look back now and although not always pretty, it serves as proof that I CAN DO REALLY HARD things and so can my children!! They are living proof of that. I’m still alive and surviving. Mostly because I had to, NOT because I’m strong, but I survived.
The Pain Never truly goes away
I cry less often and it’s softer. Other widows would tell me that it gets easier and the pain lessens. When my grief was fresh and raw, I wasn’t so sure. I came to believe that I would be the exception and nothing would ease my pain. I was wrong. The grief is always there, like a backpack, sometimes heavy and uncomfortable, and sometimes I barely notice it. Basically, you just get used to it. My heart will never be 100% whole and sometimes the pain is still intense, but it’s less often and it doesn’t hurt as much or as often. THAT is progress!! I know I won’t always be in a state of devastation like I thought I would be, but I will always miss him. It’s never 100% gone, just changed.
I will NEVER be the same person…
The old me is gone. She died that day with Keith, but in her place emerged a new person, a new woman. I can’t be that same girl who identified as Keith’s wife “Stefi”. I’m familiar, but not fully recognizable from the past. I’m still trying to find her, this new “Stefani”.
This one is one of the most difficult..
Memories fade
I never realized this could happen. I talk about him to others, I talk to my kids about their dad, but lately I’ve found its harder to remember certain things. When they ask, my mind struggles to remember all details and I have fewer stories to share. The vivid memories are harder for me to remember. This kills me because I know it’s happening to them too. Madi asked something the other night and said she’s sad because she can’t really remember her dad at all. I never dreamed this would happen, but sadly it does.
She said really the only thing she remembers is the last day when he walked her into daycare, using a cane because he was in so much pain and that he never came back home. She “Thinks” she remembers when I show her pictures, but isn’t sure. This is a hard one to swallow. I’m scared what will happen to our memories each year. I don’t ever want to forget or not be able to remember every little detail.
Losing Keith has given me new eyes to see.
I’m now more aware of the pain of others grief. When someone l know loses someone, my heart isn’t just heavy, it breaks for them. Before I would feel bad for them, but now I truly ache with them. Before I’d say I was sorry, send a card, move on, but now I think of them and ache for them daily.
Depression is real…
It steals joy and can be debilitating. I have had to fight this every day and every way I know how. It’s not always pretty, I don’t always win, but I fight it. It’s not about having faith to overcome it or just “Choosing” to be happy, it’s real no matter how much faith you have.
There are still moments, 5 years later that come out of nowhere and take my breath away.
Time does Not heal all wounds. There is new evidence of this each day. Maybe it’s a sound or site, something one of the kids says or does that make me proud or challenges my patience (Some more than others) and I wonder how I’ll handle it, or when I’m scared and afraid of my future and how I’ll survive. I think of texting or calling him for advice or to ask him to please come help me deal with it like I would have in the past. These moments still continue to take my breath away. When we go to church on Father’s Day and the little children sing the popular song, “I’m so Glad When Daddy Comes Home” and I’m not just sad, but the pain is intense and real. Or some days when I pull up to my parent’s home and see Keith’s black suburban, for just a split second, it still takes my breath away.
I’ve learned drastically how strange my new “normal” is without him here.
It’s a very different place, and yet I know the memories I do have, the life we had, the way he was and the wisdom he shared over the years we spent together won’t all disappear. Being married to the amazing man, sharing a life, having 4 precious children together will ALWAYS be a part of who I am, the rest of my time on earth. This will never change. It cannot change and I don’t think it should be expected to change.
He wasn’t perfect, none of us are, but he was quick to admit to his mistakes.
He had his own ways, he was unusual and funny and he was amazing. He taught me so much about life, love and serving others. He truly was one of the most selfless men I’ve ever known. He always put my needs and the needs of others before his own. Not many people are born with this amazing quality, but everyone who knew him, knew this to be true. I was a lucky person to have someone as special as him absolutely adore me and my kids were truly blessed to have him as their dad. He loved them and adored them more than life itself.
I don’t think about the little things he did that drove me crazy or upset me, those things I don’t think of anymore. I regret the things I picked on him for that are silly and irrelevant, but I know he forgives me.
I felt such intense guilt for the 1st and 2nd year after he passed, for things I did wrong and never got the chance to apologize for or make right. I’m grateful for our years together and I have to believe he forgives me for being so imperfect and not always a good wife to him. He had a huge heart, so I know he forgives me.
I’ve learned I need to treasure life and those around me in a way I never did before.
Life is so short and its important to express love to others and often, even in small ways. Time is too precious for petty and negative things to steal our time with those we love. I still struggle to say those three words, I love you, to those who I do love and mean so much to me. It’s still a work in progress and I need to get better. I truly hope my parent’s my brothers, my children, my close friends and that special someone in my life know that I love them, even when I neglect to say it. I don’t understand why those three words are so hard to say.
Life truly is change.
That bubble like marriage or life can burst at any moment leaving you exposed to the reality that people die. Nothing stays the same. People come and go, it’s a part of life and we have to accept that life means change.
I don’t always conquer my fears, but I’ve learned to live with them.
I can be my own independent woman and rely on myself (Most of the time) and that even though it’s a daily battle, I can survive incredible pain. This one is hard. I live with fear all the time. Fear for my future. Fear I’m not doing what’s best for my kids. Fear that each day I’m not making the right decisions, but I’m learning and this is progress.
While hard not to have Keith around to share the burden or experiences of life with me, it’s made me who I am today, with my own strength. I have to take one day at a time, even one second at a time. If I think too far ahead, I panic!! So I tell myself I can make it through one more day, and then another and I’m living again.
Some people you never expected to be there for you are there and others, even family, are not.
I’ve learned a lot about. People I expected to be there to love and support my family have left and have never looked back. Then there are those who I figured once Keith died would leave as well, but they haven’t. We learn a lot about people when we go through something like this. And that is OK!!! I’m grateful for those friends and family members who are still here and who continue to help us survive.
Keith was the love of my life, but that sad reality is that fantastic life we had died June 19. At that very moment he left us, the life I shared with him ended as well. So I’m learning maybe it’s ok to love again. It’s possible to open your heart again and realize that maybe; just maybe, there’s a great love to exist for me again. That maybe there is someone out there who is willing to love me in all the madness and chaos of my life. (trust me there is a great deal of madness and chaos) Takes a very special person with a big heart to be ok with this.

I still fall apart on holidays, birthdays and special occasions when I think Keith should be here. I have meltdowns during month of June and especially the week before he died. So then I fall apart completely because it’s the day that I had to make the heart wrenching decision to turn the machines off and stand with my family and watch my husband die. So I might sob uncontrollably because I can’t shut these memories off, and it just keeps hitting me over and over like waves slamming into me.
I’m an ugly crying mess because it’s been 4 and then 5 years since he has died and the pain is still there, but now I do this in the arms of someone who is new in my life and he’s OK with it. It can’t be easy for him, but he puts his own feelings aside and wants to be the one to comfort me.
For a moment you think that person holding you might be perfect (oh he is not) not really, but in that moment he is. You say you’re sorry this can’t be easy on him and he says it’s OK because he loves you.
How is it possible to feel such intense loss and pain and happiness and love at the same time? I don’t know, but I’m learning that it is.
Look into the eyes of your present and possible future and melt with love, but be devastated by a memory of the past that is now gone?? You can’t imagine how that feels and how tired it makes you unless you’ve been thru the same thing before.
How it’s so hard and confusing to be so happy and yet so sad at the same time?
I’m lucky to have found love again. He’s understanding, kind, caring, willing to do whatever it takes to be there for me while I grieve every year at the same time. Always hoping he knows I had an amazing chapter before him, but he gets to be my next chapter and I’m excited to see what “our” story will look like.
I want to tell Keith. I want to tell him all about this new guy and how he makes me feel. I want to snuggle up and tell him about all the things that make this new guy so special. Tell him how good he is to our kids. Tell him how our son went out and bought a “Father’s Day” card for this new guy on his own and wrote inside, “To my best friend, thanks for being the best fathers I could ask for”. (This was hard for me, but I’m so grateful my son has this person in his life) How when his girlfriend broke up with him and he left the house crying, I called to find out where he was only to find out he went to see this new guy. Tell him how our little girl lights up when this new guy comes over and she runs into his arms and tells him how much she loves him or when he’s worked several days and we haven’t seen him as often, she asks about him and wants to know when he’ll be coming over or how she’ll sit by him on the couch and he’ll rub her back and then later she’ll tell me how special that was. When he tells her he loves her back and that makes me want to cry because that’s all this “little” girl is longing to hear.
Tell him how he tells me I’m beautiful just like Keith used to do, even when I don’t feel so pretty or so deserving. I want to tell him everything about him that makes me so happy because he would understand and he would be glad.
So what I have realized…

He would be happy for me.
He would want to hear all the details.
He would want to meet this new guy because he was that amazing and had that much love for me and he would want to thank him for making us smile again.
I can’t tell you how hard it is to navigate the joy I feel with this new love and the devastation of not having my Keith here, but I know this is all part of the journey and somehow we will figure it all out. One day everything will fall into place. This I have to believe. This is where faith comes in.
So I’ve now been a widow for 5 years!!
My children have not had their dad for 5 years.
My world changed that day; our world changed that day.
Everything I am, wanted in life, thought I’d have in life, spun out of control that day.
5 years and now there’s someone in my life that has made me smile again. I truly never thought I’d smile again. I might just be so blessed to be lucky enough to have another best friend.
Time will keep going one day, one hour, one minute and I will remember and grieve over the loss of an amazing man, incredible father, friend and husband.
5 years and with each passing day I will enjoy the smiles I’m finding again and the joy my new someone brings me.
5 years and I will sit back and watch my kids and marvel at how strong and resilient they each are and remind them when they have doubt, that they can DO HARD THINGS… They are living proof of this.
I will grieve today over the loss of my old life and then wake up and embrace the new life because as hard as it is to admit and accept, Keith is gone and I want peace and joy in my life again.
I can live.
I can survive.
I will have true happiness again.