Congratulations

I’ve been playing out this scene in my mind. Many of you might know it. You walk into your favorite restaurant — or maybe an all-too-expensive restaurant with strange menu items you’ve never heard of — and your hand is intertwined with that of the one you love. Your hearts are even more intertwined and your faces beam. You barely make it to the maître d’ before you blurt out, “It’s our anniversary!” just as if the entire world should care. The response is polite, though usually lacking the same enthusiasm, but it’s enough. There’s enough thrill in your present company that just saying it out loud is all the excitement you need. This person married me, you think in bewilderment and utter ecstasy.

It doesn’t matter what happens from there. They might give you free dessert or a goofy song. But the person across the table is all that matters. The time goes too quickly, and the conversation is perfect, even though it’s about laundry day and the big project and the kids who you rightfully ran away from for the night. It ends too quickly, just the way everything does. But it’s wonderful.

I have two questions after that – one for me and one for you.

What happens tomorrow when I say “It’s my anniversary” and there’s no wife by my side?

“Congratulations? Sir?”

Sure! Why not, right? I still got married. And marriage is a beautiful thing God designed. Regardless of the fact that it’s in my past, I can celebrate it and the growth it has brought me.

Your turn. How do you celebrate your anniversary? Are you making your marriage something to cherish? And, married or not, are you making your relationship with God something to cherish? How do you celebrate that? (I ask that of myself, as well.)

Anniversary

Six years ago. May 14, 2005.

What do I even say here? Five and a half years is such a short, short time, especially when we both dreamed of celebrating 50 or more. And yet, there was an entire lifetime wrapped up in those years, almost as if it had been 50. I can only imagine how 45 more years would have felt.

What do you do for an anniversary that isn’t actually happening anymore? My heart breaks for so many people that deal with this, possibly on an even more difficult level, because of divorce. And I weep. I don’t know how they do it. I do know how I plan to do it, though. I plan to celebrate.

God gave us 5 1/2 years of a beautiful marriage, and I feel blessed beyond belief for what He gave us. Last year, for our five year anniversary, we went to Chicago. It was our first time leaving the kids for more than one night. And it came at a perfect time in our marriage. It was such a wonderful weekend, we planned to go back often, even as early again as Stephanie’s birthday in October. That didn’t happen, but going back this year was a definite in our minds. We wanted to be regulars at the hotel. We enjoyed being “loyalistas” (a made up word, I realize) like that.

Well, you know the story, and here I am today. I don’t remember when I first thought I would go back to Chicago in spite of everything, but it was likely way back in October. I couldn’t think of a better thing to do for God, for myself, and for Stephanie. As I’ve done all along, I won’t avoid the memories or any pain they might cause. I’m not going to hide from life as I knew it or know it now. And I’m going full in and full on.

I’m excited. I’m going to have a full weekend to spend contemplating (there’s that word again), praying, reading and introspecting. I plan to celebrate the marriage I had, praise God for it and accept in every way possible that it’s over — though I’ve tried to do that all along. Maybe even more importantly, I’m going to talk to God a lot about my future.

I appreciate how many of you have expressed that you believe a new marriage is in my future. I agree. One thing I haven’t broadcast is my conviction that I’m “ready” for that, even now. To be honest, I’ve felt ready since February, and those closest in my life have seen that. I talked with my counselor about it a lot, and he said the same. I only didn’t broadcast it because I wasn’t sure if others were ready for me to be ready.

I loved Stephanie dearly, of course, and I feel that I’m honoring her to move on. She and I talked long before the seizures started about remarriage if the worst were to happen. We were both very happy for the other to find someone else if it came to that. That’s yet another way God has shown me that He has a plan — that we even talked about such things. I know in my heart that I have no greater cheerleader regarding this than Stephanie. I can just picture her nudging God that He should bring someone into my life. I know she would never want me to be alone, and I know she wants a mother for her children.

My passion, dream and goal for my life has always been Ephesians 5:21-33, that I would have a wife and be able to sacrifice myself for her. (More on that in a later post.) I’m excited for this weekend, and for the chance to really talk to God about that and even pray that I don’t have to wait long to have that again.

Aside from October, this is the last big date that I expect might be hard. This weekend is an opportunity for me to place a pile of stones (Joshua 4) as a remembrance of God’s faithfulness and goodness and what He has brought me through.

Mothers

I expected this past weekend to be incredibly difficult. I’m sure I’ve said it a hundred times, but I ache so much more for my children not having their mother than I do for me not having my wife. I fully expected the celebration of mothers yesterday to be a practice in misery for me. Many prayers must have gone up to God for me, as that was not the case at all.

I often find myself trying to imagine what my kids feel or think regarding all of this. That’s no easy task, as I have not lost my mother, nor am I a toddler. But, I want to be able to sustain them in whatever way possible, so I try. What usually ends up happening is that I assume all of these emotions that my kids simply don’t end up having and my worry is all for naught. Yesterday was such an instance.

One thing I was sure to do yesterday was to buy flowers to place at the grave. It only made sense to have the kids with me for Mother’s Day. This was their first time going to the cemetery, and I just wasn’t sure how it would go. I explained it to Brady a few times and he seemed to understand — God has definitely blessed he and I with his ability to comprehend so much of this. He asked to carry the flowers and to put them down.

I asked Brady what his favorite memory of Mommy is, and you can never be sure what type of answer you’ll get from a four-year-old with that question. Brady always has a different answer to it. His was perfect in light of my upcoming anniversary on May 14.

“I just love her so much because I love you so much because I love you and Mommy getting married before.”

Even at four years of age, Brady appreciates what it is for his parents to have been together. He always amazes me. I just told him that I loved that about us, too. Halle chimed in to say “Mommy come back,” as if she was requesting that she come home with us. I wish I could know what was going on in her little mind, to know what she thinks of this. I can tell that she misses Stephanie, especially at times, but she’s a very happy child and is doing perfectly fine.

I would be remiss not to mention my own mother here. It’s hard to express in words the appreciation I have for her. I know, because Stephanie was very similar, what it means to her to be a mother when that was her lifelong dream. And I know what a sacrifice it is. And now, even after all the years she put into my own life, she’s putting all the more into my children’s lives as she takes care of them nearly every day. There is no end to her grace to me and my kids. She somehow finds a way to balance being my mother — as a friend and supporting me through all this — and basically being my children’s mother — taking care of them so much — and all the while still being a grandmother to them and her other grandchildren. I can’t spend enough time expressing thanks for all she has done and does.

I want to thank my mother-in-law, who has also taken good care of me and the kids through all of this. She has been able to watch the kids as I do some of the things I really love, like playing handbells, etc. I never worried that she only loved me because of Stephanie, and now there is proof that I was right not to worry. I know other widows have experienced friends and family avoiding them because of the reminder they are of the person who is gone. I’m thrilled to say that no one in Stephanie’s family has ever done that to me — least of all Stephanie’s mom.

As a special thanks, there is a long list of other women in my life who have really been there for me and for my kids. Since my kids can’t have their own mother, they need other women who love them and guide them, and I am so thankful to all of you who have been “mothers” to my kids. I pray that you all know who you are, as I don’t want to risk leaving anyone out by trying to list you all. If you’ve spent time with my kids, please know that you’ve been a blessing to me and to them.

Ambulance

I live on a street and in a city that doesn’t exactly tend toward the younger demographic, so I can’t say that I was surprised to see an ambulance just across the street this evening. What did surprise me was the response I had and also what my kids ended up saying.

I was immediately contemplative. That’s my new favorite word because it’s not accurate to say I’m sad, but I’m certainly thinking — deeply. I’ve seen ambulances on the road since October (and pray for the person and their family every time I do), but this is the first I’ve seen one parked on my street. It really hit close to home (pun intended). In less than a year, three times I had seen those lights flashing in my driveway as I struggled to make sense of what was happening at the time. I couldn’t help but anguish to see them again, even though it wasn’t for us this time.

Was it the same men across the street who so feverishly tried to help my wife? Would they remember me or my wife or my house if they looked over and saw me standing in the doorway tonight? I certainly wouldn’t know any of those faces in a crowd. I can’t imagine what it must be for them to have those possible reminders of what they witness in their line of work. “This is the street/That’s the house where such-and-such happened.”

Brady was awake and aware of the first two visits we had, so he also knows the ambulance in the driveway, and he thought about Mommy tonight, too. I’m not sure what he or I said that inspired Halle, but she somehow got excited thinking “Mommy come home!” No, Dear, she’s not coming home. She went “Home,” but she’s never returning home to us. And once again, I was reminded that it’s harder for me on their behalf that their mom is dead than it is for them that their mom is dead. And it crushed me that Halle was thinking about her coming home, even if she doesn’t really understand what she’s saying.

Thank God for the ambulance and the paramedics who help so many people.

Handbells

Call me a dork, but I love playing handbells. I played for about 7 years through middle and high school until I went to college, after which point I had no outlet for swinging the brass. Fast-forward to 3 1/2 years ago when I found out my church (different from where I grew up) has a handbell choir.

I’ve been so thrilled to play again every year since then and I get embarrassingly excited to put on white gloves and play. But, I can’t deny who I am. I just love it that much. As it turns out, we’ll be playing again in all the church services this coming weekend (April 9 and 10) at Cuyahoga Valley Church. Even more exciting for me is that I get to play a solo, which is so much fun to do.

Of course, I can’t help but think of how proud Stephanie always was of me and how excited she got to watch me play. And I know how crushed she was for me last year when I completely screwed up my solo. The last time I played, unfortunately, started a week of utter badness. I mentioned the failed solo, but it was also that week that Stephanie had her first seizure, which terrified me more than I can tell you. That’s not all that happened, but it is all that’s relevant. I certainly hope to not repeat a week like that. Anyway, keeping in mind the joy she had for my ringing, my solo is very much in honor of her, and the song (which I’m not divulging) is very fitting.

I’ve done my best not to shy away from doing those things which are meaningful to her or to me or to us, despite her not being here any more. I’m still the person I was, and still love the things that I love. There’s no benefit in denying who I am simply because Stephanie died. I feel like I’m working my way through all of those things as this year continues on. It’s very therapeutic and freeing.

I’m so thankful to the bell choir for postponing our “season” until this spring, since the fall was obviously not going to work. I’m so thankful to the church for even having handbells and for our director, Jo, for leading us. Anyone who knows me, knows I can’t sing, so I thank God for the chance to worship Him through music in such a way.

In short: I can’t wait!

Six Months

Six months never felt so long.
Or so short.
As of Sunday, April 3 at 10:08pm, six months prior was the last time I talked to my wife.
The kids and I were all a year younger then. We’ve all started that next year of life sans Stephanie.

It’s essentially 180 days. And trust me when I say that it’s more about the number of days than the number of months. Actually, it’s even more accurately about the number of moments rather than the number of days, because that is what I’ve had to get through. I can’t think about a month. That’s much too large a time frame. I’m fortunate if I can figure out next week.

But, it’s amazing how much God can heal a heart in such a short amount of time. I don’t know how to explain it. But I do know that a few weeks ago, I very noticeably turned a corner with regard to my grief. Almost suddenly, I was more okay with things than I had ever been, though I had certainly been working up to that point. God has been so gracious and merciful to me in my struggling through this, allowing me the time and crazy emotions. And all of my family and friends and acquaintances and people reading this blog have been incredible support to me. It is thanks to the incredible love from everyone (God, especially) that I’ve come this far.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about my future. How does God want to continue to use this loss? In which direction does He want to point me? He continues to encourage me with stories from people of how He is using this for His good. I still stand by the fact that even though my life might not go the way I want, He is using this – and my life – for His glory. And that gives me more peace than anything this world could ever offer.

I absolutely hope to get married again. I want it for me and I want it for my kids. I’m not sure what that will look like or when that might happen. I’m doing my best to look to God for every step I make and every choice I have. I hope and pray He doesn’t make me wait too long, but waiting on Him is certainly better than going my own way with things. Plus, He’s gotten me this far and will get me as far as I need to go.

The kids are doing great. They’re both playing more and more with each other as Halle is getting older and able to communicate better. They are both so sweet and loving. We have many random cuddle moments throughout the day. And they both love life and love each other.

Me being the way I am, I like that April 3 was the first Sunday to be a “3rd” since Sunday, October 3. I know it’s probably strange, but I like being able to honor these dates at six months on the same days of the week as they originally happened. A weekday just has a different tone to it than a Sunday, so I’m thankful for the similar tone.

Before I know it, I’ll be talking about six years and exponentially more amazed at what has happened since. But, it will be one moment at a time that I get there. And, I think God delights in us taking one moment at a time. And boy, what I would give to be a delight to God.

Seriously?

I just.

Can’t.

Believe.

She’s gone.

And I’m pretty sure I never will. Fifty years from now, when I’m old and gray with grandchildren, and maybe even a wife, I’ll still find disbelief in this fact of my existence.

It’s one of those stories your grandchildren hear for the first time and they find themselves in deep shock. “Did you know Grandpa was married to someone else before Grandma?”

It’s been a while since I’ve given an update. I’ll give more details later, but I’m actually doing quite well. Even still, this disbelief is heavier than lead.

I keep saying that for as much as I believe in God more and believe in His goodness and grace and mercy and promises more, I disbelieve this situation more. It’s almost as if it’s even harder to believe, the more I believe God.

And He is so good to me, and to everyone. And I can’t wait to see how He used this to change me for His glory.

Love Day

At American Greetings where I work, Valentine’s Day is like the Super Bowl for us. It is by far our biggest holiday. However, for Stephanie and I, it wasn’t quite that. Sure, we celebrated it – gave each other cards or gifts and ate out somewhere usually — but it didn’t hold a candle to our anniversary and birthdays. At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, we didn’t really need a holiday to celebrate our love for each other.

I’m thankful for that this year on February 14, as I think it will soften the blow. I’m sure it will still hit me. My day will no doubt come to a crushing halt as I double over in tearful emotional turmoil. But for the most part, I think I’ll be okay.

What really surprised me was that I found myself perusing the “For Wife” cards last week. I even thought I had picked one out and was going to buy it for my bride. That is not like me at all to do something like that. But I almost did. The only reason I didn’t was because I found one card after another that seemed too perfect. I couldn’t pick just one. I loved being married, and every card reminded me of how beautiful she was and how amazing it was to be married. God sure did an incredible thing when He created marriage.

And for that, I wish God — and all of you — a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Another day

For my birthday on Wednesday morning, I woke up and cried for a bit. It was one of those “good” cries, where I really got myself into the moment and the memories and the sadness. I had the day off from work. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be much more than just another day off.

Stephanie wasn’t there to wake me up with breakfast and a candle in my breakfast, and a present that she had specifically picked for me to open in the morning. She didn’t excitedly wish me a happy birthday when I woke (or the night prior when it hit midnight). There was no homemade card from her detailing just how much she celebrates me and loves me. She always made it so apparent how thankful she was that I was born on that day X number of years before. There was no “birthday week” celebration for the whole week. There wasn’t a surprise lunch to bring to work with a sweet note and small present in it. And dinner wasn’t my favorite dish lovingly made.

So, it was just a day off. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t feel like my birthday. I had someone say to me that birthdays do feel more and more like just another day the older you get. I’m sure that’s true for some people, but not for me and not for us. And we made sure of that for each other. Birthdays were often better than previous years.

So that’s how my day went. Not bad, but not special. I went to see Tron: Legacy in 3D by myself. It was a great movie and fun to see it and I quite enjoyed it, so that was good.

I will say that I do feel very loved, and I’m so thankful for that. I had about 154 birthday wishes on my Facebook wall. I’m pretty sure that’s a record for me. Thank you all for that. And I’m told by my mom how loved I am based on all the help/support/money that people are putting into my birthday party. I can’t wait for it.

I really just pray that I can get into it. As I’ve been doing, to fully embrace whatever emotions I have, but that I could really just allow it to be a strong memory (whether good or bad for how I’m feeling – that it’s at least strong because it meant something). God wants me to prosper and I’m fully aware of that. I can’t prosper if I pretend my emotions aren’t there, and I can’t prosper if I don’t fully embrace every moment.

Birthday

It has been nearly five years that I’ve had to hear about it. Every now and then it would come up and it gave her so much of a thrill to tease me. I’m pretty sure it was less than a week after my 25th birthday that she brought it up for the first time. I’m talking about the birthday party she was planning to throw for me when I turned 30.

January 12. This Wednesday. Sucks again that she’s gone.

I know most of you probably missed many of the parties she threw, but let me tell you how Stephanie puts together a party. Every party has a theme, and that theme envelopes every last detail. For instance, my 25th was a theme of miniatures. (I have an unhealthy obsession with anything that’s miniature.) The cake was tiered simply to accommodate cupcakes. Each cupcake had a circular tag stuck in it depicting something about my life. There were cocktail hot dogs and mini burgers and mini grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken nuggets.

I’ve always loved my birthday and Stephanie has always felt strongly about how special a person feels for his or her birthday (and the entire week). I’ll be excited for my birthday no matter how old I get – age doesn’t bother me. And Stephanie went to every length to make me feel so special. She’s literally had an idea for my 30th birthday since the week following my 25th birthday, and she has casually teased me with that fact over the years. I’m pretty sure the theme has changed a few times, but only because she thought of something better. She would taunt me, “I came up with an even better idea for your 30th birthday. It’s going to be incredible.” Oh, I couldn’t wait! (If only I knew what else 30 years would bring.)

I’ve been anticipating this 1 month for nearly 60 months and yet 3 months shy of it, my wife passed away. I have no problem sharing with you that I yelled at God about that. A lot. It ran through my mind a number of times while I was in the hospital. I’m not going to get to have my birthday party. Obviously, it wasn’t the worst pain of them all, but it certainly didn’t help the situation.

In line with my aversion to change, I’m trying to keep things as close as possible to what they were supposed to be this year. It’s why Thanksgiving was still at my parents’ house as usual. It’s why I had a Christmas tree and other decorations up based on the way Stephanie decorated. And it’s why I asked my mom about still having my party. Thankfully, Stephanie had shared most of her plans with my mom. (For the record, my mom can throw a quite a mean party, as well.) With the help of some friends – one of whom seems to throw similar parties as Stephanie always did – the party will be happening on January 15 with a rather large guest list.

Nonetheless, I expect this week to be possibly the hardest week of my life besides that time in the hospital. I think it goes without saying that I’m not looking forward to it.

I think of Stephanie’s 30th birthday three years ago and how joyous it was. I made sure her brother was in town for it and surprised her with two La-Z-Boys. (She was always manic about rocking in a chair constantly.) We had just had Brady 9 months prior, which was fantastic considering how desperate she was to have kids before she turned 30. It was such a fabulous celebration of her life thus far.

And now it’s my turn to hit 30. I hate to be melodramatic, but who gets stuck celebrating 30 years as a widow? I know I’m not the first and won’t be the last. But I’m one of them. What kind of birthday am I celebrating this year? Right now, I’m hoping that I can just stay 29 forever until my Stephanie is returned to me. I don’t want to turn 30 without her! It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.