Thursday, October 25, 2012

myths and misconceptions...

     Some things are hard to hear.  Not necessarily because the intent is bad but because the interpretation doesn't match the intent.  This can happen in any relationship but is especially true in relationships when someone has lost a spouse.  Widow(er)s can say things that you may not hear in other relationships and, therefore, it can be interpreted in various ways.  Sometimes the interpretations can seem more "negative" in nature and can be reinforced by outsiders who may be well meaning but do not understand the heart or words of the widow(er). So if you find yourself dating or in love with a widow(er), here are a few things to keep in mind...

If your widowed girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse says "I really miss _______!" (their late spouse's name here)
                                ... it does NOT mean...

"You are ok, but not as great as my late spouse, therefore I am missing them."
     Widow(er)s shared life with their late spouse.  Their lives were intertwined with their love to the point they cannot be separated... even by death.  While there may be tangible reminders left behind, the physical presence of their loved one is gone and leaves them with a deep expression of "I really miss...."
     If you are lucky enough to be with a widow(er) who is ready to move forward and share her/his life with you, know that no matter how much joy and happiness that you will share together there will be times they miss their late spouse.  While it can be a difficult thing for your ego to swallow it has nothing to do with how they feel about you. It has everything to do with the life they were so intertwined with.  Their life was and is ever changed because of that relationship.  You can make them happy.  You can show them love.  You can make them laugh... and all of that is just as genuine and real as the thing they lost.  Its not a competition, its life.

If your widowed girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse says "I love _______!" (their late spouse's name here)
                        does NOT mean...

"I don't love you as much as I loved him/her."

     Whether its "socially kosher" or not, widow(er)s will continue to love their deceased... period! Asking them to "stop" or "not talk" about their love will not change they way they feel inside.  They loved their spouse. Their spouse died.  But the way they felt and still feel about their spouse is unchanged.  Widow(er)s can love again however! And if you are with a widow(er) who is brave enough to share their heart and love you - then you are blessed indeed!  What I have found is that a widow(er)s love is "refined."
     Widow(er)s have gone through the fire of life.  They have been burned in the worst of ways, yet they come out on the other side changed and new.  Priorities are different.  Love is different.  Life is different.  Vee continually tells me that Jeremy's death made her realize the important things in life she took for granted before that she does not now.  We who are loved by widow(er)s may get to experience a love that is in its purest and most raw form... a love that is willing to look loss in the eyes, to risk it all once again, and to soak up the everyday moments while cherishing each day.

If you widowed girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse says "I have been thinking a lot about ________ (their late spouse's name here) lately!"
                         does NOT mean...

"When I compare you and my old life, I would rather have my old life and thats why I think about it all the time."

     Its hard for a non-widowed person to really understand it but there is no comparison between pre-grief and post-grief life.  I have said before that comparisons are tough for me... it makes me feel super inadequate in certain circumstances.  But not only are Jeremy and I different, Vee is different as well.  She is not the same person she was 2 years ago.  There is no comparison between the life that was and the life that is... they are as different as apples and oranges.  So when things come up that remind her of Jeremy I realize its not because I am not measuring up and she is unhappy but it's because she has a lot of fond memories that she wants to treasure.  Instead of being insecure I try my best to be a supportive learner... to encourage Vee to share her heart and memories while learning more about her whole life, Jeremy, and her heart.

If you widowed girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse says "I can't talk about it right now."
                       does NOT mean...

"I don't ever want to talk about it - so leave me alone!"

     Grief is personal.  Its complicated.  And sometimes - grief doesn't make any sense.  One night when Vee and I were on our honeymoon in Jamaica she began to cry out of the blue... then sob... then left the room and began to wail.  I wasn't sure what was going on, what happened, or what I should do.  She was so upset she couldn't talk and it didn't appear that she wanted to talk to me. While she curled up in a ball on the couch of our living room area I knelt beside her on the floor and let her cry.  I gently stroked her hair and got her tissues as she writhed in grief.  It was hard.  I wanted to know what was wrong.  I wanted to fix it.  I wanted to help... but I couldn't.  So I sat in silence so she didn't have to grieve alone.  I let her know that I was there, but that she didn't have to explain anything.  After a couple of hours she was finally ready to talk and I was ready to listen.  I try never to pry (although every once in a while I do) but just allow her to share when she is ready.  Thats the key.  Stick around, be silent, and be ready to listen and support when they are ready.

If your widowed girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse has pictures or mementos around the house of their late spouse
                      does NOT mean...

that they are not ready to move forward in life with someone else.

     I have read several blogs about making the widowed person get rid of all things that remind them of their deceased spouse and honestly, that makes me sick! Having pictures or other items around the house does not mean that they are wrapped up in the past but that they appreciated and valued what they had. It shows the depth of their love and loyalty.  It gives them opportunity to move forward while embracing their past.  Vee has several pictures of Jeremy throughout the house.  Some of his clothes are still around.  There are many tangible things of Jer all around and each of these things are a testament to the person Jeremy was and the life that he and Vee shared together.  They aren't a shrine.  They aren't a sign that Vee was not ready for our relationship. They aren't something that comes between Vee and I. They are a part of their story.  They are a part of her story. They are a part of our story.

If I can offer one last word of advice, its this: if you are dating or married to a widow(er), leave your ego at the door.  There are going to be statements and actions that if you are egotistical will upset you and hurt your pride.  True love, however, is not egotistical.  It seeks to uplift and support the other person... to give more than you get... to put your needs and wants aside to seek out the needs and wants of the other.  It is my experience that if you are fortunate enough to love and be loved by a widow(er) that you will not only get the opportunity to love selflessly, but that you will also be loved selflessly!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

It looks.... different


     Have you ever noticed that if you say two words together for a long enough period it sounds funny to say them just separately?  This cant be true about small, trivial things such as peanut butter and jelly... but it is even more true and profound when it comes to people and relationships.  Think of any couple you have known for a while - don't their names just kind of "go together?'  The two names almost become  inseparable.

     When Veronica and I met, she had spent almost a decade as "Jeremy and Veronica."  It was who people knew her as.  It was who she knew herself as.  Anything different from that was... well... different.  Not only did the names "Jeremy and Veronica" go together, but their relationship defined them as a couple. Had you spent enough time around them, were friends with them, and knew them at all, you knew "Jeremy and Veronica." When you talked about them you might talk about Rochester College, or singing, or (God help me) Rock Band (sweet Jesus I said it).  They each had their own personalities, likes, and hobbies that were separate from each other, but in the end, they went together like ... peanut butter and jelly.

     The moment that Vee and I started dating something very audible happened.  It was no longer "Jeremy and Veronica" that people would say, but rather "Steve and Veronica."  This was a huge change for people. It was a huge change for Vee.   The change, however, was more than just names.... it was in the relationship that defined us as a couple.

    While Vee is an amazing singer, I... well... I probably should be banned from singing anywhere, even in the shower by myself.  Unlike Jeremy, I didn't go to Rochester College and I don't have a history with many of the people that Jeremy and Veronica made there.  And, while Jeremy and I share some similarities in certain places (humor, music, a strong sense of self, and a good ability to judge character) we are very different in other places.  Therefore, the relationship that "Jeremy and Veronica" shared looks very different than the relationship that "Steve and Veronica" share... but there are multiple reasons for this change.

     First, Vee adamantly tell you that she is not the same person that she was before Jeremy died.   And, its true.  Grief changes a person.  It breaks your heart.  It opens your eyes.  It stirs your soul.  It causes you to focus on what really matters and live each day with that understanding.  It places things in priority.   It changes priorities.  And the journey through it is ongoing.  Vee's love is deeper now in the sense that she realizes that things can change in an instant, so the small, insignificant distractions of life are not as important as they once were.  This doesn't mean that there is no fun, or that there aren't distractions - she is still human. But because grief is never far from her, she is continually reminded that life is short and to love deep for the time you can.

     Second, our relationship is our own.  Much like when Jeremy and Veronica met, they began and fostered their own way of doing things, their own traditions, and their own ways of communicating. Vee and I have developed our own unique relationship.  We have different things we like to do together, different ways of communicating, and are continuing to build our own traditions as a couple and family.  Our relationship is defined by us, our personalities, and our dreams.  We bring our own unique personalities to the table and... whoa-la... it's a new creation.

     Third, Jeremy is still present in our lives.  Not in a creepy "marriage of 3" like I have heard some people talk about when referring to widows or widowers getting re-married, but more in the sense that his presence and memory is evident in our everyday lives.  "Jeremy and Veronica" were always and only "Jeremy and Veronica"... but the truth is that sometimes "Steve and Veronica" needs to pause in order to reflect back on the memory and relationship of "Jeremy and Veronica."  After all, it is only through the first relationship that the second existed and its only because of the love experienced through the first relationship that the desire for love was sought out in the second.

     It took Vee time to adjust the new name and the new relationship dynamics as much as it did for others to make that adjustment.  But as time goes on, "Steve and Veronica" feels more normal... like we are suppose to go together :)  Maybe we are not the peanut butter and jelly that everyone was use to... but we are a new combination.... peanut butter and chocolate (and lets face it... who doesn't like chocolate?).  And the great new is that Vee as "Steve and Veronica" continues to grow and develop and become the new normal, her identity as "Jeremy and Veronica" will continue to carry on in the stories, memories, pictures, special anniversaries, and faces of Faith, Caleb, and Carter.


PS - After writing this blog I am suddenly in the mood for peanut butter :)      

Thursday, October 11, 2012



     Starting a relationship after divorce or widowhood is not easy.  I have discovered that following either of these two life circumstances people suddenly assume that the divorcee or widow(er) has lost all ability to think rationally about relationships.  Somehow we can pay bills, raise children, work a job, manage a household, and keep up with daily life issues all on our own.... but when it comes to going on a date, well you had better call the President, schedule a meeting with the Pope, and take a national survey because everyone will want to chime in with their "2 cents" ... reason being - somehow you have lost that ability.

     Before you jump to conclusions and think I have lost my mind (fyi - you have to have one to lose it!) I have been a grief counselor for many years and understand that people in crisis should avoid making major life decisions.  I have worked with hundreds of people who have made rash decisions when caught up in emotions only to regret it later... but there is an important distinction between someone in crisis and someone who has gone through  crisis.

     Divorce is a crisis.  It sucks.  It hurts.  And depending on what happens throughout the marriage and divorce it can leave scars.  I spent many years trying to fix a marriage that was out of my hands.  I spent  many nights fixing dinners, cleaning house, bathing the girls and putting them to bed by myself while my ex-spouse chose to leave the family.  I know what the sting of rejection feels like.  I know what it is like to have someone manipulate and lie in order to get what they want, to be so turned around by false statements and half-truths that you don't know what end is up.  I know what it is like when your spouse chooses to be with someone else over you. I lived in crisis.... but I don't live there anymore.  Sure I still have some insecurities.  Are there parts of my past that still plague me? Absolutely! I bear the scars of a dysfunctional relationship, but scars are signs of healing.

     Grief is a crisis.  It sucks.  It hurts.  When you lose someone you love you lose the ability to breathe, to dream, to think that life is good and just.  Vee experienced grief when she lost her husband, Jeremy, at age 31.  They had a great relationship, wonderful family, and Vee was 6 months pregnant with their 3rd child when Jeremy suddenly died.  She knows the sting of death.  She knows what its like to feel grief knock the wind out of your lungs and the joy out of your soul.  She understands what its like to question God's plans, to have more questions than answers, and to lay in bed with small children trying to explain to them why daddy isn't going to be coming home anymore.  Vee lived in crisis.... but she doesn't live there anymore.  Does she still grieve?  Yes.  Does the pain of losing Jeremy still grip her heart and bring tears to her eyes? It always will.  She bears the scars of grief, but scars are signs of healing.

     Vee and I have been in crisis.... but when we started dating we were at the point where we could both say we had gone through crisis.  Not everything was perfect, we hadn't mastered all of our hurts... but we weren't in crisis anymore.  That was something we both talked about early and made sure we worked though prior to anything else.  "Dating for fun" was something neither of us were interested in, but we also wanted to make sure that the other person was "ready" for a relationship.  We were honest, upfront, and openly communicated our intentions, fears, and excitement.  We were ready.... others were not.

     I cant say that we had a bunch of people who opposed our relationship - in fact - the people who know us both (and know us best) were in complete support of our relationship from the start.  However there were some people who were not ready to see either of us begin in a relationship.  Some of this came from people who wanted to give us a "timeline" so to speak...  you know "You shouldn't date for at least _______ (you fill in the blank) after a death or divorce!"  I am even convinced that there were some who really wanted both Vee and I to stay single for the rest of our lives.  Others would have been satisfied if we would have waited 10 years, or 5 years, or just a few more years.  But when it boiled down to it - we knew the time was right.  We knew we were not in crisis anymore, but were were ready to move forward.  Sure, we would move forward with a limp, with scars, with fears, but we were ready.

     When people confronted me with their expectations and "timelines" of who and how I should date after divorce I (in typical Steve fashion) was able to shrug off those comments... I knew the truth about me, about my first marriage, and what I new was right for me and my girls as far as dating Veronica. Vee on the other hand has a harder time when it comes to disappointing people and was more bothered by the expectations others had of her dating life.

     Both Vee and I knew from very early on that we had found something special in each other and were not willing to allow someone else to interfere with that, but I knew that for Vee grief and expectations would come into play.  I knew that I would need to be patient as people adjusted to seeing Vee from "the widow" to someone who was dating and then engaged.  I didn't want to push Vee nor did I want to push others away.
     Many of these people who had expectations were good people, people who loved and cared about Vee and the kids.  Some folks could not view Vee in any other light but a widow who was in need.  In some way Vee's grief and pain gave them them a sense of purpose and a special role in life.  They were able to give and support Vee and her children in very meaningful and tangible ways and seeing Vee move forward would change that sense of purpose and role for them - something some people were not ready to give up.  For others our new relationship was a sign that her grief was moving forward... something that their grief was not ready for.

     The last thing I wanted to do was to come barging in create an "us verses him" relationship.  I knew I couldn't win everybody over but I also knew that a little bit of patience goes a long way.  Allowing people to see my intentions with Vee, my love for her, my love for Faith, Caleb, and Carter, and our interactions as a couple went a long way in helping people adjust expectations.  Many of those people who had seen Vee in crisis had had been so busy with concern for her and the kids that they had not noticed when she was not in crisis anymore.  We had to be patient with these people and give them time to see her in a different light.

     The truth is Vee and I still need that support in our lives.  While we are not in crisis anymore we still benefit from the support of others.  It looks different than before.  Our need for support is not as dependent as it once was - it is mutual. We have healed to the point that we can show our scars, tell the story, and help others along the way.  While the scars remind of us the pain we went through and occasionally still bring tears to our eyes they also give us a new and fresh outlook on life that we did not have without them.  We appreciate life more, love harder, laugh better, and live more.  We wear our scars visibly to show what God has brought us through and what he is doing in our lives.



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Learning You

    Jeremy and I were friends. Not close friends or best friends but we knew each other and had hung around in the same circles for a couple of years prior to his death.  In fact, Jeremy and I had known each other years before I had ever met Veronica.  The interactions that Jer and I shared together are something that Veronica and I both find a lot of unique peace and purpose in.

     One of the first times I met Jeremy was at a youth rally.  We both walked into the "hospitality room" (which is code for the room that adults go to at a youth rally to grab a snack and sanity after spending all day with hundreds of teenagers) at the same time and struck up a conversation.  I don't remember much about it other than swapping hunting and fishing stories, but I remember walking away thinking that Jeremy was a guy that I could be good friends with.  He was down-to earth, had a crass sense of humor (which we both shared), and was a "tell-it-like-it-is" kind of guy.   We ran into each other several times over the course of a few years, always going out of our way to say "hello" and maybe sharing a sentiment that we should get together for a hunting or fishing trip in Indiana (Jeremy had never been hunting or fishing in Indiana before and was game for a new experience).

     Our paths crossed again when my best friend, Adam Hill, moved from my hometown of Anderson, Indiana to Rochester Hills, Michigan.  Adam and I have been best friends since elementary school and when he moved to Michigan he began working at Rochester College - the same place that Jeremy worked for the last couple of years before he died.  Just a couple of years after Adam left Anderson, Chris and Vicki Lindsey - close friends of Adam, Jeremy and Veronica, moved down from Rochester Hills, Michigan to Anderson, Indiana to work in ministry with me.  Sharing such close personal friends I heard many stories about Jeremy and over the 4th of July weekend of 2010 I got to hang out with Jeremy for what would be the last time.  Jeremy and Veronica were driving through Anderson and we wound up getting together and going out for dinner.  Jeremy and I sat on the end of the table.  Sharing stories, cutting-up, and trying to make the other person laugh as much as possible.  When Vee and I talk about this interaction she remembers looking down at the table at Jeremy and I laughing and sharing together.  Little did she know that at that moment the two men at the end of the table would both give themselves fully to her and love her for all she is.

     Needless to say I knew Jeremy prior to dating Veronica... but I didn't "know" Jeremy.  When Vee and I began our relationship I wanted her to know that I validated not only her past with Jeremy, but her ongoing love for him as well.  This meant I had to get to know Jeremy better.  It may sound a little crazy or unorthodox but periodically on our phone calls or dates I would ask Vee questions about Jeremy.  It wasn't all the time and it was never to put her on the spot, but when the time was right or I sensed that she wanted to talk about Jeremy, I would ask.  I wanted to know how she fell in love with him, what made him tick, what he liked best, and what made him upset.  I asked lots of questions.  I still do.

     It's important - not just for Vee but for me too! My questions allowed Vee to share about her love but it also allowed me to learn.  It allowed my love and respect for Jeremy to grow.  It deepened my appreciation for their marriage and relationship.  I remember thinking that if Vee and I were going to get married I would want to be able to pass down memories, values, and stories to Fatih, Caleb, and Carter about Jeremy.  I wanted to honor him, respect him, and share his story.

     I have also learned a lot about Jeremy through his family.  Hearing about his childhood, his upbringing, and many funny stories.  I listen carefully to Jeremy's dad, Byron, as he talks about hunting stories with Jeremy or when Arlene, Jeremy's mom, talks about taking him to the baseball diamond several nights out of the week.  I listen to his sisters as they share stories about their older brother and how much they miss his presence in their family.  I listen and I learn.  I don't learn for information sake as if there will be some kind of test I need to pass but I learn to better honor his memory, love and respect Vee, and pass down his life to his children.

     Regrettably I have learned more about Jeremy in his death than in his life.  I have looked through countless pictures, heard countless stories, and listened to countless memories about Jeremy... but I am not done learning.  As time goes on I always hear a new story about someones interaction with Jeremy that maybe Vee had never even heard before.  Or I see a new picture from his childhood or one that surfaces on Facebook that I have never seen before.  All these things help me know him and appreciate him even more.  While I never got to be best friends with Jeremy while he was alive I have gotten to know him in a very unique way though the eyes and hearts of those who knew him best - and for that I am very thankful!