Sunday, September 23, 2012

The other perspective (guest post)


This is Vee here making a guest appearance on Steve's blog. I probably won't be here often as Steve does an amazing job on his own and this is not really about me - but he asked me to guest post, so here I am!

I first have to say that I am incredibly proud of Steve for stepping up to take on this ginormous role that is not being filled by many and walking others through the life of loving a widow or widower. I know it gets messy - us widow(er)s come with a lot of baggage. It takes a very special person to be able to walk along side of us after the absolute worst has already happened in our lives. I commend anyone who is willing to take on that role. You rock.

The reason I wanted to speak my piece here is to support the other side of this, and validate those that are dating a widow(er), married to one, or loving one. The thing I've found most frustrating about searching out this journey on the web is that there is no real support for those loving a widow(er) - and the information out there is awful saying that widows should forget the past and move on (just so all of you reading here know, that should NEVER happen. Moving forward does not mean moving on or forgetting - but that's a tangent for another day). But, I've noticed that people can also swing completely to the other side of the spectrum and are told that those loving a widow should just accept everything and let the widow(er) grieve and not to get in the way of that. I truly believe there is a way to find a middle. If you are here and you love a widow(er) and perhaps struggle with some of the layers and complexity that comes along with it, please know that your feelings are VALID.

Even though I would have never settled for anything less than someone who would love me and love Jeremy and who I am because of him, I also know I was a lot to take on when Steve came into my life. Sometimes my grief can make him uncomfortable. Sometimes my grief appears at really inconvenient moments. Sometimes grief can get in the way of other things. The key is communication. Steve always allows me to be honest about my grief and asks questions about Jeremy (this is HUGE for me) and he is always honest with me if there is ever anything that makes him insecure, unsure, etc. Most of the time, we just need a platform to be heard and someone to listen who cares. We need to let it out.

I know I've been through a tragedy that most people could only imagine, but I try not to let that experience cloud my sympathy for others' pain and experiences. And while I will always cherish the love I shared with Jeremy, the life we built together, and how it has shaped me so much - I never want to diminish what I share with Steve. My relationship with each of them is different, but both very life-changing and special in their own way. Not only that, but I'm different. That's key. The girl who married Jeremy 10 years ago is not the same girl who married Steve this year.

Here are some of my suggestions for those of you that love a widow(er):

1. Love us for where we are now
- not where you want us to be. Steve talked about this in a post already, but it's crucial. If you want us to be something else, it's not gonna work. This is true for any relationship, really. The person we love and lost has made us the person you love now, so don't try to remove that piece of us. It won't go away if you ignore it. Which leads me to #2

2. Ask us questions about the person we loved
- this is not like asking us about an ex boyfriend or girlfriend. Our loved ones didn't do anything to make us stop loving them. In fact, we didn't get a chance to carry out our love for them on Earth, so it swells in our hearts. Get to know this person through stories and pictures. Not only will it mean the world to us, but it will also give you light and insight into our hearts for you to get to know us better.

3. All things in baby steps
- Any time I experienced something new with Steve, I had to grieve that experience I would never have with Jeremy. And when I thought I had grieved everything, something new would come up. This is a life-long process, grief. Take it one baby step at a time. Understand that it's not something we'll ever get over, but with patience and understanding, we can open our hearts bigger than we ever knew possible.

4. Be honest
- if there is something bugging you and you're too afraid to bring it up, try to find a way to talk about it. If we're not willing to talk about tough issues with you, we might not be ready for another relationship yet. Be sensitive, but be honest. Be understanding, but don't sacrifice your own needs and desires. And if you have something on your heart that you're not sure how to bring up, try it on someone you trust first. I think the great thing about loving a widow(er) is that we can have a very unique take on life and love and tend to grab a hold of good things and savor them while they last. We appreciate what we have when we have it. That's a special quality. But that doesn't mean that it's for everyone. Sacrifices have to be made in any relationship, and you have to decide what's worth fighting for.

5. Be flexible
- Grief comes when you least expect it. And sometimes you can expect it. We all experience it in different ways and we all need different things. Some of us prefer to grieve alone. Some of us just want a comforting arm. Some of us want to share everything. Some of us don't. Sometimes we don't know what we want. Be flexible and willing to give us space when we need it and comfort us when the time is right. I know you're not mind readers, and we'll probably make this part difficult sometimes, but you can never be too available. Just let us know you're there and we'll reach out when we're ready.

The bottom line is there is no rule book for loving a widow(er). There is no right way to do it. What I do know is that love is a powerful thing, and when it's good and right, you work through ups and downs together somehow. I couldn't possibly imagine what a relationship with someone other than Jeremy could look like, or how it would even work - but somehow when I found Steve, it just worked. We hit bumps and obstacles, but we're both committed to sharing life together, no matter how ugly it gets. And when we think there is no compromise, we always find a way. And just because something works for us, doesn't mean it will work for you. As cliche as it sounds, you have to let your heart lead you through this heavy water.

I would love to hear from other widow(er)s here to tell me if there are any other helpful tools for any of these brave souls that are willing to love us. What are you looking for? What has been most helpful in your grief journey? What do you want them to know?

Thanks for loving us. We're fragile, but also some of the strongest people you will ever meet. It can be a tough road, but we're worth it :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's OK...

     It’s a relationship I really can’t describe.  Vee and I have tried to explain to others how differently our relationship came together, how much purpose we feel in each others lives, how much healing we have found not just in each other but also in our family… but try as we might, there is just no way of explaining it.  I know that generally everyone feels like there relationship is unique, and I believe that’s true, but I also believe that tragedy and pain births an understanding of life and love in a different way. And, since Vee and I have both experience our own tragedy and pain, our relationship was bound to be different from the start.

         The first night that I called Vee on the phone we established the "ground-rules" that have given us both a sense of peace and freedom in our relationship.  Neither one of us were willing to waste time in a relationship that was "just for fun."  We had too much at stake to play games, put up walls, or make ourselves into something we were not just so the other person would like us better.  Our first phone call lasted about 4 hours and during that time we talked about our likes, dislikes, things we would never compromise on, and our dreams.  Coming from the relationship that I had been in for 12 years where communication and honesty did not exist, the level of honesty and communication that Vee and I shared (and still share) was a breath of fresh air.  In fact I still tell her today that her honesty and openness was what made me fall in love with her.    

     I don't remember exactly how it happened or who brought it up first, but I do remember when Vee began to talk about Jeremy.  I could tell she had so much to share but at the same time she was a little hesitant.  At that moment I had a choice -  I could either accept her as she was and listen to the things that were truly on her heart or I could nonchalantly change the subject so she understood that opening up her heart about "everything" was not really something I wanted.  There was really only one choice for me - I wanted to know all of her - the hurts, the joy, the pain, the triumphs, the grief, the past - I wanted to be the person she could run to with all those things.  So, when I  heard the pause and hesitation in her voice I reassured her "It's OK."  I encouraged her to talk and share her memories about Jeremy I told her that I would never expect her to keep those things to herself and wanted to be an outlet to express her loss and her love for Jeremy... and she did. She still does. 

     I have been asked the question several times before, "Does it ever bother you when Vee talks about Jeremy, or how much she misses him, etc.?" Before I can adequately answer that question, I need to state that I am no hero.  I am just an average guy and just like every average guy from time to time I have an ego, get insecure, and want the love of my life to love me and me only.  There are times when Vee talks about Jeremy where I feel insecure.  There are times when I have a different agenda and a memory that she shares something about Jeremy and the agenda changes. There are times when Vee gets together with friends who knew her and Jeremy together and reminisce about past times and I feel somewhat out of place.  There are times when grief is the last thing I want to think of or talk about at the exact moment that something triggers a grief moment for Vee.  Sometimes its hard to hear the truth, but Vee and I are both the kind of people that would rather know the truth than to be pleasantly left in the dark.  I have always reassured Vee that I am a safe place to talk about her true feelings, her memories, and her hurts.  If she can't share them with her husband, then who can she share them with?

     I also understand that my insecurities and ego are about me and not about Vee and what is on her heart.  My insecurities are mine and I have had to own them and understand where they come from. While I would love to tell you that my insecurities and ego never gets in the way when it comes to Vee sharing her heart about Jeremy and her grief, it would be a lie. What I can say is that those times are very minimal.  In addition, whether or not I feel insecure in the moment that Vee shares something about Jeremy, I do as I have always done and stand in support of her. I walk beside her, and I let her know that it's ok to share with me.  If in the moments I do feel insecure I try to always process and understand why I felt that way and it's almost always because of something that has happened to me in the past which was unrelated to what Vee was sharing with me. 

     Regardless of how I feel when Vee shares with me,  I always come back to the same conclusions

1) Vee had a wonderful relationship with Jeremy. She loved (and still loves) Jeremy incredibly, and they shared something special together.  It cannot be duplicated or replaced.  It was unique, priceless, and forever life-changing.

2) Vee and I have a wonderful relationship.  She loves me incredibly and we share something special together.  It cannot be duplicated or replaced.  It is unique, priceless, and forever life-changing.

3) And last of all - neither one of these relationship diminishes the realness or fullness of the other!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Just The Way You Are

     A couple of years ago I went to a conference for ministers and heard a very powerful and ultimately life-changing statement.  One of the speakers stated that church leaders often love the congregation for who they want the congregation to be instead of loving the congregation for who they are.  Ministers and pastors often fall into the trap of only loving the church for the hopes and dreams they have for the church instead of loving the church with all the good parts and challenges combined.  As I sat in my seat I was convicted - not just about my views about church life, but about my views of life in general.

     When Veronica and I started dating there were literally hundreds of things that attracted me to her - everything from her beautiful smile to her loyalty - but if I am honest, there were some challenges too. Veronica's heart was still broken.  She was still in love with another man.  And whether I liked it or not, none of that was going to change.  Vee had found love in Jeremy.  She and Jeremy had built a life together, raised children together, laughed together, and grown together.  So after Jeremy's death, Vee grieved. She grieved her friend, her partner, her lover, and the father of their children. While Vee and I shared many fun time together as we were dating, our new relationship caused her to grieve Jeremy at each new turn. This is not to say that there weren't "grief free moments." In fact, the largest part of our relationship has not been centered around grief but has been focused on what we have found in each other. Yet each new and exciting benchmark in our relationship brought bittersweet moments for her.

     From the moment Vee and I began to talk I knew that grief would be something that would not just be a part of her journey, but a part of our journey.  If I wanted to have open, honest, and lasting relationship with Vee then I needed to love her for who she was rather than what I hoped she might become.  I know the last sentence may sound quite simple and basic, but I believe its the best foundation for any relationship, especially when dating or marrying someone who has lost a spouse.

     It may be tempting to go into a relationship with a widow in hopes that the love for their deceased spouse will fade away, or that eventually they will cease to talk about them, or that one day their grief will pass - but in my opinion that is a false hope that is doomed to fail.  Their past formed them into their present.  Jeremy's life, actions, attitudes, love, and even death helped to mold Vee into the beautiful person that she is today.  There is no way for me to understand Vee, who she is, and how she came to be that way without understanding and accepting the various ways she came to me.  Therefore, I couldn't go into our relationship without fully embracing all of Vee, including her grief.

     It was then I realized that there is a very small but very important distinction between being "ok" with the grief journey and "embracing" grief with the woman that you love.  Being "ok" with another person's grief means that it doesn't bother you when they are sad, reminiscing, or broken-hearted because of the loss of their love - but it fails to show the commitment that you will walk beside them in their grief journey. "Embracing" grief means that you'll walk that path with them.  I don't feel the depths of Vee's pain.  I don't understand what its like to lose a spouse.  This does not stop me, however, from listening to stories about Jeremy, asking questions about him and their relationship, talking to Faith, Caleb, and Carter about their daddy, helping plan special celebrations and memorial ideas for Jeremy with Vee and our kids, and holding Vee as she cries and misses Jeremy.  I choose each day to walk with Vee in her grief.  Somedays it can be an relatively normal path and other days it is painful.  But I am committed to always walking it with her.

     Is it always easy?


     Is it always comfortable?


     Is it always convenient?

     You guessed it.... No, again!

      But at the end of the day I walk away knowing that I have something more valuable than I could ever dream of, I have the love of a beautiful woman who is willing show her heart to me even when its painful and allow me to be the person she leans on, looks to for support, and loves unconditionally.  And that, my friends, is far more valuable than just being "ok" with her grief and far more realistic than hoping that one day her grief will pass.

     I distinctly remember one of the first times I drove four hours from Indiana to see Vee and just as I passed Detroit traffic I heard the song, "Just The Way You Are" by Bruno Mars come on the radio.  I quickly called Vee and told her to turn on her radio and listen to the song.  It was the words I wanted to convey to her.  I loved her just the way she was.  She didn't have to change a thing.  She didn't have to leave her past behind.  She didn't have to hide her tears.  She didn't have to put any pictures of Jeremy away.  She didn't have to stop talking about Jeremy.  She didn't have to "move on" in order to be with me. She didn't have to do anything! I wanted her to know that I loved her for who she was and how she got their, and despite the challenges that may come our way, I wanted to embrace the journey with her.


     Ps - I want to make an open invitation for any and all questions you might have, especially those of you who are dating or getting ready to marry a widow... or widows who are dating or looking at getting re-married.  I don't have all the answers, but I am willing to be transparent and hopefully our story can be of some assurance for you!


Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Unique Journey...

     You know life has handed you a unique journey when you're sitting in the middle of a driveway with your newly married wife googling information and resources about marrying a widow.  My wife, Vee, and I weren't looking up the information because we were under marital duress, questioning wether we had rushed into our marriage, or grasping at straws to help a dysfunctional relationship,  we simply wanted to see how other people who were in our shoes were handling the intricacies of married life.... and that's when we found it.


     Sure, our situation is a little different.  We're both in our early thirties, have 5 young children, and both suffered extremely painful pasts (hers due to the loss of her late husband, Jeremy, mine through a painful divorce with a mentally ill ex-wife). Nonetheless, we thought it should be easy to find information about guys who marry young widows - but to our surprise, we didn't find much of anything at all! Ok, there were a couple of "experts" whose advice was nauseating (ideas such as: "instruct the widow put all mementos away in a box or get rid of them completely so she can just have a life with you") but nothing from someone who had actually been married to a widow and who had walked that journey side-by-side with the woman they loved as they grieved the loss of their love while simultaneously loving a new person.

     I spent two or three days scouring the internet looking for blogs about guys who were dating or married to a widow and who would have real, valuable, honest information about challenges and joys of loving someone with a broken heart.  The more I searched, the more disturbed I became.  I realized that there was no support, no help, no resources for people like me and my wife.

Enter the idea for "Love in the Aftermath."

     On November 9, 2010 my wife experience the worst nightmare of her life: at age 28 she became a widow.  Her husband, Jeremy, had gone out hunting after work, but hours later, was found dead near his tree-stand.  Left with two young children and six months pregnant with their third child, Vee was left to figure out how to make sense of life without her love.  Three months after Jeremy's death Veronica gave birth to a little baby boy, Carter, who would never get to hear the sound of his daddy's voice, feel the touch of his daddy's hands, or feel the embrace of his daddy's arms.  While Vee would grieve the loss of her best friend, husband, and partner, she also grieved the loss for her children.  Jeremy was a family man who loved his children ferociously.  His everyday presence in their lives could never be replaced, not by her or any other person.

     In 1999 I started working in church ministry as a youth minister, which eventually evolved into involvement minister and preaching minister.  In 2002 and 2004 I celebrated the birth of my daughters Zada and Reagan.  I had a good job, a good home, and good kids - to most people, it seemed like I had it all.  The truth, however, was that I was living in a personal hell.  My ex-wife had developed a mental illness which caused extreme tension in our relationship, it led to her nearly ruining us financially, being an unfaithful spouse, and kept her from participating in my life or the lives of our daughters.  As her disease progressed and the symptoms worsen, her actions and attitudes began to make my personal and professional life almost intolerable.  She began to spread lies around the church where I was working that I had abused her, had affairs, and even raped her - and although these allegations were false, they still impacted my life.  Not only was the situation bad for me, but I could see the affect it had on my two young daughters who had no real relationship with their mom and did not trust her.  For the health and wellbeing of myself and my daughters I needed to get out of the relationship, even though it meant that I would receive a lot of scorn from those in the church where I had worked for so many years.

     It was here, in the aftermath of the storms of life, that God brought Vee and I together to find healing, purpose, and love.  While our relationship has come with its own set of unique challenges, there is not one second that I have doubted my love for Vee, God's purpose in our relationship, and the future that we have together. As a result, Vee and I decided to not just live out our love for each other but to do so in a way that would help others.

Yet another step towards "Love in the Aftermath."

     This blog is not about the "right" way to be married to a widow, and I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. What I hope this blog can do is fulfill what I was originally looking for sitting in the driveway with my wife: real, valuable, and honest information about loving a widow.  Its a personal journey.  And, while I have worked as a bereavement counselor for the past several years, I am no expert in being married to a widow.  I make mistakes, from time to time feel insecure, and struggle with how to best love and support my wife as she grieves.

     I want this blog to be transparent.   If you love a widow and want some support in how to love her best, if you want to make sure that the feelings you are experiencing from time to time are normal, or if your looking for advice on how to handle the intricacies of a dating or marriage relationship with a widow, then I encourage you to take this journey with me!
     On a last note, there is NO WAY I would be writing this blog without the support and encouragement of my amazing wife, Veronica!  If there is one thing that I have learned through Vee's love for me it is that the challenges that come our way are in no way comparable to the love, loyalty, and understanding that she gives me on a daily basis!  I daily look forward to seeing how God will use our lives together for His purpose and I pray that God will use this outlet to help others who are sharing a similar life experience!