The stars are dancin’ on the water here tonight.
It’s good for the soul when there’s not a soul in sight.
I’ve always found stars as a symbol of peace for me. I’m by no means a “live in the country 20 minutes from the nearest Target type girl,” but I am definitely a star gazer. Even if that means I drive 20 minutes down an old country road to find a place to just sit and gaze. Besides writing, it’s my favorite form of therapy. Stars seem to personify peace- their ambiance, grace, and luster are mesmerizing to me.
Stars were the earliest means of navigation; they have been helping people find their way for basically the entire existence of humanity. I’m not seeking locational guidance from my star gazing excursions, my guidance is more metaphorical in nature. However, the stars aren’t really what are important here, my thoughts, reflections, brutal honesty with myself, and my lessons learned are far more vital to finding who I am. The stars are just my inspiration, my starting point, my place of solitude and comfort. They are my navigational guidance on an every changing journey to find myself.
Often times people say star gazing makes them feel so small and insignificant. I disagree. For me, it is where I feel closest to God and myself. They are my reminder that I am part of a much larger picture, but that each action and thought of mine are vital to the larger picture of humanity.
Before meeting J, becoming an officer’s wife, or having C, I found myself frequently star gazing. At the height of finding myself, for the first of MANY times in my life, I relied upon those stars. Then, as my roles and responsibilities began to increase, it’s only logical that other aspects of my life had to take a backseat. For me, that was my star gazing. Between a baby, being a wife, and being a teacher, I simply didn’t make slowing down and reflecting a part of my daily or even weekly existence. It seemed to work for me. I didn’t notice a problem, but I did notice I was always incredibly busy.
What I’m about to share is brutally honest, and straight from my heart. I’m sharing because I feel like the struggles I’m going to describe tonight aren’t simply because I’m a grieving widow. In fact, what I’ve noticed in all this process is so much of what I feel isn’t just because I’m grieving. What I feel is compounded by grief, but when examined, often what I feel all of you can relate to.
After having C, J and I hit a rough spot in our marriage. We were growing a part, around the same time he was beginning to doubt his calling as an officer. I don’t mind sharing because in all honesty, everyone has rough spots. Places where they feel more distant than normal from their spouses. The difference between us and some other situations, is that we noticed it. I began to evaluate what was missing in my life. Why did I always feel so rushed, and never felt like I could accomplish all that was set before me that day? I always planned, and re-planned, and re-evaluated, and problem-solved. I never slowed down. I didn’t come up for air; I just kept sinking. I struggled with the responsibilities that were asked of me, and yes, I’m fully aware I willingly accepted them. However, I accepted them intellectually. Meaning, in theory I knew the expectations of each responsibility, but emotionally, I hadn’t considered how all of these would make me feel. I began to doubt my calling as an officer’s wife, and at the same time J was doubting his calling as well. The lack of oxygen from refusing to surface for air was my own fault. It wasn’t forced upon me. I just kept adding more and more to my plate because I felt I had to achieve a “model mom and wife status.” Yet, the problem was, I had no idea what that looked like. On one particularly difficult night when J was working YET another 12 hours- out solving the world’s problems. I realized that the constant lack of oxygen was affecting my brain. My thought process was always on the days ahead and never seemed to be on the present. That night, baby C and I took a long car ride. And, so my star gazing began again. He slept and I gazed, reflected, and prayed. And, I’m by no means saying the stars are what saved us. However, in those moments, I began to accept my roles that I had fought for so long. I began to redefine myself, and to be more willing to openly accept new responsibilities. But most of all, I just talked to God. And together, we worked it out. That night, I found the strength that you all say I possess. It was there all along. My beautiful momma, and so many other people in my lives had given me that gift. But that night, while a peaceful baby slept in a carseat, I realized, there is no “model mom and wife status.” There’s just doing what’s best for all of us. That night was the night I fully accepted J’s request to move departments. That night, I made the decision to not rush things, and to just try to accept them and deal with what comes.
When we moved to our new department last year, we lived literally in the middle of a pasture. I believe I mentioned, I’m not a country girl, but I truly enjoyed being able to walk outside and feel that connection once more. The stars seemed to be a constant reminder to me of my talks with God that night in the middle of some country road in Arkansas. Slowly, while living in this pasture, I began to realize that planning and preparing are essential parts of life; however, they are not my entire life. I began to shed the ideas that I had to plan all of C’s future, and protect him from everything, and I just started to enjoy the present more. J and I have never been closer than when we moved here.
To say that I’m beyond thankful for my night star gazing, is an understatement. It’s what let me to accept our move, our new start, and our new lives together. And yes, that move, ultimately ended in his death, but each of these steps along the way were slowly preparing me for my new role in life. If J were killed in the line of duty before my famous star gazing episode, I couldn’t have handled it. I wouldn’t have known what to do because my plans would have been thrown out the window. I wouldn’t have known how to just stop, reflect, re-evaluate, and deal with the problems in the present.
In the first month after J’s death, I reverted back to my pre-star gazing ways. I allowed panic to overtake me and the fear of not having my entire life planned out with 15 different alternative plans, just in case, was too much for me. I pretended I was fine. But what really got to me was not knowing what to do with C. I didn’t know how to parent him alone. I begin to start trying to plan for our futures. I made rash decisions, and I called myself “evaluating them and weighing out the pros and cons,” when in reality, I was just making them because I felt safe making decisions. I felt that I at least was moving forward in my life, even if I was an emotional train wreck on the inside. People kept reminding me, just slow down, worry about the here and now. Don’t make rash decisions. Just focus on what you feel now. And, while I never told any of you this at that time, these comments REALLY angered me. I thought “obviously you people don’t get me. You don’t understand me at my core. Planning is what I do, so LET ME PLAN!” And, so I tried, despite all of your best efforts, warnings, prayers, and tears. I tried to plan. I felt like I had to control something in my life. Too often it felt that the person who hit J, still controlled my life, and I just couldn’t handle that. So, I was going to take control, EVEN if I had NO idea where I was going. At least I was in control. Thankfully, I never made decisions that couldn’t be reversed during this time. I told myself I was consulting God, but really- I was just telling Him MY plans. I was using Him as a springboard for MY plans.
During this time, I distanced myself from a lot of people. And, I still feel distant. I’m not sure that will change anytime soon. But, even despite knowingly distancing people, I just kept planning.
And then, one day recently, I found myself going through a box of cards and photos. I found some cards I sent J during his training at the Police Academy. One of them had stars all over the front cover, and I broke down in tears. I had always told J of my love for stars, and how I found peace in them. In fact, after we moved here, J, C, and I were outside one night, and we each named stars. In the card, I told J that even though I was apart from him, the stars always reminded me of him.
At that point, you guessed it, I bawled. Thankfully, this was late at night, and C was already asleep. I know those of you who are close to me are wondering when this happened, because I haven’t told you about it. Really, it’s in the past couple of days that I have realized the significance. After J’s death, I was so incredibly busy. Some self-imposed, and others were just duties an officer’s wife needs to perform. I never stopped to begin to peel back the layers of my grief. I rushed, and sped, and decided, but I never just stopped.
In the past couple of nights, I’ve done my best, given that I live in a city, to star gaze. I’ve come to realize that there is no hurrying up this process. There is no “getting better soon.” And, I know so many of you told me this at the start, but frankly people, you all know I’m stubborn! I’m slowly starting to actually believe that it’s okay not to have an owner’s manual for how to raise C, I didn’t have one before, and I don’t need one now.
What I need is to find that belief in myself again. To believe that everything happens in its own time. To stop rushing things. To stop making people fit into puzzle pieces in my life when they clearly don’t. To accept the here and the now. To allow people to leave my life if they want, and to embrace those who want to stay. And to know that just because the time isn’t right in this very moment, it doesn’t mean it won’t be in a few months or a year. Acceptance of where I am now, isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s not a sign of defeat. It doesn’t mean that I am once again a victim. Just because we are cruising along at a snail’s pace on the road to recovery, doesn’t mean that I’m doing anything wrong. If therapy has taught me nothing else recently, it is that there are too many layers to what I’m feeling to peel them all back at once. Understanding and acceptance of one, leads to another sub-layer being peeled back. I’ve also learned, I won’t ever reach the core. It won’t ever stop. C growing up, my life changing, both of these will cause new layers to appear, and when they do, you just deal with them.
Just because I’m grieving, doesn’t mean the same exact ideas don’t apply to your life. The rushing, the using prayer as a springboard for YOUR own ideas and agenda are far too common in our lives. My therapist doesn’t understand why I want to make my grieving process so transparent for all of you. She says that grieving is a private process. To some degree, I agree. There are things I would never share on here, but I also feel that I need validity, constantly, that what I’m feeling is normal and human. And, even the strongest of us need that.
Giving back is one way I heal. It’s a part of me I feel wasn’t robbed from me when he hit my husband that night. We all need reflection in order to grow. I’m living proof of that. We all need to slow down. And, I’m sure you all agree with me; however, implementing it, is a whole different story. I understand.
As I sit outside tonight, and don’t gripe at me for doing so, I’m reminded of how close J is to me tonight. How he would be proud of how we are handling it, but I must say, if it weren’t for all of the trials he and I went through and all of the joys we experienced together, I wouldn’t be prepared for this journey today.
I believe in star gazing. In the methods humanity has used from its conception by our glorious and all-knowing maker. I believe that while I am in no way ready to accept all of the roles and responsibilities my new future holds, I am more prepared than ever before. Star gazing makes me appreciative when I feel ungrateful, close when I’m feeling distant. In a way, it’s how J wraps his arms around me, and reminds me I can do this. It’s my direct connection with my maker, and it’s my reminder to just slow down.
Everybody’s got their share of battle scars.
As for me, I’d like to thank my lucky stars that I’m alive and well..
It’d be easy to add up all the pain
And all the dreams you sat and watched go down the drain
Dwell on the wreckage as it smolders in the rain
But not me…I’m alive.
Today’s the first day of the rest of my life, and I’m alive.