Choices in Grief

Separating humans from “animals,” choices are the building blocks of society. Our choices are the source of evil and paradoxically they are the source of good. We spend our lives as parents trying to instill thoughtful, strategic, and logical decision making abilities in our children. One choice may have the power to end a life, save a life, alter the perception and belief of millions, or simply choose the menu for dinner that night. Billions upon billions of choices are made daily and never given a second thought.

In preparation to “grow up” we are taught to research, plan, and prepare for many common choices adults are faced with: choosing a life partner, buying a home, planning for a family. We are taught to honor our core values, save money, live within our budget, and selflessly put aside our own desires so that our children may have all they need. There are guide books, how to manuals, and countless online sites devoted to assisting young adults in making the choices which consequently become the cornerstone of their mature adult life.

We are geared toward preparing, planning, and perfecting our adult life; however, often life does not go according to plan, and we are left to make choices we never dreamed of making. Choices we are not prepared to make. Forced choices caused by the choices of others, or caused by an unknown or unplanned force. Whatever the cause may be, these choices suck the air from your lungs, they surge through every neuron in your body, and they leave you gasping for some semblance of your perception of reality. They throw you on the ground, pin you there, and taunt you to try to defy them. Once on the ground, you have the choice to remain there a victim, or to fight, make choices you never dreamed you were strong enough to make, and rise a survivor.

Making the decision to take your husband off life support.

Applying for his death certificate.

Planning your husband’s funeral when you are suddenly a widow at 29.

Debating on the least detrimental way of explaining his daddy’s death to your 4 year old son.

Facing your husband’s murderer as he freely strolls around during his trial, and has the audacity to attempt to hold the door open for you.

Raising your son who is left with 4 years of memories of his daddy which now have to be enough for a lifetime.

Waking up daily to suppress the bitterness, anger, vengeance, and contempt weighing down your heart. Praying, begging, and pleading to be able to have the energy to eradicate the hate you feel, and instead transform it into good.

Realizing for you: hate makes you a continual victim, and honoring by living makes you a survivor is a difficult pill to swallow. Choosing to be a source of good when an evil choice derailed your perceived perfect life isn’t easy. One choice eradicated my ability to make any future choices with Jason, but it didn’t erase my ability to choose to survive.

I’ve spent the past 3 years of my life rising from the ashes of forced widowhood, living as a victim of a murder, and advocating for society to treat the defenders of good as humans and not badges or uniforms. 3 years of choosing to bring about good when evil attempted to ruin our lives.

I’ve survived how catastrophically bad life can be; I’ve experienced hate, but in the midst of the darkest days, the saddest moments, and the endless anxiety and tears, I’ve also experienced the most genuine of good. I’ve met some of the most charismatic, kind, loving, and resilient people. I used to believe phoenixes were beautiful mythological illusions; however, I’ve met countless phoenixes: strong survivors who daily rise from their ashes and create beauty from them.

A few months ago, I began thinking of the way I wanted to honor Jason’s memory on his third EOW. My wedding dress had moved from Arkansas to Texas and back to Arkansas. It hung in several closets as a bittersweet, but unused reminder of the constant struggle of merging the past with the present: the before and after in my grief journey. As I ran my hands over the beautiful embroidery and crystals, I knew that this stunning symbol of mine and Jason’s love could serve a larger purpose: I knew it too could be a phoenix.

That larger purpose came in the form of another phoenix, Regina Binz and her organization, Holy Sews. After losing her beautiful baby boy, Regina sat in the middle of her own crumbling life. Ashes of her “before” life blew around her, constantly reminding her of what life could have been like. Yet, solid constants of everyday life reminded her of the stark reality of what her life truly was. Continual pull and tug between grieving and moving forward, yet, in these ashes, she knew beauty could be formed.

Wedding Gown Donation

She founded Holy Sews, a nonprofit organization who provides handmade burial clothing for families that experience the loss of their baby during gestational weeks 16-25. I knew through their countless hours of dedication, my dress could join the hundreds of others which are given a new purpose.

Photo Credit: Holy Sews Organization

When I met with Regina, I was touched by her statement, “we give families a choice in the clothing in which they bury their child.” Thankfully, I have never buried a child; however, I do know the agony of choosing a burial garment. The micropreemies are too small for infant clothing; yet, Holy Sews provides the families a choice. For parents thrown into the midst of sheer chaos, that choice helps organize even a small area of the chaos. Through donations and volunteers, families are provided the opportunity to honor their precious baby by choosing a garment, and in that moment, in one small way, they begin to heal.

I’m not alone: grief alters the lives of everyone. Loss is the cost of love. While Regina and I have experienced a different type of loss, so many aspects of grief are interconnected. Yet, through loss we’ve made the choice to show compassion, choose joy, and to honor our loved ones by living our lives. We fight daily to continue to rise from our ashes.

In early 2006, I choose my beautiful wedding dress, later that year Jason and I would marry. He’d choose to be an officer, and years later, I’d choose to follow his dream to Texas. He’d choose to protect and serve, but one man’s choice resulted in Jason making the ultimate sacrifice. Almost 3 years to the day later, I still choose happiness. I choose to make a difference, and because of Regina and my choices, grieving parents are able to choose an outfit and begin their healing journey.

Despite the reasons we have to be angry and bitter; love and compassion heal us. “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, [however,] not always in the way we expect.” Jason’s spirit of service, compassion, and love live on through our decisions to embody his spirit. Today, on his 3rd EOW, I challenge you to do the same. Choose compassion, bring about some good, and honor a man who lived his life to the fullest!

More information about Holy Sews can be found at: http://www.holysews.org

True Cost of an Officer’s Sacrifice

There is a moment every night that simultaneously breaks my heart yet paradoxically drives me to start over again the next day. Right before my little man falls into a deep sleep, and he lets go of my hand that he still needs to hold in order to fall asleep, my heart breaks all over again. Never to the degree that it did the moment I said my final goodbyes to Jason, but close.  After he releases his hand, his breathing changes, and he is peaceful. In that moment, I don’t worry about whether or not he misses his daddy, or where he is in our “grief journey.” You would think this moment would lift my spirits, and in some ways it does. This moment often provides me the strength to continue on tomorrow; however, after Jason paid the ultimate sacrifice, this moment, like all other moments, is bittersweet. I wish that my son would be able to have more peaceful moments.  More moments that were all about just being 6, moments that were all about him.  I wish that when he blocks a goal at a game, I could look into his eyes and only feel immense pride and happiness, instead of the bittersweet feeling of the absence of Jason’s presence mixed with my own happiness at my son’s success.  Yet, after living well over a year as an officer’s widow, I’m well aware of the bittersweet state in which I frequently live my life.

We are an example of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

As a mother when I look into the eyes of my little man, I see his bright future, his unlimited abilities, his over the top personality. As I spend moments playing with him, I witness his optimism, hear his laughter, and see his active imagination. However, as an officer’s widow, I also endure his pain, longing, frustration, confusion, and anger.  I see his fears acted out in front of me, his anger that surfaces when one minute detail goes wrong, and I see the thoughts of “I wish daddy were here,” flash across his face. Each day, I wake up and I am a mom who fixes, plays, corrects, loves, hugs, kisses, and laughs. Yet sadly, I am a constant reminder of the reality that it is JUST me left, that I will never be able to bring his daddy back, and that as much as he wants me to be able to fix everything, the reality is – I can’t

We are an example of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

Every day when I wake up before my feet hit the floor, I am comforted by the brief microsecond where the semi consciousness from sleep still clouds my thoughts and lulls me into the false assumption that I live a normal life.  In that microsecond, I sometimes begin to think of a story I have to tell Jason when he gets home, or I start to strain my ear for the sound of Velcro – indicating he’s taking off his vest, and is once again in the safe haven of our home.  At times, when I’m out running errands, and my mind is preoccupied with the long to do list of the current day, I find my thoughts centered around, “ what to make Jason for dinner,” or straining to recall whether or not uniforms have been washed, dried, and pressed for the next shift.  Each morning when I wake up and put my wedding rings on, the paradox of the indestructible love they represent, and the reality of my life without him, is often times a heavy burden to bear. Yet, I still put them on.  I wear them because they are a symbol of the paradoxical life I am now forced to live, and one of the few symbols from the past that I can still cling to.

We are an example of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

A life where I constantly compare the after to the before.  A life some say “I signed up for,” that I “knew the risks of, yet still chose to stand beside him anyhow.” A life where I walk my son into his first day of Kindergarten, and we wave to daddy who is watching us from heaven.  A hallway I walk down alone, as I leave my son standing at the end, silently crying for me to return to him.  There’s no husband to wrap his arms around me and comfort me, and there’s no daddy to retell his first day of school to.  Hours spent concentrating on my thoughts and hopes, praying with all of my being that they will reach heaven, and somehow, if I’m still and quiet enough, I will feel his answer in my heart.

We are an example of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

At times I feel cursed to never live a normal life again.  And the mommy in me, metaphorically dies a thousand times a day at the little moments my son no longer gets to share with Jason.

Each milestone, each tear, each goal, each birthday.

Each year, each day, each minute, and each second.

Every breath, every picture, and every decision.

Every moment of the rest of our lives is how you can weigh out the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

Yes, a life “I signed up for,” and I even willingly brought my son into; yet, as a nation we are witnessing more and more of our officer’s families begin their journey in the “after,” and as a whole, we are doing nothing. Yes, we all “signed up for it.” Jason “signed up to be willing to give his life for the betterment of the community.” I “signed up to stand beside him, and to continue to honor and respect our officers if he ever were to be killed.” However, since when did someone’s willingness to sacrifice for their community, or his wife’s willingness to raise a son on her own become a valid reason for one’s death?

Sacrifice is no stranger at the Sprague household; however, lately, I’ve been quite angry, and I can’t help but find myself thinking how much will I have to sacrifice? And, when I stop to think about the answer, it frightens me to my core.  We have been chosen to continue to sacrifice for the rest of our lives.  There will never come a day when my son or I can escape the reality of Jason’s willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice.  Even as C grows older, I began to form a “new” life, and our day-to-day routines become as “normal’ as possible, we won’t escape the reality that our family has been destined to a lifetime of ultimate sacrifices. We have a future that is forever altered by one choice.  And the frightening aspect is, the same choice that ended my husband’s life is being made at an alarming rate in our society. The choice to see our heroes as less than human.  As a target, a nuisance, evil, a blue uniform, an enemy, but not human.

Have you ever truly stopped to contemplate the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice?

When you pass a police car on the side of the interstate, do you think about that officer’s family? Or, do you just slam on your brakes in hopes to avoid being clocked by his radar?

When you are badmouthing our nation and its crime ridden neighborhoods, drug infested homes, and broken education system, do you ever stop to think about how much worse it would be without those who are willing to assume the responsibility that comes with putting on a badge and gearing up to be an officer?

Where would our nation be without families who are willing to send their officer out to walk the thin blue line and right as many wrongs as possible in a 12 hour shift?

Yet, their willingness to do so is now being used as ammunition against them.

Our nation is rapidly assuming a detached attitude towards our blue defenders. Maybe it seems that having no opinion towards an officer’s willingness to protect and serve is not a pressing issue in our society; however, if we aren’t careful, we could create a nation where statements such as, “if [that] officer had stayed in his car, he wouldn’t have been shot,” become the norm.

The ammunition of “we signed up for this life,” is being aimed at us from all directions, yet, the Law Enforcement world is made up of officers and families who are born fighters. We aren’t giving up, and even though we are forced to sacrifice some, you aren’t winning.  While my family is forced to sacrifice for the rest of our lives, I still don’t view the “other” side as victorious.  If members of our nation refuse to help us humanize our heroes, we will continue to fight.  Families will still send their officers off at the start of each shift, and we will pray until the return home safely.  And if we lose one in the battle, know this we won’t back down. Yet, it isn’t just “our” job to humanize our heroes. We shouldn’t HAVE to worry about losing one of our own.  We should live in a society who guards those who are willing to give their lives.  We shouldn’t have to dodge the verbal ammunition of “signing up for this life.”  But, we do.  Our officers continue to walk the line daily, and the very LEAST members of society could do would be to view them as human.

The true cost of an officer’s sacrifice can never be repaid because it can never be accurately measured.  When we lose an officer, we are losing one more hero who stood on the line between good and evil, and we are creating one more family to live in the “after without their hero.”  Another hero who left his hat for us to cling to instead of his hand, as we start on our new journey without him….

Photo Credit to: John Bunch http://www.bunchphoto.com/

Photo Credit to: John Bunch http://www.bunchphoto.com/

Refusing to Be a Victim

“It’ll get easier.”

“Eventually you’ll get accustomed to it.”

“There will come a time when you look back and realize you finally moved on.”

And the list could go on.  All sayings people told me after Jason was killed.  And, to each one of them, I smiled, agreed, and went on.  But the one I heard most often, the one that cut through me, and caused me to shiver, was “It’ll get easier.” As if time will erase the hurt, the absence, the void, the feelings of guilt.  Time heals all wounds – right?

How in the world would things get easier was all I could think? And, before we go further in this, please do not think I’m offended by people saying phrases such as this to me.  In reality, I know they are trying to help, and they are saying the best advice they know how.  Few people I know are in my position, and those who try to help are VERY appreciated, and honestly, I don’t want people to know first-hand what my life is like.

I don’t want them to ever feel in the depths of their soul, the reality that things would never get easier, only different.  I don’t want them to experience the heart-wrenching moments where the smell of his cologne catches you off guard, and you fight back tears in the middle of a department store.  I don’t want them to understand the days when all you can do is exist.

Things haven’t become easier, and they never will. Each moment, day, month, year would bring with it new challenges, thoughts, and events.  None would be easier, perhaps I will be more prepared for them.  Really, all the preparedness does is camouflage the hurt, “guilt,” and pain associated with whatever I’m accomplishing.  Being prepared doesn’t make things easier. Living a life after you lose your husband isn’t something one can ever really claim is easy.  It’s not something you train yourself for, practice the skills needed until you reach your max capacity.  What happens is: I will learn to adjust, to alter, and to compensate whenever possible, but an air of easiness will never accompany these changes within myself.  With each change, alteration, and compensation comes guilt, loneliness, and worry. And lately, with each change of my life or C’s, comes a sense of overwhelming unfairness.  Unfair that my life seems to be made enormously more difficult because of one small choice.

I’m a firm believer in seeing the positive- not ignoring the negative in your life, but looking around it to see the positive.  But lately my viewpoint of how unfair my life seems to be has caused me to fall into the deep despair of negativity.  A pit I haven’t found myself for any length of time since Jason’s death.  Yet, in the last 3 weeks, I’ve wallowed in this pit.  In fact, while in the pit, I’ve thrown myself quite a few pity parties, and I’ve been the guest of honor! Each day in the past 3 weeks, it has felt like various people stand over my pit and toss more dirt upon me.

Meetings planned where I will view the evidence (a necessary and requested event on my behalf) – dirt!

“I miss my daddy.” “ I wish daddy were here to play football with me.”  “ Why did MY daddy have to die?”-   dirt, piled upon more dirt, and a few huge boulders that seem to be lodged permanently upon my chest!

People who make decisions that demonstrate their lack of respect or gratitude for our family’s sacrifice – dirt ground into the innermost parts of my heart and my soul.  The places that influenced my choice to be an officer’s wife to begin with, and now some are rubbing dirt into those sacred places, and disrespecting our sacrifice.

In the beginning, being positive smiling Stephanie, I had my handy shovel, and I tossed dirt right back.  And while tossing, I always tried to spin it, trying to somehow see the positive.  And then, one day, I just couldn’t shovel anymore.  In fact, I couldn’t even flick dirt.  Positive seemed to be erased from my vocabulary, and in its place, I seemed to be substituting the word “unfair.”  And each day I spent with my newfound use of the word “unfair,”  I despised myself for being this way.  I tried to embrace the bad days, and to turn them into good, but it just never seemed to happen.  And, with each small pile of dirt, I truly felt for the first time:

“ this is my life, and I guess I’ll just have to accept it.”

While in my pit and throwing myself yet another pity party, I was explaining this feeling of being defeated. I discussed how scared I was for the trial to happen, and how at the same time I needed for it to happen.

Did I really have the ability to watch the videos of evidence?

Would I ever be able to vocalize exactly how my life has changed as a result of Jason’s death?

Could I sit in the courtroom and hear officer after officer recount the moments right after Jason’s death, and somehow resist the urge to go and hug them, to thank them once again for all they have done and continue to do for Jason and for our family?

I wasn’t sure I was ready to “go there.”   And, the more I sat and thought about all this trial would expect of me: the physical, mental, and emotional moments I would have to prepare myself for, the more I began to feel defeated.  I had waited for 8 months to be able to lay this chapter of Jason’s death to rest, and now, when it’s approaching, all I can feel is apprehension and fear.  And again, the feelings of how “unfair,” this was crept into my mind.  When the following message appeared on my phone, “If going there scares you, can you cope with your how your life will be by not going there?” And I thought:

Could I live with myself if I never sat through the trial?

Could I respect the woman I was if I never gave a victim’s impact statement?

And the answer was overwhelming….Nope!

And, just like always, when I’m throwing too many pity parties, God ever so “gently” taps me on the shoulder, and reminds me “His scales, not mine.”   He reminds me of His bigger picture, and that my human mind will always view the changes, alterations, and problems that stem from Jason’s death as unfair. That even though my life may seem more “difficult,” than others, in the end, it’s all part of a bigger plan.

Today, for the first time in 3 weeks, I realized that the way to balance the scales is by being the person I was created to be in this situation.  The person God has been preparing me to be for quite awhile now.  I can’t cope with how my life would be if I didn’t attend the trial, hear the evidence, or even testify to how our lives have been changed, because the person God has created me to be isn’t the victim.  She isn’t the girl who lays in a pile of dirt and allows others to generously pile more on top of her.  She’s the one who gracefully throws the dirt right back out, but while doing so she makes it into positive.  The dirt I’m created to throw back is the way to balance the scales.

Community service, forgiveness, friendship, supporting other police officer’s wives, raising a boy into a generous man, giving back, and being positive is how God intends for me to balance the scales.

c in the leaves with txt

Of course life seems unfair when I’m at the bottom of my pit throwing myself hourly pity parties!!!  My view of the world is obstructed in my pit, and the only thing I can see is DIRT.  Being the victim is easier when you allow yourself to remain in the pit. When you allow yourself to see your situation how the secular world wants you to see it.

Balancing the scales, well yes, it’s hard.  It requires continual sacrifice, changes, alterations, and events that I don’t always feel I’m cut out to do. It requires me to relive the evidence a few more times, to think about exactly what happened that night, to verbalize the best I can the pain, fear, void, and emotional turmoil we have endured since Jason’s death, but even though all of these make my life more difficult, they are what I’m called to do.  These actions make me the victor, not the victim.

I know I’m not alone.  All of us can be a victim to some circumstance or event in our lives.  We can allow the world to dig us a pit, and lay down in it while dirt is continually thrown upon us.  What are you allowing yourself to be a victim to today?  Who are you allowing to throw dirt upon you, to darken your perception of the world and humanity?

Identifying what put you in the pit, and who is throwing dirt upon you is vital to eradicating your status as a victim.  But most importantly, what are you going to do to change it?

People will throw dirt at you as long as you allow them, so how will YOU change it?  I can promise you that it isn’t through negative Facebook posts, whiny messages to your friends, or giving up.  Nope, I’m not judging you for doing any of those because I did them all!  And, they didn’t work.  What works is refusing to allow the devil to continue to demote your mindset to victim, and instead, fighting his attempts to demote you, with positive thinking and giving back to others.  Want to balance your own scales?  Want to no longer be a victim?  Then be the person God created you to be – a being created in His image.  And, I can assure you that’s a far cry from a victim. His image is generous, graceful, forgiving, loving and the list goes on and on.  Join with me today, and fight to no longer be a victim to whatever pulls you down.  Instead, be a part of the good in the world, and watch as your status rises out of the pit and into the victor’s ring.  And not because you did it alone, but because that’s the type of person God created us all to be!

As I prepare for the trial, and all of the emotions that I will experience, I ask that you continue to pray for our family.  Pray for my strength to be the victor, no matter the outcome in the judicial system.  Pray that whatever is decided at the end of the trial, that I will have the peace of mind to know that I have do everything possible to seek justice.  And that afterwards, even though my life won’t be any easier, that I’ll continue to remember it’s “His scales, not mine.”