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/

The Trial, Constellations, and Grace

cross with stars

Today marks one month since the trial began for the man convicted of Jason’s death. Throughout the passing of the one month, I have sat down on more than one occasion and attempted to write about my experiences at the trial. I have thought to myself on NUMEROUS occasions, “you wrote so easily and freely concerning Jason’s death, pull it together. Surely a trial can’t be harder to write about than your own husband’s death.” Yes, I know I am a very harsh critic when it comes to myself, and I know you all did not see it this way at all. Yet, I still “punished” myself mentally for my inability to truly capture the essence of how traumatic and life altering the trial was for me and for all those who supported me. I’ve spent countless nights wide awake because of the evidence presented, praying that I could erase it from my mind. Hours spent analyzing my words when I took the stand. Were they good enough, did I accurately portray the gut wrenching death of my husband that in turn caused me to lose who I once was, and causes my son to miss his daddy? Could I have said something more? Should I have cried more?

 

I’ve spent more of my time replaying evidence over and over in my mind, and analyzing Jason’s last moments. Yes, I sat through that rear dash cam video more than once. I promise you, I still don’t know how I did it. I wonder if the message my presence during the video sent to the jury was worthy enough of the years I’ll spend replaying those last few moments in my head. I find myself washing clothes or cleaning, and thinking, would Jason have wanted me to endure all I chose to endure, just to ensure that honor was given to his sacrifice. I’ve thought over and over again how unfair it is, that I had to sit through 7 days of emotional turmoil in order to be the presence in the courtroom who silently demanded justice to be served. And, it’s usually at that point in my thought process that I enter into my “dark zone.” The place in my mind that I attempt to push back, cover up, in hopes that the repression eventually erases it all together. In reality, I know that in order to heal, I have to enter my dark zone. Yet, in those moments I’m there, and I’m walking through it, I honestly feel the furthest from Jason I could. My “dark zone” is generally a swirling storm of anger. I hate feeling anger, while it’s productive, I feel it blinds me. And so, I avoid it at all costs. Yet, there was no avoiding it. In fact, it’s been on the backburner of my mind up until tonight. Showing its blinding face at every twist and turn in my life. Clouding my judgment, and causing me to dislike who I was.

A considerable amount of my anger doesn’t stem from the sentencing portion of the trial…although at first, it did. Instead, my anger is more often directed at myself. I can try forever to explain to you the paradoxical emotions of praying for justice to be served, but feeling your heart strings slowly ripped as you watch a mother saying good bye to her son before he’s lead away. Or the prayers that the amount of years will in some way equal the loss we endure daily, but also almost feeling sorry when you look into his eyes and see the reality of his choices sink in. I’ve been angry at myself for feeling such paradoxical emotions. I’m angry because these emotions feel as if they are a betrayal to Jason’s sacrifice and to his brothers/sisters in blue. In fact, I have debated sharing such emotions because I was afraid people wouldn’t understand why I felt them. I have feared that this paragraph I’ve written numerous times would alienate me from Jason’s brothers and sisters, and that they would turn their backs on me because of my true feelings.

I have told myself over and over, that a “true officer’s wife wouldn’t feel sorry for the person who took her husband’s life.” That she shouldn’t wish it would become a learning experience for him, and that in the end he will leave prison with the ability to impact others, and with a hard-earned respect for the value of a person’s life. I’ve told myself that a “true officer’s wife would not ‘be okay’ with a sentence that is less than a life for a life.” And, yet, no matter how often I “tell” myself anything, these paradoxical emotions creep up on me, engulf my thought process, and drown me.

 

For the past week, I have been fighting them off. Forcing myself to stay incredibly busy in the hopes that they will fade, and that I won’t have to truly deal with how I’ve been feeling. That I wouldn’t have to write this blog that I’ve felt weighing on my heart since the verdicts were issued. Realistically, I knew the possibility of such an occurrence was extraordinarily rare. All day today, I found my thoughts elsewhere, and my thought process erratic, and the difficulty level of accomplishing even the simplest of tasks frustrated me. I have felt out of sorts, as if a thousand piece puzzle were thrown to the floor, and its pieces placed hastily placed back together. The general outline of the puzzle is there – a shell, but the inside is all jumbled together with pieces forced together to fill a space. As I prepared for tonight’s Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line meeting, I found myself sporadically “accomplishing” items on my to do list, but never feeling as if I had anything together.

 

Even as I began the meeting, my frustration levels were high, and I struggled to pull myself together for these ladies who have given so much to me. Yet, when I started that meeting, a few of the pieces of my jumbled together puzzle were placed back into their correct location. The longer the meeting went on, the more pieces were correctly placed. Conversations after the meeting, placed a few more into their permanent homes. Each piece placed was a small weight lifted. Ladies who support me, back me, and understand how an “officer’s wife, could look into the eyes of her husband’s killer and feel immense anger at all he took from us, but also understand how a mother could look into those same eyes and feel in some small way sorry for him as well.” I shared a small portion of how I felt at the trial, and they all supported me. They wrapped their arms around me in support, and the encouraged me to keep going. I promise you they don’t even know they did it, but I felt it.

 

And so, I left the meeting with more pieces in place, and a certain sense of calm that I hadn’t felt in quite some time. When C and I arrived home, we got out of the car, and as always I looked at the sky. Tonight was beautiful, clear, and peaceful. I commented on the stars to C, and he looked too. And what happened in those moments of arriving home, placed even more pieces in place. He looked at the sky, and he immediately found the big dipper, a skill Jason taught C at an early age. He smiled, and he pointed out a “winking” star in the handle of the dipper. He turned, and he looked at me, and with childlike faith said “ That’s my daddy’s eyes winking at me tonight.” Normally, I would have lost it at that point. I would have mourned Jason’s death, and how C is forced to live without him, but this time I didn’t. Instead, this time, we sat down in the middle of our driveway, and we looked at the stars.

 

This was the best picture I could get :)

This was the best picture I could get 🙂

C talked on and on about how Jason had taught him how ships used constellations as a GPS, and that he thinks Jason would have chosen the big dipper to build his mansion in heaven. I listened, and I remained quiet as he kept talking. Listening to my baby be so happy that we are “closer to daddy tonight,” calmed me, and it placed more pieces in their place. At one point, he jumped up, and ran inside to get “Jason’s blanket, a pillow, and his DADDY’S flashlight, so that he could hold it and remember his daddy.” I joined him, and we lay down under the stars, and we snuggled. While he sat and watched the stars, I began to think about how angry I’ve been at myself for feeling a little sorry for the man who killed Jason. And just as I allowed myself to begin to process why I felt that way, C pointed out a constellation he felt looked like “the cross Jesus died on.” He asked me why Jesus would want to die for us, and I began to explain grace and mercy to him. He remained quiet for a long time, and I welcomed the silence. In the silence I began to realize how irrational my anger at myself was. All along, I had convinced myself to believe that feeling sorry for my husband’s killer made ME a bad person. That it erased my status as a “good and dutiful officer’s wife.” When in reality, the exact opposite was true. Those moments I spent looking at the man who killed my husband, and telling him exactly how he changed my life, were moments when I kept telling myself, “stop feeling sorry for him. It was his choice. He did this; he created his own consequences.” Yet, instead, those moments standing before him in the courtroom were the first moments when I truly saw a glimpse that forgiveness might be possible. In reading my statement to him, I chose to leave out the last line of the letter. In that line, I told him that if I ever did forgive him, to make no mistake, the forgiveness would be so that I could move with my life, not so he could feel better about his own choices.

I didn’t tell him that, instead, I just went and sat down. Up until tonight, I’ve regretting not reading that last line to him. Tonight, when C and I talked about the cross, salvation, grace, and mercy, a number of more pieces fell into place. I realized that feeling sorry for his decision to drive away that night, didn’t make me a bad person. I thought, if I truly believe in salvation and the grace Jesus must extend to us in order to be willing to die on the cross, then forgiveness on my part should come at some point. Forgiving him or forever living in anger affects the remainder of my life, and I thought for a while it would never affect his. I was wrong.

Extending grace is modeled time and time again throughout the Bible for Christians, but it’s rarely practiced in today’s world. We are taught to feel anger for others who hurt us and to look out for ourselves. This belief is what caused me to be angry at myself for “becoming a soft officer’s wife.” I’ve always felt that people who say “ they have forgiven their loved one’s killer,” are lying. That there’s no possible way it could occur. And, I won’t say that I’m there yet, but a lot more pieces came together tonight as we sat beneath the stars.

 

When we were getting ready to go to bed, C turned around, and he blew a kiss to heaven. He then came and kissed me as well. He told me “ daddy’s bed is now in the big dipper, and that’s okay. It means he gets to watch everything I do, and be proud of all I do.” We carried our items inside, and we laid down for bed. I listened as C told Jason all about our day. How the he remembered all the lessons Jason had taught him about constellations, and how he hoped his daddy would visit him in his dreams tonight. And then, we told daddy we love him to heaven and back. C turned over, and he held my hand as he drifted to sleep with a smile upon his face. Tears streamed down my face as I marveled in his ability to never feel anger at Jason’s death.

 

I laid in bed, and cried. In those moments I realized, C isn’t angry because I’ve always made it a point to never inflict my anger at the situation upon him. He gets to live in a world of child-like faith, and I get to wish I could go back to that. Tonight, I realized, if I would have listened to my heart all along, God was trying to push me back there. If C can go his entire life and never feel anger at the man who killed his daddy, this mommy has done something right. The conversation we had tonight where I explained grace wasn’t for C, he already readily extends it. I was the one who was being reminded of the true meaning of grace.

 

If you’re reading this today and you think “I’ll never be able to forgive him. He took too much. He took my brother, a daddy, a husband, and son.” I want you to know I understand. I felt that too. In fact, a part of me still feels that way…and maybe it always will? Please know that I’m not writing about my steps towards forgiveness in a judgmental manner of those who aren’t ready to forgive. I’m in no way telling you how to think, feel, or act. Instead, I’m reminding us all, of where we would be today without grace.

 

Think back on a situation where you didn’t deserve grace, but were granted it anyway. A time in your life when you should have been allowed to fall flat on your face, without any help from a hand to lift you up, yet they extended their hand anyway. We’ve all made choices where grace should have never been extended, but it was there waiting for you, lifting you up, and pushing you forward. Where you a different person afterward? Did you allow that experience to change you for the better? If I can cultivate C’s ability to extend grace, and allow it to become a part of who he is, then I know with certainty that I’ve raised him to be a person that Jason would be proud of.

 

I pray my honesty hasn’t changed your opinion of me as an officer’s wife, and that in the end you sincerely know that I respect wherever you are in the grieving process. I just know I can’t continue to live in anger, if I want to raise a son who is free from it. Tonight, while gazing at the stars, Jason wrapped his arms around us both, he winked at us through the stars, and for the first time in a while, we were at peace…my prayer is that this moment is coming for you as well. Jason would want peace for all of us…I pray that you find your own path to peace.

Embracing the New Me While Ensuring Our “True Love Story Never Ends.”

Last post, I began by saying that I was beginning to like the person I am becoming.  I debated on erasing that line numerous times throughout the writing and editing of that post.  I simply felt torn.  An internal monologue of epic proportions seemed to be on repeat within my head.  “What if people thought it was simply ‘too soon’ to begin to like the person I am after J’s death? What if I haven’t grieved enough in their opinion?  What if I seem too happy?”  And yes, I know you will all leave me comments about how I should permanently delete that playlist entitled “Self-Doubt Monologue Number 512” from my internal music selection.  That instead, I should only play “Eternal Sunshine,” Or “Wonder Woman’s Theme Song,” or something far more positive.  I agree, I should, but if you read the last post, you’ll see ultimately I decided to leave it in place.  And, no one has said anything – big surprise.  My mind is my own worst enemy.  You all have been nothing but supportive from the start. 

 

After writing that post, I haven’t been able to get that picture of me looking at J’s casket out of my mind.  I can’t express my gratitude for my mother-in-law capturing that moment.  It was such a beautiful moment.  It’s where my journey to the new me began.  It was my last earthly goodbye.  No words can express the amount of love that picture captures.  At first it seemed odd to me that this picture would become symbolic in my mind of the path to the new me.  And, again, I began to doubt whether I should be feeling this way.  How could I ensure that our “true love story never ended,” but yet still become the new me?  How could those two paradoxical ideas become meshed together?
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In the days and hours before that picture was taken, I had no idea who I was.  I simply just reacted to whatever situation was thrown at me. I’d make a decision, and I’d move on to the next.  Checking off tasks, hugging people, thanking people, attempting to sleep, and starting the process over again the next day.  Ironically, even though I was making every single decision, I had never felt more out of control in my entire life.  I was terrified.  At visitation, I hugged, thanked, hugged, thanked, hugged, thanked, and continued the process.  This redundancy makes me seem ungrateful, please don’t read it as that. I was just a robot at that point.  It wasn’t until the moment in this picture, that I actually truly said my goodbyes.  And when I walked away from his casket, I walked away with a million paths before me, and I had no idea which one would lead me down the right path to the person God intended for me to be after J’s death.  I’ve recently spoken to close friends about the need for affirmation in my life that I’m making the right decisions.  That, if I could just see some type of measurable progress, positive or negative, than I could readjust my sails, and continue to navigate a new path.  Yet, walking away from his casket, I have never felt so alone.  Even in the midst of so many supportive people – I was alone within myself.  I didn’t know ME anymore, and inside myself, I was stripped bare. 

In the 3 months after this photo was taken, I can say with certainty that this feeling of being alone within myself, caused me to hurt some people who truly love me.  It caused me to fall to my knees countless times, but to always find a way to rise up.  I walked down paths, and was only 4 steps in before completely doing a U-turn.  Sometimes, I’d get to the end, only to realize it was a new beginning.  Along the way, I’m sure I worried a lot of people, but these past two weeks, I’ve discovered that God has placed some pretty substantial meetings and people along each of these paths. 

These past two weeks, I’ve finally started to believe in the strength you all insist I posses.  Last post, I shared with you facing the scene of the hit and run, but my blessings didn’t stop there. 

 

In the past week, I’ve officially bought a house and given an interview to one very special young lady at the high school where I taught last year.  Both of these events, though seemingly unrelated to you, have revealed pieces of the new me.   They have connected some paths together that seemed to be so far apart.  They revealed a walk-way I couldn’t see, and in essence the path to the new me.

For so long, I kept trying to make myself fit into a mold that I became accustomed to before J died- officer’s wife, mom, teacher etc.  And then, when I walked away from his casket the night of visitation, I crumbled.  I refused to see this as a new beginning because in my mind, that phrase was synonymous with dishonoring our sacrifice and J’s death. Buying a house and giving an interview sparked a small change within me. Maybe more accurately put, it caused a realization of who I wanted to be.  Tonight, after intense reflection and affirmation with a friend, I’ve realized just how “right” a new beginning is.  It’s inevitable, and it’s what J would want.  I promised to “not lose myself if he ever died.”  Well, I did in some sense lose myself.  I lost aspects of who I used to be.  Being that exact person, is impossible. Actually, the pieces I lost, I didn’t need.  Fears, uncertainties, self- doubt, “squareness,” all shed.   So inevitably, I have to be someone new- meshing the two together into a beautiful, strong woman. 

 

I never would have thought buying a house would have evoked this realization.  Honestly, when I started the searching process, it was simply to “quit throwing away money on rent.”  But, I chose a realtor I happened to meet the day BEFORE J’s death.  We met through a mutual friend.  Linda, you didn’t know it then, but you were already chosen to be my tour guide along a new path.  Paths that seemed only 3 weeks ago to be randomly placed, with no links to another, a maze with no end.  God chose you to be my affirmation, my confidant, and my advocate.  Today, when I signed that contract, it was a step to the new me.  The me that gets the privilege of learning how to ensure that our “true love story never ends.” I know she had no way of knowing that me buying a house symbolized the first thing I’ve done in the past 3 months that had nothing to do with satisfying a need that arose because my husband died.  And in doing so, in buying this house, I’ve realized I’ve been approaching this idea all wrong. Mourning J’s death and becoming a new me aren’t separate entities, they are all one.  The strength and lessons I’ve learned and will continue to learn after J’s death, are what are making me the person I’m intended to be.

Before he died, I just thought I was strong.  I thought I fought for what I felt was right and even what I wanted out of life.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Throughout the process of buying a house, I’ve stood up to CPA’s, argued with a seller, and fought for what I wanted.  In the past, I would have backed down. I hated confrontation.  But, I haven’t this time.  I faced it, and I walked away with what I wanted and deserved. But more importantly than just getting the house, I walked away with the affirmation that I am a strong person.  Buying the house is just a concrete symbol, a reminder, of the journey.  A reminder that I am blessed to walk into daily.  A reminder that J would be proud of the woman I’m becoming.  That he wouldn’t be upset with me for “leaving the last house we ever lived in together.”  He would be proud of how much more rounded his “very square” wife was becoming. Okay, I’ll admit, I did buy a house with a Homeowner’s Association and rules and subdivision covenants.  Again people, we are meshing the old me with the new me. I like rules and boundaries- I doubt that EVER changes. 

 

And speaking of rules and boundaries, I’d like to also say that the interview with Sydney this week also was another step to finding, embracing, and loving the new me.  When Sydney interviewed me, she surprised me with all of the personal questions she was asking.  “What happened that night?, How did you tell C about the death of his father?”  She explained the goal of the story was for my students to really know how I was.  That they were all worried about me, but they didn’t want to bother me.  They wanted to know what my future plans were, and in giving that interview I was reminded all along of who I really am- a teacher.  I took off this year to find myself after J’s death and to handle all the business that is required after the death of your husband.  Sitting in the library Tuesday, taking pictures for the interview, and reflecting afterwards, I caught a small glimpse of me again.  I felt at home at THS.  I was reminded of how many students rushed to give me individual hugs and words of encouragement after I received an award at the local football game rivalry.  That moment was one of the most inspirational moments since J died.  They make me feel loved and needed in a way that only fellow teachers could truly understand.  They, and all of my former students in general, are members of my family.  They need ME. They don’t need an officer’s wife or some random person to give them a hug- they need me. And their emails, parent phone calls, and hugs are reminders of who I am.  I’m in no way downplaying all of the support from my Blue family.  My fellow officer’s wives and J’s brothers in blue are essential members of my support team.  However, they offer a different kind of support.  My students and fellow teachers offer another.  Just the idea that they wanted to know how I was doing touched me- reminded me of why I love teaching.     

 

I’m slowly realizing that the new me is a combination of the old and the new. And I guess, if I had ever stopped to think about it, I would have realized early on how impossible it would be to separate the old from the new.  God has a way of turning what seem like dead ends and over grown paths which create a never ending maze, into slightly less over grown and more connected paths.  While I’m by no means to the end, and I’ll never be, my path is slightly more clear.  And, I can say with certainty that tonight I know J is smiling down on me.  He saw this potential in me years ago, and he worked until he died to bring this out in me.  And no, I’m not saying God caused J to die so that I can become who I’m supposed to be.  Now, I just know it’s okay to find the new me and still mourn J.  I’m honoring him by honoring his wish of “never losing myself when I lost him.” And strangely, buying a house, and giving an interview, seem to have solidified the idea of being able to ensure that our “true love story never ends.” J lives on through me whether I teach or stay at home the rest of my life.  He’ll live through me whether I stay here or move back to my parent’s hometown.  Most of all, he’ll live through me because I am choosing to live for myself.  I’m choosing to confront obstacles that stand in the way, and I’m choosing to in as many ways as possible still remain a teacher.  And yes, I can do that while still honoring him.  So, it is with absolute assurance, that I write tonight I’m liking the person that I’m becoming, and I’m smiling while writing it.  The storm is far from over, but I’m one step closer. 

Monica, you are right, I am more “self- assured, more spiritual, and more willing to show my growth to continue my growth.” Thank you for being my affirmation, mentor, and friend. To my friend who just started teaching, please know how impactful your job is, and how those precious babies will change you for the better, if you let them. Please know that you too have given me affirmation this week. And to my “to Jupiter and back” friend, know that you allowing me to mentor you, is also more affirmation that you could ever know. To all of J’s brothers in blue who will help me move, and to your wives who will willingly sacrifice their family time with you for you to be able to help me, thank you! You too are my affirmation that staying here is the right decision! To my other friends and family, you in your own ways, are my affirmation. I’ve just been looking for affirmation in the wrong places.