One of the most difficult elements for me on my journey as a widow has been processing the loss of my expectations of how my life would be. For so much of my life, I had my vision of how life would look. We all have these expectations. Dave’s death ripped the vision of my life as I thought it would be from me forever. When Dave drew his final breath, my dreams, hopes, visions and expectations of life, family, love all suffocated. Throughout my life, my expectations had shifted as life threw challenges at me, but there were some expectations that survived the changes. I always wanted to be a mom and a wife. It was how I thought life was “supposed “ be. It was the life that was modeled to me. The people I grew up around and the existence I lived engrained these expectations into my soul. My mom and dad, their friends, other families and most the adults around me lived a life with marriage and family as a major priority. I grew up imagining that I could have it all like so many young girls in the 1970s. I thought I would have a successful career and a beautiful, loving family. That was just how it was going to be.
I didn’t have many role models in my life of strong, single women. It wasn’t a part of my world. I know they must have been there, but it was far from the norm. As I got out into the world more, I realized that there are many variations of family. There are many variations of fulfillment and success. Even then, I was still pretty sheltered. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I experienced how life can change in a heartbeat, breaking down my expectations of how life “should” be. When I became a youth minister, I was exposed to how heartbreaking loss of a loved one can be. Several, well, more than several teens that I knew and loved died. All of these lovely young people were lost in accidents, tragic, heartbreaking accidents. In seven years of ministry, five of the young people I ministered with died and another family lost a mother to cancer…so much heartbreak. I sat with teenagers and families as they tried to process losing their people. My visions of expectations for life shifted a bit. I knew that life was more precious than I had been living it. I began to practice a more conscience gratitude for my family, my husband, my friends, my children.
Even though I had sat with others through their losses, I wasn’t prepared for my own. I was prepared for the mechanics of loss and grief…by that I mean that I had built up a stock pile of resources for families dealing with grief. I knew all the support groups for varying ages and situations. I knew where to send families if the loss had impacted them financially. I knew how to pray with people, sit with people in silence, and how to listen when nothing was being said. What I didn’t know was how difficult the rebuilding really is. Even as I witnessed people rebuilding their lives after loss, I never imagined it would be as difficult as it truly is.
I also never realized the beauty of rebuilding. Again, as I witnessed these people rebuilding their lives, I could see their beauty, their struggles, the impact of their loss…but even then I couldn’t imagine how it would be if something tragic happened to me. Over the years since Dave died, I have developed an even deeper gratitude for these people who allowed me to witness their evolution after loss. I am forever touched by those loving souls who have let me walk beside them in our loss, all of us letting go of our expectations we had for our lives in different ways every minute, every hour, every day.
When Dave was alive, I still had that vision of the woman who could do everything living within me. With his help raising our family, with his support, I was able to achieve many things I never imagined. I had gone back to school and gotten my credentials and education in theology. I had become a parent. I had become a wife…through good times and through difficult times. I had a career in ministry I loved. I began writing professionally. I had time for home, family, friends and career. Pretty amazing…really living out my expectations.
Then he died. When he died, as cliché as this sounds, my well-formed expectations died too. Life as I knew it was gone forever. I was going to spend my life as single mother, no longer a wife, no longer the woman I had hoped to be…I had no idea how to do this. I never had a role model who had been successful with a journey like this…even if I knew someone who had been widowed at a young age; they never shared their story with me. I didn’t know…
As my expectations were ripped from me, the only thing I knew was that I would have to keep going. At first, it was only for my children. I knew they needed me more than they ever would. They needed me to survive and heal my heart so they would be able to heal their own hearts and keep living and loving. The boys were so young. Even now, I can’t imagine their heartbreak, losing their dad at such young ages. I had lost my husband. I knew how that felt, but I didn’t know how it felt to lose a parent. With their heartbreak etched into my being, I began down the path I hoped would heal all of us.
It began with grief and loss support. We did this for many years. It continued with me finding a way to make a living while still being present to the boys. I found this. It continues with me modeling to them every day. I try to wake up, look forward to the day and make the most of this altered existence. Was I able to do this in the very beginning? No, not really. There were years of tears, struggle, and searching to find beauty in a life I didn’t want to be living.
I never thought I would be a single mom. I never thought I would be a sole parent. I never imagined a life like this. I didn’t have role models to look up to or frame these new realities of my life. Did I know strong, loving, successful women? Ya, many. Did I know women who had been divorced and taken on these new roles they didn’t expect? Yes. So, bit by bit, I looked around me for people who were surviving and thriving on their own…raising families, being happy, feeling fulfilled. I still had trouble envisioning myself as one of these women. I have trouble seeing myself outside my role as wife and mother…that expectation that had grown into my being since I was very young. I had trouble seeing the beauty of being a single woman, raising children alone, having a successful professional life and a life I enjoyed. I had trouble seeing how that life would ever hold beauty for me.
It has taken a long time and looking for inspiration in unexpected places. It has taken the love and support of people who have always seen more in me than I see myself. It has taken a huge leap of faith. It has taken all the courage I have. It has taken every ounce of my strength. Beauty is elusive, but I have found it. I have found beauty in a life I would never wish for anyone. I have found a new appreciation for those who pursue their dreams without the support of a loving partner to share it. I have found that belief in me isn’t a bad thing. I have found hope in my intuition and in searching and really trusting my heart for what is right for me and my children. I sit here today in a life that is beautiful in so many ways. I sit here today in a life that I was never able to envision. I find myself outgrowing my previous expectations. It is so strange to me to be so far from where I began. As Dave took his last breath, a new breath was given to me. I was given an opportunity to believe in myself, as myself, not as someone’s wife…just as me…alone and vulnerable. I was broken down to my core. I had to let go of what I thought would be and embrace my reality….a reality I didn’t want at all. There has been great beauty in this journey of rebuilding. The woman I have become is so far from who I was or who I expected to be. This journey I didn’t want, this journey I hated so much…has become a life that I am enjoying and even loving. My expectations shattered. My life renewed in ways I never imagined. My choice to loose him? No! My choice to survive and thrive? Yes! My greatest hope…that maybe one day, down the road, my kids, or maybe a person who experiences tragedy will remember that I was able to survive and find a way back to a life that may not have looked like I wanted it to, but is a gift and filled with unexpected grace, joy and even beauty.