I love road trips and being in the car. It’s always been when I think. Maybe because as someone who has been a mother from a young age it is the only moment I get all to myself or maybe because growing up on a farm we always had to drive a long way to get anywhere.
When we started dating, Steve had to drive about 80 miles to see me. He drove it almost everyday and then drove it right back to where he worked. My daughter would wait for him on the couch, often with her dominos on her lap; bouncing her little legs waiting for her “Stevie-Pooh”. We moved to be closer to him, and then our drives became a fun weekend outing. Taking her to go do something and wearing her out. She would sleep all the way home and we would talk, laugh, learn about each other.
Over the years driving together became pretty standard. I have no idea why, but he almost always drove when we were together. I would talk his ear off; sometimes he would engage – often he just listened. When I got tired of talking, he would let me drift off to sleep. I love that feeling when you know the person behind the wheel will make sure you are safe, allowing yourself to be lulled into a sweet slumber knowing you are loved, I do miss that feeling. We did everything in the car: made plans, discussed our day, decided our grocery list, argued, told jokes, became a real couple.
For me, in my grief I try to remember all the things he was. All the good, but the difficult and bad too. No one is perfect and while it is so easy to place our loved ones gone too soon on a pedestal where they can be worshipped I think it does them a huge disservice. For in living a real life there must be a struggle to create growth and mistakes made to create the ability to find redemption, forgiveness, and gratitude. I know I have said it before, but I am so thankful we didn’t have a vanilla life where we never faced challenges together. In tackling those challenges together we bonded deeper – we loved harder – it made our relationship real.
This is one of the things I struggle with the most. First it was he was GONE. Now it is HE is gone and with him everything we worked for. And I don’t mean just our future and all the possibilities which resided between us as a couple but all the work we put into our relationship. All the struggle, compromise, and incredible transformations which occurred inside both of us in order to grow as a couple and make our relationship real and worthy.
No one will ever know me the way he did. All that work to keep our relationship strong made us incredibly close friends. Not just a couple. He understood my fire, my pain, my humor. Through our struggles he and I learned about each other. But there was so much fun in having someone get you. Someone you can glance at across a room at and know what they are thinking, and know that they know why you are smiling or laughing or rolling your eyes. He made me want to be kinder, laugh more and be friendlier. He had such a big personality and heart, it was easy to want to be better around him.
I have never thought of myself as overly loving and nurturing, I would say that I love hard and true but only for those that mean a great deal to me. I am pretty capable of walking away from something that doesn’t serve a purpose for me or my family, or only brings negativity and lacks growth. My husband, my kids, my good friends, my pets. I love them all deeply and it’s real.Whether I see them or talk to them daily or weekly doesn’t matter, it is more about our mutual connection than quantity of time. I have never been good at the in between love, that sense of being which makes you the kind of person whom everyone finds ease and comfort in being around. But he brought something out of me I didn’t even know I had the capability of possessing. I can’t really even describe it. But it was born of a true, deep love between two people. The kind that when the need for forgiveness arises, you have no choice but to dig deep inside yourself and pull up a profound ability to wipe the slate clean between the two of you and continue up the mountain, hand in hand – forged together.
We chose each other. We moved away from two families which drove us both crazy. We each handled them differently, but the move was to protect our core family of four. We had to leave behind friends we loved but we needed to put each other first, we needed to put the four of us first. We wanted our kids to have a different life than we had. We wanted them to feel supported and free to make mistakes and learn from them in a healthy environment. We loved each other and knew that together we could be more. But to do that we had to take a leap of faith in each other and what we believed we were being led to find together. With that move we catapulted our relationship to a new level. We had to rely on each other in ways neither one of us had ever relied on any other person – ever.
I had been pretty independent. Raising my daughter and trying to find my way. He had been even more independent and never really learned to trust anyone the way he would need to trust me in order to do what we were setting out to do. Neither of us were good at trust, we hadn’t always had the best experiences. But somehow we conquered that mountain. We built something I think many people only dream of creating together. So when I say my current path of grief is that HE is gone; I mean all those things we worked so hard for. All the pain and growth we went through to become what we were; the good and the bad. All the work, pain, and love we poured into each other. The man he was with me, the woman I was with him.
I was a woman who was still in love with her husband. But I worked hard to keep that feeling alive. He could be a frustrating man, he could infuriate me quicker than most. But he could also motivate me and build me up and keep me going. He made me want to work harder to make it work. I remember how even as recently as days before he passed away, he still had the ability to take my breath away. I loved watching him do things he had passion for, he was sexy when he was determined. And he was determined when he loved what he was doing. And I was part of that, I was part of why he was determined. I am proud to know we built each other up and were part of the reason we each became more. I struggle with trying to understand why God made me a single mom first, only to find the most amazing guy on earth, allow me to build a new life with him and change me only to lose him and be left to hold my crumbled heart together with all my memories while now a solo parent to our two kids. Trying to put the pieces back without my motivator, without my co-pilot.
So now back to my car rides. Nowadays, they are the ONLY place I have a moment to myself. There are no “the kids and dad out running errands” moments, there are just one thousand things I need to do in a day and only have so many hours to do them. But in my car where I might have a few minutes, or even an hour or so to myself, I can think about my life. This is the place I often find my mind wandering about Steve and about what I need to do better, what I need to differently, what am I doing that he would want versus what I want. This is also where it is very obvious that I am alone. That the weight of the world is on my shoulders, that my co-pilot isn’t here to shoulder some of the burden and help determine our path. The place where I can no longer dreamily slip off to sleep knowing someone else has the wheel and I can rest. It’s the place I have to keep myself awake while the kids sleep, the place I know no one has my back anymore. The place where it is just me taking on the world.
I think of how hard I worked to stay in love with him. To maintain our relationship at a level that was worth the effort. How much growth we had between us, how invigorating it was to know we were worth that effort for each other. That wasn’t something either of us had experienced; someone else really sacrificing and compromising their goals for us. We had reached a precipice once where I needed to decide if I was going to forgive him or move on without him. When I thought of what my life would look like without him, I realized I couldn’t imagine living a life without him. I realized that I was going to have to forgive in a way I had never before and choose to walk on the path with him leaving that baggage behind us. Later, maybe a year or two later, when he was able to really understand I forgave him and wasn’t going to punish him with it, he asked me why I was able to do it. And I said, “Well, we are running a race together, if you were ahead of me on the path I would want you to stop and wait for me to catch up, so I knew I needed to stop and wait for you to find me.” This is what real forgiveness is, you don’t need to be right in order to offer it, you would rather be with the person than without. And I have learned if I need to be right or the other person has an agenda they need me to fulfil, apologies they need me to make, amends they feel owed; well that is not a relationship that offers unconditional love and I don’t need to feed it any attention. People aren’t perfect, we are human. Full of mistakes, failings, baggage. Loving someone is about seeing past those things and focusing on the possibilities inside, not needing to always be right. Being right and in control isn’t love, being vulnerable and willing to sacrifice for each other living outside your own personal dreams because you would rather know that person; that is love.
Clearly I am more of a philosophical person. I cope with my problems and sort them out through thought and then action. I need to understand as much as I can before I make a big decision. I am learning it would be easy, as this type of processor, to internalize my pain and allow it to prevent me from moving forward. There are big positives about thinking things through, but you can also easily get stuck in a train of thought and allow yourself to become a victim. I have to push myself to the next step often. I have to say, I have found exercise a good motivator lately, it is also another place I can be free, if only for an hour, of all my worries and just focus on the present. I enjoy it, it’s also a good place for me to recognize my limits as a human and try to work to increase those limits and become better. Plus the endorphins are excellent for you when you are down.
So much of the loss of your spouse centers around the little things: sleeping in the car while he drives, knowing he will make every effort to stop and get you your ridiculous coffee order on vacation, going back upstairs after his shower because you know he left his towel on the bed, playing with his hair because you know it helps him stay focused. But many of the losses are deeper; they consist of so many things people will never know existed between the two of you, they are the things that bound you together and moved you into a new state of being. I know after he died I just wanted to scream “There is so much you all don’t know. You don’t know what he gave up for me, what I gave up for him. Who he really was.” It is all those moments I can’t quantify, those feelings and need to be together that drove us to greatness. All that work we put into each other, that is where the pain is deep. The place I can’t find words to explain.
But what I know as a widow is that everywhere on Earth where love exists, a depth of love and understanding between those two people – be they friends or lovers – exists that defines their relationship. It has made me realize that I don’t want to waste my time in relationships with anyone (friends, family, whatever) where that depth of willingness to understand each other does not exist. I know I want to put my whole heart into knowing my friends better, into listening and being there for the people I love. I know how those who lifted the three of us up last summer changed the course of our pain by just being there. I know I can pay that forward.
But none of this is easy, we will all stumble as we go. Or struggle to start and have to restart. I just don’t want to give up on myself. While it is so heartbreaking that what was between us is no longer, it is also evolving, helping to keep me moving to new heights. Helping me to understand things about him he left undone, and keeping me looking toward a future for myself. Whether it is motivating me to walk or go workout, or driving me to work on my pain, or trying to open my eyes to making choices he might not have made were he here; it is about trying to find myself. Trying to help my kids who are each struggling with his loss differently, wanting to make sure they each know he loved them and I love them. This is a path, a group, none of us want to belong to, yet here we are.
So do we wallow in self-pity in what we lost? I don’t know the answer to that. I think it is probably different for each of us. I know when he died I felt like no one loved their husband the way I did. That our relationship was unique and real, and my pain was deep. What I now know though is, that is true for everyone. This is literally what I believe we were, most of us, sent here to do. To love each other, to learn what love is in all forms, and to hopefully become better for it. I just want everyone to learn what they have before it is gone. My wish for all those people I cherish is that they know how amazing it is to love someone with your whole heart and to be loved by someone with his or her whole heart.
So, the song I leave you with today is one that sums this ideal better in 3 minutes than I probably did in 2500 words. Enjoy! You are amazing.
“You Move Me” by Garth Brooks