When my husband died, the dynamic in my little family changed dramatically.  We were a tight-knit family of 3.  My daughter is an only-child, so she went with us wherever we went.  Even as a teen, she was usually happy to hang out with us.  John enjoyed being together, so we were always a unit of 3.  It hurts thinking about how much we lost when we lost him.  After all, a tricycle does not work without a 3rd wheel.

Katie and I were left to make that tricycle function with only 2 wheels.  Sometimes it seemed impossible to try to fake a 3rd wheel or just push the bike until we couldn’t push it anymore.  She was close to her Dad and if I am being honest, he was her favorite parent.  He was funny, playful, and always honest with her about life.  He loved practical jokes and usually I was at the end of their gags.

As we are approaching our 3rd year without John, we have managed to move forward without his physical presence.  One day at a time.  However, we have come to realize that he is always with us in our hearts and memories.  Milestones such as Katie getting her driver’s license, going to junior and senior prom, and graduating from high school have gone by without him, and yet we survived.  I did not willingly sign on to be the only one to teach her to drive, watch her drive off to prom, and graduate.  Tears streamed down during the entire drive to her graduation since she had gone with friends and I could breakdown.  I was angry, frustrated, and so sad that he was not here with us.

Moving Forward

We have learned to continue making memories and live life without him, but now as a family of 2.  While John was here, all 3 of us went everywhere together, and that has been a difficult transition for us.  I have moved forward and started dating, although I will never forget John.  He is a large part of who am I today due to his love.  Our love has not died.  I carry that capacity to love into a new relationship.

As widows and others who have suffered great losses know, our time on Earth is limited.  I know my daughter will eventually have a life of her own, hopefully a family of her own, and I made the choice to move forward.  She did not and still does not like the idea of me hanging out with anyone besides John.  Now that she is 18, it is doubtful she would have still wanted to go everywhere with John and me, and I have come to the realization that rebuilding my life is not selfish but necessary to my own survival.

With such a huge loss, it is difficult to find your footing and where you fit in.  My self esteem plummeted when John died and life in general was overwhelming most of the time.  I have gone on several trips with Katie and found traveling as a party of 2 is good for us except we are both very aware that he is missing, of course.  This past December, we visited a resort in the Bahamas.  Since Katie is 18, I booked an all-inclusive resort that is for those 18 and older.

Upon arrival, we received some rather odd looks from other guests, like they could not figure us out.  I did not put any thought into the fact that we might stand out, but we figured out rather quickly that the resort is designed as more of a romantic destination for couples.  I had difficulty deciding where to stay on this trip.  A family resort seemed a constant reminder of what we lost.  Also, I did not want to stay anywhere where I had to drive or navigate my way around since I heard travel warnings about crime involving tourists there.

A resort seemed the safest place and this one had scuba diving onsite.  We realized we did not fit in at the resort.  However, after the first day of feeling a little awkward, we did not care, let them stare.  If you are like me, once you are widowed you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere.  You always feel like something is missing whether with friends, family, or strangers.  I have come a long way with my grief journey and I realize life is about so many more important things than fitting in, rather it is about finding and doing what makes you happy.


Northern Virginia has been Jennifer Carstens’ home since she was a teenager. She met John when she was working at the D.E.A. Headquarters in Arlington, VA, during the summer when she was in college. Honestly, it was love at first sight for both of them. He had a way about him that made her feel like everything was going to be okay. They were married 4 years later and lived happily for the next 21 years. While their lives were not
flawless, they were close to perfection. Their daughter had just turned 16 when tragedy struck on March
11, 2017. John was healthy and happy, but suffered a massive brain stem hemorrhagic stroke. Much to
their horror, he slipped into a coma, and would never wake again. He was 49-years young. Their daughter
is now 18 and they are still piecing together their ‘new normal.

Jennifer believes he would be proud of the ways they are moving forward. They continue to seek peace and healing through humor, love, and sometimes tears.