Who says you can’t go home? I recently wrote about my decision to move from North Dakota to Iowa. Well, this past week was our first trip back “home” to North Dakota. I struggled. A lot. Even admitting that sucks, but my goal with this blog was to be transparent and help people understand that you are never alone in your journey – whatever your journey is.
I am a person that mentally prepares for challenges. I envision the situation, walk through how I expect it to go in my mind, and then generate an action plan based on that information. This technique has helped me excel in high pressure sports situations, handle tough situations at work, and it has helped me immensely on my grief journey. This technique typically allows me to work through my emotions alone, where I can let my guard down and just let the pain hit me. When people have commented on my “strength”, I feel like a fake because they don’t see all the private struggles and pain that it takes to get to what you see in public. As much as I try to prepare, there have been many situations that I just didn’t expect, situations that I didn’t plan for. In those moments there is no stopping the emotions that hit me. This week just seemed to be full of those moments.
My journey to North Dakota actually started from my parents’ house where we had stopped for the weekend. I wasn’t even 2 miles down the road before the tears started flowing. I was able to control my thoughts occasionally throughout the trip, but reality is that they tears flowed for most of the 5 hour journey. I can’t even tell you why or what I was thinking about specifically. Just when I thought I finally was done with the tears I started down the hill to the town of Valley City, and somehow my body found even more tears. I can’t drive anywhere in that town without thinking of Steve. This is both a comfort and a piercing pain for me, and has been since his death. I am so proud of everything he helped build, and I treasure our memories, but wow, it is hard. After dropping the girls off at their grandparents’ house I went back “home” for the night.
Pulling in the driveway at my house was weird. I realized I couldn’t pull into my garage like I always did because the person that is renting my house had his vehicle in there. That difference immediately hit me as I had to decide where to park my vehicle in my own driveway. As I walked into the house for the first time the first thing I noticed was the change in decor. It was my house, but it was different. There was a deer head on my wall. There were family pictures that weren’t mine placed around the house. It was more than I could comprehend as I was simply emotionally exhausted. I quickly walked to my room – my sanctuary – and was surrounded by a room that was exactly the way I left it. This was my home and yet, it was so empty. I did the only thing I could do – crawl into a cold, empty bed, and pray for sleep.
The next morning was Monday, and I was ecstatic to go back to the factory where I had spent the past 7 years. I couldn’t wait to see some of my favorite people. Putting on jeans and my work boots was a simple thing, but also a special treat after having to don a “corporate” wardrobe in my new home. My workday was great – probably the best Monday I have ever had. I joined the girls for pizza at their favorite pizza joint for supper along with my in-laws. It was fun to catch up and see all the kids play together again. Shortly after it was time for me to head back to my house, alone again. I made it home in time for the sunset, and wow, what a beautiful sunset it was. I sat on the tailgate for a couple minutes to watch it, and honestly, to just breathe and enjoy the beauty of the land and the sky.
The week spent back in Valley City was filled with a roller coaster of emotions. I truly enjoyed spending time with one of my best friends over margaritas. I spent a lot of time each night talking to my friend that is living at my house – having someone to talk to in the house felt good. I spent time in Steve’s shop – packing mainly. I couldn’t help but feel sad that he never got the chance to experience this dream he had, but I also felt a sense of accomplishment at having finished what he started. As I walked between the house and the barn I basked in the calm. The wind wasn’t blowing (a rare treat) and the stillness in the evenings just calmed my soul. I felt like I could breathe. I felt comfort from the familiar surroundings. I stood at the door in my kitchen in the mornings and looked out to see the sun start to rise. In these moments I could see the beauty in the world while looking out on dreams that were lost.
I went to the accident site and cried in the ditch like I haven’t cried in a long time. I let myself go in a way that I can only do in private. After 20 minutes or so I could start to hear the coyotes howling and the realization of how cold I was set in. I decided to get back into my truck with the heat on, but had no plans to leave. When I turned my truck on, the gas light came on. I knew I had between 1/4 and 1/2 of a tank of fuel. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I thought maybe it was the angle of the truck, so I backed up onto the flat road. The light stayed on. It dawned on me that this may be Steve’s way of getting me to leave this location – a place where the depths of my grief were overwhelming me. I shut the truck off and restarted it – the gas light was still on. I slowly drove back to my house (I didn’t want to run out of gas!). The gas light stayed on. I parked in my driveway, not yet ready to go into the house. I still needed time to pull myself back together. The gas light stayed on. I shut the truck off and turned it back on again. The gas light stayed on. I decided it was a lost cause and figured I had better get myself together quickly before I froze and get into the house. I dried the tears, took a few deep breaths, and walked in the door. The next morning I started up my truck – and saw that I had between 1/4 and 1/2 tank – and I smiled. Steve hated to see me upset in any way. He would frantically try to fix whatever was bothering me. So, Steve, thanks for getting me out of that ditch. Thanks for getting me home safely, and thank you for not letting me linger in the worst part of my reality.
There are times when I need to remember that Steve is always with me. He sends me signs occasionally, and those signs give me comfort, strength, and guidance.
1. “Home” is about the people more than it is a place. My house never felt like home after Steve died. Going “home” for the first time without Steve made me realize that the house is empty without the love that once existed.
2. You can go back to places that you love, but they will always change and never be what you remembered. Seeing my house after being away for 3 months made me realize how much I missed the memories. There are things I love about the house, but when I look out the windows, I see memories. That is what I really miss. I miss the memories – the moments of the past that will never happen again.
3. I will never have a “forever” home – and I am OK with that. Steve wanted a home for a lifetime and that is what we were hoping to make with some changes to our place. I wanted a home with him for a lifetime, although I was more willing to explore the world a little and come back to our home in Valley City. For Steve, Valley City was home. For me, Steve was home. Every person is different. We had figured out a plan that worked for us. Without Steve, my plan changed. I changed. I know Iowa will not be my forever home, and my version of making a “home” here isn’t about finding the “perfect” place. It is about making perfect memories with my children.
4. There is no amount of time that passes that will ever ease the pain completely. There will always be days that are harder than others. This trip completely exhausted me emotionally. Even when I returned to Iowa I just couldn’t really feel anything and that is not healthy either. I have to learn how to manage future trips better emotionally.
5. All of this was worth it.
Valley City will always be a home to me. The girls and I took some time to visit the cemetery. Seeing my name on the headstone continues to ground me in the fact that my life really ended the day Steve died, and restarted when I chose to live. A part of me will come back to that place when my time on Earth is done – and that gives me peace as I continue to live the days that I have.
Going “home” was far from easy, but it was good.