Lemonade and Widowhood: Finding Good in the Journey

DSC_1518When life gives you lemons…we’ve all heard that we are supposed to make lemonade, right? But how do you do that when the lemons involve losing your hopes, dreams, and the person you planned your life with?

Five years ago today I lost the person that truly completed me. My heart was torn apart, my soul was crushed, and every piece of me felt broken. Steve knew how to read me and knew exactly how to give me what I needed emotionally – and he wasn’t there to help me anymore. He was my best friend, my coach, my mentor, and I was so lucky to be able to call him my husband.

As a widow, it is really easy to focus on the loss in your life because everything that you planned, everything you worked for, every dream you together had was lost. I’ve read hundreds of widow posts over the past few years and I’ve realized that there is an opportunity to focus on the good.

All of us have the opportunity to write our own stories based on the events that happen in our lives. There are times that we have no control over the events that happen to us. Giving yourself the option to shape the perspective on the event is one of the most empowering decisions you can make.

I want to honor Steve today – his angelversary – by sharing some of the good I have found in this journey.

Here are the top six things that come to mind when I think about the positive impact of the worst event in my life.

Confidence. For those that know me you probably thought I had a good amount of confidence 5 years ago. Prior to Steve, a lack of confidence led me to be untrue to myself and to try to make myself someone that would be accepted by others. Once I met Steve, my confidence grew because he loved me for exactly the person I was – flaws and all. With him, I grew. My confidence grew because I knew that he wouldn’t let me fail – we won and lost together. He constantly lifted me up. He believed in me more than I ever believed in myself and he was really good at knowing exactly when I needed a boost. When Steve died, I lost it. I lost every bit of confidence I had. I didn’t even know if I could do my job without having him to talk to. He was part of everything that I did. This was the hardest piece to get back after loss. I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of anxiety doubting every decision I made. BUT, here’s the deal. Over the last 5 years I have proven to myself that I can do all the things. I can do so much more than I ever thought possible. I’ve looked back at his texts and letters and he still gives me a boost from beyond the grave whenever I need it (and I still need it 5 years later!). I’ve had to figure out how to take care of a house, buy a car, move, manage finances and investments, and raise two well rounded kids. Standing on my own two feet without someone in the firefight with me has shown me that I can do life – and I can do it well.

Prioritization. You have never realized what prioritization even means until your life falls apart and you have to do it all on your own. Today I am a master at logistics, work-life balance, and have gained clarity on what is truly important. In the past, prioritization was strongly linked to organization which meant being “good enough” to find a way to fit everything in. That is not possible anymore, nor do I want it to be. Today, my ultimate mission/purpose in life guides the actions I take (yes, you should have one too!). My ultimate mission involves engaging and inspiring others to do/be more than they ever thought possible while being a strong role model for my daughters. To me, this means balancing motherhood with a career and health while still finding time to give back through my foundation. Its been 5 years, and I am just now feeling like I’ve hit my stride. There are still plenty of challenges, but if you understand what your true priorities are it is easy to make sacrifices in certain areas to stay true to you.

Resilience. In today’s world of “safe spaces” and participation ribbons we have lost the ability as a society to be resilient. Let me be the first one to say that every single person in life will have challenges. Every. Single. Person. Everyone will fail at something or face an outcome that they don’t like. Resilience is one area I’ve become extremely passionate about. There are certain things in life that are completely out of your control, but what is 100% in your control is how you deal with it. I cannot even count how many times I have literally sat in a closet or on the floor in my room and just cried. I’ve cried until I cannot breathe. And yes, even at 5 years out, this still happen occasionally. I give myself grace to be imperfect and have the time to feel the loss. And then, I get back up. Every time. I get back up. If I can’t let it go, I write it out. Do you know what also helps? Gratitude. In those moments when I feel at my lowest, the one thing I do to bring my life into perspective is find something to be grateful for. I have experienced loss, but I have so much to be thankful for in life. Remembering those things makes me realize that life could be much worse. There are people that have been through worse. Gratitude gives me the clarity I need to stand up and get back to living this life I was given – and live it to the best of my ability.

Health. I’ve always been fairly active and healthy. The year prior to Steve passing I had started running and realized how good it was for me mentally. The pride I felt in running an entire mile without feeling like death is something I still remember! When he died, I felt like I would never have that freedom again. One, I couldn’t even breathe normally. Two, I barely had enough energy to shower and feed my kids. Three, I had a two and four-year-old that obviously could not be left alone. There were a lot of headwinds. When someone was at the house to watch the kids, I tried to take advantage and go for a run. Part of it was to have alone time (being honest – hello, introvert), but the other part was the fact that I knew mentally it would help. And it did. Running is still my outlet and one of the first things I turn to when I am not in a positive place. In the last 5 years I’ve even run two half marathons just to prove to myself that I could! Widowhood is not for the faint of heart and when you have young kids around you need to have both energy and mental positivity just to get through the day. A healthy mind and a healthy body are strongly linked. I want to be a picture of true health for my kids – someone they see that is committed to working out a few times a week, eating healthy in general, but still willing to bake cookies and eat cookie dough when we just need to have it!

Adventure. These past 5 years I have gone on more adventures than I ever thought possible. Even thinking about it leaves me in awe of life. Steve and I took at least one trip a year and had a goal of taking one trip as a couple and one trip as a family annually. Travel is not new to me. What is new is the deep desire to truly experience different cultures. I want to connect with people and truly take in the places I visit. In the past, vacation had been about relaxing with a little exploring thrown in. Now, it is more about exploring with a little relaxation thrown in. I’ve realized that adventures help me feel alive again and continually gives me the perspective I need to make the most out of the life I’ve been given.

I can. Death gives you a whole new perspective on life. One thing that has always drove me crazy is when I hear “I can’t” – whether from myself or from others. After Steve died, my list of “I can’ts” running through my head grew exponentially. One day, I was lying in the ditch in the spot where Steve died. I laid there in a ball of tears thinking that I couldn’t be a good mom without Steve, my kids would suffer, I couldn’t handle everything on my own, I wouldn’t be able to give my kids the life we dreamed of…you name it. And then, a song came into my head that became my battle cry against the “can’ts”. Steve had played it for me just a few weeks prior and I will never forget the feeling of dancing with him as it played in the background. The chorus goes like this “Give me strength when I’m standing, and faith when I fall”. In that moment, in that ditch, I realized that I was never truly alone. Steve was still with me (and playing that song) and I needed to trust in the Lord when I couldn’t shoulder it all. In fact, in order to see Steve again, I needed to grow my faith. Fast forward 5 years and I’ve been able to piece together a pretty good life. Every time I hear an “I can’t” running through my head I take it as a challenge that I need to overcome. Proving that little voice in my head wrong gives me immense satisfaction and continues to push me forward.

Five years.

I wish Steve would have known me as the person I am today. He certainly deserved this version of Erin more than the one he had. I’m closer to the person he believed I was. This change is largely driven from the desire to fulfill my promises to him – to be happy and ensure our kids had a good life. That promise has been my lighthouse at times – it’s guided me through the storms. I feel him watching over us, and know he is always there. Someday, I will see him again and I want him to be proud. We will have so much to talk about.

Every day I live to be the best person possible – in his honor.