The familiar weight settles onto my chest. My breathing becomes shallow until I am suddenly aware that my chest is barely moving and yet somehow I’m not passed out on the floor. My eyes are glued to the screen as I scroll from one picture to another, or as I watch each precious video and savor each millisecond of the man I loved. As I let the tenor of his sweet voice speak deeply into my soul, into a place that no one else has or will ever reach. This is all I have left. These moments where I give in to the tears and let the hurt become real and apparent once again. They don’t last long; life is too mobile, too demanding for this to be anything more than a few moments in time. I don’t have these moments often, sometimes once a month. I don’t know how often I’ll feel up to this. At times my heart says no, reassures me that I don’t have to endure this to remember John. He lives in me, in my children, in my ministry, in my heart. I can move on in my life and still love and remember him. But then there’s just days when that’s not enough. Days when diving head-first into the sorrow is the only way to purge the deep hurt from my heart. Days when I know that avoiding it will only allow it to bottle up somewhere inside me and fester until I think about it constantly.
August 28th is coming up very soon. It’s been on my mind and heart so often these past few weeks because it’s a milestone I never saw coming, and I hate with all my being having to acknowledge that it is. Writing this is my way of working through what’s in my head and hoping that putting it on a page will stop it from swirling around up there constantly.
My name is Amber, and I was widowed at the age of 23. 5 days before my 24th birthday, actually. Happy birthday to me, right? My husband was 27 and we had been married for 5 years and had brought two children into the world. The oldest, Airalynn, was almost 3 at the time of his death, and the youngest, Elenie, was 9 months. This August 28th marks the 2 year anniversary of his death. My children, especially the youngest, don’t really remember him. We talk about him sometimes, but the only one with memories is me. Man, that hurts. Because as much as Airalynn looks like him and as much as I remember her birth and how John made me mad in the delivery room by having chicken breath, she doesn’t know him. Oh, this hurts. My youngest, whom he affectionately nicknamed “Mad Baby”, will never remember how he looked at her and how amazing she was to him. But as much as that pains me to write, to think, what is infinitely worse to me is the fear that someday….someday…I won’t remember either. I experienced a moment of terror last week when it occurred to me that I remember very little about our interaction, his work schedule, what we talked about the week before he died. I do remember the day before, very clearly, because it was one of the best days we’d had as a family. I had a soccer game that morning, we both got sunburned, John watched the girls and cheered me on. Then we hung out that afternoon and attended a company pool party in the evening.
But what if the rest of it gets blurred? I’ve considered writing down everything I can remember so that I can come back to the computer and read memories back to myself, to the girls. But every time I think of doing that, I get exhausted at the thought of diving that deep into memory and trying not to miss anything. And I avoid the pain. Sometimes I think I’ve done a terrible job of being a widow. Which is another reason I decided to sit down and write some things.
I know that I have nothing to prove, justify, or seek approval for. I have made life choices that have not all been the best, but they are my choices and anyone who believes I’ve done a terrible job can just step right into my shoes and try walking around awhile. If you think you could do a better job, you go on ahead and see what this feels like. I’m sure some have lived this and done it more gracefully than I, showed more restraint, delayed big decisions wisely. But that is not how my life has gone. It isn’t how it went with John, and it seems to be continuing in a similar fashion without him. A little over a year after John died, I married Jeremy. He has been a God-send to me and to my daughters. In fact, his kindness and genuine love for my girls was the very first thing I noticed about him. I was certainly not sure that I was doing the right thing by letting him into our lives and I told him in no uncertain terms that I was a mess and he didn’t want to get involved with someone broken like me. Apparently he did. He stuck around and would not be moved until one day in September I told him we might as well get married so we could really be a family. He proposed and we were married in October, one month later. I don’t believe in long engagements. John and I were engaged for 2 months.
The past year I have not done everything right. I believe I have been insensitive to John’s family unknowingly while trying to deal with what was right before me. Moving on in my life has looked a certain way to me, but I’m not sure they would agree with my perspective and probably think I moved way too fast. But they are extremely gracious and loving people and have never breathed a word of negativity about my life choices. And I love them dearly for that, and for many other reasons. But in writing all of this down, I didn’t want to miss the chance to let them know that I’m sorry if I have hurt you, missed chances to show you compassion and to grieve with you, or forgotten your feelings in anything I have done. I love each of you so much and you have become true family to me over the past 7 years. I couldn’t have asked for better in-laws.
But here I am, 2 years out from the worst moment in my life, and I can truly say that my life is beautiful. It has always been a beautiful picture of God’s grace, but never more than now. I have been offered the love of two incredible men who are full of integrity, passion, and love Jesus. And I have accepted that love and managed to open my heart to each of them in their own time. With Jeremy it has taken me much longer, as could be expected, but he is becoming more and more a part of who I am. Honoring and loving one man’s memory while giving my devotion to another has been extremely difficult, and I’m certain I’m still not doing it right. But I know that I’m trying and I know that God’s grace is sufficient for me in my weakness. It hasn’t been easy for Jeremy and he’s made mistakes as well, but we are committed to this family and to God and are excited for the life we are blessed to live each day with one another. As always, that little voice in the back of my head reminds me that neither of us is guaranteed tomorrow, but I refuse to let that voice instill fear in me or cause me to hide from love or commitment. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I know who holds the future.