I wrote this post a few weeks ago in an attempt to get it published as part of a series on another blog. That has yet to happen but I thought I would share it with you today as we are about to board a plane to return home after celebrating our marriage with friends and family in California. It has been an incredible week filled with love, joy, honor, and sadness, but mostly JOY. In sharing these words, it is my intention to bring you hope.
The year I turned 22 I met the man I envisioned myself spending the rest of my life with. Pete was a young, strapping military man with a passion for risky outdoor activities such as high-altitude mountain climbing. He was also a romantic who longed to be married and to one day have a family of his own. We shared a love for God, a similar sense of humor, a desire to live a life of adventure, and deep compassion for those in need.
When I was 23, he proposed while in a hot air balloon over Napa Valley. I was ecstatic. We were soon married and shortly after I became pregnant with our first child. I was 24 years old.
Amidst military deployments our precious daughter, Isabella, was born. Our love grew exponentially as I witnessed the depth of a father’s love for his daughter.
We continued to live adventurously when at 25 I found myself nursing a baby in a foreign land. He had accepted a position working in the Middle East. We rejoiced as the opportunity meant the end of deployments and the beginning of life as a family.
During our time abroad, we sought respite while on vacations trekking in Nepal and climbing mountains in Europe. We formed life-long friendships with people from all around the world and cherished our little budding family of three.
At 26, we welcomed our second child, our son Lucas. Our family was now complete. We were beyond blessed.
My 27th year included a move back home. We bought and renovated our first home and settled into life together. Daddy commuted to work and mommy stayed at home caring for two young babies. We looked forward to weekends together, which included rides pulling a bike trailer, visits to the park, and service at our local church. Once again, we counted our blessings.
Later that year, the ball dropped. My young, strapping military man was diagnosed with cancer and it was stage IV.
We accepted the challenge and pursued a cure. There was no way I could ever live without him, I thought. Surely, God would never allow him to die. We declared victory over cancer before victory was ours to claim. The treatments came and went and soon we heard those dreaded words, “It is terminal and there is nothing more we can do.”
So, at 28 my worst nightmare occurred when I buried my husband. I was not only a single parent to two young children, but also a widow. Upon saying goodbye, I set about attempting to live without the man I once envisioned myself growing old with. Clearly my plan was not God’s; He had other plans.
When I was 29, it happened, I met my Chapter 2, who coincidentally is a widower. Now at 30 I will marry Dave and we will set about pursuing our life together, while attempting to honor our past.
The reality of love after loss is very bittersweet. There is an intense realization that without the pain of loss, new love would not be possible. The truth is, grief does not end where new love begins. It simply morphs into something different by making concessions for the past.
It is possible to love again. When my Pete said goodbye, my finite mind was incapable of envisioning how I could ever possibly love again. I wondered how I could love anyone as deeply. Now that I have experienced the joy of love after loss, I know it is possible to love again and to love just as deeply as I loved before, if not more deeply.
Loss has allowed me to be more vulnerable in my current relationships. Loss has left me with an intense desire to experience relationships on a new level for which a real vulnerability is required. This vulnerability is capable of creating a love that is unrivaled by any other because I know how fleeting life can be.
I have also learned that comparisons are inevitable. I don’t mean this in a Dave does this better than Pete sort of way, but in a Pete did it this way and Dave does it this way and this with why I love(d) them. I enjoy recalling memories of Pete and often share them with Dave. I also enjoy hearing about his Becky because I understand that if it were not for her, he would not be the man he is today.
I am still actively grieving my loss. There are days I am overtaken with intense sadness for my loss, my children’s, and the life Pete lost. There are days I recall memories of our cancer journey with the same realism as if it all happened yesterday. On those days, my Dave listens to me and comforts me. There are also days when we talk about Becky and Pete as if they are still with us, because in reality, they are. They will always be with us in spirit and we intend to do our best to keep their memories alive. The vulnerability of love after loss allows me to grieve his loss in addition to my own.
Lastly, I am scared to commit. I have struggled with an overwhelming fear that the past will repeat itself. I also have to remind myself that even if I had known about Pete’s illness before we were married, it would not have changed my love for him or the fact that I desired to share my life with him. In other words, worrying about the future will not help anything. Worry will only impact the fullness of joy I can experience in the present.
Despite the pain of loss I am thankful for my experience. I have had to accept that my experience has brought with it many blessings; for one, it has made me a better lover. I now have an intense understanding for the fragility of life and for that reason, I intend to make the most of the opportunity to love and be loved once again.