I would like to thank Tamie for sharing her story of living beyond loss. She has chosen to see the blessings in life instead of her losses. Tamie, your perspective is enlightening and your story inspiring. Thank you for your transparency and willingness to share your insight with the rest of us. Your humanity is both beautiful and humbling. ~Alysha
I am 53 and I lost my husband, Douglas, eight years ago. We met when I was 18. I was a senior in high school and he was a new teacher. He was never my teacher though, and I had limited contact with him that year. He did have both of my brothers as students and it was from this connection that I got to know him.
When I was 20 I chaperoned a high school canoe trip into the BWCA which is a wilderness area in northern MN. Douglas had started a high school ecology club. The kids collected recyclables, stored them, and when he was able, he sold them. The money they earned paid for the 10-14 day trip.
I was a nursing student at the time and Douglas thought that if he had nurses with him, parents would be more comfortable and the school board would be more likely to approve the trip. We left on my 20th birthday. We were 3 adults with 16 kids and we were going into the wilderness for 14 days. I had never done anything close to this kind of camping.
The trip itself is another very long story and for the sake of space I’ll only share a couple of highlights. One of the canoes swamped at the beginning of the trip and we lost a food pack. I caught a northern as long as my arm. We even chased bears out of our camp one night. The water was so cold, I washed my hair once and had a head ache that lasted for a couple hours. Then, on the second-to-last day of the trip, Doug made the last of the pancakes. When he asked who wanted the last one, my brother answered, “I do.” Then Doug asked him, “What will you give me?” Bryon said, “You can have my sister.” Out of that interaction arose the long standing joke in my family, that my brother traded me for a pancake.
When I came home from that trip I remember thinking that I wanted to marry a man just like him one day. You see, I had a really serious boyfriend and he was engaged. Over the next few years we had contact through my brothers. He coached them in sports and after my older brother graduated, he and Doug became really close friends. Now looking back, I know I probably always loved him.
Three years later his second marriage ended. When I was 24, we were planning another canoe trip. He invited me up for a planning meeting, he told me he loved me, and I moved in. Really, we never dated. I was 26 and he was 35. He was put on unconditional leave of absence due to budget cuts, eventually lost his job, got a new job, we got married, and moved.
At that point, I was 26, married to a twice divorced man with 2 step sons; one from each marriage . The oldest lived with us full time and the second came every other weekend. Life was an adventure to say the very least.
We had a son when I was 28 and a daughter when I was 30. He was a much loved teacher and I was an elementary school nurse. We worked hard and because we had very little money, we grew a huge garden every year. Doug started another ecology club at his new school.
During that time, we took lots of kids into the BWCA. We both coached high school sports. He coached wrestling and I coached swimming. We were very active in our community and our school.
At one time, three of our four kids attended the school we worked in. We worked very hard to make this very unusual group a family. Life was just starting to get easier. Our oldest son (my step-son) was married and had 2 daughters. Our second oldest son (my step-son) was finding himself, living on a sailboat, and going to college in Alaska. Our third (our oldest) was 16 and just finishing his junior year of high school and was very bright, very stubborn, and very ADD. After years of struggle, his grades were great and he was looking at colleges. Our last, our daughter, was making the transition to high school. She was also very bright and a very talented swimmer.
It was at that point that I can remember thinking we were making it. We were on the home stretch. The kids would be off to college soon and Doug would be very close to retirement. We were a family. A little unusual, but a family.
Then in April of 2005 he was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. We were lucky we caught it. He had surgery shortly after. He was strong and, we thought, otherwise healthy.
At the same time, our oldest son and his wife were pregnant again with twin boys. Life was a gift. We felt like the luckiest people on the planet.
Two months later and two weeks into the summer, we were in the midst of our summer routine. Doug was doing some building planning, that day, for the new schools that were being built. Sam was lifeguarding for early-bird swimming at the high school and Cora and I were getting ready to leave for swim practice. She went to say good bye to Doug, but couldn’t find him. I remembered that he had gone out to the garage (his office) just ten minutes earlier and went to go look for him.
That is where I found him; laying on the floor. He wasn’t breathing and there was no pulse. At that moment, my son had just pulled into the driveway. I started CPR, my daughter called 911, and my son ran out to the end of the road to direct the ambulance. I knew, as soon as I touched him, he was gone. I knew he wasn’t coming back. I knew my life would never be the same. All in that one second, he was gone.
After he passed, we experienced huge amounts of support. They all loved my husband because he was a respected teacher and coach. He seemed bigger than life. The memorial service was held at the high school gym. It was standing room only.
Doug was cremated. I was a mess. I didn’t eat or sleep. I lost 30 pounds in 30 days. I didn’t pay bills, we had our phone turned off, the electricity turned off, the bank was calling for overdue car payments, and the mortgage company started sending letters.
Doug was the only man I had ever loved. We married against all odds and stayed married. We worked every single day to be a family. I worked so hard to help raise his sons. Of all of my friends, I was the only one that wasn’t divorced.
I remember almost nothing of the first year. I was sad, angry, sick, and broken. All I could do was breathe. If it had not have been for our children, I think I might nave died with him. I have never ever known such a dark and frightening place.
It would be a book to describe how I have gotten to this place now (there may be one, one day). Since his death I have lost both of my parents also. We are all still very much a family.
My kids are grown now. The youngest, Cora, will be graduating from college in May and likely getting married. I have four beautiful grandchildren. The twin boys are 8 now. Doug never knew them.
In June of this year, I experienced another transition, when I moved out of the house my husband and I owned (I eventually discovered auto bill pay, everyone was very understanding about all of the unpaid bills those first months). I moved from a five bedroom home on three acres of land, and into a four room apartment, in the city, with my dog. Four days after the move, I got on a plane and flew to Switzerland and Italy.
I have been home for four months now. I got rid of almost everything I owned. I do have a small storage space that I will clean out again in the spring. This life, right now, is transitional and intentional. My next home will be a tiny house. I believe now, that in order to live large, there is much you need to let go of. The weight of my possessions and responsibilities kept me in a life that belonged to a different time and a different person. I loved that life, that man, and the person that I was. I know now that everything of value from that life can not be contained in a space. It doesn’t just belong to me.
I had a ring made from the stones from our wedding rings, my mother’s, and my grand mother’s rings (a gift from my dad, before he died). I also kept a clock, maybe a couple shirts, and a favorite sweater. The more I have given away, the bigger they have all become. They, my husband and my parents, have given me a family. It can’t be bought or sold or traded or contained. It is bigger and more valuable than anything I could own and it lives in the tiniest spaces in this life. It is the breath that I take and the beating of my heart. Everything that we, this family, have become, honors the love we had for that man. The loss is not a tragedy. The tragedy would have been to have never had them in my life.
It is from this place that I will live large in a tiny space.
The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I want to be. Because of all I may become, I will close my eyes and leap. ~Mary Ann Radmacher
*Tamie still works as an elementary school nurse and this fall she started back to school to study nutritional therapy. Her and Doug’s four children are grown and lead busy lives of their own. Shawn is married with four beautiful children that call her Grandma Tamie. They are all still very close. Tamie maintains an endless number of hobbies and interests; among them is that one day she intends on living large in her tiny house.