Today, I am a 37 year-old mother of two beautiful children. I work full-time as a Clinical Data Analyst. Pretty normal I guess. My daughter Ariana recently celebrated her 7th birthday and , my son Elijah is 4 months old. I gave birth to Elijah on January 9, 2010. I remember gazing at him that day looking forward to so many things and anticipating how life would be as a family of four. I was in for far more change than I anticipated. Exactly two months later, on March 9th, my husband, Thomas, passed away in our home.
It's been two months since Thomas died. The one question people seem to have is "how are you?". Truthfully it changes often, but here, I'll lay out the highs and lows, triumphs and mishaps, comings and goings, joys and sorrows I experience as I go through this pivotal year. I have a lot going on. It's my first year as a mother of two, my first year as a mother of a son and my first year as a widow. How am I really? I'm heartbroken, tired, blessed, grateful, happy, relieved and probably a load of other adjectives depending on when you ask, but I am grateful that I had the chance to know love as some people go through their lives and never have the chance.
We were married for 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days. Thomas bravely battled multiple physical challenges for several years. I knew he had grown weary of it all. He said so. He said so outright and he said so in the conversations we had about how he felt, the questions he'd ask me about whether I thought God would accept him if he died of his illness, and whether I felt dying meant he'd given up. A year and a half before he died, I had relunctantly released him. I told him I loved him and would miss him, but he need not continue to suffer behind the notion of staying for us if it would rattle his faith to do so. A lot of people might have told God where to go after going through the things he had, (and I knew some people who had done just that) and I'd rather lose him than for God to lose him or for him to lose God. I assured him I'd never let anyone say he had given up or didn't fight hard enough. He assured me he'd know when he'd had enough. We agreed to keep that conversation between us and the walls until "after" and we didn't speak of it again.
The day before he was unusually humble in conversation and appeared to have something on his mind. When I came home from work that day (children in tow), I grabbed him a drink from the fridge and went up to check on him. I knew as soon as I saw him he was gone. He appeared to have sat down for a nap and at some point, "let go" and died in his sleep.
I won't recount the details of the trauma that followed over the next three hours. I will only profess my profound gratitude that I was able to call the children's Godparents to get my daughter out of the house so that she was not exposed to it. Note to any parent reading: If your child or children does not have Godparents or does not have reliable ones...fix that. Ours live 2 minutes away and after I ducked into a bathroom out of Ariana's earshot and called them, they were at the house in a flash. They called 911 from upstairs while I stood over the children on the first floor. Ariana was taken away without incident and brought back home after Thomas was gone. It was a conversation I'd dreaded for a long time, but I wasted no time in having it with her. I mean five minutes after I'd picked her up from her Godparents' house I was telling her she had to go back. She knew something was up, so it wasn't going to do either of us any good to prolong it. I won't forget her little face, the quiet tears that streamed down her cheeks or the first words she spoke that let me know she understood what I'd told her: "So now we don't have a father." "Well baby," I told her, "You have another guardian angel now."
Eleven days later, on March 20th, we had his funeral here in Raleigh where we'd built our life together. It was set in the church where we had exchanged vows, sat and received our most important life lessons, and tried to give of ourselves in service to God.
In honor of my husband's well known flare for clothes I had him dressed in what he told me was his favorite suit, a three piece black suit with white pin stripes I had purchased 3 years ago. I purchased a white shirt with black accents and a black and white tie to go underneath it. I added a Steve Harvey hat he wore with the suit to go in the casket, cuff links, a watch, a bracelet I'd bought him for our 8th anniversary and an ID bracelet Ariana had given him for Christmas with "DADDY" inscribed on it. We're taught that the dead will rise when Jesus returns at the end of time. I don't know what will happen that day, but when I went for my private viewing at the funeral home, I pictured Thomas waking up that day looking down and saying (as he often did), "I'm clean like a washing machine, " and I was satisfied.
I bought our son his first suit for the funeral. It was a light gray vest and dark gray pants, pink shirt, white shoes and a matching tie and hankerchief. It looked like something Thomas would have picked for him. My daughter and I wore pink as well. She wore a soft pink princess dress and I chose a two piece skirt suit. I guess Elijah didn't care for his new outfit. In true newborn baby fashion, he had a blow-out diaper right as my pastor began the eulogy. Godmother to the rescue again. She and a friend changed him while two other friends helped me with the "mark" he left on my skirt. Probably good he won't remember that. But the rest of the day went off without a hitch. Thomas' 2 favorite praise songs and his favorite worship song rang out during the service courtesy of our church's praise team. Four people gave beautiful remarks, and he was eulogized the only person on earth I'd trust with such a large task-the pastor who'd married us 10 years ago.
I decided to lay Thomas to rest in a private cemetary in his home town an hour from here. It was made the day quite long, but I felt good about it...a well kept place five minutes from the house he'd grown up in and I had him placed so he was facing the direction of the house. I was exhausted after the service and fought to stay awake on the drive to the cemetary as my children slept soundly in the 2nd row of the limosine under the watchful eyes of their older sister. This part of the day is a bit fuzzy but pieces of it have returned with time. Thomas served 8 years in the army, so his gravesite service was done with full military honors. I remember the soldiers carrying him to the site. I remember the gun salute and I remember taps being played. I remember two of them folding the flag and giving it to me, but I'd totally lost the short speech, the young man had given me when he handed it over. I remember staring at him, feeling as if I was carrying twice my total weight in just my hands, and not knowing what to do, but I managed to nod my head and open my hands just enough for him to place the flag in my lap. That was it. We had dinner prepared by some members of the church in town Thomas had attended as a child and returned home. We got home around 6 or so.
So, let's recap: I'm 37 year-old. I have a 6 year-old daughter, a 2 month old baby boy and my husband, partner and best friend is now dead. The $10,000 question had two simple words. "Now what?"
I'm going to push forward with an angel on my shoulder. I'm going to love God and teach my children to love Him trying to stay in the path of righteousness my husband laid out for us. I'm going to love me and my two babies and lead my family so that we not only survive but thrive. And I'll do it...by His grace.