I’ve been debating on how to approach this story. Every time I try to form it in my head, I almost immediately lose…the words. Even now, it took me 10 minutes to finish that sentence. I guess I’ll just jump in and rely on the fact that I can edit before I publish.
On March 13, 2017, my ex husband, the father of my kids- was in a fatal car accident. His sister called me shortly after I got home from work. I didn’t answer because I had just changed into my pj’s and sat down on the couch. No one really calls anyone anymore so when they do call, it’s a little alarming. But still, I wanted to relax for a few minutes before I called her back. She immediately called back, I answered. My life would change forever.
Herbie & I met in 7th grade. We had a bus safety drill and when I jumped off the back of the bus, he was standing there looking at me. He said that was the moment he fell in love with me. I’m not sure that’s true, but we became fast friends and ran in the same circle. We went to a really small high school so it was hard not to see everyone all the time. His sister, Stacey, became one of my best friends so Herbie and I spent a lot of time around each other.
We remained close after high school, I had a son and by the time we were 21 & 22- We were married (1994) had a baby that same year and he adopted my oldest son shortly after that. Between 1994-2012 were married and divorced twice. (Full disclosure: that is the super short version, there’s lots of stories in there that maybe I’ll get to one day)
This story originally started out with me feeling like I wanted to honor him on the 1st anniversary of his passing. But I’ve taken time writing the story out in my head and feeling so frustrated at the loss of words-until now.
As I kept searching for the words, I’d go into more of what I thought of Herbie rather than thinking about our lives. I realized that the story I wanted to tell, right now, wasn’t what we had been through but rather about who he was and how we should grow from this point forward without him.
Losing someone suddenly is- tragic. It feels like a bomb went off right next to you, but you lived. You’re broken, you can’t hear, you can’t breath and you’re walking around in a daze. Which, once I came out of that, felt like coming out of a dense fog that you’ve been driving alone in for months. Then, reality sets in and you realize your life was changed in literally a matter of minutes.
He was my ex-husband, my friend but most of all- my partner in raising our boys. When he died it felt like I was a chair that lost two legs. My kids were devastated. There are actually no words to describe what happened to them and I could never do them or their feelings justice by trying to describe what they went through. Seeing your children suffering, does something to a parent. You go into a subconscious survival mode. Nothing else matters except making sure they’re going to be ok. We put our heads down and struggled through the first year. Please don’t let the common word “struggle” fool you. When I say struggle, I don’t mean “we had some bad days”. I mean “we are drowning & trying to reach the top of the water to get a breath”- kind of struggle. We had all of the “firsts” after someone is gone. Birthday, Father’s Day, thanksgiving, Christmas etc etc. We made it.
My husband, Robert, has been the most patient man over this last year. He kept me steady when I was lost and gave me space when I needed it. He understood my feelings of grief and felt the heaviness of the loss that my kids were dealing with. It was time and mind consuming for us. It wasn’t easy for Robert, I’m sure. I had neglected him and our marriage while dealing with the aftermath of the explosion. But he stood by me, accepted my apologies along the way and always backed me when the kids needed something and their dad wasn’t there to go to. He loved me and continued to love me even thought, at times, I wasn’t the easiest person to love.
Herb lived his life 100% how he wanted to. We divorced and went he into the Marines at 26 years old, toured all over, was in combat in Iraq, did his service, came home, started a construction business, coached, went to college, became a teacher, started another construction business and was booming at the time of his passing. He did all of this and so much more, without apology. Now, as I reflect back on who he was and how he lived his life, it helped me to realize that I can’t let my kids stay stuck in what feels like an endless well of grief. Sure, its ok to not be ok and take the time to be sad or cry. I’m not sure if grief ever goes away? But we were all stuck. First in the moment of the blast. And then, in the “how do we move?”. Not really sure what to do or how to move forward. But we couldn’t live like that every day. Herb didn’t. Why should we? He lived. Really LIVED! It used to annoy me honestly, it seemed selfish at the time but now I realize that’s what life is about. Going for it, betting on yourself, being true to who you are and creating your own happiness.
I feel as if this conscious way of thinking gave me a sense of “permission” to tell my kids that it was ok to be happy too. That they can move forward, make new memories and adjust to life without their dad. It’s hard, I think it’ll always be hard. He won’t be far from their minds but it’s ok to keep going, to be free. To be free from the heaviness and ride the waves as they come- not anticipate them. We have great memories but we have to let go of the past and move forward to new memories and happy times. I understand when it comes to grief, forcing yourself to move on may make you feel like an island by the people who aren’t ready yet, but I just knew I couldn’t let myself or my kids live in the despair any longer. What good am I to them if I curl up in a ball and don’t handle business? They needed me. They needed me to be encouraging and to bring some normalcy back into our lives. Another stage of surviving, I suppose.
*What I want my boys to know*
Its time for them to step into their own manhood. They could try to fill their dad’s shoes their whole lives and never be able to do it. Not because they’re not enough, because they are. But because they hold their dad with such a high regard and respect, they’d never feel like it was good enough. I want them to embrace the parts of their dad that they are but to also be the man, husband and father that their own kids, family and friends will hold in high regard. I want them to know it’s ok to step into to their own shoes and grow from the roots in which they came.
“Family~ like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one” -Unknown
Thanks for reading,