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One Year Later: What I Love About Being Single

 

85335c13771418909e2442bc5a513127Today’s list is harder to share than was yesterday’s list. Even though this one feels like much better news, I also feel the need to offer a few disclaimers. First, the beautiful things I’ve discovered inside of single living do not replace Steve or the life I had with him. This is standalone beauty that creates a happier, healthier life – a life in which I have surprising amounts of hope and joy. Secondly, these things do not cancel out grief. I will always grieve losing my beloved, but I remember the very day I determined that grief would no longer be the boss of me. It was an intentional decision to carry grief rather than being carried by it and I couldn’t have made the decision a moment sooner than I did; I had to wait til I was ready. Finally, embracing these aspects of my new life has not come without struggle, prayer, counsel and a fair amount of emotional chaos in the process. This is where I’ve landed now, one year in; I’m sure thngs will keep changing and evolving as I go.

 

Having said all that, I give you The Things I’m Embracing & Enjoying About Being Single:

 

 

1. Spontaneity. I only have one son at home, but he has a very busy schedule and so other than about three dinners each week, I’m mostly on my own. This can be lonely or fun; I choose fun. I choose to go to happy hour with friends. I choose trips to the beach instead of being jealous of everyone else’s beach trip photos. I choose popcorn and red wine for dinner. I choose to watch A Few Good Men for the 700th time on a Saturday morning or study in bed until the wee hours. I choose no makeup on my day off. I choose to go out with friends after a wedding and not come home until such time as my son is sitting worried on the couch (no kidding – really happened – and I don’t choose that anymore.) I really do love this season of life where my free time is my own and I can steer it any direction I choose.

 

 

2. Self-investment. I am learning to spend time and money on things that bring me joy and/or security without guilt or apology. The extended warranty on my car. A new dress on a hard day. Healthy food. Good sheets. Vacations in which I plan all my favorite things with all my favorite people, even though it costs more than doing one thing in one place for a week. I work hard and have saved and planned even harder to create a life for Josiah and I that includes a few happy extras, and I am intentional about stopping to absorb them with gratitude.

 

 

3. Beauty. I’m not even sure how to articulate all I feel about this, but I am embracing the gift of beauty in the things around me like I never have before. After Steve died, I painted walls and changed furniture and it’s not at all the way Steve would have wanted it, but this house is now exactly me.  At night I go out on my deck lined with string lights and sit beneath the stars, absorbing the immense beauty of it all. I am constantly buying new candles for my desk because they change the way I feel about studying in the morning. Just beauty. All around. Waiting to be found and absorbed and enjoyed. It’s not that I couldn’t have done this while I was married, it’s just that I didn’t. Not like this.  So I’m going to tag this one as a side benefit of single life and no one can stop me.

 

 

4. Reinvention. I’ve mentioned this before, but I have loved Steve Stern since I was 18 years old. My life grew around his. My dreams formed to his, which is appropriate and good, but he’s gone now – so what happens next? I can either spend the rest of my life mourning the Bo that was intertwined with Steve, or I can find what this Bo looks like – this new me who has opinions (so, so many of them!) and desires and gifts and passion. It’s not that I’m a different person, I’m still me, but I’m me in a different way and different season than I have ever been before.  The people I’ve seen deal with grief the most successfully are those who choose an “all bets off” approach to their future. They quit the jobs they hate, pursue the education they’ve always wanted, take the vacation, buy the shoes, live, breathe, become. That’s what I want for this new Bo.

 

 

5. Um…okay, tricky one here: Male friendships.  Because the topic of dating and remarriage has come up so frequently since Steve died, I feel very watched in this regard. [Quick Optional Backstory: I went to a Christian college that was very strict (very, very!) in its handling of male/female relationships. Unless a man and woman knew their future was leading to marriage, friendship was not really encouraged. This meant that any glance toward a person of the opposite sex led to wild speculation and fast-moving rumors about the glance and the guy and your future. I’m not criticizing that, just explaining that this is my lens. End of back story.]  The thing is: I’m not 18 anymore and I’m not at all ready to date or remarry, and yet I still carried that same all-or-nothing view of male/female friendships. But somewhere in the course of this topsy-turvy year, I decided that was silly and that my life would benefit from having single male friends. So I worked on that and I don’t have a lot of  ’em, but I do have a few and they are important to me. They offer a perspective on single life and single parenting that enriches my own. They also even occasionally offer a way out of attending weddings alone, which is a gift to me even though it might be a little shocking to the watching world. Bottom line: I am learning to enjoy this season of life and the friendships that come from it without apologizing, justifying or explaining.  This has been a win and has added happiness to my heart.  (P.S.  My daughter told me that telling the world I am not apologizing for having male friends is brave, but not as brave as just doing it and not apologizing. Heh.  I think she has a fair point, but there is something in me that wanted to get this out for other widows who might be looking for permission to do the same thing.)

 

6. Courage. I’m far less afraid to make mistakes at this stage of life, and much less concerned about what people will think if I fail.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m older or single or have survived a tough fight, but I’m more okay with things being a little messy, a little in-progress than I’ve ever been before and I like it.

 

So, that’s part of my list.  It’s not everything, but that’s the gist of what I’m discovering as I begin to re-enter my life one year after death. This year has been – wow – amazing. Awful. Beautiful. Terrifying. Difficult. Astounding. Miraculous.  And I am ending it believing more strongly than ever in the God who makes all things new, and entirely certain that Steve would be proud of me. Sometimes I think I can hear his happy laughter when I make a brave decision to move forward.

 

I’ve heard from so many widows and widowers this week who are also walking out this journey. I have no universal advice except this: believe that you can live again and then take baby steps in that direction.  My list may not work for you for a million reasons.  Every journey is different.  But I don’t think we can go wrong if we always walk toward life.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

June 29, 2016 - 8:46 am

Lynn - This is all SO very familiar and I lived everyone. You are doing great. Don’t look back at people making judgements.

June 29, 2016 - 9:09 am

Dan McCoy - Thank you, I’ve have not read any of your blogs in the past. This one caught my eye. Very, very encouraging to me. Jesus really is my strength and he does for me what I can not do for myself.

June 29, 2016 - 2:02 pm

Kelley Garner - You eloquently share so much. Thanks. You bless many, including me, even though 16+years have passed for me.

June 29, 2016 - 4:21 pm

Janelle DeCelles - ALWAYS. Authentic. Brilliantly. Brave.

June 29, 2016 - 7:26 pm

Linda M - Once again, you’ve echoed my own thoughts and feelings on this journey.

June 30, 2016 - 9:20 am

Christine. McKinley - Bo, Thank you for putting into words my journey too. I have been asked to share about Trusting God in the Now at CLC in July. May I have your permission to quote some things off your lists?

June 30, 2016 - 10:42 am

bo - Christine – of course!

June 30, 2016 - 11:41 am

Tatiana - I don’t know you, but after reading your beautiful, real, raw, touching testimony about life after your spouse’s death, I can’t help but feel like you must be an amazing person to know! You’re strong and positive and inspiring. May your journey of healing continue to be a beacon of hope for those who meet you.

12 Things I Really, Really Miss About Being Married

 

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Day 346.  We have almost moved fully around the sun. We have weathered fall and the holidays and a wedding and his birthday and The Master’s and Father’s Day.  All that’s left of the ‘firsts’ are the Fourth of July which is a big one for reasons I may or may  not explain down the road and The British Open, which formed the backdrop for Steve’s death and I will always, always think of it that way.

 

So, nearly one year in, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grieved and grown through all of it. Over the next few weeks, I hope to share more with you about what I’ve discovered because I think it might be helpful for those coming behind or alongside me in the adventure (?) that is widowhood.  It also might be useful for those of you hoping to encourage someone experiencing the grief journey that is losing a spouse.  My mind works better around lists, so I give you:  The Twelve Things I Really Miss About Being Married.  (And, duh, there are more than twelve – but also, there are some good things in my single-life season, which I will share in a future post.)

 

  1.  Let’s start with one that won’t seem important, but I promise you it is:  I hate fastening my own necklace.  Steve used to do that for me and it was sweet and intimate and romantic and made me feel really cared for and loved.  Again, I know it’s weird, but it’s exactly these sorts of things that create the rocky terrain of navigating loss. It’s not usually the birthdays and holidays, it’s that moment alone in my bedroom when I go to fasten my necklace that says “brave” on it and wonder: am I really? It’s been a tough one.
  2. I miss having someone to call on my way home from work.  Or after a tough meeting.  Or when I’m waiting in line at Starbucks and don’t want to wait alone.
  3. I miss having someone else drive.  On the rare occasions Josiah and I travel in the same car, he always drives and I really like that.  But it’s different and I think most widows would agree.
  4. I miss having someone tell me if this outfit makes me look fat.  Mostly, I miss Steve’s answer because it was so amazing that sometimes I asked him just so I could hear him say it.  (Yeah, I’m not going to tell you what it was.)
  5. Vacations. I know I can still take them and I can take people with me who love me.  But it’s not the same.  My husband made me feel comfortable and safe.  He made each place home just by being there.
  6. The very empty bed thing.  I actually sort of love having all the closet space, but I do not enjoy sleeping alone. Even though Steve was in a hospital bed during the last two years of his illness, he was still there with me and I didn’t feel as alone.
  7. Decisions.  I miss having someone to collaborate with on decisions, big and small.  What car to buy. What to give our kids for Christmas. Where to go for breakfast on our day off.  Should I say yes or no to a speaking gig that falls on one of the kid’s birthdays.  There’s not a single one of these decisions that I am incapable of making, but it was so lovely to have someone else weighing in and even carrying some of them entirely. I get tired of having to figure everything out on my own.
  8. Weddings.  Ugh.  Seriously. Weddings are a surprising tough spot for me. I’ve tried to think through all the reasons and some are obvious, but some are more subtle and sneaky.  I don’t really want to explain it all, except to say: I am an introvert (no, really) and while I actually do enjoy going to them, I do not enjoy going to them alone.   Also, it’s worth noting here, for the sake of those who want to say the right thing to widows:  resist the urge to offer easy answers.  Often, when I share a painful point like this – especially on Facebook where it’s easy to give fast input – people will respond with one-sentence solutions, like, “That’s why you have a son!  Make him go the wedding!”  Please understand two things:  1) While having Joe go with me to an event is a blessing, it is not the same.  2) Josiah is also navigating the waters of grief and fatherlessness.  There is a limit to how much of my load I want him to carry.  If I know he will also enjoy the event, I will ask him to go and he will say yes because he’s fantastic like that.  But if the event would not be fun for him, then I’m essentially asking him to pick up the weight of my loneliness and I’m not going to do that.  I determined early on that I would not place the “man of the house” title on the shoulders of a 16-year-old and I am sticking to that commitment even if it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world.
  9. Kids.  I don’t miss my  kids -they’re right here – I just miss having someone who loves them in the same way I love them. I miss having someone who knows their history and their weaknesses and that one thing they did in fourth grade that made us laugh til we cried.  I miss having someone to tell me what to do when I don’t know what to do as a mom or would be willing to pray through the night until we found the answer. In fact, the thing I just said about Josiah and not wanting to accidentally make him the man of the house?  Sometimes the lines are unclear and I’m not sure how much is too much to expect of him and I go to ask Steve and he isn’t there and, yeah…this one is just really hard.
  10. Mayonnaise jars.  Though I’ve yet to run into one I couldn’t break into, sometimes it’s quite lovely to be able to feel like the weak, helpless female.  Sometimes I really miss being rescued, even though I know I can usually save myself.  I mean, apologies to feminists everywhere – but also:  it’s true. I think sometimes men want to be rescued, too, and that’s just fine.
  11. I miss the lovely language Steve and I shared. We understood facial expressions (especially in the last few years as his communication was forced to become increasingly non-verbal) and had developed a certain lexicon  over thirty years of life, love and battle together.  Maybe a better way to say this is: I miss feeling understood by a spouse, and so I gravitate toward friendships that offer easy understanding and acceptance and away from those that feel laborious.  Maybe someday I’ll be ready to invest in relationships where I have to do the work of explaining myself, my history and my idiosyncrasies, but right now I don’t have the energy.
  12. I miss being part of a team.  I really liked that and I think I was pretty good at it.  I also think I’m doing well at going solo, but sometimes I miss having someone who is always on my side, no matter what. And I miss him.

 

Those are my honest thoughts and I know they might not seem very encouraging, especially if you are also facing an uncertain future.  But I promise I’ll share the good stuff I’m learning, too (and there’s a lot of it!) – maybe even tomorrow!

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

June 28, 2016 - 12:16 pm

Sharon Brorson - Bo, I read your blog today and am reminded by your honest words and open heart how much I am reminded to Praise God for my husband and my life right now.
I cry every time I read your blog but am so encouraged by your words you put on the page. The words are eloquent and honest and healing. If we were all “brave” like you we would open our personal journals to the world and share our hearts and hurts and life.
You are loved and appreciated and my husband said you are a very intelligent lady. We it love when you speak at church and I am proud of you for “putting one foot in front of the other” even though some days you might want to stay home and water your garden. God Bless you today and always. Thank you Bo!

June 28, 2016 - 1:09 pm

Linda M. - Once again, THANK YOU for so very eloquently voicing some of my own thoughts and feelings as I navigate a similar journey.
I especially love #12–my late husband Ed and I were a great team. I miss him and I miss our “team.”

June 28, 2016 - 1:23 pm

Jane Lellman - Perfectly said. Thank you Bo!

June 28, 2016 - 1:28 pm

Whitney - A tad bit unrelated, but I think you’ll appreciate it: how weird is it seeing “idiosyncrasies” spelled out?!

June 28, 2016 - 1:34 pm

Susan - Thanks Bo for putting into words just what a marriage should be and exactly what I would miss too (except the necklace thing….Jerry is all thumbs so not much help..Ha!) It’s the intimacy that comes with years of staying together and doing life. No one knows those parts of you like Steve did. I remember you telling me one time that a wife doesn’t realize the power she has to absolutely destroy or build up her husband with her words….because she knows the real ‘him’. No one knows those things like your spouse does…..and that’s missing now. I also remember hearing my daughter say when she was planning her wedding that she would start to get really nervous about living with someone and then she would remind herself “but it’s just Solo and that will be easy”! You are so good at understanding your thoughts and feelings and you make me really, really appreciate what I have in my marriage and what a great husband my brother was!

June 28, 2016 - 2:45 pm

Samantha H - This. This is is good, Bo.

“Weddings. Ugh. Seriously. Weddings are a surprising tough spot for me. I’ve tried to think through all the reasons and some are obvious, but some are more subtle and sneaky. I don’t really want to explain it all, except to say: I am an introvert (no, really) and while I actually do enjoy going to them, I do not enjoy going to them alone. Also, it’s worth noting here, for the sake of those who want to say the right thing to widows: resist the urge to offer easy answers. Often, when I share a painful point like this – especially on Facebook where it’s easy to give fast input – people will respond with one-sentence solutions, like, “That’s why you have a son! Make him go the wedding!” Please understand two things: 1) While having Joe go with me to an event is a blessing, it is not the same. 2) Josiah is also navigating the waters of grief and fatherlessness. There is a limit to how much of my load I want him to carry. If I know he will also enjoy the event, I will ask him to go and he will say yes because he’s fantastic like that. But if the event would not be fun for him, then I’m essentially asking him to pick up the weight of my loneliness and I’m not going to do that. I determined early on that I would not place the “man of the house” title on the shoulders of a 16-year-old and I am sticking to that commitment even if it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world.”

June 28, 2016 - 3:05 pm

Holly - Wow! So hard and so honest. Thank you for sharing. There are parts of many of these that in my part time wife life I can say I feel and every 6 weeks I walk it again. Yet so very different because he comes home. Thank you for speaking truth. ❤️

June 28, 2016 - 3:39 pm

djcurry - Bo – I’ve been reading your posts for the past year and a half. I read them at work, which is usually a mistake because I end up with tears pouring down my face and then I have to try and explain to people walking by my office. Your words have helped me to be a better friend to those who are grieving – what to say and what not to say, when to be silent and just listen instead of offer platitudes lifted right off the pages of a Hallmark card. Your raw honesty is so refreshing. Thank you. You are an amazing woman.

June 28, 2016 - 5:06 pm

Hope - You hit a home run!!! My list would be a little different but the heart cry is the same. The holes left in the fabric of my life surprise me where they pop up so unexpectedly. I know I am loved, I know I am still vitally important to my family and my friends but I miss being THE person in someone’s life with all that came with it.
Hugs!

June 28, 2016 - 11:05 pm

Jewl - Dear Bo,
Wow. Almost a year. I know Steve would be so stinkin’ proud of you, saying he knew you could do it!! And, here you are: Still standing, with that necklace called BRAVE on and all!
You write in such a way that people “get” you. It’s ok during this time to save your energy for people that already know the ins and outs of your life and your people. There will be a time when you’ll choose to be more brave in building new friendships too, but it always takes more energy for an introvert.
I jumped onto your prayer team 2 years ago. I’ve never gotten an e-mail notice of a new post by you, but it’s uncanny how many times I “just know” when to check if you’ve written. Like tonight.
I affirm your desire to protect J from feeling like he needs to step into Steve’s shoes. I was just 15 when my mom died, leaving just my dad and myself in a big parsonage. I did do numerous chores because he couldn’t cook, and the house was too much for 1 person to clean, but I don’t think it damaged me any. In fact, I think it grew me. You and J get to lean on each other in ways that makes you both grow too. And he really is the only man in the house–I’m sure he’s doing a great job! (Tell him I only knew how to make 3 meals!) But I drew the line in going to what felt like a couples church event. That was too weird in an already strained situation. Good call, Bo!
I hate for you to constantly face the empty bed, … making decisions alone, … having to make a vacation place “home’ without him. I pray that you get to sense the husband care and love of God in new and sweet ways, even in the middle of loss.

June 29, 2016 - 1:38 pm

Corina Burgess - My oh my…. Perfectly said on every point….

Finding Me

 

 

10014556_684554048274447_771845427_nIt was probably around seventh grade that I first remember teachers pounding the “Be Yourself” drum. Hard.  I remember thinking that it was weird to make Be Yourself number one on the junior high agenda when numbers 2 through 12 had to do with where to sit, where to eat, what to say, how to act and how to dress.  Now, at the advanced age of 50, I find the idea of self-actualization is still loaded with conflicting signals and internal confusion which has grown even more complex since my husband died.

 

In spite of how the print version of Bo Stern may read,  I am often a study in internal contradictions.  My desire to grow old gracefully is often at war with my determination to stop the effects of time. My need for independence fights with my longing for companionship. My certainty of purpose and calling gets caught in a choke hold of insecurity and inadequacy. My introverted longings for privacy clash with my desire for public acceptance and approval.  My seriously opinionated personality wrestles with my desire to keep the peace, stay in my corner, be liked.

 

Behind each one of these statements are stories of moments when I was too small, too proud, too insecure, too hesitant, too terrified to be true to my realest self. In fact, it’s sometimes been difficult to identify my realest self as she was always so intertwined with the person and personality of Steve Stern. Being his was the one immutable fact of my identity for 30 years, and I’m so thankful for that and for his influence on my life.  But five years of illness began the untangling process and then widowhood, which sometimes seems like a guillotine, chopping off all I remember about myself in one fell swoop, though in fact, it was several gradual swoops.

 

So ten months later, I am still unmasking and unmaking. Not that anything was inherently bad in who I was, and not that anything is inherently better now – but the best I can be is me.  For instance, I have always felt an obligation to you, dear readers, to be as hopeful and positive as possible. I like being that – it feels good to me to think that way. But I’m beginning to recognize the signs when the desire to be hopeful slips into pretending things are better than they are. I’m seeing that my revulsion to being viewed as a tragedy sometimes make me push, push, push my best self forward, hiding the scared, frustrated seventh grader away in the locker room until she can get her crap together.

 

I guess what it boils down to is a cold-water-in-the-face awareness that I worry too much about what people think of me, my family and our story.  And while I will always feel protective of my kids, I have also grown protective of my image and that, I’m discovering, keeps me paralyzed and unhealthily self-focused. But the times, they are a changin’.  I feel it. I hear the wind blowing in the tree tops, calling me out to a bigger, broader, braver life.  I feel my heart moving toward the adventure of authenticity in a whole new way. And it’s admittedly scary, because I’m not sure who will or won’t like the real me when she comes out of hiding, but even that feels a little awesome, you know? Finally being willing to relinquish whatever control I thought I had over other people’s opinions is like taking this huge chore off my to-do list.

 

The past few years?  Wow. They’ve been hellish. But I’m getting to know the girl emerging from the wreckage.  And I think I like her.

 

And I’m not editing this.  Because it’s how I really feel.

 

And I love you.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

May 16, 2016 - 11:49 am

kathy - LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, THIS.

May 16, 2016 - 2:07 pm

Wanda M Stewart - Bo-

Good for you!

May 16, 2016 - 2:44 pm

Keith - This is beautiful, and powerful, and brave, and life-giving. Thank you for opening your heart, to God and to us. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.-John 8:36 Hugs from our family!

May 16, 2016 - 2:47 pm

Victoria - Welcome to the ‘real’ world of authenticity, transparency and brokenness where God’s love and grace leaks out to those around us through the cracks in our less than perfect lives.

May 16, 2016 - 3:00 pm

Pam - I very love this.

May 16, 2016 - 4:56 pm

Heidi Rowles Friesen - I know I’m only 28, and that my husband is still uniquely tied to my identity, but I, too, share in your sense of joy in discovering who I am beneath the muck. This season I am in has humbled me unexpectedly and opened my eyes to some ugly religious ways through which I’ve portrayed God, and some weird, skewed lenses through which I’ve seen myself. I’m so thankful for the hard seasons because — just like you described — they make you get a tiny little spring in your step that something awesome is sneaking around the corner and it’s only a few moments, hours, days until I find a new sense of self. Thank you for sharing. You’re words are enlightening and oh-so-real.

May 17, 2016 - 7:34 am

Jody - Oh my.Becoming who we are is no small task; it takes a lifetime. Sometimes writing our honesty sets other people free as well…I think you’re on to something. Thank you for pulling back the curtain of that coach in the train, welcoming us along for the ride.

May 17, 2016 - 12:19 pm

Jandra Sue - If we’re honest, aren’t we all just a ball of contradictions…???
I relate to your description often.

Only the people I trust most get to read my unedited writing, so you are braver than I!

Bring it on Bo!
I am eager to read the unediting writing from the new you”

May 19, 2016 - 11:10 am

Kate - Thank you for being real. Your transparency gives me courage to be transparent and real too. Perhaps this is one of the many ways God is strong in our weaknesses. He causes it to foster connection.

May 19, 2016 - 1:57 pm

Vicki - Thanks so much for writing this! You’ve put into words so much that I’m feeling about my future…even though I haven’t lost my husband yet. He’s had ALS for 2 – 3 years and the future is such a big unknown…especially the part about independence vs. companionship. I love your blogs and hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts with us for as long as your true self deems that possible!

May 21, 2016 - 4:03 pm

Kimberlie - 🙂 Love this, it is ever so true! 🙂

May 26, 2016 - 8:54 pm

Denise - Beautiful & thank you from the bottom of my heart!

June 5, 2016 - 7:36 am

Peggy - Nice to meet you, Bo.. A friend just introduced me to your page. I am thankful that she did. You are new on this journey of grief. I am over 3 years into it. I lost my dear husband very suddenly to a heart attack. He was only 56. He was my covering and identity since I was a mere child. We married when I was only 15. We had 11 children and were married 38 yrs. Your words touch me to the core, as this journey of finding my new single identity has been a roller coaster of a ride! My story is a roller coaster.. I’ve come to know a stronger, braver, new person that I hadn’t even known existed.. Yes, I’m a different person. My kids have had an adjustment in this.. but, this is what grief does. I am beginning to like my new self also. I also look forward to the next chapters.. you can like me or not! With the Lord at the helm, He will continue to shape and fill the sails of this vessel. The sails may have their ragged edges, but they they are billowing in the wind again..to wherever the way leads home. .. happy ventures, Bo!

June 5, 2016 - 8:20 am

Lisa - Bo thank you for this. What blessing you have been to me. My husband Dave was diagnosed with ALS in February 2014 after a 35 year career with LAPD. He went to heaven December 9 2015. Still unreal to me that he had ALS and that he is gone and living kingdom life. At the beginning of six months I am not the best version of myself, but your sentiments and your soul bearing have encouraged my 28 year old daughter and I to remember we are daughters of a King and loved and cared for. We are not alone. In SoCal, we are part of a faith community that supports us along with close family and family friends. But the understanding of this disease and this suffering as expressed by you as been a gift.

June 6, 2016 - 10:06 am

Carla - Bo, you speak to my heart, always! Love this!

June 10, 2016 - 11:25 am

Carol Weiler - Dearest Bo, God introduced me to you, brought you to me while I was laying facedown on the battlefield , not wanting to get up. My husband has ALS and was diagnosed in 2009 and I can so identify with everything I have read by you. I’m going to each day continue to read your wise words, your honest words, your I’m only human words. I can’t catch up all at once because I only have so much physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy and I’m terrified of depleting it all, but I want you to know you have picked me up and given me some strength to carry on the battle. Thankyou for sharing your story, Steves story, and Thankyou God for bringing me an angel when I needed it most!

Closure: What it is And What it Isn’t

 

unnamed-7Confession: I visited Steve’s grave last week for the first time. I don’t know why I put off going, but I know I did. It wasn’t an accident or an oversight or, “Wow, look how time has gotten away from me.”  It was intentional avoidance of what I thought would be painful, though I wasn’t sure why.  I know that’s not the real him.  I know it’s just a little plot of land that marks his earthly life while his eternal life is vibrantly strong and whole.  But still I waited.

 

I went on his birthday.  We had put off ordering a head stone as we debated what we wanted to write on it – turns out, it’s a lot of pressure to pick the words that will literally be written in stone to mark someone’s life for the rest of all time.  I was under the impression the cemetery would put a temporary marker at the site, so we hadn’t rushed our decision, but I was wrong about that.  My first feeling upon arrival was disappointment and guilt that my husband was in an unmarked grave, with weeds growing around it.  I don’t love flowers – especially silk and/or dead flowers – so we brought golf tees with little tags tied around them to put by the grave.  It seemed like a perfect idea at home, but they ended up looking tiny and inadequate.  It was a disappointing and difficult experience.  And it didn’t dawn on me right away, but in the days that followed, as I sifted through some of the emotional fallout, I think I figured out what was so hard and it’s this:

 

 

Visiting Steve’s grave doesn’t reconnect me to the real him, but to the old me; the Wife part of me.

 

 

That grave is my responsibility.  It is, in fact, my only remaining responsibility from my 30-year run as Steve Stern’s wife.

 

The day before the visit, I shared some concerns with a friend of mine who then wished me “closure.”  I’m not actually sure closure is possible or necessary in regard to the sorrow of losing Steve.  That seems like it will be a lifelong journey with different levels of angst or pain along the way.  However, my friend was right. After I ordered the headstone, I felt it.  Weighty.  Crushing. Closure.  The wrapping up of my Wife Life.  These past few days have been like emptying out the house that had contained my hardest, happiest work and handing the keys back to Jesus.  And it has been really hard.

 

I know it might be tempting at this point to jump in here and tell me I’m still a wife and I’ll always be Steve’s wife and I still have all my memories and other things that I know are meant to comfort, but please resist.  This is a road I need to walk and words like that tend to minimize what’s been lost and aren’t actually helpful. I loved being Steve Stern’s wife.  I loved cooking for him.  I loved hearing his theories on life and golf and friends.  I loved encouraging him when things got rough.  I loved taking long walks on summer nights. I loved being someone’s very best friend. I loved knowing there was a good chance that, at any given moment, he was thinking about me.  I loved knowing that if I disappeared, Steve Stern would search for me til his very last breath.  I loved sharing Saturday mornings with him.  I loved going to Costco and weddings with him.  I loved sitting with him in church.  I loved the way he let me read in bed instead of making me go to another room. I loved opening a bottle of wine before we paid bills together. I loved sharing a home and children and a whole, big, wonderful, difficult life with him.  These are the things that made a we out of Steve and me and these things cannot be replaced.

 

Closure. This season is over so much sooner than I wanted it to be.  And, yes, the memories remain and I’m grateful for them.  But the memories don’t make me feel like a wife any more than photos of vacation make me feel like I’m still in Mexico. Grief, I’m convinced, has no closure.  But seasons do.  Seasons begin and seasons end.  I thought closure would look like comforting resolution, but for me it’s been a sort of painful, gasping resolution.  Both work, I suppose.

 

What happens next?  I guess the same thing that happens when you hand the keys of a house over to a new owner.  You move into the next one.  And even if the next one is a grass hut with a mud floor, you’re still going to hang a few pictures on the walls and find a nice throw rug, you know? I might not get to choose the house, but I think I do get to choose what I make of the place.  I want to make this new, single life a good place to call home.  I am, in fact, quite determined to do exactly that.

 

I argued with myself (as I often do) about publishing this one. It feels a little raw to share openly.  In the end, I decided that I wanted to put it out there for those of you navigating the shadowlands or the pain of divorce, but also for those of you who are married. I harbor the hope that you might take the chance today to love your sweetheart a little deeper, give grace a little longer and work a little harder to care for the gift you’ve been given.  Maybe take a walk or pay some bills together or go on a fancy date to Costco just because you can. That’s my hope, because I love you and I love love.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

P.S.  One note:  I understand that I’m still in process here and that where I land today may not be where I land tomorrow.  My feelings will change, but I think there’s beauty in chronicling the way things unfold in real time.  I also certainly know that my journey is not universal.  The details will be different for everyone; I can only write about mine.  Hopefully they will be helpful for some.

 

April 25, 2016 - 7:58 am

Karen - So glad you did.Sold glenn’s house and call it rounding a corner. Some days there is still no oxygen in the air to breathe, especially when the bell rings for the next round. Your struggle makes me feel normal. Thank for living in a glass bowl. #notawifeonlyasister

April 25, 2016 - 8:03 am

Hugh Caldwell - Once again, it feels like you’ve been seeing into, and writing about my life experiences of last year. Amazing, Pastor.

Thank you.

April 25, 2016 - 8:03 am

Rhonda - I don’t know if this makes any sense but the way you write always inspires me to do a better job of living life…even in the most mundane details of each day. Thank you for sharing even the rough raw places and for finding the courage to not “just survive”.

April 25, 2016 - 8:05 am

Shirlee Bolliger - Oh Bo,…you are amazing and what a call God has on your life. You are such an example of how much God loves us. Thru all of this you’ve been encouraging and ministering to women everywhere. Every post is a testimony to the greatness of God.
Lord bless Bo in the next amazing season.
He’s got you.❤️

April 25, 2016 - 8:11 am

Jennifer Baker - Very beautifully written. Thank u for being u and
reminding me of my blessing….my husband

April 25, 2016 - 8:36 am

Sherri - It most certainly is beautiful, Bo. I love you.

April 25, 2016 - 9:38 am

Kate Pentz - I waited longer than many of my friends to be a wife, and the reasons you listed are my favorite reasons to be married to my groom. Thank you for sharing and encouraging us to life fuller lives. Your grieving puts words to my grieving as well and its so hard to do that. Thank you so much for publishing raw things.

April 25, 2016 - 10:04 am

Holly Migas - Not a perfect ending to the way you thought things would go but it is perfect words for where you are right now in this moment. It allows me to see and understand in a deeper way! Love to you my friend!

April 25, 2016 - 10:35 am

Angela - ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️Beautiful, real and inspiring. It warms my heart to know I’m not alone on this journey of grief.

April 25, 2016 - 10:51 am

Lori - definitely opening a bottle of wine next time he pays the bills (that will be my contribution), and loving him a little and a lot deeper. Thanks for sharing the resounding rawness of your journey.

April 25, 2016 - 12:53 pm

Nat Gitnes - My husband was/is Jewish, so must wait a year before installing a grave marker, and in all things Jewish, it has to be a ceremony. It was horribly painful because his ex-wife decided to come and one-up anything I said. I have not had the courage to return to his grave or my parents graves. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t go….maybe one day I will. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

April 25, 2016 - 1:57 pm

Marci - Raw? Yes. Beautiful too. Thank you.

April 25, 2016 - 5:55 pm

Hope - I was lent and read your book Beautiful Battlefields last winter. Six months later my husband’s chronic health concern spiraled out of control. He was flown to a major surgical center and for 4 weeks I lived in limbo hoping he would make it. When he died and I returned home the friend who had lent me your book told me your husband had also died and you were blogging about your journey.

When one of your posts appears in inbox I SO look forward to reading it. Often I share your experiences and perspectives but even if I don’t I appreciate having insight into your journey.

We chose together to have our ashes cremated and he chose where his are to be interred. His family flipped out. But standing at his hospital bed when they took him off life support I heard the words of the angel to the women in the garden: “Why do you look for the living among the dead, He is not here: He is risen’
I know…hugely out of context…but as I looked at the bloated, mutilated shell of the man I loved, I felt the absence of his spirit and I knew he was in the presence of the Lord. As a family we are planning to disperse his ashes as he wished this spring. I carry him in my heart and will never forget him even without a tombstone.

I come from a culture that had a lot of rituals around cemetaries and grave care. But at the moment of his passing I knew I didn’t need this.

April 25, 2016 - 6:40 pm

Helen - Bo, thank you for being real and raw. It gives us a glimpse of what to pray about for you and for others.
It also reminds me that we each see from a different vantage point. When I first saw the photo, my thought was “what an brilliant idea”. Because I could only see the close-up but you could see the panoramic view. But I remain grateful that God watches over you from both a close-up and panoramic perspective. Hugging you from Portland xoxo

April 25, 2016 - 8:49 pm

Edie - Once again I’m moved to tears. Thank you for being real and honest, it is so rare. I only visited my parent’s graves once. It was just too hard, maybe I’m a wimp. But I thought, “why do I torture myself with this?” They are not there. They are with us in our memories. I don’t fault anyone else for going, I think they are braver than I am. I’m so glad you can share your process so openly with us. Thank you. Love you.

April 29, 2016 - 7:59 am

Paula - It’s had to be vulnerable in a blog with so many unknown people reading it…but you know what, so many bloggers are NOT truthful in their writings…so your rawness is deeply powerful to so many others who are hurting. In reality, those who are reading your heart are not really strangers at all…just friends you’ve never met. X

On Navigating Heartache: Is it Ever Time to See a Counselor?

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I had this light-bulb moment the other day as I was thinking through the advice I give to hurting people who contact me.  Actually, I was thinking through the advice I don’t give.  At least, not typically.  I rarely say: you should see a counselor.  And I rarely refer to it in my blog posts.

 

This is a pretty significant omission and the reason for it might surprise you.  I am familiar, and have a lot of experience with, the school of Christian thought that says counseling is bad.  All you need is Jesus and your B-I-B-L-E (you stand alone on that thing, for goodness’ sake!)  I am not of that school of thought; not by a long shot.  The primary reason I rarely mention seeing a counselor is because I pretty much assume that someone going through deep levels of grief has already heard that advice.  I take it for granted, I think, and that’s dumb of me.  The secondary reason I don’t mention it, is because I don’t want to offend an already-overwhelmed person by implying that they may need professional help – this is also dumb of me.  On some level, we probably all need a little professional help.  I know I do.

 

l started seeing a counselor just before my husband was diagnosed with ALS.  Shelley helped me process my thoughts and deal with the overwhelming sorrow and anxiety in healthy ways.  When I felt like I was drowning, she helped me learn to breathe underwater.  I don’t see her regularly now, but I do when I run into a roadblock in my thinking. That happened last week.  I hit an issue I could not resolve on my own.  I was getting some conflicting advice from people who love me and I knew it was time to bring in the big guns.  I sat on her couch yesterday and spilled a million jumbled thoughts.  She helped me pick them up, one-by-one, really look at them and decide which could stay and which should go.  She helped me adjust my self-talk.  And, more than anything, she reassured me that – nine months in – I’m doing okay.  I left her office feeling sort of wrung out and exhausted from the process, but I also felt ordered, clear and hopeful about the future.  You know what I didn’t feel?  Ashamed.  I am not embarrassed that I can’t figure everything out on my own.   In fact, I am proud of myself for being willing to ask for help when I need it and I think I’ve avoided a lot of time in emotional ditches because I know when to call the tow truck (that’s a weird analogy, but I’m sticking with it.)

 

As a pastor, people come to me for counseling often.  They tell me their issue and I listen and offer biblical perspective.  But if the thing they are facing is not primarily spiritual, then I often refer them to a counselor.  I don’t have the training to deal with emotional or mental crises and I also don’t have the time that is required to give it the attention it deserves.  I’m very particular about who I refer them to because – just like dentists, doctors and hair stylists – there are those I would trust and those I would not.   And just like those other professions, sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right one, but the search is worth it for those who are truly committed to building healthy, happy lives.

 

I don’t know why it’s taken so long to address this on my blog, let’s blame widow-brain, shall we?  The conclusion of the matter is this: If you are in a season of deep heartache – for any reason – or if you just need help getting your thoughts to come together and work for you rather than against you, please would you consider making one appointment with someone who can help?  The days of the counseling stigma are over, or at least they sure should be, so go ahead and ask your friends for references.  Try someone out.  Give it a chance.  It just might be the very thing that helps you escape (or avoid!) the ditch.

 

Comments are open – feel free to leave questions you might have and I will answer them if I can.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

PS:  Hospice offers free grief counseling for their clients and families as do many life insurance companies.  If you feel you can’t afford counseling, there are resources out there for those who are willing to do a little digging.

 

 

 

April 20, 2016 - 12:32 pm

Kathy - Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.
For sharing your heart in your journey.
Your courage to speak openly about
grief.
sorrow.
loss.
has blessed and encouraged me more than I can express.

April 20, 2016 - 6:22 pm

jacquelyn strayer - Would you mind giving out the name of the person you see?….Or someone else that you could recommend? … Particularly grief counseling?

April 20, 2016 - 6:59 pm

Marci Floski - Bo, thank you for this! I think this message is much needed, especially among Christians.
I am not ashamed to say that, fairly early in life, I realized that what was being dished out was more than I could navigate alone. So I sought help and I’ve never regretted it. It hurts me to remember the numerous times when I have shared this among believers, I have come away feeling shamed, like I am somehow less-than; not good enough, lacking in faith, not praying enough or in the right way. I soon learned to be very careful who I said anything to about my journey in therapy. Now, a bit further down the road, I am intentionally less careful and more forthcoming. I believe, someone may hear my story and, because of it, feel they have permission to seek help. I also live with the sorrow that my sister, who suffered greatly in life and now lives with dementia, never gave herself the permission to seek help. She bought the LIE that to ask for help is weakness, rather than, as you so correctly pointed out, strength.

Peace to you Bo,
Marci

April 20, 2016 - 7:57 pm

Lori - I remember coming to see you for the first time. You said some unexpected things that set me free from helping someone that was bringing harm to our family. When I think back on our story as a family, your brief counsel was a turning point and your words of encouragement often replay. You are the one blogger I always read, and never regret the time. I still learn so much from you, friend.Thank you.

April 21, 2016 - 10:21 pm

Julie Kennedy - It has been a year since my Steve was diagnosed with ALS and your honest, often raw, writings have been of great comfort to me. My family spent a good portion of last week watching this dear man fight for his life after suffering a pulmonary embolism. He is home now and we feel so blessed and grateful. We were buoyed by the many prayers of friends and family. I more clearly understand the title of your book, Beautiful Battlefields. We feel like our circle of love and prayer has only grown out of this terrifying experience. Thank you for your latest post. Seeking out help from others is not a sign of weakness but a prayer in itself. Wishing you peace.

April 21, 2016 - 11:55 pm

Victoria - Since our teenage daughter died two years ago, my husband and I have separately attended counselling and have found this enormously helpful. I have learned that a good counsellor, irrespective of their own personal beliefs, is there to support, not to advise and will always affirm a client’s core values.