I met Steve Stern when I was 16 years old. We fell in love when I was 18 and were married one year later. Knowing him, loving him, making a life with him – it’s most of what I know in this world. When I lost him a few months ago, I felt a little like I and all my history had been erased – it was as if I couldn’t see my own face in the mirror anymore. The first month was filled with spinning, spinning, trying to find solid footing. It was so easy to focus on what’s been lost, and very hard work to fully appreciate what remains.
About six weeks in, I sat down and had a good heart-to-heart with myself. I made the decision to stop looking back and figure out who I am now. I wanted to get to know this Bo. Single Bo (which still sounds super weird to me.) Steve will always be such an enormous part of my life because that’s what truly great people do to you. They weave their way into your thoughts and opinions and hopes and dreams, and when they’re gone holes happen. Gaping holes. Scary holes. I’ve watched some sorrow-sojourners fill those holes up with someone or something else so they’ll stop hurting. No judgement on this method, I’ve seen it work for some, but it’s just not for me. I don’t want quick fills. And I don’t want to form this new season of my life around another person. Quite transparently, that means I don’t want to look a certain way or cook a certain way or fold my laundry a certain way because of someone else. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But I’ve been around long enough to know that in the “not yet” and the “maybe not ever”, unknown possibilities are often incubating inside the sovereignty of God. I’m more than content coexisting with that mystery, and in being on a need-to-know basis with Him.
In related news, a few friends have asked about my wedding ring, which I recently moved to my right hand (baby steps) and will eventually put on a chain. I didn’t move it because I’m ready to move onto another person, but because it felt like an important step in the next phase of the journey (though again, lots of people do it differently and that’s perfectly great!) I’m saying yes to this season of life, however scary and crazy and uncomfortable it may feel. I am in no condition to date, so refrain from sending me suggestions. Just know that I am alive and well and trying to lean into the adventure. I can’t change that loss and sorrow are a part of my story, but I can choose to write the narrative around it to include discovery, development and joy in the me that I am now and the me that I will (hopefully!) become.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I know this is intensely personal and perhaps even really awkward to read. If I’m honest, it was pretty awkward to write. But this is my story and I’ve come to believe my story is good. And also? I’m grateful for you.
It’s a grey, snowy Monday here in our little mountain town. We’ve had a lot of grey this year, which isn’t at all typical. Our city’s weather resume proudly lists “300 days of sunshine per year”, and I can feel the population collectively scanning the sky for signs of Merry & Bright.
I’m not doing much sky-gazing this week. I’m keeping my head down and my shoulder to the wheel because I’m busy, y’all! It’s wedding week. Plus also it’s finish-the-basement-remodel-week. Plus also Tori-moves-down-to-the-new-basement-apartment week, which means Bo-has-so-many-closets-to-clean-out-down-in-that-thar-basement week is also upon us. Two big things that are very important to each of my wonderful daughters have converged at the same fixed point on the calendar. A point on the calendar, by the way, that on it’s own carries such weighty reminders of Steve’s absence. I often find myself wanting to text him with wedding updates or remodel issues and it takes a minute for reality to splash up in my face and remind me he’s really, truly not here.
What I’m learning through this is that for any given situation, there are multiple vantage points, multiple realities, and each one is valid. Weddings are a lot of work and money and stress. So are remodels. So is moving. So are the holidays. Each would be so much easier to do with my beloved here. Grief is hard to carry during already-emotional life events. These are just really real and there’s no point in arguing with them. However, I’m finding that the whole key to whether a day is grim or glorious is in my willingness to find alternative vantage points which allow me to see the equally valid, positive realities.
- I have a home we love, with plenty of room for the people who share my life and my heartache. All this remodeling business means I can share my home, but have my own space which is just about ideal in every way.
- Doing all this during the last week of the year means we will all start the New Year with fresh new spaces – and one of us will even start it with a fresh, new name! I adore new beginnings.
- The people I love most are about to converge upon my home to celebrate with us. For five years, I have wondered how I will survive my first New Year’s without Steve – now, I know for sure I won’t have to do it alone.
- Biggest of all: my sweet daughter is about to marry the man of her dreams. He is the man Steve and I have prayed for since before she was born. Together, they will climb mountains and build dreams and GIVE ME MORE GRANDBABIES! (No pressure, Tess!) Truly, this is a remarkable gift and it is worth the long to-do lists and the late-night planning sessions and 17 trips to Goodwill to find “just one more glass vase candleholder thingy” (I’ve collected well over 100 over the past 12 weeks.)
Multiple realities this week. Some of them hard, but many of them holy and so, so beautiful. I get to choose the way I see these things and I know that no one would argue if I wanted to cry big, drippy tears of self-pity for a minute or a month. But, I can’t. I won’t. I don’t have time! This week of wonder is too precious, too perfect, too important to sacrifice on the altar of a life-is-against-me mindset. I may (read: definitely will) cry tears of joy and I may cry tears of wishing Steve could see all of this, but I refuse to view this week as bad or unfair or anything but a gift. This is my solemn vow. Yes to the New Year. Yes to weddings. Yes to new life.
Grief is heavy today. It’s awkward and cumbersome and frustrating and surprising. Weird that it’s surprising, right? But it is, because so far the holiday season has been pretty much lovely. It’s been fun to decorate and plan and shop and not worry about how Steve is or where we’re at in the Shadowland. It hasn’t been overly-emotional or difficult and so maybe I thought I had moved into a new phase or something. Not “through it” or “over it”, because I’m not yet convinced those phases exist, but maybe I thought I had moved into the “handling it” phase, like I had Olivia Pope’d my grief – all efficient and decisive and in control. Heh.
This side-road of sadness snuck up on me because last week was awesome. And Sunday was great. It was full of family and really fun. But Sunday night, I felt the clouds roll in and I think I’ve identified the trigger point and I fear it’s going to sound crazy when I tell you what it was, but I’m telling you anyway because then you can tell me I am, in fact, not crazy. So, I started on the gift-wrapping and it was going fine, until it came time to sign the tag. To Josiah. From…my pen hung in the air for a long time until I found the courage to write it. Love, Mom. Just Mom. To Corey. From….Bo. Just Bo. Seeing my name all alone on the card made me feel as alone as I have felt since Steve went home and it made my kids look truly and honestly fatherless for the first time ever.
And that’s when the clouds rolled in, grey and weighty, with a suffocating kind of sadness. Usually they move in and out pretty quickly. This time, they’ve lingered longer than I’d like – through two nights and two mornings and three coffee meetings and two Christmas movies. Through driving and shopping and still more gift-wrapping. I’ve fought it, but not very passionately. I’ve jabbed at the air a bit, but I don’t think I’ve landed a real punch yet. Grief makes you tired, is the thing, and sort of wild-eyed so I feel my aim is off.
This morning, I woke up and my Year of Yes seemed not just impossible, but invisible. Impossible, I can do. I like impossible. The quickest way to get me moving is to tell me it can’t be done. But invisible? Different story. Today I have felt sorrow-blind, widow-blind and, consequently, Yes-blind.
But here’s what I know: I am following the One who can see in the dark. I am living in relationship with the Light of the Whole Wide World, and though this corner is blind, He sees the entire road. If I could see, I wouldn’t need Him to lead. But I can’t, so I do. I need Him. So much.
Because I have no other weapon to wield, I’m saying Yes to Day 143. The only day I can see. The only truth I know – that He is good and all He does is beautiful. He will be beautiful to me and in me and through me. Yes to that truth. Yes to light. Yes to life.
Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light. And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land of darkest shadows. Isaiah 9:2
My year of Yes kicks off with a biggie: snow.
I live in the mountains and I love it…in the summer. Our summers are glorious. But winter snow, while lovely to look at from the couch, creates issues in my single-mom life, which are as follows:
- Driving in it.
- Shoveling it.
- I hate being cold.
And finally – and here’s a big and intimate one – snow is, for whatever reason, romantic to me. Steve loved it – I mean he loved, LOVED it. That’s why he moved us here. He loved watching it fall. He even loved shoveling. And every time it snowed at night, we would open the blinds on our window and lay in bed and watch it fall. So, this year, the thought of snow feels especially cold and especially lonely.
However, here’s a thing and this thing is undeniable: Snow is going to fall in Central Oregon and it’s going to fall often. In fact, it would appear that it’s going to fall tomorrow. I cannot say No to snow. It will not listen (and the skiers will want to punch me.) Since snow is coming regardless, I have been thinking about what I can say Yes to. Surely, there’s something snow can bring to my life if I will say Yes, instead of kicking and screaming. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
- Yes to tradition. Since my kids were teenies, we have celebrated the first day of snow with hot chocolate and buttered toast. Now that some of them are older, we also celebrate by meeting at one of our favorite restaurants for hot buttered rum. These are gifts of snow and relationship. They are gifts of our history, but they are tied to the white stuff and so I am thankful for it.
- Yes to gratitude. Nothing makes my house feel warmer inside, than snow on the outside. I will light a fire in the wood stove and be thankful for shelter.
- Yes to memories. It’s tempting right now to keep tender memories of life with Steve buried out of reach and out of touch. I would focus entirely on moving forward if I thought I could get away with it. But I know I can’t. I know grief is sneaky – it doesn’t just stay where we put it because we tell it to. I’m trying to learn to leverage the moments where his absence is most profound and poignant to fully feel and express what I’m feeling to the only One who is able to walk me through those waves of sorrow. This first snow without Steve is a chance to feel his absence from another angle. The kids and I will tell stories about him loving foul weather and we’ll laugh and clink our hot chocolate mugs to his memory. And I will say Yes to the memories and the bittersweet work they do in my soul.
UPDATE 11/30/15: This is Day 7 of Snowpocalypse. The snow fell and fell and fell (a foot and a half!) along with the temperatures, which means: it’s STILL HERE. What we have now is a tangled mess of icy snarls on the roads. I’m glad I wrote this before it came, because I had to remind myself of my Yes decision about four hundred times: As I shoveled and scraped, as I braved the mountain pass to go to an important family event, as one car’s door locks froze and refused to budge, as I rescued Tori from the hospital parking lot where her little car hunkered down for the duration.
I didn’t live my Yes as perfectly as I had planned it. There were moments of fist-shaking and sigh-making, but I DID, I’m happy to say, do better than I would have otherwise. I embraced the adventure of the crazy Bend streets and the way our city comes together during storms. I was overcome with gratitude for my car and it’s scrappy, gutsy snow faring ways. I bought snow tires – a decision I had been on the fence about, but I’m so glad I did it. I drank a lot of hot chocolate with my kids and watched about a million Thanksgiving episodes of sitcoms.
And finally, I took a late-night walk in the falling snow and had a little talk with Steve. I thanked him for teaching me to love all kinds of weather. I thanked him for all those years of shoveling with not a single complaint. I told him I missed him quite desperately, but was doing pretty well considering I’m just a girl with the shakiest-possible Yes. And in that pretty, white dream of a night, Steve’s smiles fell soft all around me, glistening and glimmering, and I scooped them up and tucked them away for the next Yes.
Yes to tradition. Yes to gratitude. Yes to memories.
Thank you, Snow.
I’ve just finished reading a book that got me thinking, which turned to dreaming, which turned to planning. I started crafting ways that I could live out one tiny-giant word this year. Excitement keeps gaining steam as I think about it, and excitement is a such a strange and welcome emotion in my world right now that I’ve decided I picked the right word for 2016.
The word is Yes.
For five years, I’ve been following stringent schedules and playing by an invisible set of intractable rules that go along with the situations my family faced: first terminal illness, then grieving. I said Yes to the things that had to be done every day and every night and I honestly had very little Yes-power after that. My life was built around the have-to’s and some of those have-to’s had life-and-death implications which made them very important, but also very difficult and stressful. I remember telling my mom about a thousand times, “I feel like I’m drowning and while I’m drowning, I’m also trying to keep Steve from drowning.” I’m truly not complaining – it was an honor to tread water for him, but something happened to my thinking during that time. It became survival-oriented. Stop-the-bleeding. And in order to do those important things, I had to say a lot of No’s to everything else.
Now, however, the Yes’s are mine to say or not say. They are here in front of me like apples on a tree. Yes. It’s a glorious, life-giving word if I’ll choose to see it as such.
But the thing is: Life still hurts. That’s just the truth of it. And sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the pain to a world of possibilities. Sometimes I’d like to sink into the sadness of what I’ve lost rather than fixing my vision on what remains. Keeping right perspective and staying out of the ditch of discouragement is one of the most difficult things I’ve done.
That’s why Yes. Yes moves me forward. Yes keeps me thankful. Yes makes me brave. Yes flings joyful question marks like confetti over the landscape of my future. Yes. What if I said it a lot? What if I said it every day? Yes to joy. Yes to hope. Yes to things that scare me. Yes to compassion. Yes to greater purpose. Yes to rest. Yes to all-caps LIFE.
The mind reels.
And the heart sings (and also shakes a little, if I’m being honest.)
Because Yes is a wild and wonderful word.
And it is my word to spend freely on the year ahead.
Yes. 2016 starts today.