Friday, April 24, 2015

A Life Well Lived

Eleven years ago today, I said goodbye to my wonderful wife in a beautiful ceremony celebrating her 31 years of life.  The service was held at Grace Community Church, and officiated by Pastor Mark Norman and Rev. George Aist.  200+ family and friends attended with us, and the love felt that day was overwhelming.  Just five days earlier, Teresa Shirlen Freed passed away suddenly from a heart attack resulting from Mitral Valve Prolapse and an enlarged heart.  Teresa's death and home-going was a difficult thing for us, her family, to experience, and left my five-month-old daughter, Melody, and me without my wife and her mother.

Those were rough days, and while I have vivid memories of that time, there are specific details that remain with me.  One is the steady constant drone of the cicadas of that year (known as "Brood X").  The sound and sheer numbers created a memory like that of a horror movie.  They were everywhere!  I'm sure, when they return, that droning sound will have a negative effect on me.

A few weeks after the funeral, before going back to work, I took a little road trip by myself.  I left my little girl, still just a baby, with my parents, and I headed out of town in a rented convertible Mustang.  I drove down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a place I had never visited before.  Teresa loved lighthouses, and I figured I could visit several in that area that she never saw, such as Cape Hatteras, as a sort-of tribute to her memory.  It was a beautiful mid-May day, and I rode all day with the top down (and no sun protection).  I stopped at a rest area and I saw myself in a mirror.  My face was beet red.  I had been sunburned something awful.  I soon stopped off at a Wal-mart and loaded up on sun block, though the damage was already done.  I needed to get sunburn relief, as well.  My scalp was scorched!

I spent a couple of days at OBX, which was really nice, before heading north up the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Ocean City, MD.  While there, I visited with my old boss, JB.  He was retired at this point, but we were close when we worked together, and it was nice to chat with him.  He kind of helped me think things through as I prepared to return to work and my new life as a single dad and widower.

A few days later, I did return to work.  It was very difficult.  I had not seen most of my co-workers since before Teresa died, and my emotions were in overdrive.  Everyone wanted to stop by to see me, so there was no let up for most of the day.

I was very fortunate to have someone to take care of Melody when I returned to work.  While my parents and my in-laws spent a great deal of time with us, we still needed to address her day-to-day care when I was at work.  Teresa's cousin, Josh, was dating a fantastic young lady who was really good with kids, and we hired her to be Melody's nanny.  She worked for us for two years before needing to find a better paying job.  It was then that I had to place Melody in a daycare center.  Fortunately, that worked out well, with the wonderful folks at the Bright Horizons Daycare Center at my office.  Melody would end up being there until she was ready to begin Kindergarten.

Life without Teresa has had its challenges.  I never guessed that I would go through my adult years without my partner.  The day we were married, in 1999, was one of the greatest days of my life.  I miss her everyday.  However, God is here for us.  We don't know and cannot fathom His ways, so I'm not going to attempt to try to figure out why, but I know He is taking care of us.

There are no guarantees in life, though God promises an afterlife in eternity.  But life here on planet Earth can be hard.  We have a choice as to how we live our lives:  We can fall into a life of sadness, or we can choose to live a life of joy and happiness and kindness.  Always tell your friends and family how much you love them.  You can never say it enough.  My friend Rhonda shared the following on Facebook yesterday, and it struck a chord with me:

"So take too many pictures, laugh too much, forgive freely, and love like you’ve never been hurt. Life comes with no guarantees, no time outs, no second chances. you just have to live life to the fullest, tell someone what they mean to you and tell someone off, speak out, dance in the pouring rain, hold someone’s hand, comfort a friend, fall asleep watching the sun come up, stay up late, be a flirt, and smile until your face hurts. Don’t be afraid to take chances or fall in love and most of all, live in the moment because every second you spend angry or upset is a second of happiness you can never get back."

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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