7 years later

Seven years.  

How is that even possible? 

So much has changed in seven years. 

Amongst some of the more obvious the one that floors me the most is my heart. 

7 years ago it broke into a MILLION pieces.  

And somehow today, it feels put back together. 

I walked into the ER, after demanding your room number from the receptionist I went through the doors to find your room, trauma room number 9.  

In 7 years I have tried to put one word that describes the feeling of opening that door and seeing our lives fall apart.  

There are many words that describe it, but not just one.  I have tried.  

Till my last breathe I will wonder if you knew how much your final decision to be an organ donor would impact our lives.  

I have no doubt you knew how it would impact others, but I am not sure you knew how it would change my perspective on losing you.  

I speak in front of drivers education groups and I tell them with 100% certainty that your decision and my follow through of your wishes is one of the top 5 decisions I have made in 7 years that I am most proud of and have not had one ounce of regret.  

Number two on the list of decisions…getting up the next day.

I would say wake up but we both know I did not sleep at all that night.  

I knew your decision but your decision to help others, helped me and then also helped your son. It put me in the path of people who did not judge.  

Early on I didn’t go a day without hearing “You should” or “You will” and kindness was intended but it made my skin crawl.  It hurt my heart.  I would shake my head in agreement and then at the end of the day after Aaron was asleep I would step into my shower, turn on the water as hot as I could take it, sit down and cry.  This served multiple purposes.  1…momma got a shower.  2…with the water hitting my head and running down my face I was blissfully unaware of how many tears were actually falling from my eyes.  3…I felt that the shower was loud enough so Aaron would not hear me. 

Your decision gave me an outlet of no judgment.  It gave me understanding and healing.  Two things I was never sure I would get.  

This isn’t supposed to be about your organ donor decision but as I look at the past 7 years I keep asking myself…”how in the hell did you make it, Alyssa?” 

My answer is two-fold. 

Your selfless decision to be an organ donor.

My decision to not change how I felt to make people comfortable.  

The first answer started just hours after you died. 

The second answer started the day of planning the funeral.  

We sat there with the pastor and discussed music and the general flow.  Not exactly how I pictured what I would be doing that Friday but the pastor asked a question and without hesitation I gave an answer.  “Do you have an idea of who will be doing an eulogy?” My family to my right, Jay’s family to my left and with all the confidence in the world in that moment I said…”Yes…me.”

I had answered a lot of questions in the last 2 days and this one seemed to be not so well received. Shock is a good word for the reaction. And it was decided I would speak, with an understanding that should it become too much and I wasn’t going to be able to make it through, when the time came if I was not looking at the pastor he would not ask me up.  I had made my decision damnit.  I had no other control of what had just happened in my and Aaron’s life, I was doing this…I was getting up and saying my piece.  

When asked why I felt the need to speak my answer was, “I am doing it for him.”  The assumption at the time was that I meant Jay.  Initially that may have even been my thought but a couple years later I would understand fully that was inaccurate.  I did it for Aaron.  

People thought I was CRAZY for speaking at my husband’s funeral.  It wasn’t done normally…being in shock and facing a life changing moment doesn’t bode well to standing in front of people who are just as sad to say a few nice words about the person you are there to honor.  The funeral director even approached me at one point and said, “You are going to speak?”  “Yes”, I said.  “I have never seen it done, you are a very strong person, I look forward to hearing it.” Translation, “You are crazy.” 

I still have the paper of what I said.  

The time came.  I was looking the pastor in the eye, he called me up and as I stood there unfolding the paper I could feel my hands going numb. 

It is one thing to cry your own tears, feel them falling down your face.  It is another to see it in your parents, your family, grown men who he worked with and knew him.  But I stood there and spoke without losing it.  My arms were numb up to my elbows by the time I was done, folded the paper back up and walked back to my seat.  

I would do many more difficult things after that, closing the casket for the last time being one of them but later it would hit me.  

If I could do this seemingly impossible task, I could do anything else that came my way.  

Parent a child on my own, pay the bills, sign all the unbearable papers and that was after I decided that eating, drinking and breathing could handle it without my intentional direction.  

People didn’t have to agree with me.  It didn’t have to be what everyone or anyone thought was right but I could do it…and I would.  

I continue to move forward knowing that is what you would want me to do.  I would say that I wished you were here watching Aaron grow, but I know that you are.  Differently than we had planned but still you are.  The life before and the events of May 9, 2012 are with me always and forever. But I refuse to let it hold us back. I remember you today and tears fall. I move forward with a heart put back together and a smile on my face.

7 years without you and at the beginning I wasn’t sure I would make it one day. 

Our Journey to Aaron

Our journey in having Aaron was just over 3 years.

It started with excitement. We were finally going to try to bring life into this world. I am sure it will be quick…I had waited for this for a long time and it was go time. What should the theme of the room be?

Slowly there was frustration. Why is this not happening? What is wrong with me, with my body? What should we try next. What haven’t we tried. Why can’t a search on WebMD just make this happen.

Frustration turned into anger. At this point, everyone around me was getting pregnant. Not literally but it sure felt that way. And yes there was anger towards those people but that paled in comparison to the anger I had turned inward on myself. “Come on Alyssa…what the hell is wrong with you?”

Doubt followed anger which then led to massive self blame. The doubt was whether this was really part of the plan for us. Were we meant to be parents? Maybe we were just kidding ourselves. And self blame and even shame started when I was convinced I was the problem. I was the dysfunctional part of this journey. And I clearly was not trying hard enough or was doing something every which way wrong.

After blame came envy. Envy is ugly. Very ugly.

All of these things took a hit on our marriage and on us as individuals.

We literally did one last thing and if this didn’t work then maybe this wasn’t in the cards and we had discussed adoption.

The next month we found out we were pregnant.

I took the test on Valentine’s Day. I walked out of the bathroom, sat next to Jay and said my Valentine’s Day gift to you is that you are going to be a dad. His reaction (he tackled me) was one that I will never forget. He would tell me later, I was going to have to really get creative to give him anything close to how amazing that gift was on that day. I wasn’t given many more opportunities to try.

I had been pregnant before so this wasn’t a guarantee but I had a good feeling about this time. Finally we were back at excitement.

Then fear. Part of the fear I have to this day. But at the time it was the fear that I would do something wrong that would cause us to not be pregnant anymore. Having a miscarriage was the trigger of that fear. The fear that if this did not work I wasn’t sure how much more I could take…how much more Jay could take…how much more our marriage WOULD take. That fear was real and as much as I pushed it aside it was strong and was not easy to let go of.

After 9 months of waiting that felt like a life time and was more like over 3 years, Aaron arrived. To date it is one of the best days in my life.

Trust your Journey

The phrase “Trust your Journey” has been in my line of sight more times than should be considered just coincidence.  I see it. I read it.  I understand it. 

Early on after Jay died I heard the following phrases at nausea.  

Things happen for a reason….Put your big girl pants on and deal with it…This is all part of His plan.

I knew the people saying them were not saying it to hurt me.  My head knew it.  But my heart cut deeper and deeper until I internally shut down.  But before I shut down, I got angry.  Very angry.  

I mean what reason was so important that I had to become a widow at the age of 33 with a six-month old baby??  Tell me again what that reason may be.  If it was so damn important it should be written in gold.  Instead it was written in tears.  The ones that fell from my eyes as I tried to figure out what the hell had just happened to me…to us. 

Put your big girl pants on and deal with it.  Oh lord. Meant as encouragement this one made me wonder what people thought I WAS doing.  Did it look like I wasn’t dealing with it?  Because I was.  Every day. Every second of every day.  In a moment of weakness I felt guilty for having, being told to put my big girl pants made me question when it was going to be enough.  And with that, I would shut down.  Showing my weak moments less and less, not because I didn’t have them, but because people obviously could not handle them.

This is all part of His plan.  And what freaking plan was that?  Clearly I was not advised of this plan and how it would impact me.  And let’s not even worry about me, but let’s talk about his 6 month old BABY.  How can a plan take a father from his child?  A child that was not easy to conceive. Only through a last stitch effort was conceived and born.  Tell me. I would LOVE to know.  If I didn’t already question what I did wrong to have this happen to me, this comment made me even more angry at God.  

Again I tell you, I know not one person who said this to me meant to hurt me.  So if you are reading this and said this to me, I know and I understand. Still hearing these phrases cut my heart deeper with each time they were said.  And the more I couldn’t work through it the more guilt I felt.  What was my problem?  Am I not a good enough Christian?  Did I pray wrong?  What did I do to bring this situation into my life?  If I could figure this out, my heart would heal.  If I could figure this out, I would shout it from the rooftops in hopes it would not happen to ANYONE ELSE.   

It took my second therapist a good 3 months to crack me (after an initial therapist had 5 months with me and 2 months of group therapy).  Oh and a PTSD diagnosis.  I am paraphrasing but almost his exact words were this…

”Alyssa…do you really think God wanted you to be a widow and for Aaron to not know his biological father?” 

With all the sarcasm Jay left on this earth my reply was…  “Actually. Yes, Yes I do. Everyone says there is a reason…that there is something in HIS plan so…yeah…yeah I do.”  In reality…a pediatric heart disease that went undiagnosed or treated was what caused his heart attack.  

His response will forever be engrained in my brain.  “Alyssa…the world and life is imperfect.  HIS plan…is to give you everything you will need to move through life and what it hands you.  THAT is his plan.”  That is the single moment that healed my relationship with God.  

I was so focused on life being a destination.  Life being about getting the degree, the job, the marriage and the children. I did not see life as a journey.  That was my first of many misunderstandings about this life we live.  

Life cannot be trusted. Life cannot be guaranteed.  

If you live in the mindset that you are guaranteed tomorrow you will be disappointed. Life is a journey.  The moment I realized this…the comments people made no longer had the impact they used to have on me.  The more that set in the more I learned to live life as a journey.  The more I did this, the more life surprised me. The more I feel in love with life. It isn’t always easy but in that I have learned to trust the journey…wherever it takes me.

Farewell 2018

This year was different in so many ways. Some good. Some not so good.

Found a part time position that I love. People and data…two of my favorite things. Found out about it while looking at a beautiful snow covered mountain.

Bonded with my father in law while helping him in his fight against cancer. Loved bonding with him. Hated the cancer part.

Helped one of my nieces plan her wedding. I loved every part of that experience. EVERY PART.

Walked through a life experience with my husband where he lost his father. Grief sucks. All grief is different. All grief REALLY sucks.

Brief summary. I lost people. I found people. I lost faith. I gained perspective. I lost things. I gained appreciation.

Farewell 2018.

The holidays

a walk through grief during the holidays

The holidays can get hectic.  Work parties.  Fake or real Christmas tree.  Getting the deals.  Missing the deals.  

On top of that, those who have lost someone tend to have one major thing over their head.  My thought on my first Christmas after losing Jay was simply “why?”  

Why was he gone?

Why me?

Why Aaron? 

Why do we even have to celebrate?

As you move through this part of the year, please keep this in mind.  We really have no idea everything a person is walking through during the holiday season.  I may have nothing to do with getting the best deal at the best store in town.  It may simply by “Why me?”

His decision

the comment that made our jaw drop

This weekend we stayed at a hotel one night and were able to hang out with some of our friends that are more like family.  

On Sunday morning,  Kelby, Aaron and I were discussing how much fun it was to have them visit us the night before.  In conversation we were explaining why we called them the [their last name] family.  Kelby said to Aaron, “you know like your last name is Taber” and without any kind of prompt or hesitation Aaron rebuttals back with “We are the Steuhm family, daddy.”  Aaron obviously has Jay’s last name.  I hyphenated for my own reasons noted in a previous blog.  But if jaws could actually drop, our jaws would have been on the floor.  

Aaron is 7 but the one thing I vowed when I began this part of our journey that he would have input into how things progressed.  He was the first to call Kelby “daddy.”  

Today his decision was that we are the Steuhm Family.  I am good with his decision.  

My place

The journey in finding my place…in this world

The song by Michael W. Smith plays on repeat.

I listen to each word.  The rasp in his voice.  The crescendo reaching a volume where I can no longer hear the thoughts in my head.  Truthfully my favorite part is the piano in the beginning.  Simple.  Just like life.

I listened to this song on repeat after Jay died.  I was so confused.  What is my place.  I thought I knew.  Graduate high school.  Get college degree.  Find good job.  Find love.  Marry love.  Explore life.  Have children.  Experience life.  Grow old.

I look at my birthday in 3 months and it is a milestone birthday.  I question myself again, wondering if I have found “my place” in this world.

I reflect back to high school.  It wasn’t always easy.  The same can be said about college.  But finding a good job and finding love I did those quite well.  Struggle came back when trying to have children but after finally after 3 years successfully creating and delivering a child I thought I had my place.

I was wrong.  And then I began what I call the fight of my life.  Exhausted and unsure what plan B (or whatever letter I was at that point) was, I wanted to just give up.  “The wind is moving but I am standing still.”  If there is a single lyric to describe a moment in my life, that was it.  I can take this song line by line and tell you a part of my feelings and thoughts in the last 6 1/2 years that describe it all.

The morale of the story is we need not be comfortable where we are.  Comfort breeds expectation.  Expectations will not always be met.  Then comes disappointment and confusion of our place…in this world.  Continuing to find our place is where we will in turn find it.  That is my experience, my perspective.  I continue to search for my place.

Are we related?

The story behind my last name

The other day I had someone come up to me and ask if we were related somehow.

My last name is hyphenated.  Taber-Steuhm.  People often make the assumption that Taber is my maiden name.  It is not.  It is my first husband’s last name.

This person had made that assumption and was shocked to hear me talk to open about the fact that “Taber” was not my maiden name, instead my first husband’s who had passed away at the age of 33.

I will probably never know for sure if infant this person is related to my late husband or not but I gave him enough information to dig and find out. HA!

When people first saw me hyphenate my last name there were alot of questions.

Question: Why hyphenate Alyssa?…that seems like alot of work.

Answer: Same amount of work it is to change your name any other time.

Question: What does Kelby think of it, keeping Jay’s last name with his?

Answer: When I made the decision, which was made alot sooner than many would think, it wasn’t to hurt Kelby or to honor Jay.  I believe Kelby knows this.

Question: Why did you hyphenate your name Alyssa?

Answer: The answer is quite simple.  Aaron.  I never want Aaron to question where his place is in my life.  I never want Kelby to question my love for him either.  But I kept “Taber” for Aaron.

After making this decision I was sitting with my boss at the time and my decision was solidified in our discussion.  She had lost her father at an early age and her mom remarried and took her second husband’s last name.  She would tell me that this decision often made people question who she belonged too.  Her words not mine.

In that moment I knew despite the headache it may cause me, my decision was right for us as a family.  Also…if you say it fast and run the words together…it totally sounds German.  And that is kinda cool.

Daddy

The other day someone asked me about Aaron and Kelby’s relationship.  It was out of the blue but it was an interesting question.

I was asked how I will handle when Aaron realizes Kelby is technically his step dad and now his biological dad.  The question was more of how will I handle when Aaron goes through the phase of “You are not my real dad” in reference to parenting and those things we have to tell our children for their safety, etc.

It is an interesting question and after some thought, here is my answer.

I did not tell Aaron Kelby was his daddy.  Aaron decided Kelby was his dad.

It was our 2nd Christmas together.  We had celebrated our Christmas with my side of the family in beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado.  After skiing over Christmas, all still on one piece, Aaron, Kelby and I were at the Denver airport waiting to check in for our flight back home.  I will never forget it.  We were sitting having a hot beverage and out of the blue Aaron looks at Kelby, points his finger at him, giggles and says “Daddy!”  As long as Denver doesn’t do major renovations I could take you to the exact place in the airport where this happened because it is THAT ingrained in my memory.

Kelby was talking about something and missed it the first time.  So I nudge Kelby…probably a little hard if I am honest and said “Did. You. Here. That?”  Kelby looked at me like “what?  What did I miss?”  I then asked Aaron to repeat what he had just said.  And he repeated, not really understanding why I wanted him to repeat it but at this stage in his life he was all about repeating things…ALL the time.  He has been calling him daddy every day since.

When asked this question the other day, how I would handle it if/when Aaron decides to question Kelby as his dad my response is this, “I brought Kelby into our lives Aaron, but YOU are the one who decided he was your daddy.  YOU first called him daddy.  And with that you will respect him just as you respect me.”

It could be more complicated, or it can be that simple.  Simple is good.

Grownups come back

Looking through my “draft posts” for this blog I found another one that I started but stopped and did not finish.  Here is what I found.


OK, here goes nothing.  I am blogging about an episode of Daniel Tigers Neighborhood.  Yep, here it goes.

For those unaware, Daniel Tigers Neighborhood is a “remake” of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Aaron loves the show and for 99.9% of the time I love it as well.


I stopped mid paragraph and closed out the post and moved on with my day.  Why?

Let me tell you why.

Because I was about to explain a Daniel Tiger show where they talk about “Grownups always come back.”  In the episode it is talking about being left at school or daycare and how your parents will always come back to get you so not to be afraid.  I love the idea.  I am sure it has helped a lot of parents and children in the scary moments of separation.

But I remember watching that show initially and Aaron was enthralled.  He was right there loving the music, the characters the WHOLE bit.  And I sat there knowing that it wasn’t necessarily true.  I write that and I think to myself, Alyssa do NOT bash Daniel Tigers Neighborhood.  Please know that is not my intention but my perspective was that this fact was not always true and it broke my heart.

Early on after I saw this, I would drop Aaron off at daycare I would head to work and while in the car  driving to work I got my BEST thinking done.  I also got out a lot of anger I did not want people to see or hear.  I remember one morning after watching this show, Aaron in good hands at daycare, I screamed the whole way to work that it wasn’t always true.  It was true for most but not all.  Not my son.  And that made me angry.  So angry.

In hindsight and with a TON more perspective I sit here and can say it calmly.  Not accusing anyone of not seeing our side on this topic but hoping to help people understand how it impacted me.

This is not the only show that impacted me this way.

My blog is not meant to change people’s minds on anything.  I have said from the beginning my hope is to understand and be understood.  That is my wish.