Almost 20 years ago I lost my husband Steve, my best friend and partner in many crimes. May was the month his illness showed up, reared its ugly head and changed our lives forever. Within a period of 24 hours he looked fine and then he didn’t…
Within the two days following his first doctor’s appointment, came the terminal diagnosis. We followed the nurse, carrying a box of tissues in her hand, into the doctor’s small back consultation room and that quick our world started spinning wildly out of control.
By the end of the month of June 1999, Steve lay in critical condition in a hospital bed, eyes closed, belly distended, waiting for a transplant. This well built slender and otherwise healthy man was rendered unconscious and unable to communicate with us anymore. I never thought I would get to speak with him again and make everything alright.
The weekend of July fourth provided us with not one, but two livers, as the first one didn’t function once transplanted. He was 41 and I, 33. We had four kids whose ages ranged from one to seventeen.
The thought that two people had to die to give him a chance at life was humbling for all of us, including Steve, who waited nervously to see if his body would reject the new organ.
Long story short, we were gifted four more months together before God sent the angels back again to walk him home.
I was stunned and paralyzed by grief. He would never get to raise his children or see the dreams we had for ourselves come to fruition. For months I drove my car up and down the highway for hours in the middle of the night blasting music on the radio and at times screaming to the top of my lungs. The music and screaming would take away my thoughts and pain temporarily before I came home to face another day with my kids, sans Daddy. I traveled constantly to see family and take myself out of the environment that reminded me of him every single minute of every single day.
I began trying to mend the large and permanent hole in the fabric that bound us as a family, I started to heal but the process was slow and I was impatient. I was starting to find small gifts in the tragedies that had riddled my every day existence and I began to see signs of the presence of love that was much greater than my love for Steve and my family. Divine love. There were signs of his presence constantly appearing in my path that comforted me and gave me the strength to forge on and live the life we had planned as best I could.
About six months after his death, I could no longer stand being in a house that surrounded me with memories. The four walls that were now closing in on me harbored the dreams we had, arguments that were never quite healed, and regrets that were now left in a large bag for me to carry around every day. The pressure to survive this and still care for our children was like being locked in a tight dark box with no breathing room. At that point I decided to take the kids and get away for a while.
Getting to a new environment in another place without daily reminders of my present life, which now felt like it had fully collapsed, had to be better. My sister, who has always been my protector and second mother, welcomed us into her home for as long as we needed to be there…turns out two weeks was the limit, the hole in my heart was just growing bigger…it was time to return and face the healing process that was mine and mine alone.
The 8-hour journey back home was spent convincing myself “I could survive this” while also telling myself, “not without him”.
It was dusk when I pulled onto our street. It looked and felt different coming home this time. From a short distance I could see the edge of my lawn where Steve and I created a flower bed around the tree at the top of the driveway the previous year right before he got sick. We had intended to fill it when summer came but never had the chance.
I couldn’t make out what I was seeing very clearly from a distance. It appeared that someone planted a mass of beautiful light pink flowers in the bed. My neighbors were my home base angels through Steve’s illness and death and I assumed they struck again with their kindness.
I parked in the driveway and got out of the car to take a tour of the garden, both kids still sleeping in their car seats. These flowers were not planted by my neighbors. They were Evening Primrose, a night blooming beauty, and by the pattern in which they grew I could tell they had grown from seed right there in the garden bed.
I scanned neighboring yards to see where the seed had taken flight. Where had these come from?
I got back in my car and slowly cruised up and down the street for hidden gardens containing the same flowers other people might have that were not clearly visible. I found none.
I parked in front of the house just staring in awe at the large masses of delicately beautiful flowers wafting in the night air. These flowers appeared out of nowhere exactly one year from that date we walked into the doctor’s office and were given unfathomable news and they opened at a time when darkness descended upon me.
Right before my eyes I witnessed love so great that it greeted me and walked me onto the path of healing. I felt Steve’s presence through a divine love that wrapped its arms around me and gave me flowers.
In the year that followed we planted a memorial “Daddy Garden” where the kids made and reverently placed stepping stones to honor his memory. As they grew, we experienced the pain of his presence and memory slowly fading away. The crushing heartache of “not remembering daddy’s voice anymore” was almost to much to bear coming from our four year old son.
Every year the evening primrose flowers bloomed and eventually thinned to just a handful. We had started to not notice they still bloomed every year.
Fast forward twenty years…
I came home from work and pulled into the driveway last night at about 7:30 p.m. feeling down in the dumps, sick and pretty worn out. Life has been heavy for a while now and recent situations have been weighing on me like a lead weight. I’ve been feeling like I’m back in the dark box unable to breath again.
It was still light outside and the sun was below the horizon, the transformation to dusk was taking over. I sat back in the seat of my car resting before opening the car door and going into the house. I saw the familiar burst of soft pink on the front side of the garden. Before getting my briefcase, lunch bag, and other miscellaneous items out of the car I wandered around to visit my latest dwindling patch of evening primrose. It was so beautifully lit in the dim light of the sun setting. A few of the flowers smiled up at me reminding me that even after twenty years I am still loved. I survived, but not without drastically changing who I am and who I intended to be.
Everything in life has such deep meaning to me now… the signs and synchronicities, my actions and reactions, the words I say, and the words said back to me. It impacts me deeply, I love hard while I may not show it at times due to a tightly armored exterior. In days of late that armor is slowly melting allowing the changed me to emerge. Its a painful process…
We are always choosing a path on which to walk whether its right or wrong, these paths always teach us something. Perhaps to take a huge risk and learn to love again, to do something unthinkable by another person’s standards, or to NOT take the risks that bring us to a better, more loving place where we can feel love more deeply and thrive there.
One thing for sure, when the path is right, it will eventually bring us to where we were supposed to be all along. This part is hard for me because I’ve always protected and insured a safe environment for myself and my kids but haven’t always felt I chose the right path out of fear. I rarely take the risks I should to make life more beautiful, perfect and right for me, a right and obligation we all have to ourselves.
If I’ve told you I love you, I really do, I don’t take that lightly. I love with all my heart and I am still always caught off guard when someone truly loves me back.
As strong as I may seem to the people around me, I am risk averse which gets in the way of finding true happiness and peace. I have yet to learn to be vulnerable with my heart and life but I am learning…slowly.
The divine has offered me flowers on more than a few occasions and I have turned them down or ignored them completely. I can’t un-spill a glass or un-ring a bell but I can open my heart wider and learn to receive the gifts, take the chances and weigh the risks differently in order to love myself better. Regret of a bypassed opportunity is surely a living hell.
“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”
Sydney J. Harris
No matter who the offerer, always accept the flowers you are given they are a gift and sign from the divine, whether they be a single white rose that bears the memory of a path you could or should have taken, or an evening primrose that lights the way through your present darkness and puts you back on the path to healing your heart and remembering you are loved.
To all of you with broken, grieving and fearful hearts, the signs are always there if you open your heart and receive them with open arms and a willingness to trust love. TAKE THE RISK, YOU ARE WORTH IT.
“Remember to treat your family like friends and your friends like family”.
Side note: I came into the house emotionally drawn after the stroll in the garden to find my sister-in-law had posted these pictures of Steve online…I will assume the divine allowed him to make several visits to the people who love and miss him and let us know he is still with us.
In loving memory of Steve W. McCay ~ 5-28-1958 to 12-5-1999