Monday, October 13, 2008
I (Jim) am sitting on our back porch on a rainy Monday, but it is a day off so that makes it a beautiful rainy morning. There is a slow soaking rain falling and I'm looking over our newly completed back yard. It is all Ginger and I had ever wanted in a home, we just paid a high price. I like to call it the house that Troy and Andrea built.
This weekend Ginger and I had my office over for dinner, it was our first "Event" as a couple. To most of the people there Ginger and I are all they have ever know as the "Ravellas". They are innocently unaware of who Troy or Andrea were. That was a little strange but it also felt normal, and that was nice.
I have always openly expressed myself in this blog, mostly because I want to have a record of this time in my life, but also because it helps me understand the thoughts I have and finally because I pray God will somehow use our words in a small way to help someone who may be struggling with similar issues or questions of faith. So as I begin to type what has been on my mind for a while I pray it is not misunderstood or taken in the wrong way. I say that because I have tried to understand these thoughts many times and I have yet to fully grasp what it means.
When Andrea died, that moment I stood up and looked at her body, it was immediately different, her spirit, what made her Andrea was gone. I remember looking at her body and that was all it was, just a shell. It was as if her personality was gone and I knew she was no longer there. It was a strange feeling because in an instant I did not know what to do. Minutes before I was fighting with her to live, now I was standing with my two boys wondering what do I do? As a parent you are always taking care of you kids, making decisions for them and preparing them for what happens, but in that moment I was as lost as they were. So I asked the nurse, "What do I do now?" Her name was Ronda and she is an amazing nurse, and was a blessing from God in that ICU, and she told me she would take care of Andrea. All we had to do was go to the admin offices and sign some paperwork. So it all began; my life as a single dad, my life without Andrea, layer one.
The following days for me were the same as anyone who loses a loved one, totally numb, you go through the motions and get done all that must be done. A funeral is planned, mostly by others, thank God for my brothers and sisters and my office who stepped in to take care of nearly every detail. I was left with the usual dreaded tasks of picking Andrea's clothes, and the casket. I remember sitting in the funeral office when the lady pulled out a folder with Andrea's name on it, I could not process what I was doing there, and her questions cut through me. Our last step was the coffin, which I did totally isolated from the reality of it all. I guess my mind blocked what I was actually doing, and it would not hit me till I saw that coffin in the church. I remember thinking Andrea is in there, and it became a little more real. I cried as I followed her casket out of the church. I knew the next stop was the grave, 6ft of physical separation and a wall between us that could never be torn down until I draw my last breath. It was the last moment for this to all end and wake up from the nightmare. It was layer number two.
Next came the emptiness of the house, the gut wrenching loneliness of coming home to an empty bed, cooking alone, just living was a constant reminder of my loss. The silence was deafening and I missed talking to Andrea. I wanted to hear her voice to tell me what to do. The sight of smiling pictures of Andrea only confused me as if life was still happy. I had no desire to cook, one of Andrea and my favorite things to do together so Anthony and I ordered out a lot. We never ate at the table again, only in front of the TVs merciful distraction. Work was impossible and I had no interest in it whatsoever. When I would find the strength to go into the office I would close my door and cry. I was confused, totally lost at this time, not knowing what was life was anymore what my future was, I realized all our hopes and dreams were erased and my life was undefined and my identity uncertain. It was layer number three.
Next came the packing of Andrea's clothes, the emptying of the closet, the sorting through her things and the separating into stacks all the things I wanted to give to her friends. It was Andrea's friends, Amy and Darla, who helped me through this difficult time. They bought the plastic tubs to store Andrea's clothes in; a suggestion from Ginger who knew permanently giving away or throwing away Andrea's clothes was too difficult this soon, yet a closest full of clothes was equally difficult. So the compromise to put them away for storage was perfect. All but her personal items, like her nightie from our honeymoon, which she kept and wore every anniversary. To this day putting those in the trash has been the most painful thing I have ever done in my life. I cannot describe the pain of taking those from her drawer, holding them and putting them in a trash bag. I felt I had to do this, they were things I thought should not be touched by someone else. I was discarding our intimate moments, my marriage and nothing said my wife was gone more than it did in that moment. It was layer number four and it hurt more than all the others combined.
The weeks and months afterwards were punctuated by small events that built upon the separation and emptiness of my life. Songs on the radio that brought me to a moment with Andrea were all too common. We had loved Christian music. It was one of our main sources of strength. The words and songs defined periods and moments of Andrea's struggle. Now they became painful reminders. Many of those songs are on our blog like Steven Curtis Chapman's "I Still Believe", Jeremy Camp's "Walk by Faith," Chris Tomlin's "How Great Is Our God" or Bebo Norman's "Borrow Mine". They all brought me back to specific days and events. When I would be driving I would look across to Andrea's empty seat and almost see her there, raising her hands praising God as she sang those songs, or remember a concert we went to, seeing Andrea standing hands lifted up, crying. I remember traveling for work, sitting on a flight back from DC and listening to my iPod crying uncontrollably. It was strange to hurt in public and it made me think how often had I sat next to someone who was hurting and never knew it. Either I did not notice or did not want to. Daily events like walking home for lunch, and seeing the porch where Andrea would always be waiting for me became billboard reminders of the changes in my life. Next came the inevitable reminder of returning to church, a place I needed to be as a source of strength was also a painful reminder of my loss. It was here that Andrea and I held each other and sang, where we were fed, where we gathered strength and where friends lifted us up. Church now was void of all that. All I saw was an empty chair next to me. Ginger and I both commiserated that we never felt more alone in all ours suffering than at church surrounded by believers, couples and families worshipping. However all this made us realize people are hurting all around us and gave us a more compassionate outlook when we fail to understand people's distance or rudeness.. What if they are having days like we were? I began to understand there are people going through the motions of life hurting inside and I was one of them. It was layer number five.
Amongst all of this, I met Ginger and began to fall in love. It was a very confusing time for me, to feel happiness, a bond to another woman while trying to deal with losing Andrea. To even have feelings for another woman was a betrayal to Andrea, my wife I pledged to love forever. I was still very much in love with Andrea, and at the same time falling in love with Ginger. I remember three dreams I had about Andrea during this time. In each dream Andrea had fallen in love with another man and I would come to her and ask her, "What are you doing?" Her response was, "It is nothing, don't worry I love you both." I was so hurt and angry in my dream and Andrea was so nonchalant about it all. I did not have to think hard about what those dreams meant. To be honest I still struggle with having feelings for Ginger although thankfully they are less and less. I never loved another woman other than Andrea and suddenly I was on a honeymoon loving another woman. It was layer number six.
To avoid any confusion let me use a line from my Pastor in North Carolina, "Don't hear what I'm not saying." Yes falling in love complicated my grief process in some ways, but having Ginger in my life is what gave me hope that life would return to "normal." Ginger knew what it was like to live without hope, to live with the emptiness, to ache to be held or touched by a spouse. Those are things I thankfully did not have to experience and I will leave it to Ginger to write about what that was like. So yes, for me I added some level of difficulty to my grief, but it also spared me from a lot of other grief and for that I thank God for Ginger and the absolute blessing she was and is to me. Not to mention, I knew the kids needed a family and that stability in their life has been worth any additional pain or confusion I had to go through. I knew in my heart and spirit that Ginger and I were meant to be together so if someone had to deal with a more difficult path as we brought our families together, I felt it was better for me as the adult than for 6 children. Looking back and now seeing our kids having stability and normalcy, I'm convinced I did the right thing. I think Ginger paid the biggest price as she tried to understand me as I was working out my conflicting emotions of loving her and in some way feeling I was betraying Andrea. I struggled that others would think somehow I did not love Andrea and nothing could be further from the truth than that. I loved her more than myself, at times too much.
It was Andrea's dad that gave me sage advice that I have thought of many times since. He said, "You loved my daughter, you kept your vows to her and to God. Remember it was God who broke your wedding vow to Andrea not you." Those words and knowing Andrea is exactly where she always dreamed of being, with her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, are what gave me comfort and allowed me to fall deeper in love with Ginger each day. It helps me as I deal with the layers of separation from Andrea and the layers of memories and foundations I build with Ginger and the kids. I'm in uncharted waters for me, a place I never in a million years thought I would be, dealing with memories of Andrea, and finding joy and happiness in another life. I know this is not over, and I wonder if at some level I will always be dealing with this. I know that each day Ginger and I become more one with each other and our life becomes more of our own. The kids and I bonding together as does Ginger with Anthony, and our identities mix in this amazing blessing that we are living out. And my prayer is that the miracle of our life together is not lost in my words here, for God has done what man could never do. I am humbled to have been loved so deeply by Andrea, and be blessed to be loved again in the same way. I do not deserve to be blessed this much in a lifetime.
As I end this blog, Isabella just came out on the porch to give me a picture she drew for me. I have my music playing and the song, "I Would Die for You" is playing. It is a song I used in Andrea's memorial. Bella just asked, "Does this music remind you of Miss Andrea?" "Yes," I said, "It does." Then she reminded me that it rained last night, too, "But," she added, "The sun will come out again Daddy!" Yes it will Bella. Yes it will. In fact I think it already has.
Posted by Jim Ravella