Many of you know, in my “chapter two” or whatever we’re calling it… I relocated my life from Texas to Ohio last fall, to start a new beginning with Mike and his 9 year old daughter, Shelby. This summer it will be 4 years since Drew died, and this is the first relationship I’ve been in since that horrible day in the summer of 2012. There are more connections between our lives than I could have ever imagined. Both Shelby and I losing our mother’s around the age of 8. Both Mike and I losing our partners at roughly the same ages (his wife, Megan, was the same age as me when she died). Watching Mike as a father, knowing his fears and worries, teaching me all kinds of things about what my own dad sacrificed to raise me on his own after my mom died. Being a mother-figure to Shelby, which in turn gives healing to the little girl in me who never had a new mother-figure in quite the same way… as my dad never remarried or dated again. Every bit of love I give to these two seems to be a balm to some of the oldest wounds in my own heart… as if they are the medicine my soul has waited for all these years. That brings me to one particularly important night this past week… the Father-Daughter dance...
I picked Shelby up from school Friday, and we came back to Mike’s place. She showered, and put on the dress she’d picked out. Mike went upstairs to press his suit and get dressed, while I curled her hair. We all squeezed into the one tiny bathroom then, Mike putting on his tie and my dabbing eyeshadow onto his little girl’s eyelids… and discovering how hard it is to put eyeliner on such tiny little eyes! Once they were all ready to go, I got pictures of them, and then sent them on their way. As I sat enjoying the warm evening on the back deck while they danced the night away, I wrote this:
“There are so many layers of meaning to this evening, layers that, thankfully, this little girl has no idea about. She just got to have a night dressing up and going out with her dad, and dancing around for hours with all the other little girls at the dance. She got to have a normal experience of it all - which is beautiful to see. And beautiful to be a part of.
I never had a mother-figure around to do my makeup or hair, or teach me about all those things. Admittedly, I was a tomboy and wouldn't have even wanted any of that. But as I grew older, I really wished I'd had someone to guide me in the "girl stuff".
My dad was also handicapped, having gotten polio as a child, he was on crutches for most of my life. Things like Father-Daughter dances were out for us. It is one of many things my childhood didn't have, and one I had always wished for.
I cannot express how it feels to be part of Shelby's story... a little girl who does have a healthy, able-bodied dad to dance with her, hike with her, ride bikes with her. A little girl who does have another mother-figure after the unspeakable loss of her own mom, one who knows all these little things are even more important to pay attention to because her mom isn't the one doing them.
I hope, that Megan somehow sees it all happening through my eyes... so that she always has a front-row seat. In fact, I'm certain she does... i'm certain her and Drew are just sitting around watching everything they've put together down here. With all life can take away from us, it's just incredible how much it can give us too.”
It’s sometimes so unbelievable to me that I am sitting here right now… at a dining table in Ohio with a new man outside working in the garage and a little girl I never planned on, running around with her cousin playing “army spies”. How did I get here?
When Drew and I were together, we were nowhere near this world. It was just he and I, we hadn’t remotely figured out our lives yet, and we weren’t even sure that we would have kids. The person I was back then, I don’t think she ever would have gone through with starting a family. She was far too unsure and far too scared of that whole world. I didn’t know it back then, but I was convinced that I could not be a good mother because I only had my mom for 9 years, and I wouldn’t remember enough to be good at it.
I feel like I have aged ten years since then though, in a good way. Meeting Mike and Shelby brought these fears to the surface, and allowed this new person I am now to say “Maybe that isn’t true… let's dive in and find out what we’re capable of”. Let me tell you, this has not been easy. This deeply rooted fear about motherhood has been very painful to rip to the surface and air out. I cannot tell you how many moments I just want to call my mom, to ask her advice, to vent, to know her experiences… and she is not there. How many moments I'm so unsure of myself. But day by day, I am discovering, that I am not only good at it, that most of it comes quite naturally… instinct as they say.
In a strangely beautiful, bittersweet way, Drew’s death grew me into the woman who could be ready to step into all this. And if, just if, I was always meant to meet Mike and Shelby… then Drew was the one who made certain I was the woman I needed to be when they arrived. His death was the catalyst that changed my viewpoint on fear, helped me to know myself more fully, and enabled me to become the resilient person I am today.
Now I am someone who is still scared shitless, yes. Unlike the girl I was before though, fear no longer stops me now. I fear things, but I do them anyway. And that is because of Drew. That is because he feared death every time he went to work and climbed into a helicopter, but he did it anyway. And so when he died, I decided that if he could fear something as big as death and still do what he loved… that fear was not a good enough excuse anymore to not step into life.
He is still in everything. Every choice. Every step forward. Every bit of love that I open my heart to from others, and every bit that I give back. He is part of all of it still… and in a way, I think that he and I have come to a place where it’s a new kind of relationship. It is quieter, but it flows just the same. It is softer but consistent in a new way, because I know that our souls can never be separated. Even in death, we continue to be connected soul to soul, helping each other to learn and grow.
It turns out that I am warming up to the role of a mother-figure quite well these days. I’ve discovered that beyond that immense fear and doubt of my abilities to mother, has been an incredible realization that I am wonderful at mothering. And being in this role is healing things in me that nothing else could. I will never have my childhood back. I will never get a do-over with a new mother-figure to guide me as a little girl. My story there is written… but Shelby’s is still being written. Having the chance to be a part of her story, in a way, is like getting to rewrite bits of my own how I wished they could have been. Helping her story to be richer and more full of love, gives back to my own. That newfound healing and confidence has spilled over into all other parts of me, leaving me wondering just what else I am capable of when I commit my heart to it fully. All thanks to a little girl, her dad, and a pilot named Drew.