November 25, 2013
Throughout the last three and a half years we've had numerous experiences and, true, they can probably be explained away as coincidence or our imagination. But this past summer I had an amazing experience that no one can convince me was not real. I was overnighting in Toronto, Canada. In the morning I had showered and was toweling off when I noticed very clearly written in the steam on the mirror was SEMPER FI and underneath MB. MB, of course, were his initials. It just so happened that day was our anniversary., August 26. Some would say maybe the writing was already there but in a hotel as nice as that one I'm sure they wipe down the mirrors after every guest. And I would not expect to see many references to the USMC in Canada. I'm convinced it was a hello and a "Happy Anniversary" from my husband. I took pictures of the writing as a keepsake. I'll try to post one. Yes, I'm sure in my heart it was Mike and no one can convince me otherwise.
September 23, 2012
I've learned how important planning and preparation is. Everytime I head out on another assigned trip for work, I am learning how to pack more efficiently. Every new flight I start I learn how to prepare and configure my galley for the easiest flight possible. These things don't always work out, of course. I still tend to pack way too much and my aching shoulders are proof of that. There are still flights where things don't go as planned. But it's always teaching me something new. Something doesn't work out right so I think to myself "ok, next time I'm doing THIS instead" or "I'm not doing THAT ever again!!"
Financially, I'm still learning the lesson of frugality. Amazing, since my husband Mike was one of the most frugal people I have ever known. I did my best to balance that out over the years, but never with much success. Now I'm trying to be more frugal and thrifty.
I'm also learning to be more grateful and appreciative of all the blessings I have in my life. I think as we go through life we tend to take all those things for granted. We don't mean to but we get caught up in always wanting more and bigger and better things. We get a new tv and love it, then see a newer larger model and wish we had gotten that one instead. We get an iPhone 4 and then wish we had waited for the iPhone 5. We buy a new house and then feel envious of the larger more elaborate houses going up in our neighborhood. I think it's human nature. But in the meantime we don't appreciate all those good things we already have in our life.
It's goes beyond those material things, of course. We need to learn to appreciate those people in our life and not always wishing they would just be different. If you have children, be thankful for them because there are those who could never conceive or even adopt. If your parents or grandparents are still alive, be grateful because many have no parents or grandparents to turn to. Be thankful for your spouse or significant other; they may not be there tomorrow and there are many all alone. If you have good friends in your life, remember to be appreciative of them as well. Those who have a job, even a crappy one that they hate, need to stop and be thankful that they have a job and have income, rather than simply wishing they had a better one. There are so many out of work right now. Instead of always just dreaming of having more money, be thankful for what you have now. It may not be much, but its far more than some have.
Not that there's anything wrong with aspiring for more. That's human nature. It's good to go after a better job that you will love and that pays more. Nothing wrong with wanting material things as well. But while chasing the dream, look around at what you already have and give thanks. Enjoy it in the now. I believe that is the key to gaining more as well.
I'm learning to just be happy now. Not waiting until I get all the furniture I need for my house, or a bigger paycheck, or a better work schedule and more seniority at work, or lose 5 more pounds or for anything else to happen first. I have decided to just be happy now, exactly as I am and how things are now. And it's not easy. That's where the learning comes in. I have to learn to do this and fight the tendency to feel sorry for myself when things don't work out the way I want them to or when they don't happen fast enough for me.
I believe that the key to being happy is just deciding to be happy right now and not sweating the small stuff. To live more simply and not getting caught up in other people's drama. I believe we need to be more kind and giving, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem at the time. Stop judging others and worrying about what they're doing or wearing or acting like. Laugh more and find humor in all situations. And accept that we're not perfect, we make mistakes and are human. Sometimes we screw up and there's no sense in beating yourself up over it every time. To let go more, pray more and worry less.
So learning to plan and prepare more, be more patient and more frugal are some of what I'm working on but the most important thing I think is learning to just be happy no matter what. Those are my goals now and I will keep working on that everyday.
July 17, 2012
And the sun has set for me,
I want no tears in a gloom-filled room,
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little – But not for long
And not with your head bowed low,
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me – But let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take,
And each must go alone,
It’s all a part of the Master’s plan
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to your friends that we know,
And bury your sorrows in doing good works,
Miss me – But let me go.
July 14, 2012
when you called out a name;
but there was no encouragement
and nobody came.
Simply light a candle…
feel the comfort in its glow.
Soon you’ll sense a ‘Presence’
and your loneliness will go.
Refresh yourself each day…
within the candle’s ray.
Use the ‘Light’ it sheds on you…
to chase darkness away.
Give yourself a moment,
in a place where you’re apart.
Surrender in the solitude…
the burdens of your heart.
Peacefulness will follow,
bringing harmony to heal.
Light a candle as a symbol –
of a ‘Presence’ which is real.
June 10, 2012
May 28, 2012
These days I'm so busy flying back and forth from Richmond to Chicago and then flying for work. Then when I'm home I'm running errands, working out and trying to get things accomplished. It is definitely good to stay busy. There was a time right after the accident in which I wasn't busy enough. In the beginning working like this probably would have been a huge strain. But now I believe it is therapeudic.
Now and then the girls and I feel like Mike is nearby. I once swore I heard his familiar voice say "Nance?" when I was at my house in Manistee alone. Sometimes we smell his cologne or other smells associated with him (the good ones, haha!) There have been other sounds heard that remind us of him and it's always (well usually) comforting.
I'm working this Memorial Day and worked on the second anniversary of his death a week ago. At first I thought that would be hard to be working on those days but, for me, it's a good thing. Mike was always one to stay busy and keep on moving forward. I guess I've become the same way.
January 17, 2012
I feel like now I'm starting a new chapter in my life and it's ok. It's ok to move forward and begin a new. There was this part of me way down deep that was listening to one or two people who judged me for wanting to move ahead. I was told I hadn't grieved long enough. Well, you know, it'll be 2 years in May and I'm still grieving. But grieving doesn't mean you stop living. Grieving doesn't mean you don't move forward and go after your dreams. Whether it's moving to a new place, going back to college, starting a new relationship or a new career, traveling - whatever and wherever you feel you're being led to, it's ok to do that while still grieving.
Life is good and I'm grateful to be alive. I'm thankful for each new day I'm given and look forward to being there for all the new things that lie ahead: new places to go, new people to meet, new things to learn and experience, grandbabies one day, success for my daughters. Life has begun again and I know Mike is smiling in heaven over it.
September 11, 2011
September 2, 2011
August 13, 2011
July 25, 2011
At present my goal is to get my house ready to be listed so I can sell it. The housing market is awful where I live but I don't want to take a huge hit on the price. I'm going to try and be patient. That's always a challenge for me. Meanwhile there are a multitude of chores and tasks to be done. Some are purely cosmetic: small painting projects and little add-ons to make certain rooms look better. Some are definitely needed. When we moved into our house back in 1997, sometime shortly after there was a little "accident". Someone (ok it was me!) dropped a blistering hot broiler pan on the carpet in the dining room. Something in the oven had spilled over into the broiler pan and silly me thought it would be a bright idea to take it outside and spray it down with the hose before it dried on. Bad idea. Bad if your oven mitt has worn through to where basically there is little more than a smaller layer of gauze between your skin and the hot object. So at some point in my trek to the hose, I had to drop that pan. Of course it instantly melted the carpet underneath it! All these years it's been covered up with a small carpet runner. Nobody ever asked why I had a carpet runner there but I'm sure many a visitor wondered. And yes, Mike was very angry when he found out. But oh well, live and learn. And now finally that ugly scar is gone. I'm getting laminate wood flooring installed in it's place and into the kitchen and front entry way today. I know it will look so nice!
There have been other small projects I've needed someone professional to do: repair my backyard spigot that stopped working; replace the baseboard heater in the downstairs bathroom that has a lot of rust on it from moisture in the room; repair the oven door. Yes my oven door whose glass likes to sporadically fall out when you open the door. That's always a nice surprise to have a thick sheet of glass fall on your bare feet when you're trying to put something in or take something out of the oven. But I don't think my potential new owners will find that so appealing.
Some of these tasks I'm undertaking myself - repainted my front door and put on all new hardware so it pretty much looks like a brand new door now. Almost. Repaired some painting jobs. Fixing the grass. (dog pee takes its toll on grass) Some new light fixtures and ceiling fans and a new garage door openers as well but I definitely need help with those.
All in all it has been a very busy summer so far and a little exhausting. I've traveled a lot back and forth between here and Virginia several times, went to North Carolina for a week, drove my oldest daughter down to Florida to help her move and have another trip to Virginia and a trip to Florida planned for next month. In between it's been work, work, work. All these changes in my house have made me realize I'm starting life all over again. I didn't expect to but I'm up to the challenge. Hopefully my next post will be talking of the sale of the house! My fingers are crossed!
May 16, 2011
Many other things in life have changed since Mike left us. As stated earlier I am about to finish EMT training and then at some point down the road (but not too far off) plan to begin paramedic training. I also began a new relationship with someone very special. This is someone that, although I don’t want to “kiss and tell”, I can say that I know Mike would have strongly approved of. Maybe he even led me to him. He is someone he knew in his past and is also a retired Marine. I am planning to start getting my house ready to put on the market and hopefully it won’t take too long to sell. In this market, there is no telling how long it might take. Luckily I don’t have a mortgage to worry about, thanks to my husband’s financial prudence. That gives me options that I will figure out a little later when things settle down somewhat.
Mike’s girls are moving on with their lives as well. One is moving out of the state of Michigan and I’m certain will find happiness in a new life in a much warmer climate. Another is planning to return to school to begin working on her master’s degree and full time teaching career. And the baby girl is continuing her studies in college and very optimistic about her future as well. He would be so proud of all three.
I truly believe that Mike would want only the best for us, his family. He would want us all to go on and have full lives and find some measure of happiness. I have second guessed myself time and time again with each decision I had to make along the way the last year. This would encompass everything from buying decisions, redecorating and remodeling decisions, travel plans, education and career changes, selling things, decisions involving the girls, pets, Mike’s possessions, all of them. Always asking myself: “Am I doing the right thing?”, “should I be doing this right now?” “would he be mad at me for this?” “is this what he would want?” “what would Mike do?”. Usually after much thought and reflection I come to the answer that he would want me to do what is best for all of us. He would want me to sell or give away what I need to. He would want me to rearrange the house to my pleasing or change things in whatever way I feel I need to. He would definitely want me to be wise with money but to live a little too. I think most of all he would want me to go on living and be happy and do whatever I need to do to be a whole and complete person. I’m trying to do that and I think I’m making some good progress.
Yes, it’s been a hard, long year. At times it’s been a lonely and sad year. But I think in going on with all of our lives and living them to the fullest, we are honoring Mike. So I start another year now without him. I know I’ve come a long way in this last year. He’s been there all along: watching and keeping an eye out for us. I’ve felt it and known it all along. As the next years unfold, whatever they may bring, I’m going to move forward and do my best to be the woman Mike always believed me to be. I believe he will continue to watch out for us and that gives me a lot of comfort. Rest in peace, Mike.
April 26, 2011
April 14, 2011
March 5, 2011
• I’ve learned that it is not productive to beat myself up over things I should have said but didn’t, or things I should not have said but did, or things I should or should not have done during the course of my marriage. That my husband knew I loved him and the negative things from the past were the same sorts of things all couple go through. What matters is that we loved each other and both knew it.
• I’ve learned that with God’s help, I can get through just about anything. If I can survive the death of my spouse and become even stronger, then I can conquer pretty much anything.
• I’ve learned not to listen to the naysayers who try to convince me that I’m not cut out for something I want to pursue. There are those that have tried to convince me I’ll never be able to finish something I’m trying to finish or be good at something I want to learn and be good at. I should only listen to those who believe in me.
• I’ve learned not to let the stupid comments people say bother me too much. Most people are just trying to say SOMETHING they think lets me know they know how I feel. No, their dog’s recent death is not QUITE the same thing but they meant well. Usually.
• I’ve learned that some people would rather let a long-time friendship go rather than deal with something unpleasant. Those friends that never bothered to call or send a card or just find a way to let me know they care are not really friends worth keeping anyway.
• I have learned that the soul never dies. Those we have loved and have passed on are always going to be close by and keeping an eye on us.
• I have learned that cats and dogs can be really great company.
• I’ve learned that I can learn to do just about anything if I really put my mind to it. I’m not a helpless little girl. My husband taught me so much and it’s helping me get things done everyday.
• I've learned that I can grieve in my own way and at my own pace and no one else can tell me I'm "doing it wrong." I don't owe anyone an explanation.
• I’ve learned that every Winter has its Spring. No matter how cold and lonely it may be right now, Spring is around the corner and will come eventually.
February 21, 2011
You are in my sweetest moments, my dearest dreams.
I will not forget you
You have touched my soul, opened my eyes
Changed my very experience of the universe.
I will not forget you.
I see you in the flowers, the sunset,
The sweep of the horizon and all things that stretch to infinity.
I will not forget you.
I have carved you on the palm of my hand
I carry you with me forever.
-Ellen Sue Stern/Living with Loss
January 17, 2011
In some ways the new quiet is welcomed because the past months have been so busy. I need now the quiet to get my head together and figure out where I go from here. For now it's back to college and an EMT course. But there is a certain position I interviewed for recently. If that comes to pass I would snatch it up in a heart beat although it will bring about a lot of changes in a big hurry.
But for now I just keep busy and try not to let the quiet times bring too much sadness. In a lot of ways I know I'm not really alone. I know he's been here all along. Sometimes probably angry at the cats running wild in his man cave, but mostly watching over things and keeping an eye out for all of us.
December 9, 2010
Christmas eve we always went to Christmas Eve services at church. Afterward the girls always picked out one gift to open. I'd try make things as cozy as possible with only the lights from the tree and different decorations, maybe some scented candles and a little Christmas music playing in the background. I dread this for this year because I know the night would be too sad to find any joy in that.
Christmas day was sometimes complicated if Mike had to work. He never had to work while on active duty (unless he was deployed of course). But while working at the prison it was rare that he had that day off. When on second shift we would open gifts early and try to eat Christmas dinner for lunch. After he started working first shift we held everything off as much as possible and waited for him to come home to open gifts. By that time the girls no longer believed in Santa, and being teenagers, they would rather sleep in anyway. But it would still sometimes make for a long morning since he worked until 2:00 pm. He found a lot of joy in watching me and the girls opening our gifts, and would sometimes forget he too had gifts to open. I still hung his stocking up along with all the others. There are some traditions too special to do away with. I hope that once I get the tree up and put gifts under, the Christmas spirit will start to return to me. I do have a feeling he will be there in spirit on Christmas morning, watching us all open the gifts under the tree.
Not sure if this link will work or not but it's a little video clip from a Christmas morning in 1991 on Facebook
November 25, 2010
November 22, 2010
7 Stages of Grief...
1. SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
2. PAIN & GUILT-
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
3. ANGER & BARGAINING-
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair ("I will never drink again if you just bring him back")
4. "DEPRESSION", REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of it" by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
5. THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your "depression" begins to lift slightly.
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.
You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.
I've been working myself through these stages. I know that everyone is different so there is no time table attached. I feel for the most part I've gotten to a stage where I feel positive now. I feel I can move on. I know there are a lot of things I do still need to learn and will go through. Nothing takes away the pain of loss and I don't feel you can really have "closure". But at some point peace comes back. I believe it's coming back to me too now.
November 10, 2010
A week or so ago I received in the mail a special memory book I wasn't expecting with spaces to record the details of the funeral and photos. It also has a lot of helpful information and comfort for those of us left behind.
My husband Mike did not die in combat or even just serving in a way, even though he served so many years in the Marine Corps and spent tours in hostile environments. He retired as decorated Sergeant Major and expected to spend the rest of his days hunting and fishing and enjoying his family. Fortunately for us we had 14 more years to do that. But sadly those years went by far too fast.
They were very turbulent at times but overall very happy. Mike was an intense person but he loved me and his girls more than anything in the world and we knew it. He was passionate about everything he got involved in. At his funeral, one of his good friends spoke of how he told him that when he died one day he'd hoped it would be after shooting a big buck or while fishing with his good friends. In the end, both turned out to be true. He had shot the "buck of a lifetime" in January and only days before his death the mount was finished and hung on the wall.
My husband loved his country and supported our troops more than anyone you will ever meet. He wanted to get involved in anything to honor our troops that have made the ultimate sacrifice and those they left behind. So on this Veteran's Day I would like to send my condolences to those widows (and children and parents) on behalf of SgtMaj Michael E Bachus, USMC (Ret.) and myself.
October 28, 2010
October 8, 2010
While cleaning out a chest he used as a workbench, I found about 20 handwritten notes from inmates at the prison he worked at thanking him for helping them get their life back together. Years ago they had a program there called "RESTART" that was a boot camp of sorts for hardened convicts. He got involved at the onset of it and stayed with it until state budgeting cuts canceled it. Apparently he'd made a huge impact on quite a few young men's lives. I can't help wondering where they are today. I wonder how many are still locked up and how many are out trying to redeem their lives. Although there's no way of knowing, it was heart warming to read these letters and know they were heart felt. I would have to imagine there is some sort of permanent imprint he's left on their lives.
Mike's headstone is finally ready.
September 27, 2010
Within a few days I noticed this handsome Marine First Sergeant coming home late every evening looking a little tired after a long day. We had never spoken but occasionally exchanged a nodded hello or a smile. I assumed he had a family living in his apartment with him because his doormat indicated that and I noticed a little girl's bicycle just inside his door. But I never saw anyone else. Sometimes he would leave his door open a crack. Because I had one of the cheap apartments, with no balcony or patio, and therefore nowhere for my little girl to play, I would frequently take her outside to this concrete area between four apartments, including both of ours, and let her ride around on her little sit-and-walk cars (Fred Flintstone cars I always called them).
I remember one Saturday afternoon he was doing a high speed dub of a music tape for his daughter called "Music Box Dancer". My daughter must have thought Alvin and the Chipmunks were playing around in there and strolled right on into his apartment to see what was going on in there. This of course prompted a brief introduction. But a few days later when my 11 month old fell over backwards off of her little car and hit her head on the concrete, I needed to know where the nearest emergency room was. I was afraid she had a concussion and I was still unfamiliar with where everything was in this town. I knocked on Mike's door frantically asking him if he knew where it was. Mike actually didn't know either since he had access to the Naval Hospital and didn't use civilian facilities. This was before everyone had a computer at their fingertips to look anything up so he pulled out the phone book and started looking. He offered to drive us but I still didn't really know him yet. I felt he was certainly trustworthy but was still a little uncomfortable with that. Turned out, all was well with my little girl. After waiting about 3 hours in the waiting room of the ER she was finally up, running around and back to her old self. But that incident, as irritating as it was, was sort of how Mike and I began to know each other.
We were, of course, neighbors and started dating after that. I was still a struggling single mom so after several months he asked if my little girl and I would like to move in with him. He already had a second bedroom which had just become a giant closet for him. So we did. In late August of that year we got married. Initially we had planned waiting a bit to get married but his upcoming deployment had been moved forward a few months and so we moved the wedding date up as well. In the interim we started adoption proceedings using the services of base legal. By the time he returned from deployment all the paperwork was complete and we soon after finalized the adoption.
Definitely going through a six-month deployment just a couple months after getting married was not easy. But I'm not the first to go through it and certainly won't be the last. He returned home with orders to the reserve unit in Grand Rapids, Michigan, known as an I&I (Inspector & Instructor) and he would be the I&I First Sergeant. It was during our two year stay there that our daughter was born. After a which, we returned to Camp Pendleton for what turned out to be the last four years of his Marine Corps career.
The years went by so fast because they were filled with so much. There were great times and not-so-great times. But I wouldn't change a thing if given the chance.
September 24, 2010
September 7, 2010
There are also many times when I can predict what Mike would think or say about certain things. I KNOW that he never would be happy about me spending too much money. I KNOW that he would be upset if something got broken or soiled or messed up. I KNOW that he would not like seeing any dead spots in the back yard left by the dogs ("pee spots") or holes dug up by the dogs. I can usually guess what he'd be saying (or in some cases shouting) at certain news stories. But I also know when he would want me to give certain things of his to certain people. There are items of his I know he would want passed to certain special people. Although a part of me feels weird about giving any of his things away, in most cases I think he would want that. He was generous person and always ready and willing to help out his friends, family and neighbors. So sharing his things is one is what I think Mike would do.
September 6, 2010
September 4, 2010
The Marines lost a true hero when Mike decided to retire. He knew his job inside and out and put everything he had into it. And the Michigan Department of Corrections lost a truly fine corrections officer when he left his employment there just a couple short months before his death. I think a lot of people didn't appreciate the man until he was gone. That's sad and should be a lesson to everyone show your appreciation to those around you that you admire and respect. Make sure those you love know how you feel and always kiss your loved ones goodbye when they leave you. You may never get another chance.
September 1, 2010
August 27, 2010
August 21, 2010
One thing I’m grateful for is that my kids are older now and that there are only two of them. I can’t imagine going through this while my girls were still little. Or having to go through the early teen years either alone. Mike was a scary dad for boys wanting to date my girls to have to meet. Imagine having to meet a retired gruff looking Marine who hunts, and has guns!! He was strict but it was only because he loved them so much and knew what boys that age had in mind (because he had been one once himself!) I also can’t imagine what it was like for my mother-in-law when her husband, Mike’s dad, died. She was left a widow with 6 kids, all at home, middle school age through teens. I’ve heard God never gives you more than you can handle, but He sure does come close sometimes.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I will take a rose to the crash site, at the end of the breakwall, to mark the date.
August 19, 2010
I decided I would just ignore the doorbell and hopefully whoever it was would go away. But after a minute or so the doorbell rang again. I got up reluctantly and stormed down the stairs ready to ream someone out. Even without my contacts in, I could see through the front door’s window as I reached the bottom of the stairs that two young sheriff deputies stood there. I immediately thought of my two girls: where were they?? Becky, my 19 year old was upstairs sound asleep. I remembered when she went to bed the night before and she was scheduled to work at Wendy’s at noon. Laura, my 22 year old, lives in an apartment about 2 ½ hours away from me. I felt a little panicked but never thought even for a second that they were there about my husband.
After I opened the door the deputy in front asked me if I was Mrs. Bachus. “Yes.” I answered. He went on to ask me if my husband was on a charter boat that morning. I replied yes again. The next few minutes were a blur. I almost felt like I was underwater for a bit as I couldn’t completely comprehend what they were saying to me. The deputy went on to tell me that the charter boat had been in an accident earlier that morning. They had hit the south breakwall and had sunk shortly after. My husband hadn’t made it. The other passengers were rescued. Although it was perfectly clear at my house, down at the lake and the harbor it was extremely foggy. Usually I could hear the fog horn off in the distance but I hadn’t heard anything that morning. I listened for it after the deputy told me how foggy it was but couldn’t hear it.
I can’t put in to words the shock I felt at that moment. It was like someone had just dropped a brick on my head. I also couldn’t believe this was true. My husband was almost super human. I imagined that he must have drowned in the sinking. How could he drown when he was a great swimmer? One April several years before he had been fishing one morning in his small fishing boat. When he was done and ready to come home, as he was backing his truck down to the dock to pick up his boat, the boat had somehow managed to come untied and float away. My husband Mike stripped down to his tightie whities and swam after it. It kept floating away and he stayed after it, all the way across the lake, even though it was early spring in Northern Michigan.
I learned later that he did not drown but had died of injuries he sustained in the collision with the breakwall itself. But this did nothing to alleviate any shock or disbelief. Even the knowledge that he succumbed to his injuries quickly and probably didn't suffer was little comfort.
At some point a woman from the Sheriff's department showed up. I believe she was a grief counselor. While she was there I tried contacting family members but struck out on everyone until finally getting one of my brothers-in-law to answer his phone. He informed the others for me. Someone called from the hospital to tell me we needed to go over right then to say goodbye because they would be moving him over to autopsy shortly. My younger daughter and I went over. I can't even begin describe what it was like having to see my husband lying on the emergency room gurney like that. There are no words to explain how horrible that was.
The next several days were a blur of making funeral arrangements, important phone calls, family and friends coming by to offer condolences and help out in anyway, sympathy cards and a feeling of being completely lost. We had never discussed burial preferences before. I knew he would not want to be cremated. And as a retired Marine with a long distinguished career, I knew he would probably have wanted to be buried in his dress blues. Not wanting to make any snap decisions, I still needed to make them in somewhat of a hurry. I didn’t even have an appropriate black dress so I would need to find one quickly.
I also was bombarded with phone calls from various media outlets. The news of a charter boat crashing and sinking with one fatality was newsworthy and different newspapers, internet sites, and television stations called me for comment. My gut told me to not make any comment and I should have listened to it. But I didn’t and spoke to several organizations. I don’t think he would have wanted me to speak to anyone. Mike was always a private person and didn't really trust the media. I did email his photo out to appear with some of these articles. There was also now an ongoing investigation into the accident by the Coast Guard.
My mom and step dad had flown up from North Carolina to help out and along with my two daughters and my step daughter, Valerie, we all went to the funeral home to make the arrangements. We picked out a patriotic themed bulletin and a poem I thought he would like. We discussed all the aspects of the funeral service itself and the visitation the night before. Selecting a casket was especially hard on my youngest daughter Becky who broke down. We had been trying to be so strong but it had gotten to be too much.
Mike had retired from the Marine Corps as a Sergeant Major 14 years earlier. Those years had flown by so fast. We had left our life in Southern California where I had grown up for this small Lake Michigan town afterward and I had done my best to make the adjustments needed. It certainly wasn’t easy and over the ensuing years we’d had our share of ups and downs. Just now life seemed to be settling down. He had decided to leave his stressful job at the prison he’d been working at ever since we'd arrived here just a couple months earlier. This was a very difficult decision since it was earlier than we had intended. I was against it at first but after I saw how that decision had positively affected him, I was glad he'd made it. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted off of him and he was like a new person. He grew a beard, which I have to admit I hated. He put on a little weight, which he intended to take off that summer when he started running again. But overall he was in much better spirits and seemed so relaxed. In April we took a week-long vacation to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean (and he finally shaved off the beard!). I can't tell you how glad I am we had the chance to do that when we did. He was relaxed and had fun, had some drinks and didn't even discuss politics for a whole week.
His Marine uniforms had been put away since we moved here and I honestly had no idea where they were. He had a full set of his medals in a glass shadow box frame but I knew there were at least a couple other sets of them somewhere. I assumed they were wherever his uniforms were. Now I needed to locate everything in order for him to be buried in his dress blues with all of his medals. I tore the house apart looking for them and was a complete basket case when I wasn’t able to find everything. My brother-in-law, one of Mike’s younger brothers, had also been a Marine and had made arrangements with the local reserve unit’s active duty First Sergeant for full military honors at the funeral. With his help he also was able to put a uniform together since the one I finally located was too small to fit him now.
The evening of the visitation was surreal. The casket was draped with an American flag topped with a portrait of Mike that he had taken for his last Battalion’s command. He looked very handsome in his Alpha greens. The casket was closed for the visitation because Mike’s body was not ready yet for showing. The room was filled with so many flowers and plants sent by many kind people. Mike’s daughters had put together two picture boards showing my husband’s life over his 55 years. Down in the kitchen of the funeral home someone had sent over several trays of meats and pastries. Over the next 3 hours a steady stream of faces came by to pay their respects. Some of them I knew well, some only looked familiar, some were total strangers to me. But they all knew Mike and all felt the loss and the shock. Some were co-workers of Mike, former co-workers of mine, some were his old high school friends, most of his five siblings, their spouses and children were there. Neighbors and acquaintances, friends and family all coming to say goodbye.
At the end of the visitation I joined Mike’s family and my parents across the street at a neighborhood bar to toast him one last time. It had been such a long tiring and emotional day.
The following day was the funeral. My girls had put together a video slideshow on a DVD to be played at the church. There were complications there as well. The church’s projector had broken earlier that week and they were uncertain if it would be repaired in time. All though it wasn't essential, we really wanted to show it. As fate would have it the projector was repaired in time. During the ceremony, almost as if my husband had decided the long slideshow had gone on long enough, at the mid-point, at the very end of one of the song’s, the projector promptly shut off. Most in attendance assumed it was planned that way and although it wasn’t, it worked out perfectly. I can't help thinking it was Mike as he wasn't always the most patient person!
When I first got to the church I saw Mike for the first time. He looked handsome in his dress blues and his medals were displayed perfectly. His face almost had a grin on it and he looked like he was sleeping. But I have to admit that it was hard seeing him like that. It took me a few minutes to regain my composure. Young marines in dress uniforms closed the casket back up after the viewing and carried it down the aisle toward the altar. The ceremony went well. Afterward we followed his casket out of the church and out to the hearse. The slow procession to the cemetery was somber. My daughter’s boyfriend drove my car. I sat up front with the three girls in the back. We followed directly behind the hearse and drove in complete silence. Along the way cars pulled the side to let us pass. The entry drive into the cemetery was lined with corrections officers from the prison where Mike had worked, forming an Honor Guard for him as they saluted the hearse as it went by.
The gravesite was opened up and draped with a green AstroTurf looking tarp. Over it an awning had been set up. The marines carried the casket to the gravesite as people streamed in from their cars. I couldn’t help jumping at each of the 3 volleys of the 21 gun salute followed by a bugler playing "Taps". They then folded the flag into a perfect triangle and passed it to the senior ranking officer, a Marine Major, who presented to me on behalf of a grateful nation.
Afterward I had invited those who attended to come to my house. My sisters-in-law had helped me with purchasing some food trays and setting everything up. This was all a blur to me too as the only way I could think to cope at that moment was to drink wine, a lot of wine. I can’t even say I remember a whole lot of this gathering of people.
The weeks that followed brought many cards and a lot of frustration and agony. My husband had life insurance. There were no problems there. I guess I had thought the VA would be of more help but they really weren’t. Although a retired Marine, he rated no benefits other than a plaque since he was not disabled. Social Security paid a one-time lump sum payment of $255 and that was all because my children were now over 18. When my husband left his job with the state we gave up our primary medical insurance. We did have Tricare as a backup through the military. The hospital where Mike was taken after the accident did not know we no longer had our primary insurance and billed everything to them. All these claims were of course denied. Tricare received the claims afterward and ended up denying them as well, claiming he had gone out of network. This made no sense to me as this was the hospital two blocks from our home which we had used since moving here. After numerous phone calls, emails and faxes, I was able to sort out the problem and get it somewhat resolved; after which the bills started coming in from the hospital.
Around this same time I started getting all the usual large bills that hit at this time of year: property taxes, auto and homeowner’s insurance, college tuition for the fall, followed by a lawyer's bill and funeral home bill. Fortunately we had paid off our home earlier in the year and had no other debts. This was a huge blessing, especially in light of the fact that I was no longer working. I had been laid off from my job at our local newspaper a year and half earlier. That had also turned out to be a blessing since I didn’t realize just how much I hated my job until I left there. Afterward I went to work for the Census and had worked several phases for them. I had done the same work 10 years earlier. After my husband’s death, I was far too overwhelmed to continue with the work I still had and turned everything in.
Staying busy has helped get me through the last 3 months since getting the tragic news. I painted and fixed things up around the house, replacing some items as needed. The prison my husband had worked at paid for a yard service to cut my grass once a week for the season. This has been a big help as well.
I learned to do many things I never thought I could do. I relearned some things I had long since forgotten (like driving a stick shift when I had to use my husband’s manual shift truck.) I still have many stressful things to deal with: hospital bills, the ongoing Coast Guard investigation, probate, selling things, for example. I’ve felt my husband’s spirit in my house over and over. Sometimes I’ve almost heard his guidance. Overall, with the help of family and friends, I feel I’ve grown stronger and have learned to cope with something I never thought I’d ever have to cope with.