My new husband, my new baby, and my son from my first marriage just got back from visiting my dead husband’s parents on our vacation. Did you get all of that? Yeah, that’s a lot to take in so let me back up a bit. Six years and two months ago, my beautiful, gregarious, hilarious husband, Spencer, literally died in my arms. He was 34 years old, seemingly healthy and in shape, and there were absolutely no warning signs. He had an enlarged heart, and we had no idea.
His entire family was visiting us in Florida from Minnesota for Mother’s Day. I was five and a half months pregnant with our first child. We were staying at the Hyatt Regency hotel with his family instead of in our Airstream further out of town. We decided to stay at the hotel with my in-laws because the next morning Spencer and I had a doctor’s appointment to find out the sex of our child and it was a shorter commute. Staying there that night is something I’m grateful for to this day. If I had been alone in our Airstream with Spen, I would have had zero cell phone service and would have had no medical assistance. As it was, our last minute decision to stay in town that night resulted in an ambulance showing up in minutes, my in-laws praying and crying by my side, and future protection from me wondering if I had just had the proper medical help, maybe he would have lived.
His sudden death all but destroyed me.
We spent every waking moment together. We worked for a non-profit organization called Amigos Center out in Immokalee, an agriculturally heavy area with a high population of migrant workers. He taught English classes, ran the clothing closet and food pantry, and I did the fundraising and community presentations. We took walks hand in hand with our dog to see the sunset every night by Lake Trafford where we lived in our Airstream trailer. We shared a car and did everything together. We took random weekend trips and slow danced to Buddy Holly, and we laughed a lot. When he took his last breath, I wanted to take mine.
The thought of living without him sent me into a panic…literally. I had a panic attack every day for three months after his death. On top of that, I was about to be a first-time and now single mom to our son. Everywhere I looked reminded me of him. Every song I heard, every show I tried to watch, it was like living in my own personal hell. I would look out the window and be so envious of the man raking his leaves, living a normal life without feeling excruciating pain every waking moment. I would take a walk when I just couldn’t be inside for one more minute and after I couldn’t walk another step, I would just sit on the curb and sob. It was the most difficult season of my life but I did not go through it alone. I spent weeks on end in the house he grew up in with his parents. We would cry together, take walks together, eat (or not eat) together. Quite simply we missed him and mourned him together. They were a lifeline to me because I knew they were hurting as much as I was. He was such an extraordinary person and the hole we felt by his absence was palpable.
I flew back to Florida to deliver my baby, but my trips to Minnesota were frequent. I wanted our son, Trooper, to know his amazing grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and to know where his father came from. Four years later, I met my future husband, Dominic. I remember calling them, telling them I think I met someone special. They told me they wanted to fly us up to Minnesota for my birthday so they could meet him. Their love and acceptance reduced me to tears, but didn’t surprise me. You see, they never treated me like a daughter-in-law. In fact, from day one, they always said I was their “daughter in love” and I knew they would love Dom as well.
Dominic knew what it was like to lose a dad.
He was two when his own father was killed by a drunk driver. His mom remarried a guy who became a great step-dad to him, and he always hoped he would meet a woman with a child someday so he could be to that child what his step-dad was to him. Friends of ours set us up on a blind date. Well, blind for me anyway! Dominic knew all about it. I showed up for dinner, and he was there too. Once I got over the shock (and had a glass of wine), I found out we had a lot in common including scuba diving and several mutual friends.
Not long after, he called and asked if he could take Trooper and me out to a putt-putt golf course. We talked for five hours straight after dinner, and within a few weeks, we knew this was leading towards marriage. We were married a year later with all of Spencer’s family in the front rows and his nieces as my flower girls.
A few months later, we became pregnant with another son. Fast forward one year and that brings me back to my first sentence: my new husband, my new baby, and my son from my first marriage just got back from visiting my dead husband’s parents on our vacation. It sounds odd to anyone who might hear it, but this is our family. When I met Dominic, Spencer’s parents told me they weren’t losing a daughter, but they were gaining a son. I have incredible in-laws, I have an incredible husband, and they all love each other. One of my favorite people of all time said once that he imagines Heaven will be a place where our hearts just keep growing to love more people. I feel like this situation is a preview for that. Our hearts still hurt from our loss, but they didn’t stop growing. How much we would have missed out on if they had! This new marriage and this new baby are the newest parts of our ever-expanding family, as different as it might be.
Read a more on Ashby’s story in her 3-part series beginning with I Never Wanted to Be a Pregnant Widow, now!
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It was the most difficult season of my life but I did not go through it alone.