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“Each day that I get out of bed, smile, and laugh with my family is a true gift that I don't take lightly.”

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By Karen Peloquin

My fiancé, Chris Raynor, was truly one of a kind. He knew no stranger, and you couldn't help but smile when you were with him.

We met at a mutual friend’s birthday party in 2006. At the time I was living in the mountains of North Carolina and he was living in Raleigh. We began a relationship and I moved to Raleigh in the summer of 2007. We loved going to concerts, hanging out with friends, cooking, and just enjoying life together. We got an apartment in the summer of 2008 and he proposed that fall. We planned our wedding for September 12, 2009.

I’m so grateful that all of Chris's loved ones were able to tell him how special he was at that dinner.

We were so lucky to have lots of wonderful friends and family members support our engagement and marriage. We planned a beautiful wedding in downtown Raleigh. On the night before our wedding, we had a perfect rehearsal at the Catholic church and an amazing rehearsal dinner with all of our closest family and friends. I’m so grateful that all of Chris's loved ones were able to tell him how special he was at that dinner.

On the morning of September 12, our wedding day, Chris was in a car accident. Someone ran a red light and Chris was killed instantly. I had just had my hair done and my best friend had given me the pearls Chris had sent as a surprise. Chris's mom called and told me there had been an accident but she did not know all the details. I called the hospital and asked for information and they would not give it to me, so I said in the strongest voice I had, “I'm standing here in my wedding veil; do I need to be standing here or do I need to be heading to the hospital?” The lady told me to get to the hospital.

My bridesmaids and my parents drove to the hospital, where we met up with the groomsmen and Chris's parents. Chris's mom delivered the news that he did not make it. I remember falling to my knees and crying, and one of Chris's best friends leaned down and hugged me so tight.

I honestly don't know how we survived that day. We were all in such a state of shock and I can't even express the sadness we felt. We went to the church, where our wedding was turned into a memorial. Guests were arriving for a wedding only to find out that Chris had died.

Strength comes in waves during the grief journey. I had this tsunami of strength at the church that day. I stood up after we all sang “Amazing Grace” and spoke about my love for Chris and how thankful I was for the previous night, when everyone told him how much he was loved. I'm not sure where that strength came from, but I'm eternally thankful that I had that moment to feel strong.

The strength did not last, and I fell into a very depressed time in my life. I felt alone and afraid of my future. I had friends getting married, getting engaged, having babies, etc., and I felt so out of place.

Grief is like an iceberg. 

I can explain how my Option B was profound and amazing and beautiful and inspiring—and it was—but there was more than what's on the surface. From eye level, an iceberg is a beautiful mountain of ice, but it's so much deeper. There were days after Chris died that I didn't get out of bed except to walk our dog, and there were days that I didn't want to live another moment.

Thankfully there were many days that a wave of strength rushed over me and I felt alive again. I listened to my body and allowed myself to be whatever emotion I felt. I saw a counselor weekly, joined a widows group, and began reading grief books and other inspirational stories about life. I grew connected to the people in my widows group and the people I read about in my grief books and started to feel less alone. I began reading Eat Pray Love and decided to take a couple of trips by myself; I went to Hawaii and Maine and just learned how to love myself again. I started running, which turned into running half marathons, a full marathon, and triathlons.

With the advice of friends, I entered the dating world. Some dates were comical; some dates caused me to go in a downward spiral of depression, making me miss Chris so badly I couldn't breathe; and one date led me to my phenomenal husband.

We now have two beautiful daughters together. I'm so proud of who I've become after such a tragic loss. I'll never get over losing my best friend, but I'm confident that Chris would be so incredibly proud of me for living life to the fullest, just as he did.

I'm now terrified to walk in my own grief footsteps again, as I know how hard the journey can be. My brother, David, committed suicide on December 28, 2016. David was living alone in Portland, Oregon, and unbeknownst to our family had been planning his death for many months. David was a rare soul. He was genuine, loving, and wanted the best for any and all. Depression ended up getting the better of him, and my heart is broken into a million pieces over losing such an outstanding human being who I was lucky enough to call my brother. During David's darkest days, he created a will, wrote loving letters, paid off his debts, donated all of his belongings, left a check for cremation, and even paid an additional year of Amazon Prime so my parents’ subscription wouldn't expire. I talked with my brother weekly, if not many times daily, and I never knew he was depressed and certainly didn't know he was planning on taking his life.

Each day that I smile and laugh with my family is a true gift that I don't take lightly.

I'd love to say that I'm “kicking the shit out of Option B” (well C in my case), but it's still so new and raw and I'm struggling to find my way in this grief journey again ... but I'm honestly doing the best I can and I know that's the most important part of grieving. My brother had given me a gift card for Christmas and I bought new running shoes for a half marathon I had planned to run in March. The shoes arrived the day after I found out he had died. For a couple of weeks, I planned to defer my race until another year. After so many friends and family members brought me food, flowers, books, cards, and much more I realized I had to run this race for myself and for my brother, who always loved hearing about and following my races and who was an amazing runner himself.

Each day that I get out of bed is a triumph. Each day that I smile and laugh with my family is a true gift that I don't take lightly. Each day that I'm given a sign of Chris or David, my heart fills with sorrow, love, and strength. Each day I tell myself, “Still I rise.” Each day I remind myself about my joys because it's so easy for the darkness to overshadow the light. And each day I look at the lotus flower as an inspiration. The lotus grows in dark, muddy, and murky waters and turns into a beautiful flower. I let that be my daily reminder that my life still has the potential to be beautiful even though I've experienced such darkness and adversity.

__________

Dedicated to Lily Fiourintino, my counselor who encouraged me to write my story. Lily holds the most special place in my heart and I'm eternally grateful for her life and beautiful spirit that lives on. 

Grief & Loss Building resilience Finding meaning Loss of partner Post-traumatic growth Suicide
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