Most people feel abandoned by God at some point in their life. That's why we ask those questions: "Why did this happen to me? How will I go on?" Initially, I felt as if everything valuable in my life had disappeared. My love, my life, my hopes and dreams for the future were gone. Yet I wasn't overwrought with feelings of "Why?" My sense of abandonment was more of a feeling that I was being left behind. I had this recurring vision of myself as a little boy strapped into an empty shopping cart in the middle of a busy grocery store. I couldn't find my mother. There were busy people all around me, but no one really noticed. I was lost and alone, waiting for her to return.
Emotionally, it was a Job-like experience for me. There were times I wished that I could have died with Ronnie and the kids. But deep down somewhere in my core, I knew I wasn't abandoned just because I didn't understand life and the world around me. As in the story of Job, I knew that God loved me (and was worthy to be loved) because of who He is, not because of the immediate benefits I could see.
Did anyone say or do anything that provided real help or comfort?
There is very little that anyone can say in that situation to provide immediate comfort. But there was real help in the way people expressed their love for me. Several of my friends literally took over all the details of my life for me. I didn't have to run one errand concerning the funeral or life in general. It was love that comforted me and love that eventually lifted me up out of my dark place.
There is one story that I will pass along that gave me some small comfort at the time. It's from "A Man Called Peter," a movie about Peter Marshall, a former Chaplain for the United States Senate. In the movie, Peter Marshall gives a sermon about a young boy who is dying of a terminal illness. One night the boy asks his mother, "Mommy, what happens when you die?" The mother wants to be truthful but also wants her son to be comforted as much as possible. She tells the little boy that it is like when he falls asleep on the couch at night and his daddy picks him up in his big, strong arms and carries him upstairs. He gets tucked into bed, kissed goodnight, and later he wakes up in his own room. I knew that this was what had happened to Ronnie.
I know there is nothing I can say that will ease your pain, but I love you and you can count on me to help in anyway that I can. I've learned that everyone reacts differently in this situation. Some people shut themselves off and other people open up. The best advice I have is to surround yourself with people that love you and make yourself available by sharing your situation. If you want to be "better," reach out to loved ones and to God. If you want to be "bitter," doubt God and withdraw from your family and friends. Of course, it's not as easy as it sounds. It takes a while before anyone in this situation even wants to get better.
Was it hard for you to open yourself up to the possibility of a new love; did you feel disloyal in some way to Ronnie?
At the time, Diane and I weren't looking for or even thinking about romance and love. It was about being there for each other. being a friend. reaching out. We weren't falling in love as much as we were falling deeply into each other's lives and just getting through each day. Eventually, it became obvious to both of us that we were in love. I guess it could have been a problem except that Diane was so remarkably understanding. Diane made it comfortable for me to still express my love for Ronnie and I did, sometimes for days at a time. She never made me feel like I was trading one relationship for the other.
Ronnie taught me how simple and joyful life should be. Except for the joy of holding her own children, she seemed to have everything she wanted in life. She taught us that life is both precious and uncertain.to celebrate life each day and to cherish our family.
Diane is remarkably loving, strong and understanding. She has inspired me to live and love again and to stay focused on life's greater picture. Through her life and through her acceptance of mine, I have been given a second chance at the family I've always wanted.
How did you and Diane come up with the idea of the Letter Box?
Within hours of the birth of our first daughter, Diane got out stationery and pen and began to write Carly a letter. She sealed the envelope and wrote across the back: "To open on the birth of your first child." Later, we mailed the letter to our home so that the cancelled postage would be a mini time capsule that froze that letter in a moment of time.
We liked the idea so much, that we continued writing letters for many of the milestones in her life. We learned from Ronnie that life was precious and fragile, uncertain at best. So we set out to express our love, life and encouragement for Carly in a way that would last her entire lifetime whether we were here or not. We now have letter boxes filled with letters for all three of our children and a few for each other.
What do you hope your children will get from reading their letters?
Our hope is that we will be sitting with our children, telling stories and laughing about the letters we've written, many years ago, for that particular day. But if God has taken one or both of us from this earth, our letters to them will be a living legacy of our love and pride for them.