Pete and I met in high school, through a mutual friend, and I remember thinking “Hmm, he’s such a fun guy, with a great personality! “ Fast forward two years later, August 1998, and I ran into him at our local high school football game. My best girlfriend was with me, and I told her “Hey, that’s Pete! I haven’t seen him in forever!” I walked up to him, and we began chatting. After saying goodbye, I walked away thinking “Oh, he’s still such a nice guy.” Later on that night, I happened to run into him yet AGAIN, and knew it was fate! We FINALLY exchanged phone numbers, and started dating. After dating for a year, he proposed on a beautiful Christmas Eve, and we were married a year and a half later in May 2002.
Our daughter was born in June 2004, and our son came just 6 days shy of a year later in June of 2005. As a family, we loved to hang out together, sing songs and be SILLY!! We also liked to play in the backyard, go to the movies, and go on Camping Trips. We always had a fun time together, whether it was driving in the car or having family game night. Love was the center of our “perfect” life together.
Pete died suddenly on November 1st, 2010 at age 31, from a torn aorta. (Cardiac Tamponade due to Aortic Dissection) There may be several contributing factors in his death, from wrecking off the tube while boating in September, to getting the flu and being violently ill in October. Regardless, he was very stubborn and refused to get in to see our doctor. Meanwhile, he made the decision that he was ready to get into better shape physically, and began running every day. On October 31st, though, he was still in pain and rubbing his chest. We had a conversation, and I told him “Pete, just make an appointment, and go see the doctor this week.” The next day he had arranged to go do some UFC training with a guy he had just met the week prior. Before he went in to the class, we talked on the phone, and said our goodbyes just like any other time. I wish I would have known it was the last time I’d hear him say “I love you Momma.”
While Pete was at his class, I began making dinner so that it would be ready for when he walked in the door. I made spaghetti his favorite way, complete with a layer of melted cheese right on top. I knew he was only supposed to be gone till around 7, and was thinking about 20 minutes (or so) for the drive home. I didn’t exactly know where he was, but knew it was not too far. At 8, I put the kids to bed, and remember my son laying at the top of the stairs saying “I just want Daddy to tuck me in!” And then telling him “Daddy will tuck you in when he gets home, just like he always does.”
By 8:30 I started to feel uneasy . I sent a text message to my mother in law, asking her “at what point I should begin to worry?” She called me and said “give him until 9:00.” We hung up the phone and I called Pete’s best friend trying to find out if he knew where Pete would be… he didn’t know. Panic set in. Just after 9:00, my doorbell rang. I didn’t want to open the door. I looked out the peephole and saw an officer and a chaplain. The rest of the night was a blur- I remember the officer telling me that it had appeared that Pete had a heart attack and that he had died. I didn’t react. I sat there. Stunned. “He’s dead? WHAT? Really?” I had to call everyone myself. His mother- I’ll never forget the sound of her voice as I told her and she screamed in my ear. Hugging and holding all the members of the family as they each arrived at my house that night. The longest night of my life. With all of the sadness, and surprise and anger, I had to remind the family and friends to be quiet enough that we didn’t wake the kids. I wasn’t ready to tell them that their Daddy died. That he was never coming home again. After a few hours, all my family and friends left to get home to attempt to sleep, leaving me with my mother and mother in law. Reality of the night began to set in and I sobbed all night long. The next morning, my daughter came bouncing down the stairs. Shit. What was I going to tell her? How can I tell her alone, without her brother (who was still asleep)? So I sat her on my lap, arms around her and told her what happened to her Daddy. She started to cry. All I could do was hold her. There was nothing I could say or do to ease her pain and that is the most heartbreaking thing to a mother. A while later, my son woke up and came downstairs, and I sat him on my lap, told him the same thing. He said “Well, I don’t believe it.” Tasks like making funeral arrangements, slide shows, picking out the flowers, his outfit, the photos to display, filled the rest of our week. Family and friends showed up in a major way for us! Bringing paper products, food, snacks, activities for the kids, toys, etc. and even starting a Memorial Account at our local credit union. I am forever grateful to those who took (and still continue to do so) care of us!
Since his death, the kids and I have been through a whirlwind of emotions and situations. Our entire world was turned upside down, and I was left a widow at 29 with a 5 year old son and 6 year old daughter. I was left wondering what I was supposed to do without my husband, my kids without their father? Adjusting to this new life has been so difficult. Each of my kids has dealt with their emotions in a different way.
My son (who is now almost 7) retreated into his video games from the moment I told him his Daddy died, and rarely talked about his feelings. Only in the last few months (we are now at 18 & ½ months “out”) has he been expressing his feelings with either his words or his behavior. Most of which is has been negative. About 2 months after Pete’s death, I enrolled my son in Taekwondo, and he has been doing it ever since. He is developing some great skills, focus, and respect for others. He is also beginning to express himself through drawing. We still have a long ways to go in dealing with death and missing his Dad, something that will be ongoing for the rest of their lives.
My daughter (now near 8 ) started a journal right from the beginning, and has been using that as an outlet very sporadically. She has been taking Dance lessons since before Pete died, and continues to do so. Some of her favorite things are outdoors (riding her scooter, collecting rocks, checking out bugs, and loving animals). She expresses her feelings about her Daddy’s death, and doesn’t like it when I get upset. Pete was her “parent”- they were best friends and he idolized his little “Bubbles.”
Becoming an “Only” parent has been extremely difficult. There’s no one to bounce ideas off, no one to confirm decisions, no one to share the stress of illness, or school work, or emotional issues that elementary (and then teen, and young adult) age children need. Climbing into bed at night, exhausted emotionally, is very hard. Dealing with 6 and 7 year old attitude is very wearing. Wondering if certain behaviors are “typical” developmentally or “because my dad died.” And trying to express to school teachers and staff that this is a LIFE LONG impact is very difficult. My AMAZING support system of family and friends still helps, but at the end of the day, the one who agreed to be the other “half” of the team isn’t here. He’ll never be here. It’s just not fair.
Day by day (sometimes even moment to moment) we are getting stronger, and accepting that this is our new life together. We’re still a family of 4, but one of us is watching from Heaven instead of here on Earth. We all have hopes and dreams for our future and will learn, grow, and succeed because we are survivors!
We love and miss you, Daddy!!!
Pete F. 01/04/79 – 11/01/10