Words can’t express how I feel about the outpouring of support so I will simply say, I LOVE YOU & THANK YOU!!! I’ve been waiting on one last touch to write this blog but today I realized I won’t have Steph’s memorial bench until late Sept. So, once it comes in, with some help from her girlfriends, we will install it on the Indian River Lagoon’s edge at the end of Valkaria Rd for all to enjoy. Endless Windz owns that property and Mike has agreed to let me install it there. Steph liked to watch the sunrise from the location. I plan to install it on what would have been our 4th Anniversary, October 26th. Anyway, I’ll get on to my last adventure with her. Including are some random photos that don’t even scratch the surface of the cool things we did.
Music has got me by pretty well. You could be in a room of 1,000 friends and family and it does not come close to justifying the void and loneliness. There is something about music that can somewhat fill that void, especially when you’re physically alone. It comforts you to a degree. During my travels, a new song continuously came on the radio and after looking at the photos on my phone, I had taken three pictures of the song title when it came on. I listened again and again, it made sense.
I have never had a spouse die before so this is all new and I did my very best to remember and say goodbye to her. She left me nothing to go by but I knew her pretty well and went with what my gut told me to do. There was only one chance to do this right and I was going to make sure I did my best.
At first, we (family and I) were not going to have a service of any kind. Steph and I were not big on services and are not very religious. So I immediately started thinking of what I was going to do for her. The ideas started to swirl in my brain and I started to envision them and put together a game plan. The shock was in full effect during this time and after being cremated, I did not want my wife sitting in one particular place longer than she needed to. She passed on a Monday night, her organ donor body was dedicated to those in need on Tuesday, I was in the cremation office by Wednesday and I picked her back up on Friday. It all happened so fast.
Rachel (Stephs youngest sister) and I went on a mission to find a magnolia tree. We didn’t realize it was going to be just that, a mission. There are tree farms all over my neighborhood but we kept striking out. Finally we came across Sunscape Nursery off Weber just down the road from my home. We hopped in the Gator and the owner took us around to see what he had. Steph was not a fan of the perfect pineapple. She liked to bring home plants from the store that looked like they weren’t going to make it. While Sunscape had some beautiful trees to pick from, there was one called a “Lil Gem” magnolia that was off the beaten path at the end of a row, all by itself. It was loaded with buds and had a small kink in the top. Rachel and I pretty much knew it was the one. We settled up and thankfully scheduled a delivery for 10am the next morning. From there, I went home and started to figure out where it would go. See, we liked to butt heads on where things would go. She just liked to put things where she wanted and I typically had some sort of reasonable logic behind where something should go. Friday morning I started digging a hole right where I told her I didn’t want anything planted on a previous planting day. Tommy, (Rachel’s fiancé), Rachel and I got this hole dug in time to the fellas to back the trailer right to the hole and drop it in. We left a small trench around the tree and later that night, her immediate family came over and we spread some ashes in the trench. As if it wasn’t already perfect, one of her sisters found a note in her purse that said, “Lil Gem Magnolia”. I promise, I had no clue it’s exactly what she wanted.
Rewind back to Tuesday, her family mentioned that they would like to have a service and my reply was, “Let’s do it”. She loved the beach so it couldn’t have been anywhere else. It would also give the extended family and our friends a time to pay their respects. I called Alexis up at Eau Gallie Florist and asked if there was a way to get 100 sunflowers. She was kind enough to say yes and that the flowers were on them. In addition, I asked people to bring their own flowers and Friday night, the girls collected all the flowers off every tree and bush here at our home. We had a lot of flowers.
One of Steph’s favorite things was to have dates in the Chevy. That would be the ride of our choice to the service and she sat shotgun to the beach and back. The idea was to litter the beach with flowers, say a few words and paddle some of her ashes into the salty ocean waters. Needless to say, the plan was flawless and the amount of people that showed up made it that much better. It was obvious she was there with us because the sunrise was a very colorful one. Later that night, both families joined together for a great dinner at Pizza Gallery & Grill. It was a beautiful, yet emotional day. You can find a full set of her service photos on her FB page.
My wife spent a good part of her youth traveling around the world, packing parachutes and jumping out of planes. She had mentioned to me countless times that I should go jump with her. There were no inner fears of jumping out of a plane, I just always had something better to do with the money I would have spent. At least that’s what I had thought at the time. Tuesday night I said aloud in an empty house, “Wife, I’m going to jump out of a plane with you”. It wasn’t but the next day that we were contacted by a special friend of hers that he wanted to jump in Chicago with some of her ashes. Rook has ties in Sebastian as well as Chicago so he told us that the jumps would be on him. Rachel, Christina(cousin), Chris(my brother), Summer and Parker(my nieces) all showed up in Sebastian early Sunday morning. Within the hour, we were all falling out of the sky. Both Rachel and I carried some of her ashes and released them in the air. It was at that very moment that I realized I need to seize the moment more often. She asked me to jump so many times.
Steph’s mother Elizabeth, sisters Rachel and Meagan both had small erns with some ashes in them. I still had two bags and I was ready to whisk my wife away and run from the craziness the week had brought. From Skydive Sebastian, I hit the road to the Keys. On my way out of town, I stopped at the store for some camping food and on my way in, there was a credit card laying in the street. It took some time but I was tracked down in the store by the owner. He too lost a wife but it was some time ago. Over the previous week and coming weeks, I met multiple men who lost their spouse. It was almost as if you had never seen a yellow Mustang in your life, until you bought a yellow Mustang. Suddenly, the damn things were all over. It was a sad yet comfortable feeling of knowing I wasn’t alone.
My destination and place I like to call my second home was Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge. They take great care of me there so I keep going back. During our visit in 2015, we were given an anniversary present upon check-in. When we got married in 2013, we had lanterns that everyone wrote something special on and in 2014, we brought them to Long Key and released them on the Gulf side into the sunset with some great friends. The first one went up, up and away. The water was slicked out and conditions were perfect as it was sucked directly towards the setting sun. The second lantern went up but suddenly started to fall towards the water. It took a group effort of yelling and screaming at this lantern to take off. “GO GO GO GO GO…..”, it grazed the water by inches and as if it was listening to us, followed the first one into the sunset. It was such a memorable moment, I stopped at the same seawall on my way down and released some of the ashes in the same spot. Again, it was glassy. My feet sat in the warm water and I stared into the blue skies.
My engagement video.
Onward, I headed south to Big Pine where I checked in and setup the tent we had camped in so many times before. I truly wanted to be alone down here and I got everything I asked for. Including my favorite site, I was the only one camping in the rustic side. It was about 7:30pm by the time I got the tent setup and I noticed something inside. It was a necklace made by a friend that I had given to her for her most recent birthday. It had her hair on it and I absolutely lost it. So many things started going through my head, asking why and how could we get separated in a life we had so many plans for. But it was the last time I would crack. Similar to the day I accepted I was paralyzed, the switch turned on that my wife was not coming back and that I would be ok without her. I went from not even wanting to move while I was there, to going to get ice cream and watching a movie. It was late but I was prepared to have a great trip.
With some new-found motivation from who knows where, I woke up on Monday and slipped my kayak into the water. It would stay in the water until I was ready to leave. I’m not sure how many times I’ve been to the Keys. It started at a very young age and I find myself there about three times a year. If you ask a local or someone who frequents the area, they would tell you the weather is hit or miss. Like the rest of the state, it’s rare that you get multiple days in a row where conditions are prime. This week was some crazy exception because while it was raining at home, the wind was minimal and the visibility was crystal in paradise. Never have I had consecutive days where it sat still and I’m just going to thank my wife for that one. There was no need to have a snorkel if you had a kayak because you could see small fish on the bottom at 10’. Over the two full days I spent on the water, I saw a number of beautiful things including a giant green sea turtle that came up within feet of me. These days were spent alone because it’s what I needed.
Wednesday, after sleeping in a bit, I packed my gear up but not before writing the location on our tent one last time. There have been multiple places I camped all over the state in my single tent and even in our big tent but never once did we write on the tent unless we were both together. It was a somber trip down memory lane as I read each place we visited. Tossing all the gear back in the truck, I said “See ya” to my second home and hit the road to return to Long Key. This is where I asked Steph to marry me and that was an adventure all by itself. There is a special gate to get to the camping area that is behind the first gate that the guard stays in. Gracefully explaining my situation, the guard let me in the park at no cost, gave me the code to the second gate and told me to take as long as I needed. As I pulled into the park, this song came on the radio…
Yea, it was kind of sad but it made me smile a bit. It felt like a really long drive.
My hopes were to poach the same site we stayed at or paddle all the way around to where I asked her to be my wife but I went 0-2. People had our site and I didn’t have an easy place to put my boat in. So, I drove to the end where the cul-de-sac is. This is a place she had sat in the water multiple times while I was out fishing. It’s nice and sandy here but it was low tide. The waters edge looked so far but I’d have a sore ass from kicking myself all the time if I never put 100% in. I grabbed my paddle and started to slowly walk all the way out. “EXCUSE ME SIR, YOU CAN’T PARK HERE.” This is what one of the park rangers yelled to me as I was crouched down about 75 yards out. “SORRY, I’M SPREADING MY WIFE’S ASHES AND I’M CRIPPLED SO I WON’T MAKE IT BACK THERE ANYTIME FAST. KEYS ARE IN IT AND RUNNING SO FEEL FREE TO MOVE IT.” She left, caught me on my way out and was extremely apologetic. My mission in the Keys was a success and I bailed out of there until next time.
After dropping my camping gear off and getting a nights sleep at home, I hit the road again but this time it was north towards North Carolina. I picked up a longtime friend on the way so I would have company. My alone time was over and I was ready for a companion. A trip to NC was already scheduled because we float down the Tuckasegee River in tubes each year. Steph and I first went down the river alone in a ducky which is an inflatable kayak. Not including that trip, this weekend was the 5th Annual Float. She was looking forward to it.
There was one bag of ashes left. My intentions were to spread them where we got married but I changed that up just a bit. However, our wedding location would be the first of three areas I would spread them. James and I headed up to the gazebo and I sat on the step where my friend and Reverend, Matt, stood tall while conducting the ceremony. It was nice out, not too hot and plenty of life around us. The ashes were spread in a line that connected the two spots where we stood and made a lifelong commitment to each other. Once I finished, I looked at James and said, “It would be cool if it started to rain and washed these ashes into the ground a bit”. Well, I’ll give you one guess what happened right after I said that. It was a beautiful moment as I imagined her walking all the way from the house, across the wooden bridge I built 15 years ago and into my arms for what I thought would be forever.
Our wedding video.
The second location (third day) was in the pond where my parents live. This is a gorgeous small body of water loaded with cool fish including big koi and lotus flowers. We would sit here a lot and feed the fish and relax while taking in the mountain air. The pond is a bit of a collecting spot for the water that comes off the mountain. It was on the low side at the time I spread her ashes but once there was enough rain, the same water would run down the mountain, eventually passing over the same rocks that I once laid lifeless in. It all made sense because if it wasn’t for my accident, Steph and I probably would have never met.
Here’s one more song to get you to the end by an artist we both enjoyed.
Sunday was here, the trip was closing in to the end and the Tuck Float was going down. We ran by the store first to pick up food to cook when we got out of the water. Before leaving the store, I checked the flower section for some nice NC sunflowers. I was in luck so I grabbed the three flowers and we were off to go sit in tubes. Aside from the three small erns her sisters and mother had, this was the very last of my wife’s ashes. Once we got in the water and everyone started floating, I held back to take a second to say my final goodbye to the physical being of Steph. I pushed myself into the middle of the river and sat the flowers softly in the flowing water followed by her ashes. The flowers kept up with me for quite some time as if we were floating together many times before. It was perfect until I finally lost sight of them. Closure settled in even more. It was hard and it still is, but I will be ok.
James and I made a safe journey home, talking all about life and things we did when we were teens. It was a blessing to have him with me on this last leg. The entire trip was full of ups and downs and as I finish this up a month after my best friend passed, I still find it difficult to swallow. I married a woman that made me feel like I never had to worry about anything again. To be 100% content in spending the rest of your life with someone is a gift that not a lot of people find. Missing her is an understatement and there is no doubt in my mind that she will forever hold a very special place in my heart. What we had was special and she helped me become the man I am and taught me a lot about life, including love. All good things eventually come to an end and for some reason, my last adventure with my wife ended with a total solar eclipse. Call it what you want, I call it the end of a fairy tail.
The last time I saw your smile is when I left you on Monday, August 7th without giving you a kiss goodbye. For some reason, in that very moment, I turned around and gave you a big kiss and said I love you. Those couple seconds in my life will be the most unforgettable seconds in my life.
Where would I be without you?
Where would you be without me?
You continued to ask me out and I finally gave in.
We conquered a world full of love from within.
Please give me the strength to make it through life
because I don’t know where I’m going without my beautiful wife.
Beautiful Mike. Thanks for sharing. Wayne
Sent from my iPhone
That was the most beautiful story I’ve ever read. I love you brother. Ralph Mele
Well done Mike. I shed some tears. Life….
*tears* that’s all… just *tears*
Beautifully done, Mike.
I love your story and I know it might not feel like that but you’re very blessed some people have lived a whole lifetime and never felt a tenth of what you guys had for each other
Absolutely beautiful and heart wrenching. Much much love to you.
this is why I kiss my wife every morning and when I walk in the door at night, you just never know when… What an amazing story Mike, what an amazing life you both had together. and what an amazingly strong man you are.
Thank you for sharing. Your story is beautiful just like the two of you.
Thank you for sharing ao much soul truth, Mikey…It’s touching and resonating, even inspiring. We love you, dude.