It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new blog. I will be honest, it’s been hard to write about the weeks and months after my husband’s death. I just don’t know how to put into words or how to describe how broken I truly was. If I’m being completely honest, I’m a little embarrassed at some of it. I mean, do I really want to be honest with the world and let everyone know that I am not as strong as everyone thinks? There’s this part of me that just wants to let everyone keep believing that I’m “strong, amazing…an inspiration”. I’ve told myself over and over that I’ve given God all the credit for any amount of strength and grace I showed during those awful, tragic, and very public events. I’ve done what He asked of me. I’m finished. However, there was this voice telling me, “No Veronica, you’re not finished. Not yet.” I tried to ignore it. Just today, as I was in the shower, thinking about life (I do all of my thinking in the shower) I made a decision that I wasn’t going to write anymore, but tonight, an eighth grade girl had the faith and the courage to remind me that God is not finished with me, and it is His will for me to continue to share my journey of healing. I will not sell God short. Obedience brings forth blessings. So, here I go….
In order for everyone to grasp how broken Javier’s death left me, and in order for everyone to truly grasp how far God has carried me, I am not going to pick up where I last wrote. Instead, we’re going to fast forward two years and two months, to today. I’m going to tell you how I’m doing now.
Two years later, I still cry. My heart still has moments when I can’t believe it. I still think about him every single day, countless times a day. I still miss him. I still long for a miracle, a miracle that tells me this was all a mistake. I still want him back. Two years later, milestones, accomplishments, holidays, and birthdays are no longer pure happiness or joy because they have now become bittersweet. Two years later, his absence is still felt, and my heart has a hole in it that nobody but Javi could ever fill. However, two years later, I can finally say that despite all of that, I’m doing good, and mean it. I can say that I’m doing good without feeling guilty. I can say that I’m doing good without fear of being judged.
They say that time heals all wounds. Well, I’m here to tell you that I hate that quote, and it is the biggest lie I’ve ever been told. Time does not heal all wounds. However, I will say that time is a gift, and it is not time that heals your wounds, it is what you do with time that helps you heal. I will also say that over the past two years I’ve come to learn (and accept) that there are certain heartaches that will never fully go away. This is one of them. So, let me say this about what time has done for me. Time, is a gift that I am so very grateful for. Time has taught me how to live with the pain. Time has taught me how to cope. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Javi or miss him. That will never change. What has changed is that I don’t dwell in the sadness anymore. I allow myself the moment, but I have learned and trained myself to keep going with my day. I don’t get comfortable and make myself a home in sorrow anymore. A painful memory, the emptiness I feel in my heart, and missing Javi don’t keep me in bed anymore. I carry the heartache with me, everyday, but it doesn’t control me anymore, I control it. Time has taught me how to live with the pain and the hole in my heart.
Two years later, I have found a certain degree of acceptance with this. While I will never understand the why, I’ve come to accept that some things are not meant to be understood, and it is not my place to question God. I’ve come to fully accept that God did not take Javi from us, but he certainly received him into heaven with open arms. The devil did this, and for whatever reason God allowed it to happen, I accept that it is not my place to try and figure out why.
Two years later, I am content with my life. That’s not to say that I like the idea of being a widow or a single mother. I get very lonely sometimes, and it is very hard and extremely overwhelming to raise three kids by myself, but I have found a way to make the best of it. The kids and I travel quite often. We are spontaneous. We eat cereal for dinner sometimes, and we like it. I have even come to enjoy my freedom and independence. I hang out with my girlfriends and laugh until my side hurts. Life is not perfect, and the hurt still runs very deep, but we are coping.
Two years later, I still sleep on my side of the bed. His side of the bed is untouched and empty, but emptiness doesn’t consume my heart every night anymore. Two years later, his tooth brush is still in the cup on my bathroom sink. His bath sponge is still hanging in my shower. His clothes is still hanging in my closet. While that may sound crazy to some, it’s become completely normal for me. Before, all these things were kept there because I couldn’t bear or accept the thought of him not coming home. Now, they serve a different purpose. They are gentle reminders of the life we had together, the life I loved, and the kind of life I want, should I ever allow another man into my heart.
Two years later, I am no longer closed off to the idea of dating. I even went on a date. YES! You read that correctly. I did go on a date, and I even gave the guy a chance. While he was not right for me, I can say that I learned a lot from the experience. I learned that Javier was one of a kind! I learned that I can’t expect to find Javi in any other man, because Javi can’t be duplicated. I learned that not every man will understand or accept the idea of living with Javi’s memory, and that taught me that Javi’s memory is something I will never give up, and it is non-negotiable. I believe that a man who truly loves me will accept me just as I am and will respect Javi’s memory. He will not try to replace Javier, compete with his memory, or feel threatened by it. More than anything, I have learned to accept that Javi would not want me to be alone forever. He would want me to be happy. He would want the kids to be happy. He wanted his kids to be loved. While he never wanted to be replaced, he did want his kids to have a father figure. Two years later, I’ve also realized that a new man will not complete me, fix me, or make me ok. A new man could never erase the pain I feel or the love I have for Javi. A new relationship is not and will never be a measure of my progress in healing. I will love when I’m ready not because I’m lonely.
Two years later, I miss my life as a Marine wife. I miss the Marine Corps. I miss my Marine! I don’t dwell on what I don’t have, anymore. I accept that I am the widow of a Marine…an American hero. I have realized that I don’t have to fight for or defend my title as a Marine wife, because no matter what happens, nothing or no one could ever strip me of that title and I will never give it up. I earned that title. I am a Marine wife forever. Part of my inheritance has been Javi’s pride in the Marine Corps. I am beyond proud and honored to say that I am the wife of SSgt. Javier Ortiz Rivera, United States Marine. Two years later, I am prouder than ever to be an American. I live in the land of the the free, because of the brave. Two years later, I still can’t look at the American flag without thinking about my husband’s flag draped casket, but the pride that I feel for my husband and his heroism comforts me and reminds me that the the American flag waves and stands firm because of the heroism of heroes like Javi. Two years later, I am more patriotic than ever. Two years later, I live every day in gratitude for my freedom because now I understand and I know exactly how much it cost. I do my best to honor the sacrifice and not let it go in vain.
Two years later, I’ve accepted that honoring Javi doesn’t mean living a life of grief and sorrow. I have learned to honor Javi by doing the things that he liked, running the Marine Corps Marathon, and helping wounded warriors and families of fallen heroes. The best way to honor Javi is to make a difference in this world and make every effort to enjoy every minute that I have left on earth.
Two years later, I have realized that while Javi’s death has changed me, it does not define me. I am Veronica. And ironically enough, my name means, “she who brings victory”. Two years later, I am ready to share my victory, the victory which I was only able to obtain because I have a heavenly father who hears my prayers, provides for my every need, and who loves me regardless of how low of a low I reach. And now, I have my husband in heaven, who looks down on me. He smiles at me from heaven. He loves me all the way from heaven. My husband gives me a reason to work toward a life in heaven. Two years later, I focus more on my blessings than my heartaches. I have sad and painful moments, not days. I have happy days, not just happy moments.
God may have allowed this to happen, but He has strengthened, comforted me, extended grace and mercy to me in moments when I didn’t deserve it. He has blessed me and poured his love down on me. I lost the love of my life, but I gained an abudance of love from family, friends, and perfect strangers. God has blessed me in every area of my life. He has shown himself so big in my life that it can’t be denied or explained as anything other than God’s presence, favor, and blessings.
Two years later, I am blessed with the friendship of some amazing people, the love of my amazing kids, and the support of my amazing church family. Two years later, I am at peace with the fact that I have done everything in my power to keep Javier’s memory alive and honor his wishes. Two years later, I am far from perfect. I still cry. It still hurts. I still have my moments, but I am doing good. I accept that this is my life. I accept that I have no choice but to move forward. I accept that he is not gone completely. Two years later, I believe, with my whole heart, that true love never dies and that true love stories never end. I accept that I am blessed with a love that gives me a piece of heaven, everyday.
Two years later, I continue to be blessed and highly favored. I have learned to lean on God and let Him be my strength. I have learned to trust God and his timing. Two years later, I know the true meaning of faith, and I know how much God truly loves me. When Javi died, I was walking in a literal hell on earth, but I’ve chosen heaven, and I manage that decision everyday.
Soon, I’ll do my best to describe my brokeness. Soon, you’ll read about the days when I was not doing even remotely good, and you’ll read about how God took all the broken pieces of my heart and my life and put me back together. Soon, you’ll understand just how far I’ve truly come.