My name is Katie Stifter. I’m a mother, a high school counsellor and now a widow. My husband died in a tragic paddle boarding accident in the fall of 2016. He went out on our local lake on an unseasonably warm November day in Minnesota to take pictures on his paddle board. He never returned. I discovered the empty paddle board later that day and called 911. He was missing for 3 weeks and 4 days. Eventually the lake froze and he was miraculously found by an ice fisherman with his underwater camera. I was 16 weeks pregnant at the time of his accident and had a six and nine year old. Since then I have given birth to my son who is now 2. Writing and speaking about grief and loss is my passion.
Andy was the funniest man I have ever met and we carry on his laughter and humour. We miss him everyday but we will always keep telling our story in hopes that it will help others not feel alone in their grief.
Laughter is healing. It doesn’t fix everything. Humour was necessary during my journey and early days of grief. Sometimes things get so rough, you aren’t sure that you will make it. Laughter gives your body a needed reprieve from the ongoing pain. It gives you a glimmer of hope and a feeling that, just for a second, you can and will make it.
My new mantra is ‘a life continued’. Just because my husband died doesn’t mean I did too. I have full life ahead of me. My children deserve a happy life and a happy mom, despite the traumatic tragedy of losing their dad. It’s not easy. There are bad days. Really, really bad days. You will question your parenting skills. You will not feel like you can go on. Go easy on yourself. You are doing the best you can. Even if it means you ate take-out every meal or grandma had to come so you could lay in bed. Take it day by day, sometimes minute by minute, second by second. Look at what you have done. How far you have come and the fact that you keep on living. Be proud of your strength. You are strong even if it feels furthest from the truth. You are a warrior!
Accept help! It’s hard to put your pride aside and let others in. People want to help and frankly I needed it. Being pregnant with two small children whilst grieving and helping my children through their grief, there were days when I couldn’t even get out of bed. I have learned that if someone wants to bring a meal, mow the lawn, or even just give a much needed hug, I will let them. Pride gets in the way. Let it go! It serves no good in your life. The help I receive makes me a better mom and helps me heal. I know that when I am able, I will return the favour and so will my children because they have learned the impact a small act of kindness can make. People are good. Despite the negativity that runs through the media every minute of every day. When I faced my worst nightmare, I had an entire community and beyond that rallied behind me. From the sheriff's office, family, doctors, nurses, friends and neighbours. Strangers showed up with food and gift cards. Maternity clothes showed up at my door. My house and yard were cared for. All of this and more without me saying a word. People want to help those in need - there is so much good in this world and that needs to be celebrated.
You can experience joy and sadness at the same time. I never thought these emotions could go hand-in-hand but I have learned that grief makes it possible. Having a baby is one of the most joy-filled experiences of my life. At my son's birth I was elated and filled with so much joy. Meeting my new baby for the first time! Sadness was also there - being in the delivery room without the father of my baby. Knowing he would never meet his dad brings such strong emotion that is so intense the pain will bring you to your knees. Now, I know that with every joyous occasion sadness will always be a companion. For every birthday, lost tooth, wedding, and holiday we will celebrate but we will celebrate without him. This is what grief has now brought us.
Don’t let grief and fear control you. Loneliness is a young widow’s worst enemy. This is my fear. To never be loved again. To never feel intimacy. To parent alone. The fear that no one would love my children. I refuse to let grief control me but healing and happiness take work. It doesn’t happen without accepting change, trying new things, allowing yourself to seek help, and letting your fears go. I refuse to let grief control me. I will always miss my husband and grieve his loss. But I will continue to work on happiness and finding joy again! Because this tragedy didn’t happen to me, it happened in my lifetime and I have a lot of life left to live. And to repeat my mantra again I will have ‘a life continued’.