‘Come home. There’s been a plane crash, and they think it’s Mitch.’ He was moments away from landing. I felt my soul leave my body.’: Widow re-marries after loss, ‘Life handed me a second chance at love’

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“In the early afternoon hours of October 9th, 2009, my world’s axis forever tilted. In a single moment, everything I had known for fifteen years, every truth, every norm, and every bit of stability was taken from my two very young children and I. We  lost our collective lives, our future, our peace, and the feeling of stability in an ever unstable world.

When you are young and in love, you truly believe it will be forever. You make plans for a future, a family, the joy of raising the beings you created together, and the hope you will grow very old with this person you chose. When we said, ‘I do,’ in a seaside chapel on the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s shores, I never dreamed we’d only get nine years of shared existence.

As I watched our two-year-old daughter Addison at her dance class, I received a call that would change my idea of what forever means. As I heard the words, ‘Come home, there has been a plane crash, and they think it’s Mitch,’ I felt my soul leave my body. Everything you read about shock is true. Time slows down; you feel as if you are floating above the earth, a numbness takes over, and your heart races as your body becomes consumed with fight-or-flight.

Courtesy of Michelle Steinke
Courtesy of Michelle Steinke

I grabbed Addison and somehow managed to drive us home. The authorities had asked I wait at our house until they could come to us, and at that moment, I knew he was dead. They don’t send you home if everything is alright. As we drove, I looked back to see my baby girl safely in her car seat, playing with her sweet blonde curls, so unaware of how her life had just changed forever. When I arrived at our house, I found my mother-in-law, Mitch’s mom, who watched our one-year-old son, Matthew, screaming with intense grief on the floor. I picked her up and quietly whispered, ‘Not in front of the kids.’ We waited for hours until the officers arrived to confirm what we both already knew deep in our hearts: he was gone.

Mitch, my husband, and a pilot took off in a single-engine plane and crashed moments after the plane left the ground.

No goodbye, no chance to say what we were feeling, no time to write Addison and Matthew years of birthday cards, no second chance for do-overs. Just a forever silence. Grief is final, all-consuming, gut-wrenching, lonely, and brutally quiet. It’s the kind of quiet that can’t be explained until your person is forever silenced. You turn around to tell them about your day, call them and say you’ve arrived at your destination, or reach for them in the middle of the night and nothing is there beyond the deafening stillness. I didn’t think I could live beyond his tragic death. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep living, but my babies kept me waking up each day, and they pushed me to not only survive but eventually begin to thrive.

In the days, weeks, and months following his tragic passing, I threw myself into fitness to help me cope with the pain of our loss. I found my power and my will to keep going on long runs, have a hard sweat, and just take time for myself.  Being a solo parent after loss is exhausting, not only because you are doing 100% of the hard work meant for two parents, but because, as a parent, you are all-consumed and worried about your children’s grief. I needed my workouts as a momentary respite from the pain and the opportunity to forget I was his widow and the sole surviving parent of Addison and Matthew. Each sweat washed over me and gave me the energy, the desire, and the will to keep on going for just another 24-hours; that’s when I would have to do it again.

Courtesy of Michelle Steinke

I can’t really explain the power behind movement. It was as if a small ember of desire smoldered in my soul, and each day as I trained, I felt that ember grow. With that small fire came a new desire to live life to the absolute fullest. I knew Mitch would want nothing more than our happiness, and the only way to find joy would be to create it for ourselves. That was not going to happen if I was unwilling to do some hard work and make loving life a priority.

I spent the next two years of my life working on becoming the very best version of myself. I focused hard on my fitness and even walked away from my VP job to stay home and be with my children more. I decided to become a trainer and pass what I’d learned from my loss and others who are struggling. I wanted to show the world fitness can be a critical tool for the griever’s toolbox in the depths of grief. Throughout this process, I found myself more and more in love with the woman I was becoming. A woman who understood the essential things in life could not be measured with material gain. My priorities became life, family, friends, and a work-life balance critical to our mental and physical health. For the first time in my 37 years, I was not consumed by the success that could be measured by the outside world, but rather a focus on authentic happiness, peace, and freedom.

Courtesy of Michelle Steinke

I was content as a family of three, and in love with the human grief revealed me to be. I would never wish the pain of loss on any other human, but I would wish my new perspective on the world. The idea of falling in love again crossed my mind now and again, but truth be told, it scared me. I had such a wonderful marriage to Mitch and we had such rare friendship; how could that ever be recreated? I dated a few guys, but I knew immediately in my gut none of them were for me. I was content with being a solo mom until both of my kids were grown. It appears the universe had different plans for me.

On a warm April afternoon, I stepped onto a sun-splashed patio and into my future. He sat there, looking confident in a reserved manner. Nothing about him was off-putting, from the moment I saw him, it felt comfortable, peaceful, and somehow just right. We talked for hours. He was witty, strikingly handsome, and wonderfully attentive. At some point, as the sun started to set, he noticed I was cold; he waved over the waiter and asked we move inside. We sat down in the warmer space, and he removed his sunglasses, and his eyes captivated me: so blue, soulful, and welcoming.

Courtesy of Michelle Steinke

We met again, and again, and over days, weeks, and into years. There were coffees, lunches, and hikes, all of which seemed to flow more smoothly than the last. Keith seemed confident in what he was looking for in a woman, and I could tell by the look in his eyes I held all of the qualities he desired. It takes a uniquely special man not to be intimidated by a fiercely independent and strong-willed woman like myself. If you throw the widow part into the equation, it takes an even more unique individual. Death is not requested, and in my case it wasn’t expected, and my heart did not stop loving my husband on the day he died. My heart and soul will forever love my late husband more deeply than I can put into words, but there I was looking at a man who didn’t seem to fear my past and appeared to want to apply for a spot in my future.

Three years later, Keith, the man I’d unexpectedly and reluctantly met on that patio, asked me to be his wife. He asked to become Addison and Matthew’s father and blend our two families into one. He did this knowing my past trauma, heartache, and all the future obstacles we would face with four children under ten and two past stories informing who we had become. One of the things I learned as I dated and fell in love again after widowhood is that my fears of never recreating what I had before were well-founded. You see, I realized we never replace or recreate what came before. You learn to create a new friendship, new memories, moments not to be forgotten, and a new space filled with a new love in your heart. If I am honest, it was so hard. The first date, our first kiss, the first time we met each other’s children. The intimate moments. Starting again. It was not easy.

Courtesy of Michelle Steinke
Courtesy of Michelle Steinke
Courtesy of Michelle Steinke

We baby stepped our way through it. Sometimes I excelled and moved forward like a rock star, bold, strong, and sure of my choices. Sometimes I cried from fear of the unknown and the past pain which threatened to shatter my entire existence. There was fear of new feelings, new heartache, and perhaps new loss. There was also joy, new hope, and young love. Life handed me a second chance at love. It was not the first, and it shouldn’t be. There is no comparison, and there never will be any replacement.

Our hearts are vast and deep and full of potential, but only if we decide to be vulnerable to new emotions, both the good and the bad. It has not been easy. It looks perfect, but goodness it’s not. This is real life, real love, and the genuine desire to stay when the times are tough. He doesn’t complete me, I’m not half of anything. I’m a whole being that accepts and loves his whole being. He loves me deeply, keeps my heart safe, and holds space for us on the good days and not-so-good days.

Courtesy of Michelle Steinke
Courtesy of Michelle Steinke

So after being widowed and remarried, I wish you knew some of the most important things life has taught me. I wish you knew with every touch, every kiss, every embrace, just how precious it all is. I wish you cherished it the way I do. I wish you felt the depth of emotion, the warmth, and the closeness. It’s not the same as it was before, not because I love him more, and I loved my late husband any less. It’s not the same because I’m not the same.

I changed in the blink of an eye, the second a small plane crashed in 2009, and I hope never to forget the way my perception shifted instantly. I have learned what I wish every person on this earth would learn before it’s too late: life is fleeting, love is a gift for a finite moment, and we should soak it all up and savor the little pure moments of beauty. You can long for someone’s arms more than you long for your breath. That not being able to talk to your person is far from just lonely…it’s an empty and dark hole that seems impossible to escape. That when you decide to open yourself up to new love and new chances, it’s so much more than you ever thought it could be.

It’s so much deeper, more vibrant, and complex because you are now those exact things. Grief gifted me a love I didn’t know I was capable of, and I feel blessed to be able to share in this lifetime. For the remainder of my life, I will love my late husband, Mitch, and I will love my husband, Keith. With significant loss comes so many gifts. I was gifted with a heart big enough to embrace so much love and a voice willing to share it. I hope you see your gifts through the pain. They are all around you; notice them.”

Courtesy of Michelle Steinke
Courtesy of Michelle Steinke

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Michelle Steinke of Bozeman, Montana. You can follow her  journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos. 

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