“Giggles filled the house as Rob spun the boys through the air. He would let them down, and they would run as fast as they could around the house and come back for more. ‘Again, Daddy!’ This continued for several minutes before I finally ushered him out of the house. We were with family to celebrate my Dad’s birthday, and he was trying to squeeze in a run before dinner. He spun the boys around one more time than made his way outside before they could get back to him. I had no way to know it would be the last time I ever saw my husband alive.
When I was 19 years old, I was doing an internship in the middle of nowhere east Texas. I had a lot of plans for my life after that internship was over, and absolutely NONE of them included a relationship. I was finally paving my own path and chasing lifelong dreams. So I was a deer caught in headlights when my goofy Canadian friend Rob revealed his feelings to me. I straight up told him nope, sorry, no way, we are only friends.
To my relief he respected my answer, and we somehow avoided any potential awkwardness. However, over the next few weeks I felt this conflict in my heart. Here was this guy who I had such a free, joy-filled and easy friendship with – something I’d never had before. Could I feel anything more for him? But what if it didn’t work out? Could he immigrate to the United States? How would long distance work when I’ll be in Texas one more year? No, no this is impossible. I don’t like him like that. But maybe I do? My inner dialogue was turmoil! But within a few weeks a real shift seemed to happen, and my fears began to be replaced with peace. My eyes opened to the way this guy patiently and calmly handled my wild emotions and outright rejections. I saw his heart, I saw his character, his steadiness, and I knew somehow that if I were to say yes to him, this would be better than I could have dreamed of. I didn’t have all of the answers, and I wasn’t sure how any of this would actually work out, but I took the leap anyway.
We had our first date on July 2, 2009, and spent the rest of that month completely inseparable. By August, his Visa had expired, and he went back to Canada while I remained in Texas, but we only grew closer in the distance. Every single Friday I could check my mail and there would be a handwritten letter from him. For a year we bonded and grew and fell in love through those letters and long-distance calls.
That next summer on a trip to visit him in Canada, we took a detour to visit Niagara Falls. We walked to the middle of the Rainbow Bridge where there is a plaque marking the Canadian/United States border. As I looked over at the incredible view of the falls, Rob stood on the Canadian side while I stood on the U.S. side, and he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.
I turned 21 the next day, and five months later we were married. That was the start of a wild and unexpected ride. Over the next couple of years, we would move 6 times, deal with mountains of immigration paperwork and headaches, an unexpected pregnancy, job losses, financial struggle, and finally settling in Oklahoma City not far from where I grew up. The struggle, while it easily could have torn us apart and led to bitterness, instead drew us closer. In a way, we grew up together, leaving the innocence of childhood and finding our way through the messiness into adulthood.
After our son was born, we began running races together. Much of our free time was spent training, and often we found windows of time to run together while my parents babysat. Rob found a rhythm in the marathon, hoping to one day qualify for Boston, while I stuck to shorter races. But he did help me get to my first and only marathon finish line in 2016. On August 20, 2017, I was in the middle of a training block for a half ironman triathlon, and he was in the middle of another marathon cycle. I opted to get my run done indoors, because even though we would be at my parent’s house that afternoon and they would happily watch our son so we could run together, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hang in the heat that day. So, instead of joining him, I watched Rob walk out the front door alone for his run as high-pitched toddler giggles still filled the house. I didn’t even kiss him goodbye.
He should have only been gone about 40 minutes, so when an hour had passed, I pushed any anxious thoughts away because he hated me worrying, told me not to be like his mother. I left a note next to his phone on the kitchen counter and told him where to meet us for dinner, but after I still had not heard from him at the restaurant, real fear began to come over me. I took our son and left; I’d go drive the route he was supposed to be running in case something had happened.
Less than a mile from my parent’s house I came upon an intersection that was barricaded and surrounded by police cars. My heart began racing and beating out of my chest as I parked haphazardly near the barriers and ran to the nearest officer I could find. I described what my husband was wearing and asked if he had been involved, panic steadily rising inside of me. It didn’t take long to confirm my fears – he had, in fact, been involved. As minutes crawled by, waiting on a status update, I reasoned with myself that he was at the hospital and probably had a broken leg at worst. A group of officers finally gathered around me, and I’ll never forget that sticky, suffocating, hot August humidity as they told me, with the saddest looks in their eyes, that he didn’t make it.
My world became numb, gray, fuzzy, like the static of a fading radio station.
If you’ve ever been on a merry go round spinning really fast, then it comes to an abrupt stop, the disorientation can be dizzying. That’s how this moment felt. A dizzying, abrupt stop.
By some miracle I found the strength to tell our five-year-old son that Daddy was never coming home. I found the strength to call Rob’s parents in Canada and listen to the anguished, guttural cries on the other end of the line. And then, somehow, I drove home. I left ground zero and just… drove home.
At 28 years old I found myself widowed and a single mom.
There are not adequate words to summarize a loss like this. The ups and downs in one single day are enough to fill an entire page. In the first 3 months after Rob’s death, I had to face his birthday, our son’s birthday, and what would have been our 7th anniversary. Then the holidays hit. I’d sit in my chair in my office in the late afternoon and imagine hearing the slamming screen door as Rob came home from work and call out, ‘Hey honey, I’m home!’ It was an impossible, suffocating new normal which left half of my heart buried 6 feet underground and the other half trying to survive when it was very clearly broken.
As days blended into weeks and into months, I slowly found pieces of myself again. Through counseling and EMDR therapy, I began to see beyond the gray, disorienting trauma. Somewhere in there I began to believe I’d find myself again, that the all-consuming pain wouldn’t be like this forever, and my story was far, far from over.
By May, I decided I wanted to take time to travel by myself. Josiah would be going to Canada to spend time with family for a few weeks and I didn’t want to sit at home alone. I connected with a friend in San Diego who set me up with an extra bike to use in a local triathlon. I spent an entire week there checking off bucket list items, wandering streets, meeting strangers, hiking, and drinking every local craft beer I could find. I felt more peace that week than I even thought possible. I had imagined that traveling without Rob would be impossibly lonely, and while I did have moments of missing him, I felt proud of myself and my independence.
I returned home for a couple of days to switch gears before flying to Colorado. During a night with friends, alcohol may have influenced a decision to sign up on Match.com. While I had entertained the idea of dating again, I had zero expectations of finding a decent human online. Not only that, but I was so sure I’d never find another man who loved me as much as Rob did. What we had was too special, too rare. But within hours I received a message from some guy called ‘Frozley,’ and it was certainly more thoughtful and considerate than the kind of messages I’d see others getting from online dating sites. I responded back, probably some polite answer, but my heart wasn’t really in it.
My friend and I met up the next day in Breckenridge, Colorado, and, on a whim, came up with the crazy idea that we would go climb a 14’er in the morning. No mind that she’d never attempted one before, and I had basically arrived from sea level, but sure, YOLO, I guess. Needless to say, it was a serious struggle. Still, we didn’t quit, and when we reached the summit tears filled my eyes. We had done this, by ourselves, without anyone to help us. For the first time since Rob died, I felt joy. Real joy. July 3rd, 2018 would mark the day I knew I’d be okay.
During the trip I exchanged messages here and there with this ‘Frozley’ guy, and at some point he revealed his name was Robert. I vividly remember swearing about this and texting my best friend. The first decent human I talk to online seriously has to have the name Robert? Everything in me said this was too weird, too much, but I kept messaging back anyway. It was like some deep-down part of my soul knew better than my heart.
We made plans to meet up as soon as I returned home. I’m pretty sure the conversation went like, ‘Hey, it’s been fun talking and all, but if there’s no chemistry in person I don’t want to waste my time on you, so let’s get this over with.’ Super hopeful and romantic.
I chose an outdoor food truck park, needing the comfort of something casual with zero pressure. I did NOT think about it being July in Oklahoma and 95 degrees outside. Robert arrived straight from work in business slacks and a dress shirt, and immediately I felt bad for him. It was sweltering outside. But if he was uncomfortable, he didn’t show it, and we fell into an easy rhythm of conversation. We sat at this picnic table, hardly another soul around that day, and spent hours talking. I shared about my first love, Rob, and the pain of losing him. I held nothing back. I wanted this guy to know what he was getting with me, and if he didn’t like it, we would never work out. And to my surprise, Robert didn’t run away.
As the sun started to go down, we left the food truck park and headed across the street to get ice cream and escape the heat. But then he asked me a question.
‘Is it weird that I share the same name as your late husband?’
‘Yes,’ I told him. ‘Yes, it is.’
‘Well, if it would make you feel any better you can call me by my middle name instead.’
‘Okay, and what’s your middle name?’
I stopped. And I stared. And I turned white as a ghost. Had this guy been stalking me and learning about my life? This isn’t possible.
‘My husband’s middle name was Andrew!’ I exclaimed.
Looking back, I can picture my late husband hanging out next to Jesus up in Heaven, throwing back some popcorn and watching this all unfold like a movie. And the minute Robert tells me his middle name they bust up laughing and popcorn goes flying. That would be a prank Rob plays on me, sending some super incredible guy that shares the exact same name as him.
I wasn’t going to admit it then, but I can admit it now. It was meant to be. It was absolutely meant to play out this way.
After we said goodbye that night, I came home and dreamt about Robert and me. We were speaking to high school students together and I was telling them about how Robert does such a good job of guarding and protecting my heart. That’s all it was, but it was all I needed. It was an affirmation that I could trust him, which was so beautiful and important when my heart felt so raw.
So, we went out again the next night.
And the next night.
And the night after that.
After a week of this, I came to his house late one night after his kids had gone to bed. We laid outside on the trampoline and talked about how the depths of pain that we had experienced was the very thing that somehow brought us together. Had he not had his world crushed and broken by divorce, and had I not had my life shattered by the sudden death of my first love, our lives would never have intersected. We knew it was something sacred and tender, a beauty we could already see blooming from pain.
For the past year I’d filled my journal daily, using words to crawl through the dark and try to touch the light. I called it the caves of grief. Now I found myself holding hands with someone who helped shine the flashlight, who pointed it towards joy and laughter and bravery and new horizons. And when the waves would start to crash over me and I was dragged into the under tow of grief, that hand held me and never let me go.
On July 5, 2019, exactly one year to the day of our first date, we stood before our closest family and friends and I promised that should death take him first, I’d love him long after his last breath.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Griffioen Mosley of Oklahoma City, OK. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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