“The escort to the hospital seemed to take forever. No matter if we were driving Code 3, lights, and sirens, I was never going to get to my husband fast enough. In my mind, I knew if I could just get to him in time, he would be okay. Nausea set in as we pulled into the hospital parking lot. We parked the car, and I suddenly began to shake and felt like vomiting. I wanted to get there so quickly, yet once we arrived, fear paralyzed me. I took a few deep breaths and nodded to the officer in the driver’s seat I was ready, even though I could never be ready for what I was about to face.
I gripped the handle and opened the patrol car door to what was about to become my worst nightmare come true. I slowly stepped out of the front seat and onto the asphalt parking lot of the hospital where my husband lay inside. My head was spinning. Panic overwhelmed me.
Even though I knew in my mind he was already dead, my heart was not ready to confront my new reality. I had no clue what to expect once I had finally arrived. I still had no details as to what happened to him. I only knew he crashed on his police motorcycle. Was I going to see his body a mangled mess? Would there be blood? Where was he exactly? All I knew was I needed to get to him. I shut the car door behind me and immediately noticed this was not the typical hospital parking lot scene I was stepping into. There were no people walking to and from their cars. In fact, there were hardly any other cars in the parking spots around us. Virtually no people to be seen anywhere. It was eerily silent all around me. I never felt more terrified, not knowing what I was about to face. I began the eerie walk, which will forever be etched in my mind, as if I were having an out-of-body experience watching a scene from a movie, with me as the main character.
On Tuesday, June 14th, 2016, we were all home together on this summer day. Mike was working a late day shift and didn’t need to leave the house until about 9 that morning. The four of us enjoyed a leisurely breakfast while we waited for the tile guys to show up for another day of work. Once it was time for Mike to leave for work, he hugged our boys, as he always did. He told them to be good for their mom, as he always did. He kissed me goodbye, as he always did. Looking so handsome in his uniform, he got on his police motorcycle and drove away. The comforting roar of his engine could be heard for a while as he rode down our country road. This was the last time I would hear his motorcycle engine roar. Little did I know, it was the last time our boys would get a hug from their dad. If I would have known this would be the last time I would get a kiss from my husband, I would have held him closer, longer.
Later that afternoon, I heard there was an on-duty accident with one of the San Jose Police Department officers. No way it could be my husband! I eventually heard a car pull up our gravel driveway. I walked out our front door and down the sidewalk path. I immediately noticed my friend was driving her car, and her husband had driven his take-home police car. When he stepped out of the car, I saw he was not in uniform but in plain clothes. I stopped walking in the middle of our sidewalk path. I was frozen in place and terrified as to what they were going to tell me. The look on my friend’s face told me instantly it was bad. Then, as her husband was slowly walking toward me, he shook his head to signal the word no, confirming my biggest fear. My husband had been killed in the line of duty. I collapsed on our lawn. She sat down next to me and wrapped her arms around me.
I kept saying over and over, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to live without him?’ Then I paused because it suddenly hit me. ‘The boys. How in the world am I going to tell them?’ This was the moment my worst nightmare had begun. As we impatiently waited inside the house, the moment every law enforcement or military spouse fears was about to take place at my front door. The dreadful black cars arrived and parked on the street in front of our house. The car doors opened, and multiple men in suits stepped out of the first car and onto our grass. These men were the city of San Jose’s mayor and a few city council members. The second car held the San Jose Police Department chief and the chaplain. It wasn’t too long before I heard the knock. These highly esteemed men had arrived to deliver the unbearable news to the new widow.
Looking back, I wrote this in my journal. It took me months to be able to reflect on those first hours and days:
‘Later that night, I had to take a shower to wash his blood off my arms. That should never ever be something I should have to do. I didn’t want to wash it off. I would have left his dried blood on me forever if I could. I collapsed on the shower floor as his blood, mixed with water, rolled off me and down the drain. I sobbed uncontrollably. I still can’t get the way he looked out of my head. A little bit of the same, but with dried up blood on him, a little puffy and so white and pale. This is hell on earth. Absolutely, unfair hell. It makes no sense. I don’t understand God’s plan at all. Why me? Why did God choose my husband, my children? Why? It’s just not fair! I miss Mike like crazy. It physically hurts me. I miss him more and more every second.’
As the days and months went by, my sons and I were trying to adjust to our new lives. The lives of the widow and children of a fallen officer. It was a sad, lonely, very public, and heartbreaking new life to get used to. It wasn’t long before another tragedy struck our little family and our perfect little farmhouse in the country. In January of 2017, the winter storms were intense. The wind and rain got worse day by day. On January 10th, the boys and I went to bed together in my room. It had been barely 6 months since Mike had died, and both boys were still sleeping in bed with me. I didn’t mind one bit; I hated being alone in our bedroom. In the middle of the night, at about 3:00 a.m., my oldest son woke up to use the restroom. He sat up and swung his feet down toward the ground and yelled, ‘Mom, Mom, there’s water everywhere!’
It was dark, and I couldn’t see anything. I told him it was fine and to go back to sleep. He was persistent, ‘No, Mom, really. There is water everywhere.’ Once I got myself up and my eyes adjusted, I realized, holy crap! He’s right! There was water everywhere. I stepped out of the bed into about three feet of water. I told the boys to stay in my bed while I checked things out. Not even thinking about the possibility of being electrocuted, I turned on the lights, which miraculously still worked, and trudged through the water in my socks to try and find out what the heck was going on. That is when I looked out the big new French doors in the living room that had been recently installed and saw the rushing water surrounding the back of our property. It was as if our house was an island, and we were in the middle of an ocean.
There must have been five feet of water surrounding our home. There was no way in and no way out. What came from this horrific flood was another tragic loss. The loss of our family home. I was already battling the ‘why’ questions to God. Why did my boys have to lose their dad? Why did I have to lose my husband? Why our family, God? I couldn’t wrap my head around why God would allow another tragedy to happen to us. Why did my boys have to experience those terrifying moments of the flood? Why am I alone with them through this? Why our house? Why is Mike not here to help me? The questions were endless.
As much as I could, I spent time at the cemetery with Mike. I would sit on my blanket talking to him, praying to God, laughing to myself, and sobbing. There was a particular day I was a mess. I lay on the blanket sobbing, face down. Not caring who saw me. I was done. Done trying to be so strong for everyone else. I sobbed while telling Mike I couldn’t do this. I was letting him down. I begged him, out loud, to send me someone, even though I had no idea what or who I needed. Please God, send me someone to love my boys like Mike did. Send me someone to take care of us. Send me someone he would approve of to live this new life with. I laid on the blanket for what felt like hours, praying to God and asking Mike for his help. I remember specifically telling God it could be tomorrow or years from now, just please, in Mike’s time and in God’s time, make the three of us happy again. Soon after, I met David.
It had been over a year since we had lost Mike. David soon became a steady figure in the boys’ life and the one who brought the smile to my face. It felt good to be happy again. It felt good to be loved again. To feel safe again. As the months went by, I began to tell more people in my life about this new relationship. Each time I did so with hesitation of the response I would receive. Each time the response was pure joy and happiness for me. The support I received from my closest family and friends was the relief I needed and confirmation I was making the right choices for me and the boys. It didn’t take long before David and I knew we wanted to blend our families together into one and get married.
I had lost my husband at age thirty-three. He was my first and only love, my best friend, the father of my children, my future, my provider, my everything. Never in a million years did I think he would be taken from me before we were ninety. During the days and the year following his death, I never thought I would love again. I thought my life was over and my future was gone. When you experience something as sudden and traumatic as I did, your perspectives on life and love change. I viewed the world, the boys’ and my lives, and what God’s plan was for us through a completely new and vastly different lens. Marrying David was what God had planned for the boys and me. Even more so, I knew Mike would approve. That is all that mattered to me.
Blending a family is not easy. It is not very natural, either. When blending a family, a choice has been made to combine two sets of worlds together into one. Building a strong foundation in the beginning is key. David and I recognized this early on and decided to design our wedding ceremony around blending our new family of six, not just focusing on the two of us joining in marriage. Even with me being the daddy’s girl I am and having my dad be one of David’s and my biggest fans, I decided my boys would walk me down the aisle and give me away. Waiting at the altar with David was his son, who was his best man, and his daughter, who was my maid of honor and flower girl.
Throughout my life, and especially after the hell and high water I had gone through, God had proven Himself repeatedly to be more than faithful. Even through my darkest and most challenging times, He performed numerous miracles and knocked my socks off with blessing after blessing. So, when David and I decided we wanted to have a baby together and bring another blessing into our family and the doctors told me I had a 4% chance of getting pregnant through the IVF process, I definitely felt discouraged at first. Ultimately, I knew my God was bigger than any percentage or statistic I was given. David and I decided we would begin the long process of IVF and see where it led us. There were multiple steps in the process, and we knew God would either open or close doors for us throughout our journey to be a family of seven.
On December 12th, 2019, we welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family. I would sit in our home holding this precious blessing God had given us. As I would stare at her sweet face, I couldn’t help but feel contentment and joy. My healing had come full circle. Tears that would once stream down my face in agony, heartache, and pain were now streams of overwhelming joy and love for this little miracle and dream come true wrapped in pink.
For me, I ultimately knew God was in control when my husband died, as horrible as it was, with my world shattered and my heart broken. Sure, I questioned my faith in Christ and was angry at God for letting such tragedy happen to our family. Yet, even with all those questions, I remained faithful knowing God would take care of us. My ultimate faith in Christ never left. In fact, faith is the only thing that has gotten me to the place where I am today. Where the shattered pieces of love and life have been put back together. A place where I can share even in my darkest days, living out my worst nightmare, experiencing my own deepest hell on earth. This is where I was able to find my faith again.
No matter what your loss may be—a marriage, friendship, employment, health, death—when all faith and hope feel lost in the moment of your heartbreak, I promise, they are still there. Be brave. Make the choice to find them and believe. The ashes of my life were in piles. Big heaping piles. Yet God has been gradually cleaning up those ashes and turning the soot into pure beauty. Through hell and high water, I have given, and always will give, all the praise and glory to my Lord for bringing me through great tragedy into amazing love, all the while honoring my husband in heaven, Michael Jason Katherman.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by April Katherman-Redgrave of Gilroy, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, her website, and her blog. Preorder her book, ‘Through Hell and High Water: A Police Widows Story of Tragic Loss and Redeeming Love,’ here. 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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