“As I sit writing this story, the song ‘You Are the Best Thing’ by Ray LaMontagne plays on a speaker somewhere in the house.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
You know, I hope and I pray that you believe me
When I say this love will never fade away’
It is with these words in my head and my heart I write this story. Two years ago I moved to Chicago to work with a church plant. I was anxious, afraid, and alone. As I settled into my new life, I decided to turn to a dating app to find connection, a seemingly frivolous decision that would change my life forever. About three days after downloading Hinge (a dating app for people who want a serious relationship), I came across Michael’s profile. Through his pictures and prompts he proved he was charming, witty, and real.
One of his prompts mentioned he was looking for someone who ‘loves Jesus irreligiously.’ As an unconventional Christian, I was especially curious about this point, so I messaged him to inquire more. Just as I sent my message, I realized he had already messaged me asking about something from my profile, so I promptly responded, ‘Ah shit, I didn’t see that you’d already sent a message.’ Realizing he may not be entirely comfortable with me dropping an S-bomb in my second-ever message to him, I sent a quick apology. He assured me it was no big deal, and he sprinkled several more curse words into our conversation for further assurance.
We spent the next 24 hours messaging constantly about everything and nothing, getting to know each other and, unbeknownst to us, falling in love. Michael’s texting style was honestly a bit overwhelming to me. He liked to respond to every single point of a message, so if I sent, ‘I had a good day. I ate a sandwich for lunch. I’m about to go to bed,’ he would follow up with questions about the day, the quality of the sandwich, the timing of my lunch, my position in the going-to-bed process, my plans for tomorrow, and at least two or three other points he thought of while composing his response.
Even though his messages were a bit overwhelming, I found myself constantly checking my phone to see if he’d responded, and pouring energy into my own responses. He found out I didn’t have many friends yet in Chicago, so he invited me that night to his house to hang out with his friends and go out for pizza. I agreed, and suddenly found myself driving out to the suburbs to meet a total stranger at his home. Realizing this was the stuff of true crime podcasts and Criminal Minds episodes, I sent him a quick text to confirm he wasn’t an axe murderer.
My little introverted self sat with four total strangers eating pizza and talking about all the problems in the world and how to solve them. Conversations shifted from topic to topic, and although I should have felt uncomfortable in the novel situation, I felt strangely at ease. I found myself still at Michael’s house, hours after everyone else had left, enjoying more conversations about everything and nothing. That weekend he had Easter dinner with my family, and he asked me to be his girlfriend.
One of the many things we bonded over was our love of travel. We had each been out of the country for various church and school trips, and vacations. As much as we loved swapping travel stories, we decided to write some new ones together. We went to visit friends in cities we’d lived in previously, went on road trips for weddings and birthdays, and accompanied each other on work trips. At Christmas, we drove from Chicago to New York to spend the holiday with my extended family (whom he’d never met but agreed to spend Christmas with).
The day after Christmas, Michael planned a tour of coffee shops and bookstores, two of our favorite places to explore. After the craziness of Christmas Day, we were thrilled to have a moment alone in this quiet coffee shop to simply sit and exist with one another. We took our time and made our way to a nearby bookstore. As we were perusing the shelves and surveying the selection, Michael suggested we head toward a specific section. It was there he had told the photographer to wait so she would be ready to take our picture when he proposed. My ‘yes’ came in the form of a journal of love letters I had been writing to him for several months.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we assumed it would be over well before our wedding date of June 6th, so we kept planning the big wedding we’d been dreaming about. As we got closer and closer to June 6th, and the restrictions were getting tighter instead of looser, we realized we would have to uninvite a lot of people to our wedding. Our plans pivoted, and we held a small backyard ceremony at Michael’s parents’ house in the suburbs of Chicago for just our families and a few close friends. After we said, ‘I do,’ ‘You Are the Best Thing’ by Ray LaMontagne played throughout the backyard.
Once we were married, we soon realized we had no idea how to be married. We’d done the premarital counseling and the prep-work, but actually being married was not as easy as we thought it would be, especially with a global pandemic and working from home thrown into the mix. We started learning how to make the most of stay-at-home date nights, and we oddly cherished things like grocery runs or trips to Target.
We quickly outgrew our one-bedroom apartment and began looking to buy our first home. As we toured houses, we talked about our dreams for our future and our family. We searched for a kitchen with enough space to make coffee and salsa dance. We needed space for our overflowing bookshelves and about a million houseplants. We desired to be a positive presence in the community in which we were going to live. Most of all, we wanted for space for the kids we hoped to foster and adopt. After several offers and deals that fell through, we finally found a place that met all of our needs, and we started packing.
The day we moved in, Michael developed a fever. He was pretty sure it was just a cold from being outside too much in Chicago winter, but we made him rest while I unpacked, just to be safe. When his fever was still high the next morning, we decided to get tested for COVID; his test came back positive. We both spent the next week and a half sick in bed, fighting a fever and battling nasty coughing fits. Though I was feeling better, Michael was not. I needed to gather the last few things from our old apartment, so I told Michael to stay home and rest and that I would call him when I got home so he could help unload the car.
When I got back, he got dressed and came downstairs to meet me at the car, but he passed out in the snow on the way. I rushed over to help him up, walked him back to the stairs, and ushered him to sit down so he could catch his breath. Time passed—maybe a few minutes, maybe more than an hour—and he still couldn’t catch his breath, so I called 911. By the time the paramedics arrived, Michael had passed out again and wasn’t breathing. I waited outside with the police while paramedics tried to revive my husband. I kept asking if he was breathing yet, and I kept being told no. They took him in an ambulance to the hospital, and when I arrived the doctor told me Michael didn’t make it.
At Michael’s memorial service on February 28th, the day after what should have been his 26th birthday, I shared our vows in my eulogy. He wrote, ‘I, Michael, take you, Kat, to be no other than yourself. In all the adventures to urgent care, and movings of furniture, I will always be there. I will be there to make coffee for you mornings we work from home, and to drive when you don’t want to. Loving the parts of you that you’ve shared with me, trusting the parts that you will share, I will respect your integrity and have faith in your abiding love for me, through all our years, and in all that life may bring us.’
Michael held true to his vows to me. He drove me to urgent care when I sliced open my hand. He always helped me move the furniture, even if the furniture didn’t need to be moved. He made me coffee every morning, even mornings spent in airports or hotels, and if he couldn’t make it he would run to the nearest coffee shop and grab me a cup before he went to work, or send me money on CashApp so I could get a cup for myself. He always drove. Always. I didn’t even have to ask. He loved every part of me, and he was patient as I opened up in my own timing. He constantly pushed me to be better and more myself.
It is hard to believe the eulogy I gave at my husband’s funeral wouldn’t be the end of our story. But it isn’t. It’s the beginning of a new story. I am a 26-year-old widow trying to navigate life after loss. Add that to the list of sentences I never expected to write. I have been sharing my grief process publicly through Instagram using #WhosThatWidowItsKat. Each day I spend time journaling and processing, and I condense some of my thoughts into a social media post to 1) let my support network know how I’m doing, and 2) to document for my future self what this season is like. Because I’ll be honest; it’s hard. But I hope in a year or two years or ten, I’ll look back on these posts and be able to recognize how far I have come.
As I’ve been writing these posts and documenting this process, I found a whole host of other women who have also lost their husbands and are trying to navigate life after loss. Lots of people tell me I should meet so-and-so because she lost her husband, too. I want to meet every single one of those women. I’ve also realized when you’re 26 and you can’t sleep at 2 a.m. because you’re grieving the loss of your husband, it’s hard to know which of your friends you can call for comfort. For these and so many other reasons, I am starting an online community called Widows Lost & Found for those who’ve experienced loss to find community. I want to provide a place where widows can find and connect with other widows, people who’ve been there, people who get it like none of our other friends do.
To say this is never where I imagined I’d be today is a massive understatement. I miss Michael every single day, and I expect to miss him every day for the rest of my life. But I have hope his memory will remain alive in those who love him. And I have hope I can use my story and my platform to help others through their own grief. And most of all, I have hope that my love for Michael will never fade away.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kat Combs. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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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