“My family’s story began when I graduated high school. I discovered I missed graduation not because of the flu, but morning sickness, I was pregnant. It was decided by our parents that what would be best for us would be to get married. So I married my high school sweetheart, Kris, who was still in high school.
We had 3 kids in less than 4 years. He joined the Army reserve so we apart frequently. He was always very active and despite multiple knee surgeries always managed to keep going. We had one more child 4 years later and our family was complete. We weren’t perfect, we fought, we made up, but we got through some tough things including health issues, job loss, moving, kids struggling in school, death of family and several other things life seems to throw at us. But we did it, we got through. We had figured out how we worked well, what didn’t work for us, and we were happy.
November 11, 2010, was just another night. Kris picked me up for work and we headed home. The kids had set up our basement to watch a Harry Potter movie since the new one would be coming to theaters soon. I objected briefly since it was late and a school night, but he insisted. I gave in and we snacked and enjoyed each other falling asleep to the movie. I couldn’t sleep on the bean bag chair we had fallen asleep in so I went to my bed. In the morning I went down to get kids up for school and make sure Kris was getting going. Now, as I mentioned, Kris had been dealing with health issues, Crohn’s disease was one of them. Often the discomfort and pain would keep him up, so when he slept, I let him sleep. He wasn’t waking up easily, so I called his boss and told him he was finally sleeping like I had in the past. I got kids off, and tried to wake him again. When he just snored loudly, I called my boss to let her know I would be there when I got him up. I laid down next to him to sleep a little more.
The last thing he said to me the night before was that he loved me. I think I knew something was wrong because I laid with him thinking of what he last said to me and fell asleep. At some point I noticed he was no longer breathing and it snapped me awake. As I was panicking, my sister in law happened to stop by, we called 911 and were guided through CPR. When they arrived they sent me away. He was already gone when they arrived. What I thought was deep snoring was actually what they call the ‘death rattle,’ a sound I still hear clearly when I think about that day.
There are moments of clarity from that awful day and week leading up to the funeral, but most of it when I think back is a blur of loved ones wanting to help but unsure how. Stories of different friends and family who picked up my kids from school and broke the news to them. I remember picking up the autopsy and driving to my doctor’s office demanding he explain the medical jargon, I had to know and try to understand what happened to my husband and father of our children. He had a variety of prescription drugs in his system, I had to know he didn’t intend his death. My doctor reassured me the amounts were not excessive, but a bad combination. It was an accidental overdose.
I poured my focus on my kids, as best as I could. That first year was mostly spent curled up on the couch in an almost comatose mental state. They call it widow fog, and that is the best way to describe it. You go through the motions of what you must do, the bare minimum. I focused on finding a way to support my family. I went back to school and got my English Education degree, it took retaking classes, and many late nights. I would do homework while watching wrestling meets and drill competitions.
My kids worried about me dating and remarrying. I had my rules, we discussed who I would or wouldn’t marry. They wouldn’t meet my kids unless it was serious, I would try to only date widowers because they would understand more, I tried to include them, but not. I didn’t want them to get attached and then have to deal with another type of loss. But dating is what finally got me out of that widow fog. Forced me, a natural extrovert, out of this introvert shell I had created for myself. I liked meeting new people, even if I had no intention of taking it to the next level. It was a great healing process for me. I stuck to my rules to keep me and my kids safe, until I met Mike.
Even though on our first date, I told him I had no intention of ever marrying again, I found myself breaking my set of rules with him right away. I never got in a car with someone until I knew them past one or two dates. I went for a drive with him on the first date, to the middle of nowhere, to ‘look for owls.’ I found out after he was frantically trying to think of ways to keep our date going as long as possible, and being an avid bird watcher thought this would be one way. It worked.
I found myself turning down offers for other dates with everyone, but him. After about 3 months he asked me to date exclusively, and I said yes instantly, and then in my mind wondered what I had done. My kids met him, and initially tried to scare him away I think. They were the most obnoxious I had ever seen them in my life! But despite that, he stuck around. He had 3 kids. His son lived with his mom, Mike’s ex-wife. And his younger 2 lived half time with him, and half time with their mom. Our kids met and we would play games, our youngest would play at the park. We would go on dates while his kids were at their mom’s.
After a year we decided to move in together. Our youngest boys shared a room, and get along as well as could be expected. But our girls who are the same age have become the best of friends. They have been there for each other through break ups, work, went to school together. They can support each other when other friends are absent, and they don’t want a parent. While our older three have not been around each other as often, they still get along better than I could have hoped for. We get together frequently, play games together, and support each other. They were all together to support my oldest daughter when she got married. And when she gave us our first granddaughter. Mike actually walked her down the aisle. All the kids were there for her big day.
The biggest surprise about our awesome family, I love my husband’s ex-wife. We have gone to her birthday party, we have carpooled out of town for our daughter’s birthday party, and we get our family pictures taken together. When we first moved in together, Mike asked what traditions I wanted to start with our new family – I told him to invite Meredith (his ex) over for Christmas morning to open presents. He was confused and said he wanted US to have new traditions. I explained how my kids couldn’t have both parents there, but his kids could. Why make them choose who to spend it with? We have spent Christmas mornings together ever since. We are all teachers and will just enjoy talking about work. Their son still goes to my husband’s school. And my son goes to the school his ex teaches, so she drives him for us. Parenting is so much easier when you have a great support system and put the kids first. My kids even benefit from this extra mom.
Mike will never replace Kris, and he knows that and so do our kids. When we got together, I warned him even, I told him they would expect him to step in, but resent him for it as well. I was wrong. They have never resented him. Only been grateful for having this man step up and be willing to be there. When my daughter got married, he gave her away as her father, not her stepfather.
While I never expected to have such a large family, I have loved it more than anything. But I think the part I love most is the fact that it is still growing! All of our adult children now have added to our family significant others who love to spend time with our family. They all know they are welcome and make themselves at home. In fact, one of them broke up briefly, and while they were separated, she still knew she was welcome and our home was a safe place. We are happy they are back together, but so glad she felt our love unconditionally.
Mike and I have been together now for 5 years, and married for 2. We learned from mistakes in our previous marriages, and will continue to grow as we make mistakes in our marriage. Our life is not perfect, but right now it is as close to it as I think it can get.
I love that our family is crazy big, and can’t wait to see how it continues to grow. I love that I get to co-parent these awesome kids that teach me so much. This is my family. I love every part of it that contributes to the craziness. It is built up of several parts. I love our family, I love that others feel welcome and a part of it. All the parts of it that make it crazy make it what I love.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Allison Taft-Johnson of Sandy, Utah. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more inspiring stories of big, blended families:
‘I live with my husband, my ex-husband, his girlfriend and our 6 children. We threw our parenting plan out the window.’: Woman says she wouldn’t change their unconventional blended family ‘for the world’
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