back to school
The following is a guest post written by my widow friend, Danell teNyenhuis. I met her through a young widows group in Fresno, California called G.I.G. (Gals in Growth) facilitated by grief counselor Patty Behrens. I hope her story gives you a glimpse of what life after loss can look like. I love the way Danell has embraced her “new normal” and made it her own.
On April 19, 2016, I was a happily married mother of two daughters, ages 17 and 19. I was working at a job that I didn’t particularly love but I had a great life. I had been married for nearly 24 years to the love of my life and we were looking forward to being empty nesters! On April 20, my perfect little world was shattered when a drug-impaired driver hit and killed my husband Patrick, while he was on his morning bike ride.
I’ve written so many things about that day and the days since then. My journey has not been easy but I’ve kept going, and now I’m at a new place in my life. The day Patrick died I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support. Even that first day I felt deep gratitude. I knew right away that the direction of my life would change; I just didn’t know how.
Admittedly, there were , such as becoming more involved with our church, Divine Mercy, and starting my Village of Support group. I try to give myself a break and realize that I can only do so much. God has a plan, and it’s not always exactly what we think it is going to be.
The biggest thing I discovered is that people like to read what I write. I’m told that I am able to put my thoughts into words that help people in some way. The main reason I write is to help with my own healing process. Helping others is an unexpected bonus.
I also discovered that I can remain calm in a crisis and that helping others is also healing for me. As I sorted through the remnants of my shattered life, I decided to focus on the things that gave me joy, including my girls, my family, and helping others.
In September 2016, I enrolled in Grand Canyon University and began an online master’s program in Professional Clinical Counseling. I am on track to graduate in early 2020 if I take one class at a time. Fortunately, my employer was offering early retirement packages. I retired last January so I’ve been able to focus on school. Neither of these things were even on my radar before Patrick died.
Another part of the healing process for me was to make small, gradual changes at home. I went through Patrick’s things at my own pace and did some re-organizing. I had to learn how to do things that were previously his responsibility. I made decisions about the house and yard that he would normally make.
These changes at home have helped my grieving process. When you walk in my home, it’s still the same house, but not exactly the same. I need it to look different because my mind sometimes plays this cruel trick and tries to convince me that it was all a nightmare. I never have to look far for a gentle reminder that he is gone, but I am still here and doing okay.
Continuing his legacy
My husband was full of life and it’s hard to imagine he is gone. Honoring his memory and preserving it is very important to me. I created a Virtual Memorial page modeled after the page a classmate created for his son.
The Patrick’s Virtual Memorial page includes his obituary, eulogy, photos, videos and messages. The page has been visited 13,401 times and that means a lot to me. Patrick was in a bluegrass band, The Steam Donkeys. I have a lot of videos from performances and ones he made of himself practicing. These are stored on his YouTube channel, PatrickT9. The best ones are the ones that have him talking in between songs. They really show his quirky humor.
My blog is my biggest tribute to him. My Life After Patrick started as a way for me to tell the incredible story of how love and community got me through the Worst Day of My Life. Later it became a way for me to remember and share stories of Patrick. Today, it serves as documentation of how I continue to make my way towards my new normal. I was also able to show how well our daughters are doing and their accomplishments. I know he is smiling down on all of us from heaven.
I really worried about my daughters, Sierra and Camille. I should have known their dad was continuing to be present in their lives. Sierra took incompletes in classes after his death, but went on to not only complete them but graduate from CSU Long Beach in three years with honors. Camille graduated from Clovis East with honors and was accepted at UC Davis.
Saying goodbye to my youngest daughter Camille this past September was hard. I wasn’t sure how she would do at school. She has been such a rock through all of this, and I was worried that she hadn’t taken time to grieve. I know it wasn’t easy.
The very first day she joined a Christian fellowship. She quickly developed close friendships. She started attending mass on Sundays – something we had not done regularly for many years. She told me the first Sunday was very emotional, but it felt good. When she is home on breaks, we have gone together. One Sunday I gave her a hug because it was so nice to be there with her. Later she told me that she was feeling her Dad’s presence.
The biggest blessing since Patrick died has been the way our families have come together. I like to tell people that they have merged. Patrick used to get together with his brothers on the first Friday of each month. The first year after he died we continued this tradition and invited both of our immediate and extended families.
My siblings refer to his siblings as brother and sister, and I feel like I have another set of parents. We spend a lot more time together. In fact, my brother took Mom and Pop teNyenhuis on his family vacation! This has helped us all as we continue to grieve.
I also know that Patrick would not want me to be alone. I know there is no jealousy in heaven and if I fall in love again I know he will be cheering me on. I am cautiously venturing out into dating. It’s not easy and definitely a lot different at this age, but I’m giving it a shot.
I turned 50 in December – a milestone that Patrick will never reach. I chose to throw myself a party and took a trip to Disneyland! A little extravagant, but it was great to celebrate with family and friends! My new normal includes taking time to celebrate family and friends as often as possible. I like to find ways to make new memories with my kids! Life is short, and I want to enjoy it.
A week before Patrick died the girls and I took him to the Paul McCartney concert on his birthday. I had bought him a laptop for Christmas and he had begun recording himself playing his banjo. The day he died I opened his computer and found a video of him playing Blackbird. I consider it a love letter that he left for the girls and me. These lyrics are meaningful to us:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
I would give anything to have my old life back, but I can honestly say I have a good life today. I think Patrick would be proud of me. The three of us have, in our own ways, moved forward and done great things. We have taken our broken wings and learned to fly. We have embraced our new normal! I know God has great plans for all of us.
Danell teNyenhuis is the proud mother of Sierra and Camille. She is retired from Aetna and is currently a full-time student through Grand Canyon University, pursuing her master’s degree in Professional Clinical Counseling. She hopes to someday turn her blog stories into a book. Connect with Danell on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram as Danellt9.
**This post is part of a January series called “All Things New.” Check out the other stories in the series and Dorina’s new Bible study, Flourishing Together.
“All Things New: Life Beyond the Hospital Doors” – a guest post by Danielle Comer about life for a young widow after her husband died of cancer
“All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss” – an introduction to the series by Dorina Lazo Gilmore, including why she chose “All Things New”
Flourishing Together is a new 6-week Bible study just released on Amazon. If you are interested in delving deeper into this topic of how God grows beautiful things out of the ashes and dirt of our life, please check out the study:
On Sunday evening, we rolled into town after a glorious day relaxing at the lake with family and friends. This was the grand finale to our 12 weeks of summer fun.
We packed these weeks with Track & Field camp, travel to San Diego and Haiti, sleepovers with Grandma, staying up late if we felt like it, days for lounging and days for chasing adventure in our own city with friends.
My oldest piped up in the back seat. “Mom, I don’t think I have any shorts to wear to school tomorrow.”
Mind you, I started sorting and gathering school clothes several weeks earlier. I tried not to shout. “What?!” I screamed.
“Remember, those ones you ordered don’t fit,” came her response. We both started to panic. “I think I need a shirt too,” said my middle daughter. We redirected the car toward the nearest Target for a late night shopping trip. In a more perfectly-planned world, I would have been putting my three lovelies to bed at that exact moment, but that’s not how we roll.
Let the transition back to school begin.
This time of year always necessitates transitions of many kinds. Whether it’s transitioning to the new school schedule, starting a new leadership position or stepping down from one, jumping into that new sports season or concluding our time with a group, change is inevitable.
The longer I live the more I’m realizing the time we spend transitioning from one thing to the next is not as rare as we would like it to be. We live in transition all the time.
We talk about making smooth transitions but what does that really mean?
We can grit our teeth and brace ourselves for the change or we can breathe through it.
I remember when I was birthing my middle daughter I had an amazing midwife. She taught me the art of breathing through the contractions. I still use that breathing technique today when I’m running or just calming my spirit in a stressful situation.
In the birthing process, the time we call “transition” is the most intense. Contractions generally come quickly one right after the other. The baby begins to descend into the mama’s pelvis ready to be pushed out into the world. It’s a time of pain dancing with anticipation.
Our human instinct is to clench our fists, tense our muscles (and our hearts) and reject transition as something foreign, an unwelcome time, that thing that surely will break us. What would happen if we leaned into the transition instead? What if we breathed through the contractions, the painful moments? What if we embraced all that a transition has to offer?
On Monday morning, I dropped off all three of my girls – now a sixth grader, third grader and kindergartener – at school together. There were throngs of parents taking pictures of their kids in front of the school. I noticed several of my mama friends who had a spring in their step and that unmistakable look in their eyes – freedom!
One friend met me at my car. We took a few minutes to catch up on the summer events. Our youngest girls are in the same morning kinder class now. We acknowledged that transitions like these are bittersweet. Although both of our girls are eager for a new school and fresh start, they both had tears the night before over some losses.
My baby girl was eager to spread her “ready confetti” – a special gift from her new teacher – under her pillow. She slipped into bed and then began weeping uncontrollably for her daddy in Heaven. Something triggered for her that he was not here to see her off on this big day.
This reminded me that each new season brings a tinge of grief and a taste of glory. New seasons sometimes trigger memories of our losses but also are pregnant with hope for the future. We have to embrace both to step forward.
Perhaps the hardest transition of my life was the day after my husband’s funeral. Some of my friends took the girls and me to the ocean. I stood there with foamy waves crashing over my feet. I thought maybe I could stand there forever just letting the grief wash over me.
After a while I had a strange realization. He was no longer living but I had to keep on living. I had the rest of my life before me. I had these girls to raise in his legacy.
Most importantly, I had a choice – to live in the past or to step forward into the future trusting God to lead me. I had to embrace the transition. I had to give myself space to grieve, and I had to step forward in faith one day at a time.
The other day I was reading in the book of Haggai. Admittedly, I haven’t spent much time in that book of the Bible but I found myself comforted by the words Joshua receives from God about rebuilding the temple. His words through prophecy in Haggai 2:4-9 are to “be strong” and “work.” The promise is God will “be with” Joshua and the people in the transition, in the rebuilding process.
Of course, it’s important to note that the new glory to come was not just a physical building but Jesus Christ himself, the embodiment of glory.
I am reminded that it’s ok to reminisce about the “glory days” but then we need to step courageously toward a new glory.
Friend, if you find yourself smack in the middle of a transition today, press in, be strong and work. The Lord is right there with you. And He’s right here with me.
Maybe it’s time we suffered together. Maybe it’s time we stopped wielding our privileges and started leveraging them for others.
The smell of garlic mixing with basil wafted to my nose. Laughter filled the room as kids rolled out billowy pizza dough into creative shapes and ran to the “market table” to retrieve ingredients. In the corner, some oil and Italian sausage were sizzling in an electric skillet.
“What will help thicken our sauce?” one called out.
“How much time do we have left?” another quipped.
Looking for a fun activity for this summer with your kids? How about inviting them into the kitchen to make some memories and some yummy, creative eats?
This past year I helped teach some cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. Her school is all about hands-on learning and our cooking classes provided great opportunities to discuss healthy choices, math, creativity and more.
For the end-of-the-year celebration, we staged an “Iron Chef Competition” so the kids could show off their newfound skills and creativity.
One of the moms came and showed the kids how to make homemade pizza dough (recipe below). The next day they used that pizza dough as their “secret ingredient.” We divided the students into teams of four or five. Each team had to make an appetizer, main dish or dessert using their pizza dough, a homemade sauce, and at least three other toppings or ingredients.
These kids knocked our socks off with their creativity!
Our judges had a tough time picking the winners because these kids made everything from pesto dough bites to calzones to berry-filled desserts with their pizza dough and ingredients. The winner was the Purple Mountain’s Majesty dessert. So yummilicious! The best part was seeing the kids have the confidence to chop and mix ingredients, and then serve up their creations.
Mamas, it’s often easier to keep the kiddos out of the kitchen but cooking could also provide a fun activity for a summer afternoon or weekend evening. And who knows, maybe one day you can just assign them the task of making dinner while you put your feet up and read a book or relax?! It’s all about training!
2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached bread flour, chilled
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
5 teaspoons olive oil
2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons water, ice cold (40°F)
3 cups mozzarella cheese
Other toppings of your choice (ie. black olives, sliced green peppers, fresh basil, onions, pepperoni, Italian sausage)
olive oil spray
pizza stones or pans
- Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a bowl. With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55 degrees. (The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.)
- Place a square of parchment paper in a large container with a lid and spray with olive oil spray. Sprinkle (or “dust”) flour over the dough. Transfer the dough to container. Mist the dough generously with spray oil and place cover on the container. Put the container of dough into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Make sure your hands are dry and then sprinkle flour on them. Divide dough in three. Lift each section of the dough and gently round it into a ball. Lift the dough up, and have someone else dust three pieces of the parchment paper with flour, and then mist with spray oil. Place the dough on top of the parchment paper. Gently press each ball of dough into a flat disk about 1/2 inch thick. Dust the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and place the cover back on.
- Now let rest for 2 hours.
- If using a baking stone, place on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven at least 45 minutes before baking. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800 degrees (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550, but some will go higher).
- Place a large (a little bigger than final pizza size) piece of parchment paper on the work surface and dust it with flour. Dust the front and back of your hands with flour. Have a partner lift the dough out by the parchment paper. Have them gently turn the dough upside down across the back of your fists and peel off the parchment paper. Roll dough out to the crust shape you desire.
- Lay it on the parchment paper. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The more toppings there are, the more difficult it is to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.
- Slide the parchment paper and pizza onto the stone and place in oven. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake.
- Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.
**A huge thank you to Elizabeth Orr who shared the original version of this pizza dough recipe and taught the kids to make the dough. If you’d like to check out more of my recipes shared in community, click HERE.
**Check out my children’s picture book, Cora Cooks Pancit, which also includes a recipe in the back to make with kids!