I was 26, nearly nine months pregnant and a widow. My world had come to a screeching halt on April 16, 2009, when my husband of just nine months was killed in a truck accident. Our first baby was due to arrive just weeks later. I felt as if my life was over and everything that I had dreamed for my future to be was suddenly lost.
My husband Barry and I were college sweethearts. We met at Quincy University where he played football, and I played basketball. He was the life of the party, extremely athletic and the most gracious and selfless man I had ever met. We knew instantly that we would be together forever. Our relationship was unique; we gave each other amazing balance. I was worrisome and a perfectionist, and he was easygoing. After four years of dating, Barry popped the question on his birthday; we were married just over a year later. Looking forward to our new life together, we moved from Illinois back to my hometown of Jackson. We both found jobs and shortly after found out that we were expecting.
Barry was a doting expectant father who constantly talked about "Baby Big Foot." This was our affectionate nickname for our unborn child due to a large foot seen on an ultrasound picture. We didn't find out if we were having a boy or a girl; our wishes were simply for a healthy baby. Our life together was going exactly as planned.
Our plans were soon to be taken over by God's plans. When Barry's life on this earth ended, I felt that my life had ended, too -- not physically, but in every other facet of my being. However, it was close to the end of my pregnancy and my health and my baby's health were in danger of being jeopardized. My blood pressure was extremely high and I was so nauseous that I couldn't eat and could barely drink. At that point, delivering a healthy baby became my full and undivided focus.
I went from decorating a nursery and packing hospital bags to planning a funeral and making decisions about burial plots and grave markers. My faith at this point was shaken, to say the least. I was of the Catholic faith, went to church and thought that I was a decent person, so I didn't understand why God would do this to me and ultimately to my baby. Why did God punish us in this way? What did we do to deserve this?
The five weeks from Barry's death to the time of my son's birth were a blur. I forced myself to go to church. I didn't want to; it was where I had spent my last moments with him at his funeral. There was a constant stream of family and friends who visited me, brought me meals and gifts for the baby. The outpouring of support was overwhelming. I spent countless hours at the cemetery, days and nights. I cried until I physically didn't have the strength to cry any longer. I was exhausted, yet I couldn't sleep. How was I going to raise this baby by myself? I blamed God. I was angry with him for taking my best friend and husband.
On May 21, 2009, just two days before Barry's birthday, I was induced. I gave birth to a healthy 8-pound, 14-ounce little boy whose name Barry and I had already determined would be Keegan Bear. My mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and grandma were all right outside the door awaiting this little miracle's arrival because I wouldn't let anybody in the delivery room. If I couldn't have Barry with me, I didn't want anybody. I was numb during the entire process. I didn't cry, I didn't laugh. I was just numb. I remember saying to God, "OK, I did what everybody asked me to do; I got the baby here healthy. Now you can take me. Take this pain away. I want to be with Barry."
The next months were almost unbearable. My mom and my sister graciously helped me through the first weeks after bringing Keegan home. I was so exhausted from grief that being a single mother to a newborn made functioning nearly impossible. I stayed up through all hours of the night writing stories about Barry, anything and everything that I could remember. I asked his friends to do the same. I couldn't bring Barry back for Keegan, but I could and did make every effort for him to know his dad.
My biggest struggle through those first months and year was jealousy. I would ask God why these other mothers got to have their husband with them during delivery and birth. I asked him why my baby didn't deserve a daddy on earth when all these other boys and girls had both their mommy and daddy. I asked him why he left horrible fathers on earth who abused and neglected their children. Why didn't he take those men instead? Why Barry? God didn't answer my questions right away, which made me even more angry and bitter. I would listen to other mothers complain about their husbands not doing enough and I would instantly become furious, often having to leave the room. They didn't know how good they had it. What I would give just to see or hear Barry again...
Over time, it became easier to smile through the pain. I was still hurting, but I was able to function a little bit better every day. I went to work, and Keegan and I fell into a routine. I continued to force myself to go to church and when the time was right, I joined a Grief Share program at St. Paul Lutheran Church. This was an experience that changed my life. I found out that I wasn't alone; I wasn't the only person grieving. It was a sobering experience. There were people who had lost their spouses of 50-plus years, people who had lost their children. I realized very quickly how lucky I was. Although I was grieving my future and the loss of my son's father, others were grieving for their past and living the unthinkable: losing a child. I still didn't fully understand why God took my husband, but I was starting to realize that God has a plan and that I shouldn't question it.
From that point on, I tried to focus on the positives: raising my son, getting my master's degree, my job and my family. I still had bad days, horrible days, but they were becoming less and less. I began to thank God for giving me my son, who is undoubtedly the reason I continued through the pain. I thanked God for my mom, dad, sister and brother-in-law who were there for me through the good times and the bad times. I also thanked him for putting Barry in my life. His life and death taught me so much about life and being a good person. For the first time, I was thanking God for what he had given me and not questioning what he had taken. Barry was still in our lives, just in a different way. I learned that just because life is different and certainly not what I had planned for, it didn't have to be bad.
As I continued to heal, I allowed myself to think about having adult company once again. It was strange -- I was lonely but I was content with the fact that it may just be Keegan and me forever. I wasn't sure that anyone out there would want a widow and single mother. For a year and a half my sole company had been a happy baby who had turned into an active, bouncy toddler. My co-workers saw this change and cared enough about me to set me up with a local police officer, Chad Ludwig. The first time we spoke we were on the phone for well over two hours and our first date happened shortly after. Unlike most couples, our first date was watching television at my house after Keegan had gone to bed. From that point, I knew that this guy was special. It is not easy to date a widowed single mother; I came with a lot of emotional baggage and a son. Chad and I fell in love quickly. He and Keegan were very natural together and they loved each other also.
Chad and Keegan look at pictures of Barry together. We often speak of Barry, and Chad is not intimidated or jealous of the love that I will always feel for him. We take things in stride, laughing when people refer to Chad as Keegan's dad.
We hadn't been dating a year when Chad asked me to marry him. We were married on June 6, 2012, on the beach in Jamaica. Because my dad had passed on also, Keegan walked me down the aisle. Things have finally come full circle for me. I have learned to trust God and his plan, for there is always a purpose. Barry's life and death taught me so much about faith, life and struggles. It also taught me to be appreciative of the people and things that I have and to never, ever take them for granted. I look at Keegan now and I see so much of Barry. Although he is not at the age to fully understand, he knows that he has a daddy in heaven and a daddy on earth, and that is OK. We go to the cemetery; we talk about him and look at pictures. I tell him stories and one day he will be able to read them in the memory books that I have.
My young life has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Looking back, I am so thankful for the struggles because they have made me so much more appreciative of the fantastic life that I live now. God has tested me, tested my faith and tested my patience. But in the end, he has blessed me. He has blessed me with a fantastic little boy, an amazing husband, a selfless and loving family and most of all with an undoubting faith in his plan. I, Deana Ludwig, am truly blessed.