Stephanie "His Mom Strong"

  Photography by  Randy Bacon

Photography by Randy Bacon

I’ll never forget the day we found out that Luke was sick. I was sitting in the surgery waiting room with his belongings, waiting for his parents to come out of the consult room after his surgery. So many people entered and exited those small consult rooms while I waited. It felt like a lifetime of waiting. I stared at the door waiting for it to open but it didn’t. I started to count the families that came in and out of the other rooms while I waited. I think I was crying before our door even opened because I had this terrible feeling something was wrong. The second I saw them, I knew I was right, something was wrong. Luke’s parents shared with me the information the Doctor gave them and I heard them but I didn’t understand, I wasn’t processing information properly. To this day I only remember bits and pieces of what we were told. It was like I could only hear every other word. I left the hospital with only one thought. I remember getting to my car, calling my dad and screaming through my tears, “it’s everywhere”. “It” was everywhere and “it” was cancer.

Luke was diagnosed on May 7th, 2014 and he passed away on February 28th, 2015. Luke was 34, I was 30, and my son, Jackson was only 8. I hate those numbers. Who was Luke to me? I met Luke about nine years ago at Lindberg’s on Commercial Street. This is also where we had our first date, our first kiss, and many dates after. We ended up being our own version of Rachel and Ross for the better part of six years. Calling ourselves Rachel and Ross or me referring to him as my “Mr. Big” isn’t to romanticize a relationship that wasn’t always the healthiest, it’s just what we were. We had our fair share of breaks, break-ups but we loved just as hard as we fought. It didn’t matter what our status was, or even if we were seeing other people, we were family. I loved Luke, maybe more than I loved myself, and he loved me and Jackson. I truly believe we were two of the things he was most proud of. I still love Luke. I suppose I always will but I’ve realized I need to love myself more.

I started my blog in November of 2016, just four months shy of the second anniversary of Luke’s passing. You may be thinking two years? What took me so long? Wasn’t I somewhat adjusted by then? The answer to that is yes and no, but mostly no. No, I hadn’t reached the other side of grief where I’m driving and grief is just a passenger. Grief was driving me and I was still stuck as a passenger. I didn’t set out to start a “grief blog” but His Mom Strong, the Facebook page in particular, has become this amazing space where people come to heal. Writing His Mom Strong and interacting with readers is where I did most of my healing. Yes, I did most of my healing in year two and here in year three of a life without Luke.

Stephanie Pape-017.jpg

Year one was a blur. A year full of pain, self-destructive patterns, dark days and even darker nights. I had sleepless nights so long I would call my parents in the middle of the night so I wouldn’t have to be alone. Some nights they would just listen to me cry, I needed someone else on the other end of the line. My own thoughts scared me and I honestly wasn’t sure I would be able to outlast the night if I didn’t have someone on the other line. Being in that kind of pain, and not being able to silence your thoughts or pause your pain with sleep is some kind of torture. My heart was broken, shattered and I had no idea how to grieve, how to forgive myself, how to let go of the bad, or how to hold on to the good. My pain made me angry and that anger caused me to hurt people I love, but mostly, I hurt myself and I didn’t have the power to stop it or I didn’t feel that strength then to take back control of my life.

My heart was broken, of course, but it was still capable of love, still capable of giving and receiving love. I found that the more I gave, the more I felt I was helping, the more my heart began to heal. My heart healed a little when I felt compelled to reach out to a reader from the UK. I call her Sweet Sue because she is. Sue is a regular reader and I hadn’t heard from her in a week or so and I began to worry. I reached out to her from my personal page, never knowing the impact it would have on either of us. She explained how she had been struggling with several milestones, wishing she had passed with her husband, and I was devastated for her. Sue was in a dark place and I am so thankful I reached out to her when I did. She was in the dark and she needed a light. She promised me she would never give up and in part, she had His Mom Strong to thank that. She’s family to me and I cannot explain our bond. I just know it exists. I love you, Sweet Sue.

My heart healed a little when Michele, another regular reader, began using whole heart emojis vs. her usual broken heart emojis. Michele and I envision our lost loves, sitting somewhere, watching over us, probably making fun of how we blubber over them on our worst days, but wishing they could ease our pain. To Sean & Luke, because when we said their names together, Michele and I felt less alone and we became family. I love you, Michele. I’m so glad we found each other.  

Stephanie Pape-008.jpg

Strength. You hear people tell you often how strong you are after you lose someone you love but you don’t feel strong, you feel like a shell of the person you used to be. You feel lost, at least, that’s how I felt. I feel like I was really bad at grief, I feel like I still am. I am ultra sensitive to triggers, still. I hate hospitals, I ache for others when they experience loss, I think of Luke when I see a lemon flavored dessert or hear motown. So I guess those who can’t grieve, blog. I’m honest, maybe to a fault and I think that’s what my readers love most about His Mom Strong. They get to be honest, too.

I think beyond grief that’s what I really want for my blog; to be honest about life, even when it’s not pretty. There is so much pressure to be happy, to be successful, to be coupled up, to be so many things and we’re not all there yet. So what? I wish society would stop putting so much pressure on happiness and more emphasis on honesty and authenticity and happiness would come organically. At least, that’s what happened with my blog. The more honest I became, the more people would share their stories and open up to me, in turn making them and me feel less alone.

Life is a series of events, high highs and low lows. We all have them and we don’t have to hide the lows. Hiding the lows won’t make the highs any higher; but hiding our lows, trying to mask them, will make the lows lower. I experienced loss, I call it widow-ish, and that’s what I had to survive but so many people are battling life in other ways. These people need support, they shouldn’t feel they have to wear a mask or put on a happy face because “happiness is a choice”.

There’s plenty of positive energy on my blog and on my socials but I’m not about to force feed people quotes about happiness when I know how hard happiness can be to come by. Grief, depression and anxiety aren’t choices. A positive perspective, the will to face each new day, the will to fight for your life  is a choice of action but even those are a struggle for some. Telling them otherwise only compounds their feelings of hopelessness. I thought I was failing because I wasn’t happy. No, you’re alive. You’re here for a reason. What you’re going through is hard and it take times to process and to learn how to navigate, but keep going. Don’t give up. There is so much power in validation and that’s what I try to give everyone who reads and chooses to share with me.

We don’t have to understand how someone processes something to support them through it. We don’t have to agree or like their choices to love them. We don’t have to hide the dark and dusty corners of our lives to be loved or liked by people. We are all deserving of love.

Stephanie Pape-019.jpg

I’m not perfect now and I’m not trying to be, I’m just doing the best I can to make up for lost time. Time I feel like I gave up or lost when “life” happened to me in the worst possible way. So who am I? Who is ‘His Mom Strong’? I’m a tangled mess of contradictions, I am someone who is afraid I won’t ever find the love I long for, the love I feel I deserve but maybe I’m not ready for. I always want to to tell the truth but sometimes the truth is hard to say out loud. I’m still torn on whether or not I believe happiness is a choice. I have battled anxiety and depression on top of “complicated grief” with a dash of PTSD but I believe in hope. I believe in the power of a smile, to gift and to receive. I’m someone who loves fiercely and tries desperately to see the good in everyone, I look twice, sometimes three or four times before really believing who someone is or isn’t. I want things to be just and fair and when they’re not I struggle with how to reconcile that with what must be. I love transparency and authenticity. I am fiercely independent, some may even call me stubborn, but there is still this piece of me that wants to be taken care of.

No loss is the same. I have nearly 3,000 followers and the only thing we all have in common is heartbreak. No, I am not a grief expert or a life coach. I am just someone who got tired of hiding my feelings about so many things. I got tired of not saying the things I wanted to say for fear of judgment. So, now I overshare in hopes that others will feel less alone in their journeys. I make an effort to personally respond to every person who interacts with me on my blog. When people share their dusty and dark corners with me, I don’t take it lightly. They deserve to be acknowledged and I try to be that person.

I am ‘His Mom Strong’ because my son taught me how to love unconditionally, how to forgive people, even if they weren’t sorry, how to let go of things that are hurting me, how to hold on to what brings me joy, how to truly love my life for what it is, not the way I would have it. I’m ‘His Mom Strong’ because I am determined to give Jackson a mom who loves life. He is the root of the root.

Stephanie Pape-013.jpg
  Stephanie and her son Jackson -    Photo by Grace Sullivan Photography

Stephanie and her son Jackson - Photo by Grace Sullivan Photography