A few days in everyone’s life stand the test of time and will always be remembered. A few of my personal ones are the days my boys were born, the day I got married, and the day my husband died.

Yes, I’ve been a widow since I was 32.

On August 25th, 2016, I received the call that would rock my whole world. In an instant, the whole future I had prepared myself and my kids for had changed dramatically. Family and close friends didn’t know what to expect from me, and I didn’t know either.

He had been the final piece to the puzzle I had worked on all my life. Not that I need a man to complete me, but having a husband made me feel whole. Ben was the calm to my anxiety, the goofy to my seriousness, a listening ear to my endless rants, patience and understanding to my impulsive judgements, the tissue to my tears, and so much more. I was crazy about him and so were my boys. I never thought I’d find someone who fit so perfect for all of us… but I did.

May of 2016, we got married after dating 5 years. We had known each other since we were teenagers, and I always had a crush on him, not knowing he had felt the same.

Ben had taken his time earning the boys respect and love and when he did, it was so beautiful to watch the interactions they would have. Their faces would light up, and at times, I felt like the third wheel. He could motivate and build my oldest son’s confidence in a way I had never seen before. My little guy thought he was the funniest person alive. I thought he was perfect: a perfect fit for us.

Our wedding was perfect, too. Our first dance together is still burned into my memory as one of my favorite moments in life. He just kept pulling me closer with that big smile that revealed his dimples and those green eyes that could melt anyone’s heart.

During the summer of 2016, we made plans as many couples do. We took the kids camping, which they loved—another one of my favorite times to reflect on. I watched Ben teach my oldest how to canoe and fish while my little one played on the beach. We were looking at homes to purchase and doing things to build our credit. I had asked him about a mini honeymoon for our 1-year anniversary. We were really looking forward to our future together.

August of 2016, though, all of that came to a screeching halt. I can’t say I remember the call but I do remember falling to my knees screaming, sobbing and in disbelief. It was about 8am when the phone rang. I had just sent my oldest to school for the day, and my youngest was still hopping around the apartment with his morning Pop Tart. Immediate family and close friends all packed in their cars and headed over as soon as they heard. I decided to wait until the end of the school day to tell my oldest. I wanted him to have one last good day before his world changed like mine. Breaking the news to him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I felt like I held his heart in my hand and crushed it.

The next few days are hazy. The funeral even seems like just a blur of people.

Anyone who’s ever lost someone close can tell you that after the funeral is when it really punches you in the gut. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t think. I would start a task around the apartment and get frozen in a memory of him, of when we laughed together. It was bad. Never have I had a loss this traumatic and unexpected. It really knocked the wind out of me.

I was unable to take care of myself. I suddenly had this blank slate. What once seemed like a well-outlined life of love and laughter had become an empty page that I didn’t ask for.

I spent about 6 to 8 months completely immersed in all the stages of grief simultaneously when I noticed our list of goals on the fridge. In that moment, I decided that I still had stuff to do. We still had goals to reach, and even though he wasn’t here with me to do them, he was still in my heart. We had come up with those goals together, and they still needed to be done.

In May of 2017 (just a few DAYS before our 1-year anniversary) I managed to buy a home and complete the list (all besides quitting smoking). Throughout that process was when I realized I’m still alive. I still have the opportunity to do those things and be with these people who I love. And yes, it hurts my heart to realize I can’t see his smile, but I can still FEEL his love. I carry it with my every day.

I am still here. I still have time, and I now have this fight in me to make the most of it. I know now how valuable time is, and I’m looking forward to making more memories that I can feel in my heart, regardless of the storm around me.