There are many things you can do after losing a spouse. One of these can be relocation. In this episode, Monika Dunn provides insights into the rewards and challenges of relocating after the death of a spouse. The discussion with Monika Dunn wraps up with sharing Tina’s journey from her perspective and those of family/friends. Moving to Virginia, Tina stayed with Monika on her last night in PA. Many connections join Tina’s friendship with Monika, the similarities of their children’s ages, serving in the military, their faith, and being in an interracial marriage, to name a few. Tune in to this episode and see how friendship gets us through challenges.
Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.
I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country.
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The Challenges And Rewards Of Relocating After The Death Of A Spouse With Monika Dunn
Hello, widowhood. I want to thank you for being on this journey with me. Thank you for investing your time in tuning in to this show and hearing the stories of my grief over the death of my late husband from the vantage point of myself, my family, and my friends. The conversation with Monika in this episode is wrapping up the sharing of my story because I wanted you to understand you are not in this alone.
This is a road that I have traveled longer than some and shorter than others. As we continue on this topic of grief and losing a loved one, I want you to know that I care, and I want to hear your stories. I want you to share questions that you would like for us to cover on the show. I would like for you to email me if you’re interested in sharing your story.
You can go to the website because Widowhood Real Talk with Tina is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission of supporting people that are grieving, and providing a candid place for a conversation about grief. That’s what this is all about. You can email me at WidowhoodRealTalk@gmail.com. You can go to our website, Widowhood-RealTalkWithTina.org to be able to share your stories and recommend different questions. Let’s get into this conversation with my friend Monika.
Our conversation is with my girlfriend, Monika. She got me out here way past my bedtime but Monika is committed to the hood, so she got me committed too. I’m appreciative of her time. Monika, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve known Tina for quite some time. We go way back to when our kids were little. We met in church mainly because our kids were together and in school together as well. Besides that, we connected pretty easily because we share a lot of similar interests. I have two kids and I’ve worked most of my life either for a company.
I work partially for a spa and partially build my own clients so when I retire one day, I’ll have a little lovely job or hobby, and provide some monetary resources as well. I’m from Poland but I’ve been in the US since ’87. This is my home now. I love God. I love sports. I’m very competitive when it comes to football. The Steelers are my team. College football and college basketball, I’m all into it. I love the outdoors. I love working out. I try to be healthy and I like having fun.
Let’s go back to Poland. What age did you come to the US and what was your life like in Poland?
I came here when I was sixteen. I came from a tiny little place with literally less than 1,000 people in my village. I came from a little place to New York City. That was a shock. Life in Poland was very different from what I experienced here. Most of the people were farming, but not business. It’s to mainly grow food for themselves. Either one or both parents were working as well to provide income.
As kids, we work since we were very little, either attending to the livestock, going out and working in the fields, school, and very little playtime. Everybody knew everybody. If you got in trouble with anyone, they would correct you right there. We didn’t get in trouble that much, but it was very loving and open at the same time in some ways. I also had a tough time growing up because my mom was in the US. When I was ten, she left and I didn’t see her since I was sixteen.
We also didn’t have phones available or camera phones for sure. I would talk to her maybe twice a year for a couple of minutes with a very bad reception. In between, we would write letters. Also, my youngest sister, who was three at the time when my mom left in ’81, I haven’t seen her until she was ten. She left when she was a baby and then she was a little brat when we got here to the US, but she was super excited to see us.
Tending animals, you said two words. You shared some of that with me. I want you to expand on that a little bit more about what tending animals look like.
They have to be taken care of every day. Usually, I would get up around the summertime probably at 3:30 or 4:00. I go out there and feed them. I clean up all their mess. I give them water. In the summertime, we would take them out to pasture and we didn’t have enclosures. The way our lots were set up, you’d have a little quarter acre here. Another 3 miles away, another little piece of land. We would take them from one little place.
Once they finished grazing there, the next week we would go to another place. You would have to stay with them the entire time while they were grazing. That was the summertime. While we were in school, if we didn’t have an adult to go to, they would stay home in the stable. When we come home from school, we go and take them out to pasture. We have to feed chickens and geese. We also had sheep and pigs. The pigs, you constantly have to feed, clean up their mess, and back to the same thing every day.
In the morning, you get up and take care of the animals. You then either go to school or if it was the summertime, work the field and go tend the animals. In the evening, it’s the same thing. We clean up the stables and give them feed. We had a horse that also helped with work and the horses wouldn’t go out to the fields. They would just stay in the stable. I would feed, water, clean, and wash them.
We will milk the cows because we had milking cows. We go collect the eggs from the chickens. If you wanted to cook something, we had the kind of stove that you had to bring in wood, chop wood, start the fire, or otherwise you weren’t going to have hot water or anything to cook on. You wash your feet and go do it again.
When was the time to study in school? How did that work in the schedule?
We didn’t have that much time. God has blessed me so much that I was able to retain the information in class. All I had to do is do my homework. Usually, it was at the end of the evening when all the chores were done. With the animals, we’d be done by 6:30 or 7:00. You then had an hour or so to do your homework and study. I thankfully didn’t have to study much. I would get my homework done and that’s it and I was good.
You said that your mom left when you were ten years old. What prompted her or what was the catalyst for her doing that?
My great-grandfather was the first one who immigrated to the US. That was before the World War II. It was to try to get a better life for himself and his family. He was also trying to escape the war. Slowly as he got his permanent residency and became a US citizen, he worked on bringing his children over. Eventually, my grandparents became citizens and then they tried to get the rest of their family.
My mom was finally granted a tourist visa at first, but she can only bring one. She couldn’t bring anybody who was over three. Because my youngest sister was so young at that point, she didn’t even need her own passport. She was in the picture with my mother just on one passport. She was able to come over here. Once my mom got established and everything else, she worked on getting us over here through all the policies that exist here for families for reunification. It was to try to make a better life for our family.
You came to America at sixteen and you’re coming into womanhood at that age also. That’s a challenging time for a young girl too. What are your thoughts from there to here? That must have been a shocker.
It was a shocker, not even about a woman who is coming from a tiny little place. We didn’t even have cars. Most of us didn’t have running water. We have an outhouse. We didn’t have toilets in the house or anything like that, to cars, busyness nonstop, massive people, and not speaking a word of English. Mom told us, “You’re going to have to go to school and learn,” which of course we wanted to do. We got here on July 17th or something like that. She worked on getting us registered for school. By the end of August or early September, I was starting high school.
You said you didn’t know English. How did that work?
You get thrown in the middle and you have to figure it out. Thankfully, the high school we were in had an ESL class. That was one of the classes but they would submerge us in regular classes, Math, English, ESL, and whatever other extra class you would pick. At first, you try to figure out what’s going on. It happened so quickly that within three months I was speaking and understanding English.
I did have my little sister at home. With my mom, we spoke Polish. My little sister did speak Polish, but her English was a lot better at this point. She would help us here and there but surprisingly, I was able to understand a lot. With speaking, the pronunciation of the words was difficult, but there were so many foreign students at that high school that we all sounded weird. It wasn’t too uncomfortable.
You talk about sister. How many sisters do you have and where are you in the placement?
I’m the oldest. I have one who’s one year shy younger than me and then my little sister is seven years younger than me.
Do they have children?
Yes. I have two. My next sister down has three, two girls and a boy. My youngest sister also has two, a girl and a boy.
How is your family unit maintained? Are you guys still as close now as when you were in Poland? What does that look like to you as far as a family?
Our family is very close. Even though I moved to Pennsylvania when my kids were 5 and 3, and my sisters lived in New Jersey, about two hours away, we made time to go see each other on regular basis. Our children grew up very close. The cousins are like siblings. Probably some of the cousins are closer than their siblings because we always made family our priority. We never missed each other’s birthdays or holidays. We get together. Whether I drive down or they come up.
In the summers, my kids would spend quite a bit of time in New Jersey at my mother’s house. All the cousins would get there and stay there for a couple of weeks. They would come to Pennsylvania. I would have them for a couple of weeks. We made that sacrifice, but not really a sacrifice. I feel like that has paid so many dividends in the way our children and our family unit are so tight.
When you graduate from high school, what happens next for you?
I decided I wanted to be a pilot.
I did not know that.
I don’t know too much about the way schooling worked in the US. Even though I was in high school, I worked at the same time, helping my mom because she was raising three girls by herself and it was hard. I would go to school and go to work. I was not spending much time learning how things work around here. Someone told me, “You can try the military. You can be a pilot in the military.” It sounded great. I went and talked to the Air Force recruiter and they wanted me on board. However, I was not able to do a urine test in front of a person. That was the requirement for the Air Force.
Before you even join, they had to watch you provide a urine sample for drug tests. I tried and I couldn’t do it. I was too uncomfortable. I couldn’t make it to the Air Force. They said, “You can do it in the Navy.” The Navy did not require the same pretest, although the recruiter did not tell me I would have to do that the very first night I got to bootcamp.
That’s a setup right there.
That was a setup, but I was already there. I and another girl were the last two people, after midnight, still drinking water and walking around in a circle until our bladders could not take it. Finally, somehow we made it because I don’t know what was going to happen next. I joined the military. I couldn’t start as a pilot because that requires being an officer and you have to go to school. I did start as an aviation machinist’s mate, which is a jet engine mechanic. It was the very next closest thing to a pilot, I suppose. I loved it. I enjoyed my time in the service. One of my best friends who is still very close to me lives in Cleveland and we made the connection in bootcamp. We stayed in touch since then.
You go on vacations. You guys travel and meet up. I don’t recall her name, but I hear you talking of her always. That’s a lifelong relationship there.
It’s Tiffany and our kids call each other aunt. Her kids call me auntie and my kids call her auntie even though there is no blood relation there. That’s irrelevant.
I remember basic training. That was the first time I went to the bathroom and there were no doors. There were just open stalls. Was it like that for the Navy when you went to basic training?
We did not have doors in the stalls and I was with one of the first companies that were mixed. We had guys and girls, but for the night we would go to separate barracks. We were together all day long in classes, training, and all that stuff but for sleeping quarters and bathrooms, we were still separate.
Where was your basic training? Was that Great Lakes or someplace else? Where was it?
At that point, they had three. In Orlando, Florida, Great Lakes, and they had one in California. I don’t remember which one now, but I was in Orlando.
If I recall, the Navy is consolidated right now. It is basically at the Great Lakes where they have all of their training. You brought back some memories. I left Chicago and I don’t know if it was a combination of plane or flying, but my bootcamp was at Fort Dix New Jersey. I was dirt tired. I remember getting off of there and not knowing where I was. People are yelling at you and all this other different stuff and just like, “Here we go, and I volunteered for this.”
I cried in my first week, “Why did I do this?” My mom did not want me to join the service. It was before the Desert Storm. She’s like, “No, you can’t go.” She was crying and I said, “Okay, mom. I won’t go.” Once everything settled down, she was okay with it. It was the 4th of July weekend when I got there and I got there before the 4th of July. A lot of people were coming after that. There were five of us for maybe four days just by ourselves, and I was miserable.
They are holding over until enough people come to fill up your class and they’re staggering in. You were there for five days. You knew everything by the time the other people came because you look like you were old. Nobody knows that you have been there for just five days, but it seems like you knew everything. At least, that was my perspective for people that have been there. By the time you graduate, you are like, “You’re only here for a couple of days. How did that happen?” Was that the same with you?
Yes, very much so.
How do you find yourself in Pennsylvania now? How do you go from joining the Navy to that life now in Pennsylvania?
I guess that’s life. I ended up getting married and having two kids. We started in Virginia in Norfolk. It wasn’t working out as far as jobs and being able to work and have a little kid away from the family. We ended up moving to New York. New York got old because it was too much of a city and too crowded. We didn’t want to raise their kids in that kind of atmosphere.
From there, we went to New Jersey for maybe a year and a half. It was too expensive to try to buy a house in New Jersey so we started exploring Pennsylvania. Everybody there was like, “Try this, try that.” We stumbled all the way up in Tobyhanna. We found a nice little place. That’s where we’ve been since 2001.
I didn’t know about New Jersey and Pennsylvania Park. If I recall correctly, you lived on the backside of Lisa. Did you almost share a backyard or how close was it?
There was one row of homes in between us, but the neighbor next to us was a couple from Russia who had the summer home and they weren’t in there all the time. Plus, they never objected to the kids or me walking through the yard. I would walk through the yard to get to Lisa’s house.
I didn’t know about the lady in Rochester. I knew about the connection of the yards and things like that. We went to church together. Do you remember when we met? I don’t have a formulative idea of when we met per se.
Are you asking for a date?
No, just the activity, how it happened, or if you remember when.
I was serving in the kids’ ministry and your kids would come to the kids’ classes. That’s how I remember us meeting for the first time.
That sounds about right. Your daughter is about the same age as my son. My daughter is about the same age as your son as far as proximity. That was a lot of passing and getting to know each other. The friendship started to kindle when there were some classes that you guys were taking at night, and then I was watching the children. I was watching your children and Lisa’s children. I feel like that’s when we started to get closer. That’s my recollection of it all.
The kids would come over and hang out and stuff like that. It’s one of those days when I was like, “I think I bit off more than I could chew.” I got six kids once a week, but nobody was an itty-bitty baby. Everybody could pretty much handle themselves. I’m glad to say that in this group of children, everybody ate what they were given. It wasn’t one of these things where it’s like, “I only eat this or I don’t eat that.” They were full-on willing to eat everything and do it. That was good.
Thank God. Hopefully, you wouldn’t have let them be hungry if they didn’t.
I think they knew me well that is exactly what would’ve happened. They would’ve become hungry or they’d gotten hungry when they went home, for sure.
No problem here.
That is why we work so well together. I know we’re going to talk about my loss with Mark, but what losses have you had in your life, Monika? It may not always be a person. It may be an experience or a life thing too.
It was both. I lost my aunt when I was still in Poland. She filled up a big space like my mom because I lived with her when my mom was here. She died of cancer and her children were away in school because they’re a little bit older than I am. I spent a lot of time with her and took care of her when she got sick. I also lost my father to cancer in 2005. I lost my grandmother of old age, not cancer. I lost another aunt, my father’s sister.
As far as the loss of family, there had been quite a bit. Growing up in Poland, we would attend pretty much every funeral because it was such a small place. Everybody knew everyone and everybody supported them, especially in times of need. I was exposed to death and saying goodbye to people from very early on. I remember either going with my grandmother to homes and praying. We didn’t have funeral homes.
The body would be right there in the home. Usually, there would be a lot of candles being burned and people wouldn’t be there for too long, maybe 2 or 3 days max, just waiting for family to gather if they were away. I saw that very early and I also believed that once people die if they’re believers, they’ll be reunited with God in heaven. Even though it was a loss, I believe there was more to life than what it was here. It was never devastating to me in that way. I hurt, I cried, and I was missing that person but at the same time, I always had hope that I would see them again.
When did your faith in God begin for you?
I grew up a Catholic, so I had always believed in God. The personal relationship or my decision to follow Jesus and choose him as my savior or allow him to be my savior and welcome him in my life was in 1996 in Norfolk, Virginia. My son was already born. He was a few months old and there was a tiny little church that was not even a block away that was meeting in place there.
When I was in the military, I was exploring and tried different churches like the Baptist and Methodist. There was always something missing in the relationship or the knowledge that I had growing up in a Catholic church. It didn’t feel like I had a personal connection with God. When I visited the tiny little church, it was a non-denominational church. It was very worshiping and learning. Everybody was so loving and welcoming. The Holy Spirit grabbed me and I haven’t gotten back since then.
If I’m somebody that’s trying to understand a personal relationship with God, and we’re talking about God that created the universe, how do those words pack out in your life? What does that look like? Not only those words. How do you experience that? What does look different to you than not having a personal relationship with God?
I can’t imagine not having a relationship with God. It’s knowing that someone is always on my side. Someone is always available for me to talk to. I talk to God sometimes in my mind. Sometimes I speak the words right out loud, and someone I go to with every need, joy, and pain. Having that sense and feeling in my body that this is a real being. It’s not just some distant or imaginary thing in my mind. I can feel my body changes, especially when I’m with other believers like in church on Sunday morning when they’re we’re worshiping and praising God. There is electricity running through my veins and body.
God is in the everyday aspect of your life. That is huge. Do you have any connection with people that don’t believe in Jesus? How does that work?
I do. I can’t imagine what that looks like to them. I’ve talked to them and from what they’ve told me, I don’t want to say it’s sad, but it’s empty. Oftentimes, they seem to be looking for something but have a hard time believing that a God who is so big, powerful, or creative can care about a human who is here so little, and then we’re gone.
Also, people question if God is loving and good, how can he allow this evil in this world? Having a conversation with people, and I don’t try to change anybody’s mind. I share with them my experience and that’s it. I encourage them to search and continue looking. If they keep searching for what they believe or if there is something more, they’ll find it.You'll find it if you keep searching for what you believe or if there is something more. Click To Tweet
I agree with that philosophy. There are too many people trying to force something down somebody. There are too many people not seeing people right where they’re at and loving them. They seek that out for them to come to that reality on their own. You mentioned death and knowing that you were going to see somebody again. Now, we move way forward. Was I the person that told you what happened with Mark or did you hear it from somebody else?
I heard it from Lisa. I remember the day or the moment when it happened because we were celebrating my brother-in-law’s birthday. Angelo’s birthday was in March and we were all out in the restaurant. I usually don’t answer my phone because we were with people. I think she called me and I didn’t answer the phone. She might have called one more time and I was like, “If she’s calling me again, something is happening.” I answered the phone and she told me what happened. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I knew your family. When you shared that with them, that was probably just as daunting for them because we had been to your house for holidays and different things like that.
You were just at our house for Thanksgiving.
We did spend our last Thanksgiving with you. I do have that picture. We were at the bottom of the stairwell getting ready to leave. There’s another picture we took on the couch. I will have to post that when we share the story. That was the last Thanksgiving.
My whole family knows you and everybody was in shock.
Where did you go from there? What happens at this birthday celebration after that conversation? That changes things a little bit.
We got ahold of you. We found out where you were and what the situation was. We jumped in the car and we drove up to Dover. We came the next day. When she called me, it was already pretty late in the evening.
It’s because Lisa was in Delaware with us there. You came and picked up Mark’s vehicle and drove it back to Pennsylvania. When you came, did I see you? Did I talk to you?
You weren’t there.
How did you get the keys to the car? How did all that work out?
You left it with the place that you were staying. Once we got everything straightened out, they had everything. They had our names. They gave the keys to us and everything else.
That’s a long drive with that in your mind. What are you thinking the whole time you’re driving to get this car?
I was thinking about you and the kids. What is going on? I had questions. How did this happen? What happened? We didn’t know too much from our conversation with you but said, “What do we have to do?” We did a lot of praying and asking God for guidance. We’re going to get through this and we’re going to be there for each other. That was it.
Do you recall when we finally saw each other per se?
I think when we brought the car to your house.
That makes sense. At that time, my brother probably was there.
I don’t remember if your brother was there already. I think someone was with you, but I don’t remember if it was your brother. I don’t remember at this time.
It was six years ago. Do you recall what I was like when we were talking? No matter how complicated it is because this is an opportunity for people to see from my friend’s perspective of the grief process.
I was surprised at how well you were keeping it. I knew that was out of necessity. At least, that’s what I believed. I remember when I lost my aunt. Even though I was one of the youngest people in the home, I was able to function and make decisions, and it was out of necessity because other people couldn’t. You had two children, a home, and everything else you had to take care of. You also then had to carve some time out for yourself. I was surprised and not surprised because knowing you, you always have routines and plans that you follow.
At the same time, you were vulnerable. You were sharing. We talked about how this whole event ended up in Delaware, what it was about, and how much you appreciated the fact that you guys made time for each other. Hearing those stories and you sharing how Mark had everything planned and organized. I couldn’t believe it. At the same time, I was praising God that things were laid out and there were some things that you didn’t have to stress over.
You bring up a good point. Oftentimes, I hear people say, “We need to do something in case something happens.” I’m like, “You know we don’t get out alive.” There’s no magic trick out of this. It is perplexing to me. I don’t know if we don’t like the idea of talking about death or if we don’t like the idea of our own mortality, but I do encourage people to plan for the inevitable. There are pre-needs. There are so many different things you can do to make that concept bearable for the people that are going to be here when you’re not here.Plan for the inevitable. There are pre-needs. There are things you can do and make that loss bearable for the people. Click To Tweet
It’s because it is so difficult to make those types of plans in someone’s absence when your mind is in a fog and all over the place. It is miserable and you’re right, it is the functioning part because there are things that have to happen. I think after the service and everybody were gone, it was like, “My functionality can be minimum now. It does not have to be to that height of needing to get things done.” Did you and I interact a lot after the service? What do you recall from that?
Do you mean right after the service that day or after the service days and weeks going forward?
Days and weeks or whichever you want to choose.
We interacted fairly a good amount either in person or via phone. I am not trying to bombard you with someone else to answer, but I still wanted to make sure that you were okay. There were a lot of people in your life that were there for you. I think that’s an amazing thing about having friends and being close to people because when the time of need comes, you don’t have to be alone.
I remember you being able to sit down and do nothing if that’s what you wanted. You stopped attending to some parts of the house because it was a big house and you didn’t have to do so many things because you were there alone for a while too. Also, changing the way cooking was being done because now you had to do it for one person. A lot of changes were coming. I was amazed at the way you were handling them. I remember you sharing with me that you were talking to a counselor. That was one of the greatest things that you were able to do for yourself, your children, and your friends because that guidance was priceless.
I think it’s the ability to realize, “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a husband.” When you’re getting married, there are all these opportunities for premarital counseling or books about getting married. I remember What To Expect When You’re Expecting, the book about being pregnant. There are books about what to do when somebody passes, but it doesn’t seem as readily available.
It doesn’t seem like there’s somewhere where you can get that information, which caused me to lean into doing this show. I remember how desperate I was for information. I was desperate to understand how to navigate this life in his absence and what that looks like. Everybody else’s life continues to go on and rightfully so, but the life that I had at that point was destroyed.
It literally disintegrated. It’s like you put kerosene on it. It went from having bonfires with a huge amount of people over and having a great time to dealing with breast cancer and a massive hysterectomy. Alexander went into the military. Mark passed, and then Catherine went into the military. I felt like I had the embers of the life that I used to have in that big house trying to figure out what I do now. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I did not find a counselor to try to figure that out. I have no idea what that would’ve looked like.
I don’t know what it would’ve looked like either. I know that because you did have the counselor, you were able to not only navigate for yourself but also for others because you connected with other people. I remember you sharing that there were other people you were talking to. You were in a group and I think those experiences as well helped.
When you lose someone suddenly or unexpectedly, that’s when that shock is so big because losing someone is difficult, whether it’s because of illness. At least if it is because of something that is taking time, you have a way to prepare yourself slowly. When it’s an accident or unexpected like this or when it’s tragic, that shock is just too much to try to go through it by yourself or without help from someone who has experience already.When you lose someone suddenly or unexpectedly, that shock is so big because losing someone is difficult, whether because of illness. Click To Tweet
I’ve had different conversations with people. We talk about whether it’s easier to have had this shock experience from out of nowhere or this building up to this person leaving. They both come with their own angst and there are different ways of dealing with them. There is something to be said for that versus going away for a lover’s weekend and coming home alone.
It’s like someone has shaken my mind and shaking it like, “Here you go. You get this back.” I’m like, “What?” I don’t even understand. I’ve been in Pennsylvania for a while and you’re seeing me. How is it from the outside looking in at this person that you’ve known for these years and watching that struggle? How did that impact your faith at all? How was your faith part of helping you deal with that?
My faith only strengthened because I saw you never waver in your faith. Mark has always been strong in his faith and your children as well. For me, it was encouraging to know that this is a real-life situation. This is not just a test. This happened and she is going through it. Her kids are going through it and they did not lose their faith. They are living what they’re believing. It just encouraged me to say, “Yes, you are on the right path.” I never questioned it, but I know I’m going to see Mark one day again and it’s going to be a fabulous reunion.My faith only strengthened because I saw you never waver in your faith. Click To Tweet
That is something to be said because a lot of times we’re in church or we’re in Bible study. We’re in a group thing at people’s homes and we’re always talking about trials or tribulations. When you first said that, I feel like, “This is not a test of a broadcast system and a little line goes across, and stuff like that it’s still true.” That is what life feels like. I never looked at it from that perspective like, “This is not a test. This is real life.”
The term that comes up is, “You put up or shut up.” It’s either you’re here for this or you’re not. There are different times when we don’t fare so well in our faith and that is also part of learning and encouraging, but there are times that we do hold the line. It’s like, “This is all I have or I have nothing at all in this process.” Have there been times in your life when you feel like this is not a test, this is real life?
Yes, it has on more than one occasion. The biggest one was when my son was just an infant. He was born in March and in early May, his grandfather who lives in California was visiting. He wasn’t even two months old yet. It was a weekend. It started on a Friday and he started getting weak. I was nursing him. He didn’t want to eat much and was getting weaker. I called my doctor and she said, “It’s the weather, and it’s spring. Maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that.” I said, “Okay.”
By Sunday night, his toes and his fingers were starting to turn blue. He was barely breathing. On Monday morning, I’m rushing him to the doctor. While we get there, they check his heart rate. Without even telling us what’s going on, she sends us immediately to the children’s hospital there. We get there. They put him in a room and don’t even allow us to follow. They have to shock him. His heart rate is at about 300 beats a minute. His heart was exhausting itself and had we not gotten him there in time, he would’ve been gone.
His blood was not reaching his extremities. We found out that he was born with tachycardia, which they did not catch at birth. It took about four different treatments of a shock to try to get him stabilized because they would shock him and he’d be fine for a little bit and he goes right back to it. Here we are seeing our not even two-month-old son with all these people rushing with needles stuck in his head and IVs everywhere. He was screaming and we can’t go in there.
The only thing I knew to do was we were on our knees praying and saying, “God, I know you’re real. I know you brought him here for a reason. We’re believing that you’re going to save him,” and he did. It took a few days. They finally got the medication right. He stayed in the hospital for about ten days or so. He went home with a heart monitor. They said that he would probably never grow out of this condition, but as he got older, he would be able to know if his heart went into tachycardia, and there were some things he can do to set his heart back to normal.
For me, that wasn’t good enough. I believe that God would heal him. I believe in miracles. One of the things that when I gave my life to Christ, there was a group that I would join and pray. I share with them about my son and they said, “We’re going to pray for him.” They said, “We believe that God is going to heal him.” I said, “I believe it too.” At about eight months old, we removed the monitor from him. We went back to the cardiologist. He said, “He’s fine. There’s nothing wrong.” I said, “Praise God.” The boy has been healthy. He never had another episode or any issues. You know what he’s like now. It’s like it never happened.
That is the power of God showing up in our lives and doing miraculous things. That is so inspiring. What about times when you don’t feel like God answered the prayer the way you wanted to and still trust in God and know He’s just as miraculous?
I’ve had those as well. One is losing my dad, and even some things like wanting to be a pilot and that didn’t happen. Also, wanting to stay in Virginia. I had to go back. There are situations, but I know that I am only limited by what I can see. God knows the beginning. He knows the end. He knows what’s better for me. Thankfully, at this point in my life, I’ve lived enough.
I’ve seen enough to where I trust Him that if I don’t get my prayers answered, it’s because there is a better answer than what I’m looking for. There’s a song that I heard a long time ago when I used to work for this Jewish lady taking care of her kids. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers, and I agree with that 100%.
I think sometimes people look at God like a genie. You rub it or do this and he’s going to make this happen but if the genie rub doesn’t happen, then God’s not good. He is good all the time. I definitely can attest to that. I lived in Pennsylvania and now, I’m moving to Virginia. I believe my last night in Pennsylvania was at your home. I think there was some white wine involved too that night before if I recall correctly. I can’t remember for sure. What did we do that night? I don’t recall what that looked like.
Who else was there? I can’t remember.
You surprised me and we had a whole little cookout. I come over there with my bag and I’m trying to go downstairs. You’re like, “Come outside.” I’m like, “Why?” Yes, you did. I was not ready for that. When did that plan start? How did that all happen? Let me hear the tea on that.
You’re going to be going and we weren’t going to see each other as much. There were so many other people who wanted to see you, say goodbye and wish you all the best. I was pretty sure that you would be willing to come over and hang out for a little bit. It’s a little trickery there but I didn’t mind. It’s nothing like when we tricked Jay with venison.
There are two stories. Thank you for bringing that up. My late husband Mark was a hunter and he hunted deer primarily. I never tasted deer. The concept of it seemed gross until we started dating and went to his family’s house. He made it and I was like, “It’s not so bad,” once you get the right butcher because sometimes it can taste gamey. Once he started it, it tastes like red meat per se. It didn’t matter.
Jay was like, “I can’t stand venison. I’ll never eat that.” When people say stuff like that, it’s like a challenge. I take the challenges back to Monika seeing that she was competitive. We got that same vibe going on. I was like, “We’re going to have you guys over for dinner.” We didn’t say what it was. We just put it out.
It was stroganoff.
We didn’t say beef stroganoff but it was stroganoff. It was the meat and the gravy and the noodles. Jay was eating and he was talking all this trash. “I can’t stand dear meat.” He did have 2 or 3 helpings? How many was it? I think he was on the third and we could not take it. We started laughing and he was like, “What’s so funny?” I was like, “That’s deer you were eating.” That was great because Catherine and Alex were there. We were all at the table. Everybody was fine except for Jay talking that trash. He couldn’t do anything. He ate that deer. He swore he would never eat red meat at our house again. He was like, “I will never ever going to eat.”
He was mad at me.
He was probably steaming on the way home. You did surprise me. I think I left work and I came to your house because that was my last day of work. I was driving to Maryland halfway and then I was going all the way to Virginia. There was a part of me that was excited and there was a part of me that just wanted to go into my room and cry. Go downstairs in the basement and cry and be like, “I don’t need this to be this real.” Part of me wanted to get in the car and drive. I was too tired. I don’t have the bandwidth to do that at all. Let me say, Monika can cook.
Your girl over here is more like a blue apron and somebody cooks for her. Monika out here is making stuff from scratch. All I want to do is unbutton my pants and come sit down and eat at Monika’s house because it is some yumminess that’s happening. She’ll go, “I just did this and I did that.” There are things on the table and they were all made from scratch. I just want a fork. I’m on the team wash the dishes over here or team paper plates. I’m not on the cooking team, but I am on the eating team. I was like, “When Monika Dunn is throwing a party, I’m going to eat. Let me go and get up here.” Were you home when I left or when I headed to Virginia? How was that for you? What did that look like?
I was excited for you because I knew you were going to be with family. It’s important to have friends, but your siblings were closer and your job. You were trying to get a job and God opened another door. I was happy for you. I was excited. The distance is not that far and with the technology now, we can see each other more than when I was in Poland and my mother was here. I had a place to go visit again. I was happy. I know you were going to be away but new things are often nice. I thought you were going to be excited as well and it would help you move toward your next point in life.
Thank you. When you lived in Poland, everything else is subpar as far as how that was going and the difficulties. That must change your perspective of so many things that people see and when you compare it to that and this. One of the things that I do is have a girlfriends breakfast. You and Lisa came for that. How was that like from what we were there to be here at my place and friends and family, and see that different perspective? Some of those friends that you had seen at the bonfire had come up. To be here now in this new life that I’m living, what was that like?
It was super exciting. For one, having all women bonfire with family and not taking anything away from that because it was great. We’re doing karaoke and the kids are running everywhere. Also, watching the kids grow up from little to teenagers. All those things are great and connecting, but there is something great about women being together and caring for each other. Meeting so many of them that I haven’t met yet was so much fun. The activities we did and the food we had was great. I look forward to it every time.
We took the bonfire to a different level. We flipped it a little bit and made it something else. I know you are tired. This has been a long day for you. I appreciate you having this conversation. I do have two more things for you. If someone comes to you and they tell you that their friend lost a spouse, what would you say to them? A coworker comes in and goes, “Monika,” and you’re talking about your weekend and they go, “My best friend’s husband passed and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I think I’m going to give her space. I’m not going to talk to her for a while and let her deal with it.”
Don’t do that. Be there for them. Reach out to them. Encourage them to find someone like a counselor, talks, or podcasts. Don’t let them be alone because even though I think people think they want to be alone, alone is a bad place to be when you just went through such a difficult loss. I feel that that is the devil’s way to try to keep someone hurting and not being able to figure out how to move forward because they’re isolated. Give them space if they need space, but continue to reach out continue to check in on them, and provide for them. If they want to cry, then be quiet and let them cry. Offer a hug. Do something.Don't let them be alone because even though I think people think they want to be alone, alone is a bad place to be when you just went through such a difficult loss. Click To Tweet
Those are good words. The power of silence and being there is beyond comprehension because most likely, you don’t know what to say to that person. We often fumble with words when we don’t know what to say because we feel like we have to put something in the air. We’re in that space with them and willing to be quiet because they probably are afraid to try to articulate how they feel and what they’re doing, but the value of having someone there with them is extremely important. I’ll sneak back. I have two more. What gives Monika hope right now? What do you have hope for in life?
I’m looking forward to retirement.
You keep talking about retirement. How old are you, Monika, if you mind sharing? If you don’t want to, you can just tell me how many years until retirement.
I am going to be 52 in a couple of months.
You are looking good.
Thank you but I’ve worked since I was four years old. I feel like it’s been a long time. I’m looking forward to my kids starting their families and hopefully, having grandkids coming around soon. As a matter of fact, my son’s best friend just had a baby. I call him my son too, and he calls me mom. This is my grandbaby because he lost both of his parents right around COVID. One to COVID and his mom a year later.
He’s doing great considering what he’s gone through, but since he doesn’t have a mom there, I’m excited about that. I’m hoping that my son, who’s just moved back to the area after being away for seven years, I get to see him and he’s going to think about maybe settling his roots somewhere close and working with family. Olivia plans on coming back to the Philly area.
Monika, thank you for this conversation. Any closing words, words of advice, or something you want to say before we wrap up?
I’ve said a lot already in this episode. When you’re going through something difficult, don’t do it alone. There are people who love and care about you, whether you know it or not. If you share your vulnerability, it’s going to help you so much better and so much more.
Thank you for those words of advice.
Monika, have a good evening. I’ll talk to you soon.
Bye. Take care.
I just wrapped up a conversation with my girlfriend, Monika. She is so chill. Life in Poland was no joke, and that lady is strong. Her quiet and low-key demeanor is so comforting. Monika is so strong and I am grateful that she is part of my hood. I’m grateful to wrap up this series of my journey with her, considering that my last night sleeping in Pennsylvania was at her home. I thank you for being on this journey with me. I am sorry for the loved one that is no longer here that you have lost that has driven you to this conversation, but I am glad that you are part of my hood. Talk to you soon.