My good friend Michele lost her husband of 22 years to cancer on August 25, 2011. He was only 43 years old.
Michele fell in love with Chip when she was just a teenager. She married him when she was 19 and she had their first child, Olivia, when she was just 20. Shortly thereafter, they had their son, Will. And then God blessed them with an amazing surprise gift 10 years ago: Isabelle.
Michele and Chip's marriage was one to be idealized. For two people to find each other that young and still share a love so strong.... it's almost as rare as a blue diamond these days.
Now Michele is a 41 year old a widow who's trying to pick up the pieces and keep walking ahead.
Last night was the first time that I'd seen her since the funeral. I sat down beside her, just like I normally would have, but I found myself sitting a little closer than usual - like, I almost wanted to hug her without lifting my arms.
The last time that we played at that park, Chip was there - coaching and encouraging his daughter, my daughter and eight other little girls. He taught them that there's more to softball than hitting and catching.
But there is a huge void on that field now. There's an empty spot at 3rd base that no one can fill. And no fool would ever try.
Last night, Michele was shouting to Isabelle from the stands: "You got it, Izzy!" "Great pitch!" "Nice hit!" Michele was filming Isabelle with a handheld recorder.
I envisioned the ride home - the two of them talking about the game and the team's win. And I wondered how loud the silence would scream from the empty passenger seat.
Regardless of how hard I tried to fight it, tears began to fill my eyes. I was glad that I was wearing sunglasses to camouflage my emotion although I could feel the occasional tear roll to my jaw, becoming visible to all around me.
'I can't let Michele see my crying!' Here she is - cheering on her daughter, strong as an ox - and I'm crumbling in the seat beside her.
I looked down at Michele's left hand and noticed her beautiful platinum and diamond solitaire wedding ring. I guess I've seen it a hundred times before. But this time, I saw a 5 millimeter yellow gold wedding band, one too big for her finger, residing just below her wedding ring. This one sat closest to her heart. This one was Chip's.
So how does this woman keep walking ahead? How does she not give up and crawl in the ground beside him?
I finally decided that it is because she has three wonderful children who need their mother. She has a loving family. She has supportive friends. She has a strong faith in God.
And she has Chip's wedding band. The one that sits closest to her heart. The one that reminds her that they will be united again.
Please say a prayer for Michele today. And take a moment to love somebody a little more than you did yesterday.