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After her police officer husband's death on a Lino Lakes freeway in 2005, Jennifer Silvera felt numb and depressed.
The 32-year-old widow had big doubts and questions: Where was God? How could she endure the pain of losing her soul mate, the guy she fell in love with at age 16 at Coon Rapids High School? And how would she ever be able to raise their two, energetic youngsters alone?
What started out as journaling -- "a place to put my pain" -- turned into a blog dialogue with other people who had experienced loss. And about three years later, it became a story of hurt and eventual healing shaped by the love of friends, God and prayer: "Believe: A Young Widow's Journey Through Brokenness and Back." She wrote it for "anyone who has been disappointed by life, to help them find encouragement and hope," she said.
Shawn Silvera was 32 when he was struck by a man fleeing police who later admitted to using meth and driving more than 100 miles per hour in a stolen car. Silvera was hit in the median after he spread stop sticks on Interstate Hwy. 35W to puncture the car's tires. The driver is now serving time for Silvera's murder.
Silvera was a generous man who worked with police Scout Explorers and had taken a leave from Lino Lakes police to join the Peace Corps with Jennifer in 2001. The couple worked two years in a poor Honduran village where he used his Spanish and technical skills to install computers in a library and train people how to use and maintain them.
After returning home, Silvera wrote his wife poignant letters and she tucked funny love notes in his lunch box, notes he displayed proudly on his police locker door.
Last week, Jennifer Silvera talked over coffee in the Forest Lake home Shawn had helped build. Photographs of him and pictures he took of their two children -- Jordan, now 5, and Madelynn, 4 -- still adorn the walls and refrigerator door. It was quieter than usual because her children were visiting an aunt's farm. Above the sliding deck door, she has added in large words a phrase they had found in a book a few days before Shawn died on Sept. 6, 2005:
"Life is fleeting and fragile ... be here now."
The last three words "have become my mantra" when frustrated, tired or sad, Silvera said. "One of the biggest things I've been learning is to be present in my life with my kids, friends and family," she said.
Silvera said she asked God one day when she would get a daily routine back, such as making dinner for Shawn and their kids. She felt God's reply:
"You are exactly where you are meant to be. I don't want you stuck in the past or stuck in the future. I want you right here in the here and now."
Silvera realized she had to stop regretting losing Shawn and stop focusing so much on future plans. "I have learned there are no guarantees in life. Today is the day to focus on," she said.
Kids help the healing
She has made herself risk being hurt by doing things she enjoyed doing with Shawn. She decided to write her first book and began speaking about her grief and healing before church and business groups. And she said she looks for joyful moments each day to escape the inertia of despair. Jordan and Madelynn have helped.
"Preschoolers won't allow you to stay in bed with the covers over your head," she said. "One day I was tucking Maddi into bed and she said she missed Daddy. I told her she looked like her Daddy."
"I don't look like him because I don't have that shavey thing," Maddi replied, pointing to her chin.
"I laughed and told her you don't have the goatee he had, Maddi, but you have his smile. And her eyes lit up."
In her book, Silvera recounted a mental conversation she had one morning as she put away the cleaned breakfast dishes:
"I'm glad you sense life returning," a voice said.
"I wish I were content with all this," I thought.
"Each moment is a choice," the voice nudged.
She threw all the silverware in the drawer, not wanting to think about sorting it.
Who was this voice inside my head? God? My own imagination? But even without trying I sensed something trying to reach my spirit -- not in a frightening way -- but carefully.
The voice came near: "I am here to help you believe."
I knew only God could do that.
Silvera said that occasionally she has sensed Shawn's spirit speaking to her, sometimes in dreams.
"Always the message from him is that it's going to be OK. There is a bigger picture."
What's the bigger picture?
"This life on earth is temporary. This isn't the end. I try to live my life not being concerned with the minor details of everyday," she said. "I try to keep in mind that this is temporary, and there is something on the other side."
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658