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Samantha Wills

Contributing writer Shauna Gray on the unexpected fairytale ending that changed her life.

Contributing writer Shauna Gray on the unexpected fairytale ending that changed her life.

Most every little girl envisions their “Prince” and what will surely become their 'Love Story'. This fantasy usually involves a handsome man who will come and whisk them away to a beautiful land where they will get married, have babies and live happily ever after in pure wedded bliss. Children are raised with the idealistic view of their first love being their forever love, and I think that is a truly wonderful way to look at life. Although, the older we get, we realize, life happens, and usually never goes as planned.

Of course, there are the couples who stay together most their lives. There are high school sweethearts who are still crazy about each other, and college loves that are still going strong, but not everyone has the same love story. In fact, mine is quite the opposite of what I had hoped.

When I was in college I met a guy, we dated all through college and when I graduated we moved in together. He proposed, I said yes and we got married exactly a year later. Then we bought a house and had a baby. I did everything “right” and from an outsider; this looked like the perfect love story. From the inside, it was a completely different picture. From the inside, I lived a lonely life full of lies, deceit and insults and I hid my unhappiness from everyone out of pure embarrassment. I knew he cheated for most of our relationship, but when I found the concrete evidence, I had just found out I was pregnant. I put on a smile and ignored it because who gets divorced when they are pregnant? (LOTS, by the way.) I focused on myself and my baby girl. It was her and I against the world. I could live like this for her. As any mother knows, you can do anything for your children.

8 months after my daughter was born, my brother was killed and my world was shattered. I took my daughter and I moved home to help my parents. A couple years previously my father sustained a head injury and my brother and I helped as much as we could, but now it was all on me. I told my then-husband, and he said he understood and we would also work on “us” while I was at home figuring out this new life without my brother and partner in crime.

After swinging by my house quickly one morning and finding a girl in our home, I knew things had to change. Suddenly being a single mother to an 8 month old baby girl and living at home wasn’t as embarrassing. My brother was 22 when he was taken from us, losing him was a painful reminder that life is far too short. My brother, Zack, lived life to the fullest and was happy. At 22, he was just so happy. I wanted that. I always envisioned my daughter growing up in a house full of love, that’s when it hit me. It didn’t matter WHO was in the house, it mattered how much LOVE there was. With my parents and myself, she was surrounded with more love, even during our darkest hours, than she ever had been, and so was I. Nursing my shattered heart from the loss of my brother, I somehow found the strength to also file for divorce. I walked away from everything just to be able to have closure and try to heal.

I met a lot of my brother's friends and was able to put faces to names during those first few weeks. I never knew that in my darkest hours, one person would end up playing such a major part in my “story”. There was this one picture of my brother on his Facebook page which was always my favorite of him, however when Facebook learned my brother had passed, his page was deleted. My mom and I created a memory page for Zack though, so I was able to reconnect with some of his friends, and find all the pictures that I would then look at for hours when I didn’t know how I would get through my next breath.

There was one friend in particular of his who, for some reason that day, I decided to “add”. I messaged him and explained who I was and that I just wanted to be able to look at his pictures of my brother, and not to think I was crazy. He was nice enough to accept and comfort me, despite barely knowing me, with stories of my brother that made me laugh. We talked for hours of our own heartbreaks, how much he also missed my brother and everything in between. For some reason I immediately felt as if I had known him forever. Through talking we found amazing coincidences between our lives. Family Birthdays being the same, he had a son who happened to have the same name AND birthday as my brother, so many facts that just kept me in awe.

Our friendship grew and before I knew it, I was laughing again. He had this ability to without even trying, remind me how to smile and how to live. From the moment I first saw him, I knew my life was about to change but wasn’t sure how. I was wary of introducing my daughter to him and explained that I came with baggage; that I lived at home and would never be able to leave my parents on their own. I was divorced and the mother of a 1-year-old. His response was how I knew he was different. He told me nothing about that was “baggage”; my daughter and family were “added bonuses”. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel ashamed and I didn’t feel like a burden on someone. Simply put, I felt loved. Most importantly, I felt my daughter was loved too. 

Over time, I learned to love, trust, have confidence, smile and live again. He brought back a part of me I thought I had lost when I lost my brother. I truly believe my brother sent him to me to save me. And he did. Fast forward to today, we are married and have expanded our family with our 4 year old Son, Connor Zack and our 6 month old son, Jackson James. We live with my parents and have built an addition so that we will always be with my family. My husband has never shown any doubts or fear. He willingly and lovingly stepped into a readymade family who was broken and just trying to survive each minute, and he stuck it out through it all. Somehow he was able to look at me and love me when I was completely broken.

6 years later I still have my dark days where the thought of my brother being gone makes it hard to breathe, and my husband is right by my side, holding my hand and pulling me through. I have been told that out of tragedy beautiful things can happen, and I truly believe my brother gave me the push I needed to remind me what life is all about. Family, love and happiness are all you need. Every love story is different, and mine is quite the opposite of what I had spent my whole life hoping for; it’s better.