Cory and Abby Barr with daughters and Stoughton Fire Truck

This photo, taken during the Memorial Day parade last year, is the last one the Barr Family took on the Sun Prairie Fire Department’s historic Stoughton fire truck.

July 10th, 2018, my entire world changed. I’ll reflect on the past year in a very raw and open manner, along with a mild touch of humor as this is a coping mechanism of mine. It is something I share with Cory – being able to be goofy and laugh, even in the worst of times.

And I could write a book, but I’ll try and keep it short and sweet.

The last year has been completely surreal. I’m in the process of rebuilding my life from scratch. The future that I had envisioned turned into a big black hole overnight. And even though I had (and still have) all the support in the world, I had never felt so alone in my life.

I remember the first time I heard the term “Widow” and how disgusting it sounded. It hit me at that moment that I was now a single parent and had lost my best friend and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. No matter how much I wished for it, turning back time was not possible.

Even today, I still, pretty much on a daily basis, have a moment where I stop in my tracks and think “What happened to my life, how did I get here, how is this possible?”

The unimaginable experience that happened is still a hard one to grasp. And I miss him like crazy every…..single…..day. He was one of the best, and I was the luckiest girl in the world to have shared my life with him.

I’ve spent most of the year focusing on myself and the girls and our needs. It’s amazing how the basic daily tasks of life become so much work and take so much energy. Thing as simple as eating, drinking, and sleeping became a challenge for a long time.

A lot of people have offered help wherever I need it. One thing I’ve had a hard time doing, but realizing I have to, is actually ask for it. I wouldn’t have been able to survive without it and everything everyone has done. Something else Cory and I shared – trouble asking for help. And even now and probably for a while yet, a lot of my energy is reserved for the basics, and for our two beautiful daughters.

Children just amaze me. I have not hidden my grief or sugar coated anything with my girls, and they have shown true feelings of sadness, but also empathy and compassion. They know their Daddy is in heaven and they know he is not coming home.

They have also been told that Daddy will always be in their heart. Aubrey told me once that she wanted to open her heart, and when I asked her why, she said it was because she wanted to see Daddy.

A couple times when I have been crying, they run and get a wipe to dry my eyes and tell me everything is going to be OK. I had one instance when we were talking about Daddy where Hailey looked me straight in the eyes and said “Mama, I know that it’s hard.” I just looked at her like deer in a headlight and thought to myself – “YOU ARE 3 ½! How on earth can you be so understanding and thoughtful like that?”

I honestly don’t know what my life would look like without those two blessings in my life. They are my purpose and the reason I get up every day.

One of the discussions Cory and I had ironically just a few months before it happened was what we would want to happen if something were to happen to one of us. He told me that he wanted to be cremated and thrown away.

Seriously? Yes, probably.

So, when it came time to decide what to do with him, I was a little unsure, but knew the garbage is not where he was going. One of the things I had done was to have some glass pieces made with his ashes in it.

When one of the items that showed up was shattered when it got here, I was heartbroken and didn’t know what to do with it. My sister suggestions getting the rest of it broken up into glass pieces and put it inside of an empty ornament. I loved the creativity – and I loved that he wasn’t getting his wish of being thrown in the trash! Nice try babe!

As the year of “firsts” have gone on, it has been a rollercoaster of emotions, on a weekly, daily, or hourly basis. I can have moments of joy and laughter, but even though that is the perspective of how I’m doing on the outside, it doesn’t mean the heartache and pain in my heart isn’t coexisting at the exact same time.

I’ve learned that grief has a lot of unique qualities to it and being able to feel two of the opposite emotions is one of them. The holidays were rough to get through but did some things that I’ll keep as traditions into our new future.

Life will never, ever be the same for the girls and me. But it will be shaped in a way that they will know their father and I will be able to carry him forward in all aspects of my life no matter where it takes me.

As year two begins shortly, I’m told that it sometimes can be even harder than the first because reality finally sets in a little more. I feel I am prepared for this, for the most part, and am already feeling the effects of it setting in. I miss him more and more every day and still can’t grasp he won’t be around for the girls and I for the rest of our lives.

But I am going to take advantage of living my life to its fullest because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. I can do this as well to honor him as well. I feel he would want me to live my best life and not be stuck in grief. But he also knows that I usually get my way – so while I’ll do my best to do what makes me and the girls happy, I will take the times I need to step back and mourn our loss of husband, father, son, brother, uncle, and so much more.

The silver lining (I struggle with even using this term as it hurts to think anything could be positive about this) in tragedy is when everyone comes together to support one another.

There were a lot of events put on in the community for all those effected by the tragic event. I tried to make as many as I could but couldn’t make all of them and probably wasn’t even aware of all of them. People would ask if it was hard to keep going to all these things.

My heart bursts with pride for that man, so it was a comfort to go to these things. It made me feel closer to Cory, and to be able to honor him and do what I could to support others that also experienced losses.

The thing I’m most grateful for is all of my support system – big and small. I haven’t even been able to finish all my thank you’s I’ve wanted to but I want to make sure everyone know how extremely grateful I am for anything and everything done for me and my family.

And for what was done for my fire family and anyone else that experienced losses and trauma from this tragic event. Thank you from the bottom of my heart as I’ll be forever grateful.

I couldn’t be prouder of the Sun Prairie community and how much stronger it became and how much more it feels like home. Thank you all! I’ll never be able to pay it all forward but will spend my life trying! Cheers!

A version of this column appeared in the special section commemorating the one-year anniversary of the July 10, 2019 natural gas explosion in downtown Sun Prairie. The section is inserted into the July 9, 2019 Sun Prairie Star and is available through Thursday, July 11, 2019 on newsstands and at The Star, located at 804 Liberty Blvd. Suite 201 (above Buck & Honey's) in Sun Prairie. 

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