Where do I begin?! I feel like I know James, even though I never met him. From what I have learned, he was a loyal, loving husband, brother and son. He had been a pilot for the Illinois State Police for a while. He had returned to patrol, not long before he was killed. He loved the gym and eating healthy. He was an incredible public servant to the community, and God fearing. I know a lot about him because I have become amazingly close with his widow, Liz.
To read more on James, visit the ODMP. https://www.odmp.org/officer/21766-trooper-james-michael-sauter
I received a call 4 months after Kyle was killed, that another Illinois State Trooper was struck and killed by a semi-truck driver. This was devastating news. The last line of duty death for an Illinois State Trooper prior to Kyle was 5 years before, Trooper Brian McMillen. I was shocked that another family was going through the same thing we did, so soon (not that any time frame would have been super great–obviously).
My memory is sketchy with the details, but I remember being asked if I would attend the services for James. My answer was, “absolutely”. His services were 4 or so hours North, and I only stopped to throw up once, but we made it. I was lucky enough to have Brian McMillen’s widow, Angela ride with me and my Trooper escort. I couldn’t say no to attending the services, because I needed to give Liz something. I needed to give her the reassurance and hope that Angela gave me when she walked into Kyle’s funeral services. I vividly remember someone saying that Trooper McMillen’s widow was coming. When I looked up from to see, I saw a young, beautiful woman, arm in arm with officers coming toward me. She was alive! She was standing! She was—what appeared to be OK! I’m not sure what words we exchanged, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of, “I know exactly how you feel…”. I needed to give that comfort and hope to Liz in Chicago.
I walked into the church, fighting back the urge to throw up again. I could feel so many eyes watching me to see what I would do. I was escorted, along with Angela, up to the front. The emotions were so unreal, it felt like an out of body experience. I couldn’t believe that I was now that survivor she needs to see. As I approached the family, I saw this energetic, blonde, smiling, vibrant young woman standing by her husband’s closed casket, almost as if it was just another day at the office. I’m not sure what words we exchanged, but there was a connection. She was giving ME positive energy, when I was the one that should have been holding her up. Someone mentioned to me that her mom was widowed at the SAME age as her. UNREAL. I thought, she didn’t need me, she has a perfect picture of hope right next to her…her Mom, Christine.
My new widow friend…
Sometime after the services, Liz and I got in touch with each other (she can probably remember the details–she remembers everything). I learned that Liz was a survivor to her core. She was unstoppable. She knew that the world kept turning after her James was taken away. She was a pillar of strength for me. Was she genuinely happy that she was standing next to her husband’s remains?? NO—that is pure adrenaline, anxiety, nervousness that I saw that day. Liz is the kind of girl that knows how to keep moving forward. She truly has a gift of perspective from her mother’s loss that has helped her. After all, she wouldn’t exist if her Mom didn’t keep living life, remarry and have her and her sister. Liz’s Dad, Rob is her Mom’s Chapter 2!
There is so much life, adventure, tears, love and conversations that have been had since that day at the funeral home. I still look up to her for her positivity and guidance to this day. I have come to love Liz and her family so much. That friendship is what encourages me to do my best to reach out to other widows. That connection is unmistakeable. Although I have to conserve my energy and guard my own heart, I needed a way to gift my love and compassion. My Comforting Keepsakes adventure has given me that.
Sarah Deatherage Steele
I am a Mom of 3, re-married widow, dental hygienist, fresh food snob, grief supporter for widows, and the creator of Comforting Keepsakes Sympathy Gifts. My husband, AJ and I hand make and finish every detail of our Memory Boxes, in our garage! I love my family and friends, second chances, exploring new places, and of course food!
Follow me! I don’t know what I’m going to do or say next, but if it’s worth typing, it must be worth something…