The dance

I dropped the phone, ran out the door and fell to my knees, gasping for air. I received the phone call no one ever wants to receive – the call saying that a loved one had been in a bad accident. The man I had dated for three years, my best friend, had been airlifted to the hospital, and he was not expected to live.

He was only 34, and so full of life. When Todd walked into the room, he brightened it. He helped make the world a better place. He always put others before himself. His heart was overflowing with love. And his smile was contagious.

Todd Setzke was my high school crush. He was a senior, I was a freshman. I’m not sure we even talked in high school. He was handsome, fun-loving and charming. He was the guy every girl wanted to date.

Years after high school, when I was working as a television reporter, I met Todd again, working on a story. And all those “high school girl crush feelings” came rushing back the moment he smiled at me. We wound up dating, falling in love and staying together for three years.

I spent as much time as possible with Todd and his two amazing little girls, Jessica and Bailey. We did everything together as a family – trips, slumber parties and make-up parties, fishing trips and picnics. But our most precious moments came at the most unexpected times.

Julie with Todd Setzke and his two daughters, Jessica and Bailey.

Todd fully embraced life and always surprised me and his girls with his fun ideas. One of our favorites occurred after dinner. Todd would turn up the music, and we would all dance. We’d have a “dance party” right in his living room. The girls loved taking turns dancing with their dad and having him pick them up and twirl them. Their giggles and laughs were beautiful.

When I received that call, those two little girls are the first thing that came to my mind. I rushed to the hospital to find that the love of my life, my best friend, had been in a four-wheeler accident. His head injuries left him brain dead.

It was one of the worst moments of my life, as my sister and I held Todd’s two little girls in our arms in Todd’s hospital room as they sobbed. Their father, one of the greatest dads I had ever known, was leaving us.

It was unbearable.

I led the girls to the hospital chapel, and together we prayed, as he was being removed from life support.

His family asked me to give the eulogy at Todd’s funeral.

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I knew I had to do it, for Todd and his girls. As they looked up at me from their pew in the front row, I asked God for the strength to remain strong for them.

I talked about how their daddy fully embraced every moment of life. Todd didn’t just live life, he truly lived it.

I talked about how his smile lit up the room and how much he loved to dance with his girls. How he would play music and twirl his princesses around. When he looked at them, it was with real love. The deep, unconditional, magical love a father has for his daughters.

Then I did what Todd had asked me to do.

He had told me that if the worst ever happened to him, if he left this earth too soon, he asked me to play a song for his daughters.

And so I played “I Hope You Dance.”

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger

May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance

Never settle for the path of least resistance

Living might mean taking chances, but they’re worth taking

Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth making

Don’t let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter

When you come close to selling out reconsider

Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance.

Losing Todd taught me that life is a gift, and time is so precious. Why waste one minute worrying? Why waste one moment complaining?

Thank God for all you have, no matter how much or how little. Spend as much time as you can with your children and the ones you love. Hold them tight. Tell them you love them. And put some music on and dance.

Julie and her son, Joey. Photo Courtesy: Sternberg Studios Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Todd, I want you to know, I love my children. I hold them tight. I start every day in prayer, and hand it all over to God. He leads my path. I try hard not to worry or complain. And I dance with my children, every chance I get.

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