It's been just over a year since Backroad Anthem singer Craig Stricklanddied of hypothermia while duck hunting at a northern Oklahoma lake.
Now, Helen Strickland, the country rocker's young widow, is opening up about the grief she's endured and how she's learning to move forward in a two-part blog post titled "From Newly Wed to Widow: The Search for Craig."
The 27-year-old former Miss Arkansas reveals that she initially felt optimistic when she and other family members set out in search of Craig, 29, and his hunting buddy, Chase Morland, 22, who also died on the tragic winter trip.
"I got up 4 a.m. and put on a full face of makeup and super girly ski outfit,” she writes. “So that when we found Craig stranded on a random island on the lake (so happy to see me, of course), he would look at me with doe-like eyes and say, ‘Wow! My wife is so hot.’"
"I felt so sure that I would see my husband in wonderful spirits that evening," she continues.
But during the two-hour car ride to the lake, Craig's father received a call from authorities who'd found a capsized boat that matched the description of the one used by the men.
"I felt (and heard) my heart give one massive beat that seemed to push all the blood in my veins through my entire body in a single throb," Strickland writes.
Within a week, both men's bodies had been found.
Strickland's grief was agonizing. On the night before Craig's funeral, she confided to a friend, "I don’t want this to be my life. I miss him. I miss cuddling with him. I miss kissing him. I don’t want him to be gone.’"
All along, she writes, her faith in God has kept her going: "(I) realized what I was experiencing was bigger than me....It was about God, and God using Craig’s testimony to impact lives of more people than I could have ever imagined."
"It was," she writes, "about providing a sense of strength and hope for people also going through tragic circumstances and needing to be reminded of God’s love for them.”
Read Helen Strickland's entire two-part blog post.