Things a young(ish) widower of two years knows…
“This dewdrop world, is a dewdrop world, and yet — ” ~~Kobayashi Issa
*** Below are experiences and thoughts I gleaned directly or collected from young widowed friends and/or anonymous support group members.
The beautiful thing is that every day provides us with the means to enjoy the bounty of what it means to be alive. A widowed person seeks out the novel and the mysterious, the obvious and the sublime, the simple and the extraordinary for we have been witness to death as the final act of one’s personal narative. Until then, life is an exploration. And every single day is a gift. You have to actively work at it some days. Forge ahead no matter the fears real or imagined; in the end, you have nothing to lose.
The ugliest thing is having your partner die in your arms. To have previously shared ecstacy, laughs, tension, tears, hopes, dreams, warmth, love, comfort, frustrations, pain, sorrow, release, anticipation and then after an agonizingly fateful moment passes, everything goes quiet and there is nothing left to share. It is a lonely moment and there will be many more inescapably lonely ones. No wonder some people abhor the thought of being alone even if it means continuing terribly dissatisfying relationships. They, however, are the living dead.
The hardest thing is returning to a life of solitude and independence whereas you previously melded with another in the most profound way. A way you never dreamed existed. You lived to make each other happy and in turn, the world was a vibrant place full of splendor. Although seemingly impossible, you have to find that again and you will in time.
The strangest thing is having to re-engage with the world when for months and months you preferred everything stop so you could catch your breath. The most nightmarish thing had happened. Doesn’t the rest of the world want to pay their respects?
The hurtful thing is that in the early widowhood period, many will not understand the process nor want to contemplate their own mortality. Your presence is a reminder of how bad life can be and no one wants to accept it. In turn, people will walk away at a time you desperately need connection, support, and outlets for your confusion and anger. The loneliness hurts everywhere; physically and mentally. Most of all you will want to be loved and love others even more fully. This will confuse many especially those who don’t feel lovable or who have only been loved for ulterior motives. You will be rejected for fully realizing the ideals we should all strive for as sentient beings.
The happiest thing is that your beloved can live on in your memories and when you least expect it, snippets of the greatest times in your combined past will come to the surface and bring you a smile you can not control. Life was at its pinnacle once and it was yours. As I like to say, “so long as I have breath, my wife is still alive”.
The scariest thing is realizing we pretend to have control over our circumstances when we really do not. Groundlessness is the universal rule in our lives. It takes a tragedy to understand.
The puzzling thing is you will likely be in a highly sexually charged state at times. You will want to sleep with many people some of whom would appeal to you in ordinary circumstances but not all. Some couplings will bring healing, others will leave you as empty as before. What is the source of this energy? Maybe it is lovemaking being a wholesale rejection of death; one wants to be at the zenith of human activity. Maybe it is an extremely intense longing for understanding, comfort, safety, peacefulness. Maybe it is making up for lost time when lovemaking wasn’t physically possible. Maybe you miss the couple times a week soiree in the sheets. Sometimes, you want to share your gift for caregiving in the most intimate and joyous of ways. None of this necessarily has to do with emotional love you will foster for others which will be a different challenge entirely.
The most curious thing is you have the capacity to fall in love again, sooner than you think. Is it the abiding, all-consuming love you shared before? Not yet but it is proof there isn’t solely one person for us in a long life and the world needs a broader definition of loving relationships. You are not doing a disservice to the memory of your lost partner by sharing the most magnificent parts of you. Observers and even some closest to you won’t like you being in love; it is too soon, you haven’t met their definition of the proper time to grieve. Have they experienced a cold bed before? Do they know what it is like to be unable to wrap one’s arms around a loved one and kissed them passionately on a daily basis? Try a house with no laughter for a few days. Or dinner for one not out of choice but out of a bad twist of fate. How about the simple act of sharing some wine, commiserating over the work day and rubbing your loved one’s feet or back? You must be the sole arbiter of when you welcome love back in to your life.
The saddest thing is knowing without a doubt there are parts of you that remain broken for good. You can not go from living with a soulmate, losing that kindred spirit and fully healing once again. “Getting past it/over someone” is a horrible coping phrase that should be eliminated from the grieving dialogue. One learns to carry the burden of the experience and still enjoy life. It is possible but it takes time, patience and self-care.
The humbling thing is having served your spouse and at times been asked to make decisions for her which held her life in the balance if not immediately than in terms of relative longevity. Is there a greater love than one in which someone turns to you and says, “I trust you with my life”? You will ask yourself for years if you met the challenge and lived up to the supreme responsibility.
The curious thing is that you will emerge reinvigorated to live as fully for yourself because you deserve it and to be worthy of being the one left behind. Courage and a sense of adventure will be your new companions. And you will say “yes” to many more things. It takes time especially when a sense of nihilism creeps in to your thinking or you feel guilt because you see a connection between the tragedy and your discovery of strengths, an unexpected life path and a purpose you didn’t know you had.
The grateful thing is that while you had no control over circumstances, your partner’s passing gave you wisdom about what is most important in life decades before you might have learned otherwise. And it isn’t wealth, titles, or anything material.
The most precious thing is the ongoing lessons in unconditional love you are left with. You see, on my wife’s last Christmas, only two months before her passing, she must have know she was running out of time. She spent an inordinate amount of precious moments choosing gifts for me. A few items which, while inexpensive, would have a lasting impact. Of all the things she could have been experiencing, she chose to focus on things that would make me happy. There is no greater satisfaction than to live in devotion and service to a deserving and receptive partner.
The unexpected thing is new friends with extraordinary warmth and empathy will emerge and remind you the world can be a joyous place. Compassionate lovers will show up and say, “I don’t understand the complexities you are experiencing but tonight let them go and feel cherished and comforted”. Bask in mutual appreciation and energetic frolic. Feel whole again even if only for one night.
The most certain thing — love is the only constant. Express your true feelings to those around you as you don’t know how long any of us has. The recipients of your truth may or may not welcome frank and warm words but you will be at peace knowing you strove to be the best lover, friend, child, parent, partner you could be. Maybe, someday, they will recognize how divine and genuine the feelings were.
Image by Noah Bulgaria.
To explore some of my epiphanies and challenges in young(ish) widowhood, love and life itself, please see the stories below. If you like what you just read, please ‘Recommend’ it and ‘Share’ it with others by any social media you favor. To see all of my posts, follow this link: https://medium.com/@vfulco
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