If there is one thing I have learned and continue to learn from my husband’s sudden death, it is that Love Heals. It’s true.
In the summer of 2011, I thought I already knew everything about love. After all, I was 35 years old, and very happily married for 4 years, 9 months, and counting. It had taken me such a long time to find my soul-mate, my best friend, my everything – and I had already been through traumas and past relationships an boyfriends that were absolutely awful and that weighed heavily on my heart.Most of the men previous to my husband that I had been with, did not treat me too well. And then there were the ones I wasn’t with. None of the good guys were ever interested in me. They always wanted my skinnier, blonder, smaller friends. I had been through rejection so many times – un-returned love – that phrase: I love you as a friend – it could have been my bumper sticker. So after all that, I was finally gifted with this beautiful and loving and decent and kind and inspiring man, who wanted nothing more in life than to spend every day finding more ways to make me safe and happy. And we would love each other and laugh together and grow old together and live in NYC and then retire in Florida, and live happily ever after. Well, that was the plan.
Yeah. I knew everything I needed to know about love.
Until I didn’t.
On July 13th, 2011, everything that I thought I knew about life and about love, got tossed into a blender on high-speed, and hasn’t stopped spinning since. For that was the day that life, as I knew it, stopped. My beautiful husband of 4 years and 9 months, who was just 46 years old and had zero symptoms or warnings, left for work and never came home. He went into cardiac arrest, and they found him collapsed on the floor. Massive heart-attack. His life gone, and mine forever changed. I was about to learn so many new things about love, whether I wanted to or not.
2016 was my fifth year without him. It was, by far, the year that was filled with the most amount of changes, transitions, emotions, and questions. I had a lot of “firsts” in my 5th year of life without my husband. For the first time since his death, I could actually begin to see and feel what it might be like to consider the possibility of someone else. I met someone in a completely unexpected way, where neither one of us was pursuing the other, but there was a very natural connection between us as we continued to talk and get to know one another. We met in person this past spring, and face to face, that connection was undeniable. Because he is also widowed, we shared special moments together such as going to visit his wife at the cemetery, and going to my husband’s favorite beach in Florida, where I had scattered his ashes. I had my first kiss since my husband’s death, with this person, and it was really quite lovely. I was so afraid that kissing someone else would feel weird, wrong, or incredibly sad. But it was none of those things. It was special and in the moment and somehow in slow-motion, and I could feel my husband’s presence there, and he was insanely happy for me. I think I heard him breathing a sigh of relief for me. All the things that I had feared, about having feelings for someone else, turned to dust. Like I said, I thought I knew all there was to know about love. But before my husband’s shocking death, I actually knew very little. Here are just a few of the bigger lessons I learned about love, in the year 2016:
It’s Possible to Get Butterflies Again
Remember that feeling of being 16 or 17, and going out with a boy that you really liked a lot, and your stomach did these sort of flips and went upside down and back around again, and you felt like you were floating on a cloud? Yeah. I had no idea that it was possible to feel that again at age 44, and as a widow, to boot! When I met my widower friend in Florida this past spring, I felt exactly that, and it was magical. It was also kind of hilarious. After spending almost an entire day together driving around to different places in his truck, and being treated like a lady by the most genuine gentleman I had ever witnessed, he drove me back to my parent’s friend’s house where I was staying, and we stood next to his truck and said goodnight. The front light went on as we were out there, which I found hysterically funny. Even funnier was walking into the house, where my mom’s friend anxiously awaited my news. “So … how was it? Was there that same connection in person? Did he kiss you?” – “I think I kissed him!”, I responded, giggling like a teenager. I can’t explain it, but something took over that night, and that week, inside me. It was like I had this courage in saying and acting upon how I was feeling. I had no problem at all telling this person that I wanted him to kiss me, and I had no problem being flirtatious and slightly forward, in the hopes of that happening. The “other” me would have never done something like that. I would have been way too afraid, too shy, and too concerned with what he would think about me. But let me tell you something – nothing is as terrifying as losing your love and the life you knew, and having to start over again, when you don’t even want to. Having to live life again, when everything inside you just wants to lay down and stop the pain. Everything else pales in comparison. So taking a chance and going in to kiss someone, because I really like them, and it feels nice? Sure. Why the hell not?
Modern Day Dating is a Shit-Show
So, as it turns out, this wonderful man who I still have this beautiful connection and growing friendship with, is not yet in a place to label us as something, or to take that risk on love or a relationship. So, we continue to build and marinate in what we now have, and we see what happens. In the meantime, spending time with him in person opened me up to the realization that I no longer wish to be alone in this life. I will love my husband forever and he will always be my soul-mate, but the heart expands for more love, and humans were not meant to be alone. The thought of not having someone to share life with, ever again, just makes me feel awful inside. So, on the suggestion of my grief-counselor back in April, I joined a couple of dating sites, in the hopes of having some light-hearted and casual fun again, and maybe going on some nice dates again, and feeling attractive and wanted again, because those were things that were now awakened inside me. I wanted more.
Dating sites are not for the faint of heart. I learned this pretty quickly after joining them. People communicate differently today. To me, it’s barely communicating at all. Most of the men don’t want to actually TALK – they just want to get your phone number IMMEDIATELY, and then text endlessly until one of us dies. Whenever I would mention meeting up in person, they would run away like little boys and disappear forever. (I’m guessing most of them were probably married and looking for a discreet side-piece. Yuck.) You run into all types on there. Lots of liars. Lots of guys who don’t know what the hell they want at all. Guys who will talk up 4 or 5 women at the same time, then just stop contact with the ones who probably won’t sleep with him immediately. There are mean people, nice people, weird as hell people, people with unbelievably strange sexual fetishes that they feel comfortable telling you about after a 5 minute chat on the site. (I could have done without knowing that Jerry from Long Island wants to sniff my dirty feet and panties, for example. Eewwwww.) There are people who will hurt you and say mean things, just because they can. My very first date from the dating sites, sent me a text the day after our date, to inform me that we will not be going out again, because “I don’t date fat girls, and you’re fat. You don’t look fat in your profile pic, but you are.” I told him that he didn’t look like an asshole in his profile picture, but he is. It wasn’t all bad though. Really. I grew a thicker skin being on those sites, and I realized pretty quickly that none of it was about me. The way people act, the way they treat women, how they behave – all of that is a reflection on them, not me. And for all the jerks and the guys who were mean or just disappeared entirely, I met many more both in person and in chatting, that were simply just nice and down to earth people. I had a couple of really nice dates, and one that blossomed into a great friendship that I think will be a life-long one. There were quite a few guys on the sites who genuinely thought I was beautiful, and who found me attractive. This did wonders for my ego, which was so wounded by my husband’s death, and by going 5 years without anyone wanting me or saying I look pretty or that they miss me or love hearing my voice or seeing my face. In the end, going on the dating sites gave me evidence that other men in the world, besides my dear husband, would find me desirable again. It gave me some of my confidence back, and that is a beautiful thing.
Having Your Heart Broken Really Sucks
So after a couple of months on the dating sites, I met someone. Another widower (I’m sensing a pattern here) here in NY. We began talking, and then met in person a few weeks later. Things went well. I knew early on that this was not a person I would end up with long-term, for several reasons, but he made me feel good about myself. He couldn’t keep his hands off me, and for a girl who was told her whole life I love you as a friend, it felt kind of amazing. I got lost in it. I let the tiny little red-flags that I felt pinging in my heart about him slide, because it felt so damn good to feel wanted and sexy again. My heart cried out for him and felt for him, because he is a widower, and his loss was so sudden and tragic, and his story tugged at my heart. I treated his heart with extra gentle care, always being 100% honest with him about my intentions and where we were headed, because I never wanted to be the person that caused him additional pain. We drifted into a relationship with each other, and for the first time since my husband’s death, I was intimate again. The sex was new and exciting and often, and I brought him into parts of my life that are special to me. He met my friends. He met my widowed community, and I took him with me to the support/social group I run for widowed people through Soaring Spirits International. We continued our relationship for about 5 months, and then things ended rather abruptly and badly. He lied about a lot of things. He tried to make a fool of me. He replaced me in a hot second, with another widow even, and in the cruelest of ways. I’m pretty sure he was seeing her while he was also with me, which means he was cheating and not being honest with me for months. The worst part of all this, is that he refused to acknowledge ANY of it, and didn’t respond to my attempts to get some clarity on why he would do this to me. I was not in love with him, but I did love him. As a human being. As a friend. As my first relationship and intimacy after my husband’s death. All of those things were special to me. Thinking they were special to him too, and that I was special – and then finding out otherwise, really hurt. And whenever things really hurt for a widowed person, it just makes us long to have everything we lost, back again.
Good Things Take Time
So as 2016 comes to a close, I have learned so many things about myself, about others, and about love and dating after loss. One big thing I learned is that you can’t force someone to see something or feel something, when they just aren’t there yet. Sometimes its simply not possible to see something that’s right in front of you, until you are truly ready to see it. Just 2 years ago, if you had told me that someone would have given me butterflies in my stomach or that I would be having my first kiss soon, or that I would be in my first relationship, and suffer an awful heartbreak – I would have laughed in your face. I couldn’t even picture myself in any of those positions at that time. I have come to know and believe that good things take time, and you can’t live someone else’s grief or pain or process for them. They have to do it themselves. But you CAN offer support and friendship, let them know that you truly care and that you aren’t going anywhere. And then you just say that over and over, and find ways to show them, and then you sit back and hope that they can hear you.
If there is one thing I have learned and continue to learn from my husband’s sudden death, it is that Love Heals.It’s true. Love is the great healer of all things, and all good things are born out of love. If there is someone out in the world that feels like there is no point, or feels like they are not worthy or capable of a joyous life, the love of another person, when accepted, can heal those wounds. Simply loving another person for everything they are, right this minute, today, without expecting them to be anything additional or anything different – can heal even the most damaged of hearts.
I heard something soon after my husband’s death, in the days where I felt darkest and most hopeless, that resonated with me deeply. A married couple who had been been together for decades, were dealing with the husband’s illness. As he lay there dying, in his last days, his wife cried to him and she asked: How am I supposed to live without you?
He replied: Take the love you have for me, and spread it around.
That’s it right there. Grief is just love, with no outlet. It is love, with nowhere to go. When you open your heart and continue to let love in, that is what brings the person you lost feel closer than ever, and that is how you can live again.