If you’ve read Sarah's Post this past Sunday, then you are aware that she and I (and Shelby) were in Corpus Christi, Texas, over an extended weekend. One of her longest and closest friends was marrying, and Sarah herself was a bridesmaid. In that regards, I wasn’t a widower this past weekend. I was the “second partner” of a widow.
I’ve chosen to expand upon this. Sarah and I are in the unique position of both being writers here, both being widowed, and both dating (and cohabitating) with each other. While much of my writing deals with the emotions, stress, and perspectives of losing Megan, this past weekend was much more important from the other side of dating a widow.
We had only two full days in Corpus Christi. Friday and Monday were both days of travel, departing an Ohio locked in the dead of winter, to her hometown, where temperatures were significantly more comfortable. That alone would make many Ohioans jealous...leaving the land of frozen lakes, road salt, and snow shovels for someplace simply “dormant” for the season, yet “alive” in so many other ways.
But Sarah is not only a transplanted Texan, living in Ohio, she’s also a widow. She’s an orphan. She has friends and family and surrogate mothers and history in Corpus Christi. Something as simple as a large highway bridge that she’s seen on the skyline of her city her entire life is being replaced, and it’s an imminent loss, whether she lives there or not. It’s not as simple as a “visit”.
With so little time, her memories and reminders of her youth that lie somewhat dormant or as background noise erupted into full bloom in a concentrated fashion. We had 48 hours of constant movement, poor sleep, visits, triggers, and heightened anxiety. I took much of this anxiety on needlessly, feeling it was my fault that we only had two days because of vacation time from work being at a premium. Feeling that had I not removed her from her home state, all of this wouldn’t be so damned stressful. Feeling that even my sinus infection causing jet-engine-level amounts of snoring were ruining her entire trip. Feeling that even my very presence was a compromise to her own ability to grieve, celebrate, and breathe.
None of it was warranted, but in the heat of the moment, I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t doing something right. That I was asking too much of her heart, and that she needed to “lighten-up” a bit. (Thank god I didn’t say something like that, or I would be writing from a hospital...maybe the one she was born in).
I believe anyone that is dating/ married to a widow has these feelings from time to time. It’s a natural jealousy that we are not part of something they remember fondly. I am not in any way part of her history in Corpus, save for a few trips down here over the past few years. I never met her parents (although I’ve FINALLY met her oldest brother as of this past weekend, completing the checklist of her three siblings). I didn’t go to high school with her. I know none of the street names and special places to her, save for her pointing them out to me. I’m comfortable enough there...it’s still an American industrial city, not too dissimilar from my own hometown, but I have no familiarity with the “little things” that she takes for granted. She rattles off place names and landmarks to her friends in my presence like she was in, well, her hometown, and the “third wheel” factor sets in.
It is what it is. She was “home” for a few days, and while I sincerely want to try to get us all down there again this summer, it’s not “home” to me, and never will feel that way. I suppose I get a bit of what she has felt a hundred-fold with her move to Ohio over these past few years. Her parents are buried in Corpus. The woman we visit every time we go acted as a surrogate mother to her after Sarah lost her own at a young age. She lives across the street from the house that Sarah lived in with her father. Every street corner and person we see is someplace or someone from a past that I have no part of.
I had no triggers, just the same. Megan and I never stepped foot onto Texas soil. There weren’t any significant dates from my past to think about, and weddings don’t really send me into any kind of tailspin (for some reason). For all of the stress and anxiety I exhibited leading up to this trip, it was really just about logistics and getting there on a tight schedule...it had nothing to do with my own widowhood. There was a major part of me that saw this as nothing more than being a fun weekend near the beach and hanging out with friends.
If anything is “my fault”, it’s that. It’s the lack of foresight, especially being a widower myself, that this wasn’t and never would be a “vacation” for Sarah. Not only were we “go, go , go” the entire weekend, but we were 15 minutes from her parents’ final resting place and only 3 hours from Drew’s. She was not only attending one of her best friend's wedding, but it was the first time she has been IN a traditional wedding party. Of her 5 or 6 absolute closest friends, this one is the first to be officially wedded...something that Sarah herself never got to have with Drew. I overlooked all of the triggers and anxiety she was bound to have, because I was too preoccupied and selfish worrying about kennelling our dogs, making a flight, and her giving me attention.
She is much better than I at dealing with her partner's stress or anxiety. She doesn’t take my triggers or bad moods on as her own. I’m learning and evolving towards this for myself, but it’s still a bit uncomfortable for me when she misses Drew or wants to see a sunrise on the beach more than anything. I would imagine this is the case for most people dating a widow. Suppressing that uncomfortableness became all the more difficult this past weekend. The intellectual side of me knows that there was nothing I could do but hug her and let her remember...my stupid man-dating-a-widow-gut said “hold my beer”.
It happens...I understand that, and although I’m sorry for it, I realize that I could have done a better job of just giving her a hug and saying “it sucks” when a tough emotion emerged. Hindsight is 20/20 though.
We’re home in Ohio now, complete with 4 inches of snow on the ground and a frozen hot tub. Back to school and work and routines. Back to reminders not being so vividly thrust into Sarah’s face on a virtually hourly basis. Back to her being in the “fish out of water” person in our relationship, even though she’s largely acclimated and familiar with her new northern surroundings, and is a stellar mother to Shelby. Back to the white noise of memories.
Most of the time, she doesn’t live within an hour or few of Drew’s or her parents’ tombstones. She doesn’t pass by a Whataburger every 500 yards when she takes Shelby to school. The nearest Lake Erie “beach” is an hour north, nothing like a true Gulf of Mexico strand, and currently frozen solid at least 3 miles out into the water. Most of her memories are just that...memories, rather than reminders.
But when she’s “back home”though, they become reminders. What lies dormant for 360 or so days a year has a brief period of vivid bloom. Instead of resisting the urge to make it all about me, I should sit back, let her erupt, and embrace that she wouldn’t be the woman I love if it weren’t for these dormant memories.