I loved being married. Knowing that I shared a commitment with my husband to face life together, come what may, was a daily comfort to me. I didn't miss dating; I didn't long for freedom; I didn't feel limited; I didn't fear slipping into complacency. Looking back, I even miss the hard work that was required to create a harmonious union. Phil and I weren't the picture of married perfection, but even our imperfections were unique to us, and I miss those too (well, sometimes).
When I began another relationship I was more terrified than eager. My boyfriend Michael lives in Australia, and for the first year that was a very good thing. There was a continuous battle going on between my head and my heart as our relationship began to unfold. My heart wanted what you see in this picture of Michael and I, a place to rest. My head called me a traitor. My heart yearned to give and receive love and devotion, while my head screamed, "This one might die too!" I longed to be gently held, to discuss the day in hushed voices before drifting off to sleep, to reach out in the night and not find a cold, empty space beside me. I wanted to have a date for dinner parties, share the household duties, feel the need to hurry home because someone was there waiting for me, get a checking in call on my cell phone in the middle of the day, have a person to call when I forgot to pick up the bread at the store, and to know that there was one person in the world who chose to put me first in his life because he loved me that much.
After the initial fog of grief lifted (sorry, I can't tell you when exactly), I was able to clearly articulate what I wanted from a new relationship. But being willing to risk loving again took me a much longer time. The idea of loving and losing again would immediately accelerate my breathing. The thought of someone who knew Phil seeing me with another man would begin a chorus of voices in my head asking question after question about my devotion to him: what would seeing another man mean, what would people think, and how long should I wait? Though I knew what I wanted from the life I was left to lead without Phil, I stumbled repeatedly over roadblocks I built for myself.
The war between heart and head became very clear one December day last year. Michael was visiting for his first extended stay and we were walking across a street I'd crossed with Phil countless times. Michael reached out to take my hand and I pulled away. He continued walking for a few minutes, and then asked whether I might be more comfortable if we walked on opposite sides of the street. His tone was even, his demeanor calm, and I could see him processing my internal tumult and wondering if I was struggling with an emotional time bomb. In that moment I realized that I was choosing death over life. I was standing in the middle of a street with a man who loved me, and was willing to fly all the way across the world to be with me...but I couldn't hold his hand for fear that anyone who saw me would think that my love for Phil was a thing of the past.
I wish I could tell you that this one moment was the end of my struggle to give myself completely to my new relationship, but leaving behind the fears and wounds caused by Phil's death continues to be a daily challenge. Slowly I have learned that the only thing stopping me from having a full life with a man who loves me is the roadblocks I have built for myself. The voices in my head have proven to be wrong on many counts, and I am getting better at silencing them. The judgements I imagine, rarely exist, and even when they do I am able to recognize that no one else has walked in my shoes. I am the only one who can make choices for me and for my kids. Eventually I have to trust my heart, and tell my head that the battle is over.
Love has healed my heart in many unexpected ways, but the scar of loss remains. Loving Michael doesn't mean I don't miss Phil. Being mostly happy doesn't remove the sting of Phil's absence. Deathiversaries are still down days, and each passed birthday a reminder that I am getting older while Phil is still the beautiful Superman of my dreams. Ironically, allowing myself to love again means I no longer live all of this sadness alone. Michael and Phil are linked by their love for me, and one thing that assures me that I have made the right choice is the fact that Michael would be the first one to tell you that.