No one thinks about the prospect of being widowed when they get married. You are starting a brand new life together and things look shiny and new. But think about it. Fifty per cent of all people who get married (and stay married) will ultimately be widowed. Eventually, one of them will die. When I exclaimed to a friend how surprised I was about how many widowed friends I have, they said, well, people get married, and they die.
I cannot speak to all the various ways people end up widowed. I cannot speak to the age at which they were widowed either. There is no comparison and all the situations are difficult - not to mention every person is different as well, and deals with circumstances differently.
I can only speak to the way I know. The way it happened to me, how I’ve dealt with it, and how I feel.
I was 44 when Mike died, just short of a month before my 45th birthday. He was 59. He was older than I, yes, but we certainly did not expect that heart attack to take him so relatively young. We all hoped for many more years with that exceptional person. But it was not to be.
I am 48 now. On the one hand, I look in the mirror and see changes I wish I didn’t. Middle age is a tough place to be even when your love is still with you. I feel old, in some ways. I never thought about getting old, or feeling old, when he was here. But on the other hand, I will likely have many, many more years to live without him.
I think about that a lot. I mean a really, really lot. I spend a lot of quiet moments gazing at the stars, or staring at the ceiling, or just sitting in silence, thinking about all the time I have ahead of me without him and wondering how it will all go.
A few months ago I put together a collage of pictures of him. It’s hanging around a corner in my office space because, well, I put it there just for me, really. For a long time I had a hard time looking at pictures. Now I look at it often, and smile, remembering how he was, and the many faces of Mike Vendrell.
I think I did that because he seems, at times, like he’s drifting farther and farther away. Not from my heart, but from my life. More and more the decisions I make, the changes that happen, I realize are happening to me alone. He is not here to help, to support, to be the partner I once cherished so deeply. I wish he were here to talk about all the things going on with me, and in the world. I do talk to him still, out loud, often…but the replies are silent.
The other side of the coin is that if he were still here I most likely would not be going back to school. I would most likely not be starting a new job I got as a result of people I met through my musician boyfriend (yes, that is happening this week). I most likely would not be considering the possibility that my world might need to shift back to the mainland at some point. I would not be thinking about leaving this house. In fact there are a lot of small, personal changes I probably would not have made were he still here. Just little ways I live my life now. Daily routines, habits, choices in clothes, food, friends, and entertainment. So much of that has changed.
These changes are neither good nor bad. They just are. They are how I have lived, these years, without my husband. They are how I have found a way to survive.
I am in the process of accepting the fact that I will never live another moment without the grief of my loss. I am also in the process of accepting the idea that I can find a good life, in another way maybe, even without him. I now have things to look forward to. Other people to spend time with and cherish. New friends. New career avenues.
I used to feel guilty about the idea of enjoying my life without Mike. But he loved life so, so much and that continues to drive me towards finding richness and abundance with the time I have left.
There is maybe only one thing I can say about what all us widows and widowers have in common. No matter how many years go by and how happy and fulfilled a life we can cobble together, the ache of missing our loves and the life we had with them will always, somehow, be with us. We are all walking collages of life - the good, the bad, the ugly - and the beautiful.