What kind of man is capable of loving a widow? Would he always wonder if he measured up to the dead man whose image has a prominent place in my bedroom? How would he handle the mention of said dead husband in everyday conversation? At some point would he tire of having to be patient while a grief wave rolled, unannounced, over his girl? What would having a partner who was deeply in love with someone else be like? Um, could I do that? Could I love someone confidently knowing that they loved someone else with a deep, undying passion? How would standing beside a person who spends 90% of her time talking about, writing about, and thinking about her dead husband make me feel?
These are just a few of the questions with which my new partner has been peppered. And I do mean peppered. He has the patience of Job, seriously. So, let's take them one at a time. The kind of man who loves a widow is confident in himself. He understands that our hearts don't have a limited amount of love that needs to be divided among all the people in our lives. He knows that loving someone expands our ability to love...as in, did you love your first child less when number two came along? Or did you stop loving your grandmother when she died? This guy knows that the past shapes the present. A person doesn't become who they are without the influence of the people they have loved and those who have loved them...living or dead. And this man admires the courage it takes to grieve, and then the further courage required to risk loving again. Because at the end of the day loving is always a risk. I think widows know this better than most people.
My new man knows that Phil loved me and took good care of me, and of our love. He isn't afraid of the photos, in fact he has spent some time looking at them with me. Knowing that I will continue to love Phil gives him confidence that I will love him forever as well. Phil's name is mentioned often, both by me and by my guy. He never tires of hearing stories, and listens to them actively and with interest. I think this is because my love story with Phil reveals not just information about us as a couple, but about me as a person. When a tide of grief comes my way (and contrary to popular belief they don't stop when a new man comes along), he asks me what I need, and then acts accordingly. Sometimes I need space, sometimes I just need a moment, and sometimes I need a hug. Could I do this for someone else? Honestly, I don't know, but I hope so.
Lastly how does he feel about what I do? He is extremely proud. And he wonders how he can help. Even if helping means lying low sometimes, or peeking his head in to see how things look in my office, or just listening to my side of a conversation with a new widow. All of this he does without complaint and without any sign of distress. Is he perfect? No. Am I? Definitely not. Do we have issues around the aftermath of my loss experience...as in, you stay over there I am fine thank you very much...yes. Is being in a relationship still hard work...yes. But we love each other through it all, which is something I could never have imagined four years ago. When the time was right, my heart reluctantly (and in fits and starts!!) became willing to risk the unthinkable. You know what I mean...doing this all again. That is my greatest fear. What if I have to do this all again? What if I allow myself to love him, and then he dies, too?
Michelle and I have a saying....are you ready to jump off the curb? That is the question we ask each other when one or the other of us is considering doing something that requires risk, and specifically when we are mulling over whether to stick to the safe spot grief has carved out for us or to step out into the unknown of what life still holds. Loving Michael has required jumping off of a really, really big curb. The landing was much softer than I expected, and the pay back has been the reawakening of my heart. And for that I will be eternally grateful.