Sharing Grief

One of the often-discussed topics between widowed people, at least in my circles, regards dating and other relationships we develop after the death of our husbands or wives. Only we widowed people know the challenges surrounding that issue, and each and every one of us has different ways of approaching it.


Some widowed people choose never to date again. And I understand that choice deeply. Especially at first, dating someone new can feel like cheating on your dead spouse, which for widowed people can be a common and very painful feeling. Sharing intimacy with someone new can feel strange, and very, very difficult, because all the memories of what we shared with our spouses, and how it used to be with them, comes rushing back like a stab to the heart. So some of us choose just never to go there. Or maybe, some of us are just content to spend a solitary life, and feel no need to bring a new person in. Or, and I believe this is probably true for some as well, that their marriage was actually quite troubled and they have no desire to go there again, no matter how much they might miss them.


Other widowed people want very much to meet someone new. Their lives feel empty, and depending on their circumstances, the sadness of being alone overpowers any feeling of guilt. For this group I wish every possible opportunity to meet a good person to share life with. And when they have trouble meeting the right person, or things don't go well in a new relationship, it can bring up an even deeper level of pain...and send them right back into the original grief they were left with after the death of their spouses. Or, at the very least, it makes it more raw and palpable, because that feeling of having something to look forward to is gone again. It can be doubly painful when that happens.


Sometimes though, even if you don't want to, or plan on, meeting someone new, it happens anyway, like what happened for me. And mostly I think this is just how life is. We make plans and God laughs, as the saying goes. We didn't plan on losing our loves, and we most certainly do not imagine meeting anyone new after that either. But sometimes we do anyway. So then one of the questions becomes how we manage our grief around the new relationship. How much do we talk about our past lives with this new person, how many pictures of our dead spouses do we leave up around our space, how many times do we cry in front of them. How much of our grief do we share?


I met my musician boyfriend quite early in my grief journey. He moved in as my tenant a few months after Mike died and eventually one thing led to another, long story short. Even though at the time, I was still extremely raw, and it did take several months after that to even consider going out with anyone else. I had a LOT of grieving left to do - the dark and terrifying kind. Because three and a half years later I have learned a lot more about making friends with that ugly passenger in my life, but back then, it still was in the active motion of pulling my guts out and strewing them all over the floor and laughing at me while I was screaming.


But even back then I really didn't share much with the musician. I didn't really know how, to be honest with you...and I was in grief therapy, thank God, so didn't feel the need to grab the nearest person and shove my misery down their throat. And I also wanted to be careful, get to know this new person slowly, before I let down my guard - and he was opening my world into something happy and fun, something I really needed but didn’t realize, so I was kind of running with that. But yes, he saw me in some really pitiful states. Sitting in a puddle in the middle of Mike's bedroom, before I'd cleared it out, surrounded by all his things, sobbing uncontrollably. I still remember the look on his face, kind of like a deer in the headlights, eyes big and wide...he didn't know what to say, but tried to help me up and into the living room. 


A part of me can't really believe it's been three years, for the musician and me. Time has sped past, on some level, and we've been through a lot, in our own little world. But if you've been following me, you'll know here are some big changes afoot. And he has not been having an easy time with it.


I don't share a lot of details of my new relationship here, just because...well, for the most part it doesn't really have anything to do with my personal grief, and I also respect his privacy. Some of the details of what is going on in our world is private, and I am already sharing a huge chunk of my life for public consumption. So some things I reserve to keep to ourselves. But I will share that we are going through a rough patch. He hasn't had an easy time with the more empowered person I feel myself becoming. Actually flying to Florida by myself to investigate it as a possible relocation spot. Taking charge of my situation with the house and getting rid of 75% of my stuff while he was out of town. Starting school. And in the midst of that, finding my voice again in a way that has also surprised him.


It has been rough the past couple weeks. Finally the other morning we had a very, very long heart-to-heart in which I totally broke down and lost it and sobbed about how much I missed Mike, what a huge place he had in my life, how close we really were and how much it has permanently scarred my soul that he is dead. I sobbed and hiccuped about how broken I was after that and how basically for the next three years I have been curled up, metaphorically, in a fetal position in terms of how I am participating with the world. That I am grateful for everything he has done by being there and changing my world for the better. He got me up and out of the house, and I’ve met so many beautiful friends - many of them widowed, by the way -  as a result. But that that has not really been the real me - not all of the real me, anyway. I apologized because I did not do this on purpose; I kind of thought well, this is the new, damaged Stephanie and that's just the way it's going to be. But the past month or two I've been discovering buried strength, I'm reaching back to a strong and independent Stephanie, and I'm sorry if this is hard for you, but I cannot compromise with the choices I need to make. I am trying to stand up and stretch out from that protective, fetal position and open my heart out to the world and it's painful and hard. And if we make it through, then it was meant to be...but if we don't, it shouldn't be because we didn't try. It shouldn't be because one of us wasn't considerate, or understanding, or supportive of what the other one is going through. Because his career is doing very well right now, and as I've said before, at the moment, he can't afford to leave, and unless something changes, I really can't afford to stay.


This was the gist of our conversation and afterwards he looked at me, again eyes kind of wide in surprise. He really had no idea how deep the grief was. Because I hadn't made that side of me something we talked about regularly he didn't realize how much a part of me it was, and how deeply it was affecting the decisions I am facing now. Maybe, looking back, I just really needed a break from the grief now and then - maybe his presence helped so that I didn’t need to relive the trauma every second of every day, his presence allowed me to somehow compartmentalize it in a way that allowed me to learn to live with it without seriously falling off the deep end. But maybe, I think I should have talked about it more over time. I just didn't want to burden him, or our relationship...but maybe I should have all the same. Because he does, now, I think, understand my present moment dilemmas with new eyes, and a newfound respect and so far, show of support and understanding. If I leave, it’s not about him - it’s not just leaving him, I’m leaving to pursue the life I need to pursue, at least for now.


It's not going to be easy. The next few months are serious limbo-land for me and while I'm actually ok with not knowing where I'll be, he is the kind of person that would rather have a more solid plan. So this is all a serious work in progress. He will lose house too, I know, and will also need to provide for his own security. So hopefully we can support and help each other through all of this…but for now, I have no idea what’s going to happen with any of this.


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  • commented 2016-09-02 15:34:19 -0700
    I’m so impressed with how you have discovered your buried strengths and are facing your unknowns – possibly moving to the mainland, possibly having to leave your boyfriend (or at best, a long distance relationship) and going back to school – all the while still living with your grief. And you seem to have done it all with such grace and strength. You are an inspiration.
  • commented 2016-09-02 14:43:48 -0700
    I’m blown away! Once again you have put words to much of my recent experience. I know you will find your way through limbo-land, even though it likely won’t always be comfortable. I was hiking yesterday and as I walked from more open terrain into deep forest, I thought the path was kind of like life feels these days – I couldn’t see very far ahead, but had to trust the trail was there and would take me to the destination.
  • commented 2016-09-02 13:17:42 -0700
    Lisa, yes I believe you are right…that path we search for often feels obscured but it did lead me to Mike, didn’t it. Thank you. Cathy – you are definitely right too, we don’t know where that path is leading, but we keep going, even with the grief in the passenger seat the whole time. Thank you ladies.
  • commented 2016-09-02 12:49:14 -0700
    “…but for now, I have no idea what’s going to happen with any of this.”
    Used to be we thought we knew where we were headed in life, but I’m beginning to realize that no matter what plan you have, it may not turn out as expected. So sorry you are dealing with this disruption of where to live, while still grieving. I so get it, and I’m in year 6. I’ve moved forward in many ways, but carried the loss and grief right along with me. Take care, it’ll all work out, somehow!
  • commented 2016-09-01 22:13:16 -0700
    Changes are so hard without the extra burden of grief. Trust and believe in yourself. It’s what lead you to Mike in the first place, and it will serve you well now. Sending hugs