Katherine's birth had a profound effect on me. The reality that Mike was gone forever, never to know his beautiful granddaughter, cast a shadow over what should have been simply a joyous event. I was devastated thinking of this little girl growing up without Mike’s playful presence in her life. I was not thinking clearly…but I was feeling deeply, and it was a dark, bleak and lonely place. So when the musician suggested another evening together that next week something jolted my psyche. I know, looking back, that I threw caution to the wind. As I'm typing this, Mike's voice is echoing in my head that line from Conan the Barbarian he used to love to quote, "(s)he did not care any longer..."
I’m sure I drank too much that next night with him. After dinner I invited him to come upstairs and share another bottle of wine on my lanai. The conversation began to get more personal than it ever had...flirty even, probably as a result of too much alcohol. He sat across from me, smiling, but still somehow also politely distant. I remember thinking, I like this guy. I knew I couldn’t think about what the future might bring, but he was nice, funny, smart, and I was pretty sure he liked me too, enough to have spent the past several weeks of his nights off with me. And he was here. I figured that was enough for that moment - and I needed it. I needed something - something more than the dark and lonely place. I got up to go inside to use the restroom and saw myself as if from outside my body, lean down, take his face in my hands and kiss him. And I walked inside, shocked at myself.
When I got back out he was standing up looking at me with...startled wonderment? Polite confusion? Not sure. He told me later he would never have touched me first. He knew I was too fragile and was never sure whether our friendship would go to the next level, knowing how deeply I was grieving Mike. But yes, he had hoped it would, even though he wasn’t sure how or when, or what it would really mean to be with a widow. So looking back and seeing how much that changed everything I have not one single regret that I made that first move.
In those early, early days of my grief I was still really a hopeless puddle a lot of the time. The musician turned out to be an important friend and source of support - and let me tell you, feeling wanted like that again had immeasurable, positive effects I could not have imagined. But he saw me in some very dark moments. He would find me sitting on the floor in Mike's room sobbing, surrounded by all his things, before I’d gone through that terrible job of getting rid of them, pick me up and put me to bed. He would listen as I told stories about Mike, and comfort me gently as the tears came uncontrollably. It was early days. But someone was there. Someone who was beginning to care about me very much. And we continued to have a lot of fun together. We still do. He still lives downstairs. He’s still my tenant. But…he spends more time upstairs these days. We are carefully building a relationship, one day at a time.
Careful. Yes. The first year together I admit it was often challenging to have a new person in my life in many ways; to feel comfortable with him, to adjust to it all having just had my marriage snatched from me so suddenly. And am I ever fearful of losing him too? You betcha. That topic took over many a therapy session. And that fear will probably never really go away. But I know now that death is close and always will be. I know now I can’t do anything about it. People die. Meanwhile, I’ve found I do want to live, even as much as I miss Mike’s presence. I want to live the days I have. Because then I too will die.
A few of my widowed friends have suggested Mike sent this man into my life from wherever he is. All I know is I did not plan for this new person to enter my life. I did not look for it. I have no idea how long it would have been, if ever, that I would have allowed anyone else inside my life. This person literally landed on my doorstep, and it changed a lot for me. I am still in awe as to how it all happened. So is he. And yes. It was such early days that I felt very judged. There were a few people around me who found real issue with this new man in my life. I mean real issue. There were some very, very difficult conversations and horrible accusations. I leaned heavily on my grief therapist, because she was an informed and experienced voice of advice and support. I do also have several close friends who were very understanding and encouraging. But there were some truly awful moments. That is why it has taken so long for me to come out with all of this. I felt so severely judged by the timing of it all.
That part was horrible - but it’s over now. Those relationships have healed, I am happy to say, but it did take time. Time perhaps for their own grief to weather. Time for them to see this was something real, not just a knee-jerk thing that would hurt me once again. Time for them to see this musician was going to be a good guy to me.
Maybe, also, time for everyone to really understand that Mike is not coming back.
Since then I've learned I am not alone in this experience of life after death. And in fact, it was my musician who opened my world to a new group of a friends, many of whom, ironically, are widowed. It has been these beautiful new widowed friends, along with Margaret and a few others from my before-life, who have provided important insight and support. Without him I have no idea where I would be now, and it's not just having his companionship in my life, but the friendships I've developed through him. Of course I have wonderful friends from the before-life, friends who knew Mike too…but Mike and I were homebodies for the most part. We spent a lot of time at home alone together. We enjoyed that, but after he was gone the void was unbearable. Now, I look forward to going out and meeting up with friends and listening to music. That has been a welcoming change for me I didn’t even realize I needed.
We do tend to gravitate to each other in our little town, in our little group of friends, at the band’s gigs, and at little parties and potlucks, such as it is here. Because only us widowed can understand how hard it is in this after-life. How challenging a new relationship can be (right - none are perfect, and some don’t work out at all). How our expectations have to be radically revamped. How there is absolutely no replacing our lost loves. How there will just be no one like them, that our lives will never be the same, we will never stop missing them, and the grief will be a part of us for as long as we live. And the difficulties of certain friends and family to accept these new people in our lives. But how wonderful to have a companion. Someone to share a meal with, watch a movie with, plan a trip with. Someone who cares how your day went. Someone to hug, someone to laugh with, someone to cry with.
Still in many ways, my grief is my own. Yes he has picked me up from the floor several times, and has no issue with Mike coming up in conversation, or me keeping some of his things around the house. But I do not share it all with him. How could I? And why would I? He never knew him. And he doesn’t really know what it is to be widowed. So with my therapist’s blessing I’ve decided that is how it should be. I don’t feel the need to burden him, or this relationship, with too much of it. Not only that…I am somehow possessive of my grief. It IS mine. It is part of who I am, as an individual; my life, my experience…my memories, my sorrow, my feelings, my husband, my marriage. I take time away to deal with it myself as the needs arise, in the ways I can. And I feel that for me, it is an appropriate way to try and balance the before-life and this after-life.
Though, my musician is not without his own troubles. The past decade has been challenging for him. He lost a marriage and subsequent relationship I knew he treasured. He lost his business and his house after the market crashed a few years ago. When he found my apartment with Elvis-dog he was bereft in his own way. And he hates the feeling of growing old as much as I do. I know he does not want to do that alone, and neither do I. We talk about that a lot, in this graying, sore and tiresome middle age we both find ourselves in - a place I had thought I would comfortably share with Mike. And he often tells me, had we not met, he suspects he would be in a very dark place himself by now. So it works both ways - we both feel fortunate to have found each other. For now, that’s what matters.
Not long into this new relationship, there came the day I knew would come even the first time I laid eyes on Elvis-dog - a day no one wants to go through alone either. You know what I'm going to say, right?
I've had a a lot of pets in my life, and lost a lot. They simply don't live long enough. And how do we know when it's time? That is one of the hardest things to judge, as their owners and caretakers. We don't want to lose them, but we don't want them to suffer either.
After we were together, the musician would carry Elvis up my stairs so he could socialize with my two dogs. There were some beautiful, happy moments, seeing them all together. But it got harder and harder for him to walk at all. Those very last days he would not even move from his bed. He could not deal with his toilet himself, or barely even lift his head. I took the musician aside and said I'd seen this, sadly, too many times before. It was time, and he had to make that call.
The last day of Elvis' life was October 5, 2013. We lifted him gently into the back of my car, and the musician climbed in with him, holding him and sobbing the whole way to the vet. He'd never been through that before, but I had. I cried with him but helped him take care of the details with the vet as he was completely beside himself with sorrow. It was a difficult day as all my own memories came flooding back, all those other furry losses I'd had to deal with, all the pets I'd loved so dearly, and of course Mike…but I imagined them up there somewhere all together, playing in some eternal springtime meadow...hoping they might welcome Elvis into their pack too, on the other side of that rainbow bridge. That night at his gig the first song he sang was Knocking On Heaven's Door.
Needless to say my new guy has fallen head over heels in love with my two dogs, and they with him. They lost Mike too, and I know they grieve him - some days I hear the excitement in their barks when I drive Mike's truck back up to the house and I think they still imagine he might come up the stairs back home to them. So they have latched onto the musician, and he onto them. He likes to tell me how he speaks fluent dog and then proceeds to howl and bark and snuggle and play and laugh with them. It warms my heart so deeply to see it.
Last summer I traveled with him to England and Wales, as if in a dream, thinking back on that day I first asked where he was from, wishing I could go there too...and we are planning another trip again there this year. I find I am continually throwing caution to the wind, so to speak, in the ways I am trying to find happiness and things to look forward to. Only God knows how long I even have. I'm not going to waste it.
As I finish typing this in a coffee shop in Kona, Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Brother Iz is playing over the sound system. After Mike died I used to cry every time I heard it. Now I sit here smiling, and feel Mike around me smiling too. Somewhere over there, he is; and someday, I will be too, along with all our other family, friends, and pets. I have to believe it.
But it's not my time yet. This life is not perfect. But it goes on, I am so incredibly surprised to find. I will always be missing Mike. Everything I write here about my ongoing grief is real and true, because it will just always be there. But I also now take great joy in what I do have, including my two beautiful stepdaughters, and two gorgeous step-grandchildren.
And now, there is even music here again.