One of the most surprising things to come out of Drew's death for me has not only been to find someone new, but for that person to also be widowed. This isn't something I ever expected to happen, and it's given me the unique opportunity to be on the other end of widowhood in a way I honestly never imagined I would be.
For a long time after Drew died, I was terrified of the idea that I'd be too difficult to love. That my whole situation would be too complex and that I wouldn't be able to find someone who could handle it all. That they would have a hard time understanding my love for him or allowing room for it. Being on the other end of this has given me a different set of eyes though...
Dating a widower has helped me to see just how easy it is to love someone – no matter how complex their circumstances. In a few weeks, Mike will have several big milestones. Celebrating Megan's birthday and their wedding anniversary... for the first time without her living, and spreading her ashes. Despite this being something that I am entirely on the outside of, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it over the past few weeks.
I've wondered what this will be like for Mike... to spend this first birthday without his wife. To wake up on the day he married such a beautiful, courageous woman ten years ago, without her here. I've wondered what these next weeks will be like for Shelby, his daughter. I also have another unique vantage point in that I lost my mother at roughly the same age that she has lost hers. The significance of this never escapes me. I am always wondering what her experience of losing her mom will be like. How it will shape the person she will grow up to be.
I wonder all of these things, because I cannot ever know. And that is where our commonality of losses ends. We are different people with different experiences. There is no way for me to step into their inner world. And no way for them to step into mine.
In this way, my being widowed does not give me any advantage in loving a widowed person. I cannot ever understand Mike's exact experience – or Shelby's. All I can do is watch with a thoughtful, loving heart as they go through the journey of living on with someone very integral missing. This fact would be no different if I was single or divorced instead of widowed.
Somehow, this feels hopeful to me. I suppose it is like an affirmation. We don't have to understand each other's journeys. We don't have to be understood in ours. The important part is that our journey is accepted and we are loved, and that we accept and love the other person – including the people in their life, living and dead.
To love someone who has endured great loss is no different than loving anyone else – it is about accepting who they are fully. It's about knowing them as well as the person they lost. It's about wanting both of those people in your life – the one living and the one not. And I think when you're a healthy person who really loves someone... it becomes easy to do. It becomes effortless and automatic to love the one they lost. It is merely an extension of your love for them.
From the other side of this equation – spending the past five months exploring what it means to love a widowed person myself – this is some of what I have learned. And I believe this to have far less to do with my being widowed and far more to do with my ability to love whole-heartedly – the way that Mike deserves to be loved. I don't think someone has to be widowed or understand the widow experience to be able to give that to a widowed person. I think more people out there than we even realize have the capacity to give such love.