If there was one thing I never expected, it was to ever be single again. I mean, I know divorces happen, but I waited until I was forty to marry because I wanted to be sure that Mr. Right was truly Mr. Right. Marriage was something I’d always dreamed of, but it was also a huge scary step to take. I’ve never been one to make a hasty decision. I always continue to question the right thing to do, afraid I’ll make the wrong choice and regret the path I’ve chosen. But there was one thing I vowed to myself since I was a teen: when I marry, it will be for life.
I know, most people probably think and hope for the same, and I feel for those who discovered they made a mistake or were forced to cope with the fact that they woke up married to a person who had changed into someone they didn’t recognize or even like very much, let alone someone they could live with. I get that. Rick and I had our ups and downs, and some of our arguments were doozies, with a few choice words shouted loudly. But even in the midst of the biggest, loudest, argument, where we both said things we would come to regret the next day, after the cloud of anger cleared, I knew we would work through it because we were both positive we were meant to be together and we loved each other enough to work it out.
So, once I said “I do,” I expected to be married until I died, foolish enough to ignore the facts of life. People die. People die in their early sixties. And there are lots and lots of widows out there in my age bracket. Millions of them. I Googled it. There are more than 11 million of us in the U.S., with the average age of a widow being 59. I see them now, because I’m one of them. But in the midst of my wonderful married life, they were invisible to me. They were not on my happily married radar.
But, despite the odds, I expected us to become old and gray together. Maybe it’s mental self-survival to hope for the best. Rick and I would drive down the street and I’d see an old couple walking along together and I’d say “Look honey there’s us in a few years.” And he’d give me a look, an irritated eye roll, not seeing my romantic viewpoint, but shuddering instead at the thought of being that old. And I would laugh. And now I see an old couple and I remember those car rides, and I cry.
One of the most difficult aspects of widowhood to adapt to was getting my head around the fact that I was alone, again. Totally alone. Not living with parents or child, but completely alone in a very quiet house. It’s odd how twenty years of being part of a couple could make me forget the “separateness” of my existence in the single state of my twenties and thirties. I was a mom by then, but as an adult, I was a single, independent, individual, and always had been. My new state of singleness is very different in some ways: I have been loved, appreciated, and joined with someone whom I loved equally, and that changed me from the never-married single mindset to a person who had successfully joined with a partner. I also know I’m capable of being married, of being a good wife, and in my pre-marriage single years, I feared I’d be a failure at the experience. Marriage takes compromise, sacrifice, understanding, and lots of work to keep things on an even keel, and unmarried, opinionated, independent me wasn’t sure I could hack it. But I did. We did. So here I am, a pro at marriage, the product of a good marriage, but suddenly, sadly, single.
When Rick died, I told my counselor that I was stunned that widows and widowers were ever able to remarry. How could anyone compare with or replace the love of my life? How could I ever think of loving anyone other than Rick ever again? Vaiva assured me that there will never be another Rick. He’s irreplaceable. But she said eventually, given time, I may decide I want another relationship, a relationship with a man who has different things to offer. Not a replacement, but a new and different relationship. She also said of course everyone is different but that she’s seen research that says, in general, it takes someone about a year for every decade they were married to work through the grief of the loss and be truly ready to begin again. That puts the number at two years for me.
It’s been nineteen months. Because I’ve never been very patient, I’ve often been frustrated that I’m “taking too long” to grieve. How can I still be so sad? He’s been gone so long! There are still ups and downs. I can feel “healed” and “myself” for awhile, then suddenly be sad again. But then I remember Vaiva’s two-year statistic and think, no, it takes time. I was married a long time and it will be awhile before I’ve grieved and adapted to this major loss and the huge adjustments required. But even though my two years aren’t up, I can at least begin to see the possibility now, the idea that in the future I might eventually get the urge to find a companion to share my life with. I’m not ready to start swiping through faces on Tinder (not sure I’ll ever be ready for that!), but I’m more open to the idea of at least spending time with the opposite sex, even if I’m not comfortable with becoming part of a couple again.
Although I miss Rick and marriage and the life I shared with him, life has given me lemons and I’m trying to stir up some lemonade. This past year, I’ve realized there are many perks to being a single woman. Once the fog of early grief began to dissolve, I realized that I’m beginning to enjoy rediscovering myself; it’s interesting deciding what I want to do, making choices based on my own personal desires, with no compromises anymore. Rick was always extremely encouraging of my goals and my independence, so it’s not like I couldn’t do anything I wanted, but as part of a marriage, I made different choices than I would have if I’d stayed single. And now, I’m digging up old dreams and desires that I shelved during the past couple of decades, dreams for myself that I exchanged for dreams we shared.
Rekindling old dreams and goals has become a new and interesting facet of this single state. (And, honestly, after being a daughter, a mother, and then a wife, it feels decadent and selfish to put my own desires first!) But there is also a loneliness involved when there’s no companion to share my joys and sorrows, something difficult to get used to after having my partner for all those years.
So here I am, back in the single saddle again. It’s an unexpected, scary, yet somewhat exciting new stage of life. A place I never expected to see again, with feelings (like hope) – that I never thought I’d experience again, but here I am. So, okay, my life is not at all what I expected it to be, but let’s see how this story unfolds.