Once again, it’s the worst week of the year and I’m trying to make the best of it. My husband died on August 13, 2017. His birthday is August 23rd. The year he died, those 10 days were a fog of grief and pain. Rick was in remission, so his death came as a shock that Sunday. I remember feeling dread that morning, but by noon, I still really had no idea how the day was going to end: that very evening, I would be struggling to let go of his lifeless body, knowing it was the last time I would ever touch him.
So, yes, two years ago, the days between August 13th and 23rd were a fog. All I can recall is that I was surrounded by my children, stepchildren, grandchildren, niece, nephew, great nephews, and friends nearly constantly. My meals were cooked for me, details were attended to by others, my son picked up Rick’s ashes. One evening, the entire family sat around the dining room table planning a wonderful celebration of life to be held under a gazebo in a park on Rick’s birthday the following week. My family and friends set up and carried out every detail of the beautiful event and it was exactly what Rick had requested when we both discussed our final wishes years earlier. In fact, I know it was better than Rick ever dreamed when he told me to use the traditional funeral expenses to throw a party instead. It was a fantastic Hawaiian-themed BBQ and the perfect send off for my unique, imaginative man.
Last year, the first anniversary of his death, I once again spent time with family and friends, and I mostly cried my way through the ten-day period. I visited my grief counselor, wrote poetry and blogs, and spent hours in bed mired in grief for all that I had lost. This year, in the same ten-day period, I’ve written some poetry and shed some tears, but those days of constant grief are mostly behind me, and my life has taken a significant turn.
This year, on August 13th, I took the day off work, because I really had no idea how the memories would affect me. I wrote some poetry in the morning and wrestled with trying to bury the bad memories of that awful day. The vision of him at the end kept resurfacing, but I tried valiantly to replace it with memories of better times, of the love we had shared and the millions of fantastic memories of our time together. But then, in the evening, I also attended my weekly singles Meetup, an indication of how different my world is today.
More significantly, this year, late in the evening before and the evening of the 13th, I spent several hours in a phone conversation with a man I met in an online dating app. He is a really fascinating guy and we have lots and lots in common, so on Wednesday, one day after the anniversary of Rick’s death, we went on our first date: dinner, a walk in the park on a beautiful summer day, followed by him serenading me with his guitar as the moon rose behind us. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer evening and I find myself wanting to see him again.
The singles event was the fourth I’ve attended in the past month. I had a date with a different man a week and a half ago. I have at least two other men who’ve contacted me on the dating app who seem like they might be potential future dates, but we’re still in the instant messaging stage. I am officially a dating widow.
Earlier this month, I spent one entire evening with a man who tried every trick in the book to have sex with me. He reasoned with me logically. (“You’’ve been a widow for two years; you need intimacy.”) He told me he was a 20-year Navy vet. “C’mon, help out a veteran,” he pleaded. He tried flattery. (“I love a voluptuous woman, and you’re all grown up.”) And finally, he tried to gain my sympathy by telling me he’s 67 and doesn’t have erectile dysfunction yet! He has no idea when it will hit, so he can’t wait around for me to make a decision. We need to move fast.
I found the entire evening fascinating, amusing, and quite an introduction to the dating scene of my future. I kissed him goodbye, told him I didn’t want another date, and chuckled about the whole thing. Then I went home and lay in bed remembering my first date with Rick. My last first date. The night I knew I had finally found the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Tears of pain over what I had lost mingled with tears of joy for being lucky enough to have experienced the love Rick and I shared, the love of a lifetime.
And this is the dilemma of being a dating widow. On the one hand, I’m relieved to have put the worst of my grief behind me in the past two years. I’m no longer in that continuous fog of grief. I’m happy that I feel whole again and have regained my sense of self. I’ve survived the grief and shock of losing my husband. I finally decided to risk it, to go out and try to find a new relationship, because life is too short, and happiness is too rare. I’m actually having fun meeting these men (the good ones) and going to singles events. But, on the other hand, I still feel a connection to Rick. I often still feel like his wife. I feel guilt when another man is the focus of my attention. Irrational? Yes, but since when is love or grief rational? As I straddle the world between mourning Rick and living the life of an unattached single woman, the swing of emotions is extreme.
So this year, these ten awful days between Rick’s death and birthday aren’t as awful as they were in the previous year, but they highlight the mixed emotions I still battle after losing the love of my life. This year, on the evening before the anniversary of Rick’s death, I was focused once again on living. I enjoyed my hours-long talk with an interesting, intelligent, creative man. I went to bed smiling and looking forward to our first date. The next morning, I woke up with tears building just below the surface. I expected that; it was the anniversary of a horrific day. What I didn’t expect was that when they finally came, it wasn’t just grief at missing Rick. It was guilt. I felt terribly guilty because I was chatting and flirting with another man the night before. I felt like I betrayed my husband. For those two hours, I was not thinking about him, not grieving him, not reliving memories of him. I spent hours focused on another man! I felt unfaithful to Rick, to his memory. How could I forget him like that?! I’m a married woman! Wait. No I’m not!
So, basically, as I straddle the two worlds between being Rick’s wife and a single woman, if I have a horrible date, I miss and relive the unforgettable first date when I fell in love with Rick. When I have a wonderful date, I feel guilty for spending all that time focused on another man and not focused on Rick. At the same time, I know Rick would be thrilled that I’m finally seeing other men. I know he wants me to live. And grieving him, mourning him, and avoiding a new relationship is not living. I may as well have died with him two years ago.
I guess all I can do now is keep on dating and hoping that, in time, I’ll come to accept my single state. Perhaps I’ll even be able to have a guilt-free relationship with another man. I’m hoping if I keep fighting the grief and the guilt, soon dating will become part of that new normal I’ve come to accept in all the other aspects of my life. Perhaps I’ll stop thinking of myself as a dating widow. I’ll just think of myself as a living, breathing single woman who enjoys the company of men. Maybe someday, I’ll stop straddling the fence between Rick’s death and my life. And, maybe then, I’ll be comfortable choosing life.