Yesterday, Rick and I would have celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. It was the third one since he’s been gone. I made it through the fog of the first one. By the second one, I had adapted to life alone, and I was beginning my foray into the dating world. This year…? How do I categorize this year of widowhood?
The year I fell in love with another man.
About nine months after I entered the crazy world of online dating, the pandemic put a halt to the adventure. By the spring of 2000, I had gone on more than a half dozen first dates that never progressed to a second, for various reasons. In April, I began chatting with a new man in an online dating app. It was the beginning of the pandemic, and I was pretty careful about not leaving the house. Restaurants were closing, it became too complicated to meet, and our time spent messaging just seemed to drift away.
In early April of this year – exactly one year later – he looked me up post-vaccination, and he was the first man I went out with within days of getting my second shot. We fell for each other rather quickly. As he said, when you get to your 60s and you find the one you’ve been looking for, there’s no time to waste.
And so, for the first time since Rick’s death, I became exclusive with a man. After more than 20 years with Rick, and nearly three years spent grieving him, I really didn’t imagine this could happen. It felt strange being kissed by another man, holding his hand when we walked, drinking Margaritas under the gazebo in the evening, cuddling on the couch as we watched TV. It felt even stranger telling him that I love him.
But… I still love Rick. I don’t want him to be “a man I used to love.” What a paradox! I’ve hoped that I could fall in love again, yet I don’t want to replace Rick in my heart. I worked hard to overcome the grief of his loss, and I’m happy I’m able to feel something for another man. BUT, I don’t want my time with Rick to be over. I want to still love him with all my heart – not a heart divided.
And it gets worse.
I was telling this man that I’m thinking about selling my house. He’s a pretty logical guy and he asked what my top three reasons for moving would be. I said, hmmm. Okay, #1 – I’d like to move closer to my son’s house. At this point, I drive about 90 minutes round trip once or twice a week to babysit my two youngest grandsons. And number two? At that minute, I said something out loud that I hadn’t realized I’d been thinking. #2 – I’d like to start fresh. Saying that out loud stunned me so much that I never came up with a third reason.
Start fresh? Start a new life separate from the place I shared with Rick? Where did that thought come from? I wasn’t aware that I was even thinking along those lines, but once I said it, I realized it was true.
In the first few years after Rick’s death, I was comforted by being in the home we shared. Everywhere I looked, I saw something we had built together, repaired, or remodeled. It had been a labor of love renovating our house together. Sitting on the deck he built, under the gazebo we assembled a few months before he died gave me comfort. This was OUR home with OUR memories. Even after changing things around and buying different furniture about a year after he died, his imprint was still everywhere I looked. He wasn’t gone. His spirit was still here in our home with me.
Oh sure, sometimes it made me grieve harder, being here alone in a place we had once shared. But mostly it reminded me of memories I cherished.
So what is it I want? Therein lies the dilemma. I don’t want to relinquish my past with Rick. I don’t want him to be a distant memory, part of another era, part of history. I want his memory to remain fresh in my mind. I want to feel the love we shared.
But in a way, I think these newly awakened feelings have changed that somewhat. I think I do crave that fresh start. After years of my heart feeling dead, it has come alive, and I want to stay in “the land of the living” – the place I’ve worked so hard to reach. I spent years in the fog of grief, wishing Rick was back here with me. To be blunt, they were a pretty shitty couple of years, and I’m thrilled that I’ve come out on the other side. I don’t want to wish my life away any more. I want to live – really live – in whatever time I have left. And I know Rick would want that for me, too.
I don’t know where this new relationship will lead, or if it will go anywhere at all. Some personal issues that arose in his life have forced a pause in our dating, and we’re no longer being exclusive while he deals with them. He may come back. I hope he does. But if he doesn’t, the die is cast. Once my feelings for this man were awakened, once I felt that stirring in my heart, I realized that I felt very alive, in a way I haven’t for a very long time. I haven’t felt this alive since I said my final goodbyes to Rick.
And I relish this feeling. I know now that I had worked to make a new life for myself, but something was missing. I missed being in love. I missed romance. I missed looking forward to spending Friday nights chatting away till all hours with a man who cared about me. And I tell myself I deserve this. I enjoy being in the land of the living, and I don’t ever want to feel dead again.
So on this anniversary, for the first time, I feel that odd sensation of being in love with two men. The one I joined at the altar on July 12, 1997 – the one I vowed I would love “til death do us part” and another who has rekindled my grief-ridden heart and brought it back from the dead. I suppose that’s not a problem, is it? To have experienced the love I had with Rick and to be lucky enough to have a second chance at love? Craving a fresh start doesn’t mean I’m being unfaithful or forgetting the love I shared with Rick. It just means that I want to move forward now and see what life has to offer. And as I proceed on my journey, I’ll do so with a heart full of love.