The impact of Rick’s death has lessened as the years go by. That’s only natural. I’ve always been a firm believer that time really does heal all wounds, although not as quickly as we would like (and I definitely formed that opinion before experiencing widowhood). But certainly the enormous and raw pain I felt daily in the first months and year after his death is no longer enveloping me. And the anniversaries and holidays bring on a few tears, but not the depression that I endured in year one, or even year two.
No, my emotions have quieted now. But as I near the fifth anniversary of Rick’s death, I’m still impacted by those little unforeseen triggers. Memories pop up out of the blue and make me, not only miss him, but leave me stunned at how long it’s been since he was here and life was normal.
The impact of his death may not be as great, but the impact of his life and how well he loved me are causing unusual, I’ll call them “consequences” in my dating life.
I tend to keep comparing Rick and how he treated me to the men I get involved with. Not that there have been that many men. It’s true that in the past two and a half years, I’ve dated a couple dozen – but nearly all of those first dates ended with me thinking: Not a chance. Each of those men brought with them a huge bouquet of red flags, or I wasn’t attracted – or they obviously didn’t want more than casual sex.
But I have become “involved” with three men. And with each budding relationship, after being together a month or two, I began to notice little things that make me question how much the man truly cared about me. Because even in the midst of thinking he’s a keeper, I’d begin to see what was lacking when I’d think back how well Rick treated me.
I begin to remember the little things – the little acts of kindness Rick performed that made me know he cared. The small gestures in our day-to-day living that were evidence that he appreciated me, loved me, and that he not only cared ABOUT me, but that he wanted to take care OF me.
Yes, as an independent, feminist woman capable of taking care of myself, this one is tough for me to admit – but I enjoyed feeling protected, loved, and cared for by the Big Fella. He showed his love in so many small ways throughout the years, from opening car doors, to changing tires, to lifting heavy objects when he saw me bend down to pick something up. One time, when we were walking past some seedy-looking characters, he actually pushed me behind him and puffed up his chest – looking for all the world like he was going to take them on in a fight! But that was an extreme example. In general, without thinking, and with the smallest of gestures, Rick made me feel safe, protected, and cherished very often in our decades together.
So – this may be petty – but when a man I had been dating for months came to my house and pointed out that there was a dead bird on my porch and that I should “be sure to take care of it before it got gross,” as he walked through my front door, it triggered some memories. Memories of Rick fishing the dead squirrel out of the pool, Rick doing all the heavy work required to maintain the house, Rick always doing the hard jobs and icky tasks, because he took on that “protector role” with me. And I liked the feeling that gave me. I felt loved. I felt cherished. And those unbidden memories of Rick caused me to look at the man I was dating differently. I began to question if he really cared about me, at least in the way I wanted him to.
And, sure, it wasn’t a big deal that he left me to dispose of the dead bird (it was MY dead bird at MY house, after all; it’s not his job, and I was quite capable of handling it, so I did). But, suddenly more memories of Rick reaching over to open my jar, or putting out his hand to help me down some steps seemed to pop up whenever I least expected it. Rick unloading groceries and cutting grass. Rick cleaning ice and snow off my car or even filling the tank for me. And I began to notice how often this man seemed to ignore helping me with things that Rick would have jumped to assist me with. (To give him credit, he did open my car door for me, was always a perfect gentleman, and treated me very well in other ways.)
So I need to ask myself how important these “Rick traits” are in a relationship. Does a man have to do the things Rick used to do? Am I being too judgmental and setting the standards too high? I guess the bigger question is: Is it even fair to expect a new man to compete with my dead husband? After all, Rick had his flaws, so am I only choosing to remember the best parts of him and our marriage? And – is a man NOT making me feel as cared for as Rick did a deal breaker?
These are all questions I need to puzzle out as a dating widow.
But, the bottom line is, my relationship with Rick and our twenty years of marriage together still impact my day-to-day living in a variety of ways, even if I’m no longer in the heavy grieving stage. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. He was the love of my life, and I’m still not sure there will ever be another.