I just completed my taxes this year, and I cried (again!, because I did the same thing last year) when I had to check the “Single” box.
There is a reason that we always check off “Widowed” on government forms, instead of “Single”. That’s because being widowed is different. I don’t consider myself single in the same way that other single people are single.
As widows, the label of “single” can feel very confusing. To be honest, even the word “widow” can be jarring when you first hear it. I remember changing our auto insurance policy early on after Frank died. The agent said I qualified for the “widow discount”, and the words sent shivers down my spine. It didn’t register that I could possibly be a widow.
Now, here I am being labeled “single”.
The things we never thought we’d have to think about, right?
Are we single now? Not exactly. It’s a little more nuanced than that.
Single. This word just doesn’t make sense to me. Frank and I didn’t break up. We didn’t choose to be separated. And I absolutely refuse to believe that he just ceased to exist. He’s still here, just in a different way.
On February 19th, I celebrated our 40th anniversary. It was the second anniversary I celebrated since Frank’s death, and it was torture. As I ate dinner at our favorite restaurant all I could think about was how I wish we could have made it to this special milestone together.
I got my first tattoo to commemorate the occasion, and I felt Frank’s spirit urging me to be brave. I still cried, though, because it hurt like hell!
Now, here I am, eighteen months into this nightmare. A nightmare that is slowly softening at the edges. One in which I find myself able to carry a heartbreak so great, I initially thought would kill me, too. And with a brand-new joy and love for life that I could have never imagined in my “before” life.
I am so proud of myself for making it this far. I do my best every single day, even if my best is just putting one foot in front of the other when I get out of bed.
When Frank first died, I hated hearing about how he’d want me to keep living. I hated hearing from people how precious our memories and lived experiences were. How lucky I was to have had true love at all because most people don’t. I truly hated all those words of encouragement.
But slowly, I’m recognizing that I do want to live again. I want to experience life. I want to try to embody every good quality that my husband had. I want to keep doing better and better – for my sons, my granddaughter, and for me.
If only I could have been this person when he was alive.
And yet, despite this new-found love for life, I get conflicting feelings about how this new label of “single” fits into my life now as a person whose time on this earth may continue for many years to come without my husband. It’s a lot to think about.
Here’s something else to think about: Even parenting is different.
Just to emphasize how different it is, here is a list of things I have realized in the 18 months of being a solo parent.
- I co-parent with someone who cannot physically do anything to help me out.
- I have zero parenting back up.
- I am the only parent to my sons.
- I am the sole advice giver.
- I am still deeply in love with my children’s father.
- I am not part of a living, breathing couple.
- I know that it is 100% possible to be forever in love with one person because I have done it for the past 4o years…and counting.
- I consider him an active participant in our lives even though we were ripped apart by death.
- I don’t have a physical parenting partner, and my sons do not have another parent who has a body. And yet, he influences how I parent on so many levels.
There is no one else on this earth who cares for my children the way I do and that is an incredibly, deeply lonely experience.
When they do something worth celebrating and I get so excited, my options are to smile to myself, connect to a person who is dead, or call another family member or friend (who does care, but not like HE cared).
I am not a single mom. I am not a partnered mom. I am something else. Something that is hard to explain or understand. I don’t quite fit in – in the parenting world, or the dating world for that matter.
And so, I inhabit this strange in-between. Not quite single, not quite like other parents, but something else entirely.
The word “single” will never fit right to me. It’s like a pair of jeans that I just can’t seem to fit into anymore, no matter how hard I try. But I’m not quite coupled up the way I once was, either.
Will I ever be? I don’t know. I doubt it. But I’m open. Open to the nuance and grey space required to be in a new relationship as myself. If it ever happens.
Sometimes I think about Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz, two amazing women who became widows when both of their husbands died at the young age of 39. They never got remarried, but instead chose to focus on carrying forward the great legacies of their late husbands.
To be honest, I think that will probably be my fate as well.
Sometimes I feel Frank urging me on, encouraging me to have fun, to experiment. But for me, committing to a new partner has always felt a bit strange, maybe even a bit disloyal.
Being widowed AND in an alive relationship with a breathing person is a thing, for lots of widowed people. And I’m sure many of you are making this great, brave leap into finding new love. I congratulate you! That takes courage.
Like so much in widowhood, it asks us to stretch and expand. To open our hearts and hold space for two great loves at the same time.
But for me? I don’t know. I’m not in a relationship the way I once was. I’m something else. Something that maybe, we just don’t have a word for. Sometimes language lets us down. And I think that this is one of those times.
How about you? Do you consider yourself “single”?
Let’s keep in touch! If anything resonated with you, please leave a comment below or find me on Instagram @tofrankwithlove