The Sweet Double Life of a Widow

We move on. We must. Our partners would want us to keep living, loving, enjoying all that life has to offer. Some of us are mothers. Our kids need us. Some of us get new partners. We have new relationships – passionate, exciting, fulfilling.

And yet, we still carry the unfinished business of a life cut short – stopped in mid-term. So many loose ends to contend with, incomplete thoughts, plans that never materialized, conversations that were never completed, or maybe never even started…

Surviving the loss of a life partner can be a devastating blow. Much has been written about the pain of grief, and the long road to recovery. But even those of us who feel we are on top of our new lives, thriving and functioning well, still have to contend with those familiar waves of unexplained sadness, the strange echoes of past experience that can suddenly permeate present moments.

I love my life. I’ll say that outright. I have lived more intensely, more fully than I could ever have imagined. I’ve seen many sorrowful and harrowing moments, but I have also tapped into deep wells of joy and ecstasy far beyond my craziest dreams. I’m pretty sure the challenges and  hardships I’ve faced have been essential to the development of who I am today.

My current lesson is all about embracing the sensations of my past without fearing them. Rather than characterize them as haunting memories, I prefer to think of them as gifts of remembrance. They really do flavor my days with a kind of shadowy edge that gives distinction and dimension to the shape of my current experience. Similar to the way certain songs just pull at my gut with a kind of energetic drive flavored by deep longing, simple everyday joys are often tinged by nostalgia, regret, or out and out sadness. And honestly, I don’t mind.

The greatest challenge is in not allowing the patterns of my past to define my path forward. I sometimes feel as though the walls are closing in, trapped by a sense that history is repeating itself, and I am powerless to prevent it. Until I’m reminded that I can choose differently now. I can move forward in any direction I want. Nothing is stopping me except my own inertia, my own fear, my own allegiance to my past.


Two quick anecdotes:

This week I drove to visit friends in Long Island, a trip I’ve taken many times. Faced with terrible traffic jams, on a whim, I decided to follow a different route suggested by my GPS. At first it made me feel a bit anxious, off-balance. But it turns out that we got there just fine, and I saw a whole other part of my friend’s neighborhood that I’d never seen before, and it was really beautiful. On the return trip, I did a similar thing, explored a highway I’d never even been on before, and learned a whole new way home.

Back in the day when my husband used to endure three or four harrowing hospitalizations each year, sometimes up to a month in duration, there was this one moment I always used to love. On the day of his discharge, he – weak and a little unsteady from the weeks of terrible pain, infections or other complications he had survived, me – relieved at the coming respite from daily visits to this place, we would walk together slowly through the hospital corridor, hand in hand, taking in the sights and sounds of life all around us. Our breathing was always calm, we were quiet, and the joy flowed silently between us as we reflected on where we had been and prepared to take in our first breaths of renewed freedom together.

Photo courtesy of criswatk


7 Comments to “The Sweet Double Life of a Widow”

  1. That last paragraph went straight inside.

  2. Deborah,

    Thank you for another beautiful piece. You always seem to plumb the depth of experience with a fresh sey of eyes and heart.

  3. That is ‘set of eyes’. When will I learn to type?

  4. Having lost my first husband very early in our life together (he was just shy of 27, and our son only 7 months) this was a wonderful reminder that my choices were correct. I moved forward. Faltering, failing, but always knowing that no matter where *he* was, I was here, and I was the one that had to live. Thanks for the shot in the arm.

    • Hi Kimberly,
      I’m so glad you wrote. I sometimes wonder if the feelings I express strike a chord in anyone else. I try to keep a positive outlook on my life and the gifts I have been given, but I also realize that to acknowledge the sadness is healthy and real. I guess the trick is in finding the balance. I’m grateful that my words were helpful to you…
      All my best,

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