Monday, February 15, 2010

Warning Labels

Since Phil died in August of 2005 I have met thousands of widowed people. That fact astounds me. I speak to a new widowed person daily. Every single day, and I am just one person. And yet I am still surprised by death, both personally and professionally. What? Our loved ones die? Since when? But he was so young! What about the kids left behind? How will the family make it on one salary? She was sick for such a short time! But the doctor's felt the battle was almost won. Why her, why him, why ours, why us....when will this dying trend stop?!

You and I both know the answer to that last question all to well. The circle of life goes on and on whether we like it or not. Another undeniable fact is that we are each an intrinsic part of the ongoing cycle of life and death from the day we are born. Seems like all humans should come with a warning label that reads: subject to death at any time.

But I wonder if our ability to forget this obvious reality is just a universal coping mechanism. Would we laugh and play and enjoy carefree moments if everyone we love wore this warning label? Would we step into the already uncertain world of love, if we were constantly aware of the fragility of life? In the early stages of grief we are first slapped with the reality that death is personal; it happens to people we love. As I began to process the fact that Phil was actually dead, I also stood face to face with the now undeniable certainty that everyone else I love will die too. My only hope to avoid the fallout is to pray that I go first (I realize this isn't very nice of me).

So when Michael asked me to marry him my brain flew immediately to these words: Till death do us part. I said those words to Phil without a second thought, and I meant them. What I couldn't know then was how powerful, and ultimately painful, those words would become. What Michael is asking of me is not just to say Yes to a life of committed love, but to an uncertain period of committed love. And that is way scarier to me. I can say Yes to forever, but can I say Yes to for however long he lives...because I am now keenly aware that no one lives forever.

It seems to me that forever is made up of our everyday moments. If I use that criteria, then I can stop tallying the days we might have, and enjoy the ones we do. Looking back, I now understand that even if Phil came with a warning label I would have recklessly (read naively) loved him anyway. I am trying to remember that even though Michael's warning label is much more visible to me than Phil's ever was (okay, Phil's was painfully clear on the emergency room table, but it was too late at that point!), he also deserves the chance to be recklessly loved.

Maybe I have just assigned a personal meaning to the phrase, "Love with reckless abandon"...and that would be to love recklessly, and intentionally, in the face of certain death. This would have been impossible for me not that long ago. In fact, I think it would have been impossible had I never loved Phil. But he taught me the value of reckless love, and I am determined to drum up the courage to honor that lesson.


  1. i think we should get rid of the "til death do us part" because we all know it lasts way beyond that.

    and i, too, think of this widow thing as an epidemic. it seems it is everywhere and people are dying younger and younger and leaving more and more young children behind.

  2. i was at a wedding a couple of weeks ago. it had been a year since i'd had to attend any weddings and i wasn't sure how i'd go. well, i did fine, way better than expected--until the vows because of the whole "till death do us part" thing. i could see myself agreeing to get married again but i wonder if i could say those words again without choking over them and breaking down?

  3. I have no desire to date or get married again because I can't possibly go through this a second time. Feeling exasperated.

  4. Beautiful post. However it did bring back the memory I haven't thought of in a while - reading on the social security letter, "Marriage ended by death on November 15, 2009." Nothing - no warning sign or neon light or anything - can truly prepare for that moment. As a result, I think I've learned to not only love with reckless abandon, but LIVE with reckless abandon. Look out, world - crazy widow coming through!