Monday, March 28, 2011
Even If The Shoe Doesn't Fit, Try Wearing It.
Talk about having some big shoes to fill. Or in my case, some tall stilettos. I am very gracious, and honored, that Michele has given me this opportunity to share with you on a weekly basis. I know that many of you looked forward to reading her words, or taking inspiration, from her journey. Yet, I do understand her decision to modify her course just a bit, as we must always take time to reflect on where we have arrived, and where we want to go next.
This journey of mine has been an interesting one. Never in my past did I think that I would soon become a widower, or that I would grieve so publicly. I was single most of my adult life, and had chosen to have children as a single parent. It wasn't an easy life, as my children all have some special needs, but it was a full life. In those years, I knew that I wanted a loving partner in my life, but had come to accept that it may not be part of my journey. When I met Michael, it was like kismet, as our lives both had some circumstances that seemed like a perfect fit. I felt that God had brought us together, and that by our union, each of our lives, and those close to us, would truly be enhanced. The night we met was filled with fun, laughter and passion. We ended the night with him driving me to my car, and me having to explain why I drove a mini-van. As I shared about my three children, he explained about his significant role in the life of his nephew and two nieces. All of our children were born into a family with parental substance abuse and chaos. Each of us were committed to make our children's lives better.
Four years later, I sat bewildered in our bedroom, holding his ashes in my hands.
Around the time of Michael's death, I was surrounded by our loved ones. Some stayed around for a few weeks more. Then the time of seclusion began. I became cloistered in my grief. I looked around me, but I couldn't find my reflection in any one's face. I took to the Internet, casting out a net that was much too small. My Google search for 'gay widower' came back with only one book, whose editor had died just a couple of years prior. I realized that if I wanted support, I was going to have to make it happen. I was going to have to put myself out there for the world to see. I was going to have to cast a larger net.
When you take to the Internet in this way, you don't go finding people, they find you. By identifying so publicly as a widower, others began to appear. There were a couple of guys, and many, many women. I began to realize that men, in general, don't often seek out this type of connection as part of their grief journey. If I think back in stories, or images, there is a strong archetype for the widow, but not for the widower. Still to this day, it is rare for me to meet another man who identifies as a widower, yet I have met many women along the way that do.
At times there has been some hesitation on my part to join in on some conversations, or gatherings, as I felt like I was intruding. I know how important it is to have some safe space, where you can talk among those you most closely identify with. I know that not all women will feel as comfortable expressing themselves so vulnerably if a man is present, as I have at times felt that way in groups of all women as well. In time I have learned to make my presence known, but allow for those around me to invite me in. At the same time I have created a safe space for lesbian and gay widow(er)s with my own blog, and with my online support group. All this to say, that I have found, and also created, safe spaces for me to grieve, and to share in other peoples journey.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to have this space on Widow's Voice, to write on a weekly basis. I recognize that 95% of those who leave comments are women, yet two days of the week are filled by men, Matt and I. This speaks volumes to Michele's generosity, and her understanding that in spite of our numbers being low, there is a need for our presence. We are here to speak of our experience in the event that a new widower throws out his own narrow net. We are here to speak of our experience because our female peers value our voice, and we speak here because in the end, we are all in this together.
If you are a new widower, gay or straight, looking at this blog for the first time, know that yes, it may feel a bit awkward standing out in a crowd comprised mostly of women. It may feel like an awkward fit, trying to balance yourself in shoes you never expected to wear. Yet, I promise you this, the more you open up, the more you will find others gravitating toward you. The circle of strong arms there to hold you up may come from somewhere you never expected, but they will be there.
If you are a new widow, reading here for the first time, know that you have an enormous, and loving community here for you. You should have no trouble seeing your reflection in the face, and experience, of the multitudes of women here, waiting to extend a hand. At the same time, know that you have the opportunity to expand your search, to hear the stories, and points of view, of some that may not otherwise have crossed your path.
Life is often a balancing act, and my healing process has definitely been about creating balance. Not so easy to do when you are made to wear shoes, or stilettos, that you never tried on before. Yet with time, as with any new pair of shoes, you will find that they bend and shape closely around you. Eventually, you stop thinking about the awkward fit, and you just keep moving forward.