Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water .....

.... another wave comes and smacks you from behind .....

I love the ocean.  Always have.
Jim did, too.  We were a "beach family".  Loved taking vacations to a beach .... any beach.  Even the one in Galveston ..... where the word "beach" has a whole different definition.  But hey, when it's the only beach you have within an hour's drive or so, you take what you can get.  Even if the water is brown.
So I find it a bit ironic that I've always seen my widowhood as being in an ocean. Always.

Anyway ...... just when I thought it was safe .... just when I thought I had things under control ....
It wasn't.
And I didn't.
I was surprised by how much I didn't.
Other people were, too.

I was having lunch yesterday with 8 other friends.  We are all on a tennis team together. We were celebrating all of the summer birthdays to come, before our season is over in 2 weeks.  We were having a great time.  Just 9 women having lunch and celebrating each other and how well we've done this season.

Then the captain of the team announced that our "year end party" would be a barbeque at her house, in May.  Sounds like fun, right?
Spouses are to be included, too.
Still sound like fun?

I am on a team with 9 other women.
Nine of us are married.
One of us is ..... not.
Guess which one is ..... not.

And .... for some reason, this came at me like a wave .... smacking me from behind.  I didn't see it coming, so the force of it came in much stronger than it would've, had I been able to brace myself for it.
Once the excited chatter about the event died down, I looked up at our captain .... who is a dear friend that I've known for years.  She was sitting directly across from me.  She knew, from the look in my eyes, which must have been on the "wild" side, that all was not well.
I have to add .... that out of these 9 women, I've known a few of them for years.  And years.  And years.
Jim and I knew them.  We did things with them .... and their husbands.
I know their husbands and care very much for them.
But ............
My friend looked at me .... studied me for a moment or so .... and asked, "You'll come, right?"
I paused ..... tried to gather my thoughts and figure out where this wave came from ..... and then answered, "I'm not sure.  But really .... I don't think so."
She looked a bit surprised.
I felt a bit surprised.

Our conversation was heard and passed on down the table.  There was much murmuring going on while she and I looked at each other.
Then I heard, from the other end of the table, someone exclaim .... in a rather loud voice, "Are you kidding me?!".  Those four words were translated to my brain into these words .... "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of!!!" ..... by a friend who knows me well.
Or so I thought.
I wanted to scream at her ..... at all of them .... "You DON'T get it!!!  You CAN'T get it!!!  And you should be VERY thankful that you don't .... that you can't!!!"
But I sat in silence, staring at my good friend from across the table.
She quietly asked, "You won't come?  Even though you know M, and J, and D (the husbands that I know well)?"
I told her no.  She looked puzzled.  I felt puzzled.  I thought I was past this.
I was wrong.

I tried to explain to her what I was feeling.  I told her that it was one thing to hang out with one couple or two.  Couples whom I love and who love me and who loved Jim.  That was a small group and I felt safe there ..... for some reason.  But .......
.... the thought of being in a group of 9 couples ..... 18 people who belong together, who love each other, who are bound together through the years ..... and being the last number .... number 19, was overwhelming me.
She asked me again, as if trying to break out of the fog of incomprehension ..... "Even with our husbands?  Those you love and feel safe with?"
I looked into her eyes for a moment, struggling to find the words to explain the panic that was forming in my stomach .... and in my heart.  But instead of words .... tears started to form .... and I had to look away.
I said, "I just can't.  It hurts.  It hurts very much."
She saw the oncoming tears ..... and she stopped.  She knows me well enough to stop.  And she said, "OK."

And that was exactly what I needed to hear.  I needed to hear that she "kind of" understood, even if she didn't really.
I needed to hear, "OK".  I did not need to hear, "Are you kidding me?!!"
She asked me to not make a firm decision just yet, but to play it by ear.
I told her that I would.

And I will.
Though I doubt that my mind will change over the next month or so.
I am not a "couple".
I was.  For a very long time.
I was supposed to be ..... for an even longer time.

And then, one day ..... I wasn't.
After over 2 1/2 decades ..... I had to learn how to live differently.
And I slowly became used to it.

After a couple of years .... I met someone.  And I became a couple again.
I didn't realize how much I had missed that ..... until it was gone .... again.
I'm back to being single.
To being the "third wheel".
Even though the other people in the room don't feel that way, don't think of me in that way .... it doesn't matter.
It's what I feel that matters.
It's the fact that my heart hurts that matters.
And it's the fact that I know my limits now ..... I know a wave when I see one.
And I know a wave when I feel one.  Even when I didn't see it coming.

So I probably won't go to a function where, out of 19 people, I am the odd number.
I will not go and stand in an ocean full of waves.
I may feel differently on that day.  And if I do, I will go.
Anything is possible.

I am strong enough now .... to know myself.
And know my heart.
And know when I can ..... or cannot, withstand the waves.

Yes, I am almost 3 years "out".
One would think that I'd be "over" this, wouldn't one?
One would be wrong.
I .... was wrong.

I am stronger.
I am happier.
I am living .... and living well.
I am content.
I am ..... blessed.

But I am also living in a world that still has a few waves in it.
Not a lot.  And not very often.
In fact, the waves are almost a rare occurrence now.

And I'm still here.
I have survived.
And I know myself better than ever.
I am strong.
Strong enough to say "no" when I need to.
No matter what anyone thinks.
Or what anyone feels.
It's my heart.
And I'm the one in charge.

I think I'll go for a wade in the water .....


  1. Janine, others do not get what torture it is to be in the presence of couples. I am like you I can handle with small groups, but I certainly understand how you feel. I just had to explain to a friend of mine the other day, why I did not stay long at an event that I use to attend with my husband and how it just made me feel so lonely, because she did not get that it still can hurt a lot after 2years.

  2. Hi Janine. I felt like I was reading my own words as I read your post this morning. I lost my husband 20 months ago just 2 days shy of our 22nd wedding anniversary. Mark was a Colonel in the Army, my best friend and we traveled the world together with our three children. In the military there were always couples functions, balls, dinners, receptions. The invitations keep coming, and I keep declining because I would "break" in a room of couples. Someone asked my then 19 year old daughter as to why I don't get out and try to have fun. She so smartly answered, you should invite her to something other than couples nights. I have declined friend's parties for the same reason. I understand your emotion. Who wants to have their most tragic and vulnerable emotion of grief be magnified like that? I applaud you in knowing your limits, trusting yourself and honoring yourself by saying no when you have to. While my husband was sick with a brain tumor, paralyzed within 3 weeks from diagnosis, and told he had just weeks to live after an 8 month fight, he said something very powerful. He told a friend, "you don't understand, but I do. I understand the fragility of life. You cannot understand until you are here like me." And now, I believe that even friends who love us cannot understand fully the pain of loss. I think you should give yourself a hug and be pleased that you have the courage to honor your true feelings. You are in charge!

  3. What a great blog. How disappointing that your friends couldn't try to understand how you might feel about being the 19th person? But yet, in the last 12 months I have discovered the same exact attitude. Stay strong and stand tall to your feelings. I get you and understand your decision perfectly. Thanks for writing to give the rest of us strength!

  4. Even when the storm has mostly blown itself out, it still only takes one rogue wave to knock you down. For sure.
    And even three years is not very long, I say from 20 months.
    It is so important to know we need to listen to our hearts and guts in these things. I echo what others have said, thank you for helping the rest of us do that too.

  5. I get it. I wish I didn't. I am at 18 months. At 15 months I made the mistake of going out to a comedy club with two other couples. I was single #5. After the show we went to dinner. After being seated at the table the couples asked to rearrange themselves so they could share plates. I had to scoot down and place myself at the end. Outloud I said, "I hate being single". My girlfriend looked at me and said, "We don't think of you as single. I like to think of Mark as being in the witness protection program. You're still one of us married people!" I was so shocked, all I could say was, " oh no I'm not, I am very definetely not married, and very alone in this world." I have been so devasted from the experience that I find it impossible to go anywhere with any coules.

  6. Awesome post! 22 months here and can so relate. Totally overreacted to something this morning not related and know it is another wave.

    Thanks for validating my feelings!

  7. I understand, Janine. I'm at 2 1/2 yrs, and and I cry easier about my loss now than I did earlier. Everyone is different. There are somethings that we can never do again just because it is too painful. My husband and I had 4 wonderful trips to Hawaii and I don't think that I can ever visit there again without him because of the memories. Our losses are huge and we can move forward, but our lives will never be the same.

  8. This is what I really needed today. I lost my husband from a brain tumor 19 months ago and my boys were 13 and 11 at the time. This week I have the bigest wave hit me the most, because of one family members comment. My uncle is also in a fight with cancer and when we were there this week, my aunt just said that we didn't understand what she was going thru, because her children are very sad, but her children are all grown adults with their own family. I just felt she stabbed me in the heart, because no I don't understand because I was a widow at 38 years with two young children. I guess it is easier for me because my children are young. I just wish people would think before the open their mouth.

  9. I'm so glad you stood up for your feelings. They don't know and they have no idea that they don't know - thank goodness.

    I can't do the "couples" thing. It's not that I want them to not be couples, but I just can't be the odd woman out anymore - it's too painful.

  10. Thank you for all of the open and honest posts. I recently felt that on a vacation with my children, sitting on the beach watching people stride by and feeling sadder by the minute . . . not really sure what was increasing the sadness until I stopped myself and realized it was that I was unconsciously taking in the site of all of the couples strolling down the beach hand and hand - just as my husband and i used to do. it was heartbreaking to realize . . .not me, not anymore.
    I have been to dinner parties with only couples and I have been to lots of events with my friends without partners. I still go when invited only because I am afraid to be forgotten and it is also good to hear other people who loved my husband talk about him. But I understand that feeling, realizing you are the one more . . . at the table. I miss the drive home, talking about the evening, I miss looking across a table and catching each others eye and smiling, I miss hearing his laugh in another room . . . just one more place to find him gone.

    Thinking of all of you with such compassion.


  11. As of two weeks ago I'm 13 years out and I'm here to tell you that a wave can still come up and knock you down. Not as often - but still as powerful. Just yesterday at the grocery store a song came on overhead and I totally lost it - you would have thought it had just happened. Life does go on and we each in our own way learn to live it again. Hugs...

  12. Wow! Lots of comments already Janine. Great post and one that is sadly so relatable to all of us. Last week was spring break for my kids. I have four. A dear friend and I made plans to spend a couple nights in a hotel not too far from home. As the dates got closer, more friends decided to join in. In the end, it was five couples and me. I knew it would be hard. But like so many other times, I do it for the kids. My kids love getting together as a big group and seem not to be as effected by the absence of their dad as I am. I also feel this enormous pressure to make sure that my kids have other adults in their lives that they know and feel comfortable around. What if something happens to me? Anyway, I did the "couples thing" for two days. I might sound crazy, but I just kept talking to my husband and laughing about the various things that took place. I know he is with me. I know he is doing what he can to help out. Our "couple friends" have no idea that when I excuse myself to go the restroom or say I need to check on the kids that I am stealing away some moments to let the tears fall. They don't get it. It's not their fault and like you I don't want them to get it because if they did then that would mean there would be another single in the group.

  13. I'm sorry you had to go through that experience. I know you love your friends, so I'll tread lightly, but I don't understand why they didn't just let it drop quickly. I don't blame you for not wanting to go, of course it would be uncomfortable. Just a tip, when I'm invited somewhere and am asked if I'll go, I just say, "Maybe, I'll see how I feel." If they press I just repeat myself until they stop. People wonder why we isolate ourselves.

  14. Dave died 9 months ago in June. One of the first 'outings' I had was to go on a camping weekend with a group of couple friends. (Something that Dave & I always did and we had already committed & paid to do it months before he died of cancer.) I was torn and I knew that camping would be really hard as I'd be alone in my tent for the first time in my life. I knew that it was part of the 'firsts' that I'd be forced to encounter and parts of it would suck, but I also knew that if I didn't go, I would just be sitting at home feeling sorry for myself all weekend.
    So I went. It wasn't as bad as I'd thought and I continue to hangout with this group of couple friends. (I live in Canada and this weekend we're going to a maple bush where they collect and make maple syrup. We'll do a tour of the farm, and have pancakes with maple syrup etc... Then we're getting together for a games night that evening.)

    I would hate to lose these friends. Dave & I also played co-ed baseball with them. Yeah, it sucks being there without Dave and stirs up sad feelings regularly, but nobody can fix that. They loved him too and would be heartbroken if I stopped hanging out with them. So I continue to go out with them.

    And unfortunately most of our friends were couple friends. Given the opportunity I always make the effort to go to their parties, even if very briefly. I might break down and tear up occasionally, and some people say stupid things, but I know it's not intentional. They want me there and want to see me happy. Some people just don't know what to say.
    I know that if the situation were reversed I wouldn't know what to say either.

    It's not the same at all, but is part of rebuilding and will hopefully be less painful each time. As much as I hate the term, it's part of my 'new normal'.

    So I totally understand your not wanting to go, and I know I've often considered backing out, but I know that Dave would have wanted me to keep up those friendships and go out. Always.

  15. Hi Janine, My husband passed away in 2006 after 21 years of marriage. The waves still hit me every now and again. I have been in a relationship for the past two years but I still get hit with overwhelming sadness sometimes. I don't expect that to ever go away but I too have become stronger. My life is coming together. I think time helps. Stay strong.

  16. Thanks for putting into words what many of us feel.