Friday, April 6, 2012

Digging for Widower Gold

So I’m dating someone.  It’s difficult.  She has been absolutely patient, respectful and thoughtful.  Better than that, she’s been curious my past and yet delicate.  I could not ask for a better partner as I travel down this challenging path.  The problem is that, as a new relationship partner, I’m causing all kinds of difficulties.  I’m Mr. Drama, it seems, because every time we take a step together, I stomp on a memory.

Last weekend, we spent the morning at a garden show buying herbs and the afternoon planting them.  It was a perfect day filled with dirt, plants bugs and laughs.  But just under the surface, my memories were stirring up myriad emotions.  More than once, while she was planting, I went off to “cut back a bush” (which, just between you and me, is code for “try not to cry.”)  See, Maggie and I planted this great big garden with our hands, together, with the intent of building a future together and watching it grow.  Our marriage was filled with glorious days just like these: mornings at the garden store and afternoons getting dirty, chasing the dogs, and swatting bugs.  How could I even possibly let someone else be right there in that very spot planting where Maggie once was?  But I did.  She didn’t really ask.  Of course, I didn’t really volunteer.  I just let it happen.  But instead of being supportive, I was a bit distant, off “cutting back bushes.”  Much later, after we were all finished, she told me that she realized what that garden meant and that she understands that I probably felt a lot of emotions that day.  (She’s very perceptive and prone to understatement.)

Back when things were getting really bad with The Cancer, Maggie's caller id had a very specific ring tone.  It was the most obnoxious and loud ringtone the iPhone had to offer and Maggie didn’t like it; it wasn’t sweet and romantic in any way.  Always the pragmatic one, I knew that I could hear that ring tone across a loud room no matter what.  Well, the other day at supper, my new relationship’s phone rang that same ring tone.  I jumped straight up in the air like a panicked Pavlov dog.  She was startled by my reaction.  Heck, I was startled by my reaction.  But when I explained briefly why, she said she understood why that must have given me a shock.

Maggie loved her iPhone.  Rather, Maggie LOVED her iPhone.  She was always fidgeting with this or that and reprogramming mine when I wasn’t looking.  One day, she figured out that she could attach a picture to a caller id phone number.  From that day forward she was always taking pictures of people and attaching them to their phone numbers on our iPhones.  Back while sitting the chair at the cancer treatment center, she had plenty of time to take pictures and attach them to phone numbers, especially phone numbers related to her that were in my phone, like her cell phone or our home phone.  Well, two days ago, my new relationship called my cell phone from the phone at my house.  When my iPhone rang, up popped a picture of Maggie I hadn’t seen in years.  In the picture, she was sitting in the chemo chair hooked up to the chemo pump but beaming her wonderful smile.  After I finished up my call, I sat in the car and cried for 10 minutes.  (She doesn’t know about this little incident.)

Relationships aren’t easy.  Everyone knows that.  But I feel like without even trying I’m doing my best to complicate things.  I try to be reasonable and insulate my new relationship from all the things that pop up but good grief!  It’s like walking side-by-side with me while I stroll through a mine field!  And it’s certainly not her fault that these things are happening (although, just to be clear, SHE chose to plant stuff in the garden and SHE selected that specific ring tone and SHE called me from my house so maybe all this IS her fault…. Hmmm.…  I’ll have to keep a little closer eye on her.)

Despite how badly I keep trying to screw things up by throwing all these emotional monkey wrenches around, things are going really well.  And, oddly enough, she actually appreciates that I had a wonderful relationship with my wife.  In her own words, she thinks it’s wonderful that I was once very happy and, thus, I know what being in a great relationship is like.  I suppose it is all perspective.  Many women I’ve met have seen in me a river full of treacherous rocks, dangerous rapids, and deep water.  My new relationship sees a perfect place to pan for gold.

Neither of us knows where this will go.  But I can say for sure, I’m so happy to know that people like her are out there that see that being widowed isn’t the end.  Instead, it’s deep, meaningful experience that will add richness to the next relationship, no matter where that next relationship goes.


  1. O Chris I can totally understand this!
    I too have entered into a new relationship - this person is so respectful of my "greatest love" and without knowing all of it understands that loving someone while you watch them suffer and struggle and then die, despite their hope and optimism is it's own kind of Dante' hell.
    But - I am so . . .happy and so. . . . sad at the same time.
    Everything we do I am reminded of Jim. We too have a huge garden, flowers, shrubs . . . and we spent hours and hours there. Challenging each other, laughing, dreaming, watching it bloom into our little piece of heaven. When I am out there now. . . those dreams swirl around me and I breathe in everything we had, wanted, hoped for - the future of us working that garden until we were old, very old.
    Sigh -
    When you wrote about the ring tone being the same - part of me thought there is a bit of magic in that. Maybe a sign from the universe that love is here - let it grow.

    You deserve to be loved again and life is too long and too hard without it.

    Thanks for such a deeply honest post.

  2. A timely post! I've just started seeing someone too. It's only been a little over a month, but I've been wondering if I've been closing him off to seeing my 'widowhood'.
    For the first few dates I made a conscious effort not to mention my husband or quickly skim over it and change the subject. (I didn't want to be a downer.)

    In reading your post Chris I'm now realizing that in an effort to not seem complicated, I'm not showing him ANYTHING about me really! Last weekend he came over and I put away some photos of Dave that he might see, except for a few of him as a child. At the time I thought it would be easier for him and less awkward, and now I'm thinking I was just making it easier on me. At one point he even commented that I had no photos of my husband. (Why the hell didn't I take that opportunity to explain what I had done and why?!)

    When I read in your post that your friend is very sensitive, all I thought is, 'Yeah - but she's a chick. She's wired that way, where guys are typically not wired to be that sensitive.' Initially I was thinking that my guy isn't very sensitive at all. But now I'm thinking that I haven't given him any opportunity to be! I haven't opened up all that much and I thought I was doing it for his benefit, but now I'm pretty sure that I just don't want to seem weak as I'll likely start crying once I start sharing too much. (I've been sharing - but really just about my current life and family - without delving into my husbands death and our life together.)

    Anyway, thanks for the insight. (I'm projecting my own insecurities onto him.) I need to give this guy a chance and not assume that he'll panic and run at the first sign of my widowhood. (If he does turn and run - he's not the one anyway.)

    And for the record, I personally see a widow(er) as a much better 'risk' that most because we DO know how to make a relationship work, and know what a happy relationship looks like! Kudos to your new girl for recognizing that!

    1. Whoa. Valerie. I could've written this word for word.

  3. Thank you all for your honesty and insight.

    Loosing my husband nearly a year ago, I haven't really given much thought about other relationships until recently. I have a new friend who has lost his wife this year. It's not a relationship by many points of view, as we only talk by text messages. But it has been wonderful to share with and pray for this friend. And it's very tricky, actually, a lot of work to build a friendship, and share beautiful things about our soulmates. It sometimes gets scary and who knows what God's plan is for either of us. But, there's a joy in this new friendship that has brought me out of the sadness and I just love it.

    All of your comments are helpful to me to understand some of what is happening a little better.

  4. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for writing this.

    The cruelty of moving forward.

    All the little reminders....3+ years later, and they still come up, forcing me to "cut back a bush"... yet we allow the grief to come up and we face it.

  5. I have just barely begun to see someone but I have known them for years and they knew my TJ. The other day he called me TJ's Lady, I said "not anymore". He gave me a hug and said "a part of you will always be TJ's lady". It melted me and brought tears to my eyes. It is so wonderful to have someone that understands.

  6. I'm so glad I read this... I lost my husband 2 1/2 years ago, but emotionally it was years before that. He was an alcoholic, but I couldn't leave him. My memories are soooo complex, and I started seeing someone about a year ago who, although not a widower, is going through his own kind of grief in getting over a divorce he never saw coming. We talk a lot about our former and ex-spouses, and it really doesn't seem weird at all. I agree with some others that we all deserve to be happy, so let love go where it will. It sounds like you've found a good person - I'm very happy for you!

  7. I am also in a relationship that has something special because the man in my life recognises my ability to love and love for a long time. He has been hurt by a bitter divorce and is amazed that anyone can hold a relationship together through the things my husband and I did, it was hard, but we did it right to the end. We loved and laughed and cried and lived. The stories have made him realise that there are relationships out there that do work as long as both parties want it too.

    I don't know if this is a forever relationship and maybe it's not, we never know. I just know that I have found a man who is also healing and part of that healing for both of us is the fact that I know how to love, laugh, cry and live. Death and the threat of death have taught me that we only get one chance to do this with each person in our lives. I am prepared to take that chance, even when the memories crowd the present and bring the tears. He is learning to understand that it's not him, it's life that brings both tears and happiness.