Thursday, March 26, 2015

Matters of Interpretation

It's been a busy week, and the highlight was a visit with my friend Margaret who flew in for a nice long weekend from her home in the Bay area. Her husband Dave, who was healthy and fit, died of a sudden, massive stroke at age 50 three months after Mike died, and she and I were put together by mutual friends and family who saw us both falling apart and thought we might benefit from a friendship. They were right.

We have a lot in common, being suddenly and unexpectedly widowed in middle age, and without our own children (I have two beautiful adult stepdaughters). When life throws you a curveball like this - well, having someone with which to share the burden of grief, who really gets what you're going through, can make all the difference. We spent those early days emailing, texting and chatting like mad, sobbing and laughing together nearly every day, and I went to meet her in SF when I was there to visit family the summer before last.

Then last year she flew out for Mike's first angelversary and the highlight was a manta adventure. Here in Kona the mantas feed right off the coast at night, when their briny dinner is around, and you can take a boat trip out to snorkel or dive with them. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen in my life, those gentle giants swooping gracefully within inches of us with their big, soulful eyes full of as much curiosity about us as we have about them. There were dozens of them out that night and it took our breath right out of our chests.

This year we decided to go zip lining. I don't much care for heights and I wondered why on earth the idea came to me, because when we finally got hooked up to that first line, for that first short 100 foot zip not far from the ground, my heart was in my throat. I was terrified and I thought - no way I can do this. But in that moment, I just decided to trust - what, the guide? God? My new adventure of life? Did I decide I had nothing to lose? Or maybe I'd already been in the scariest place I could be, losing Mike? I'm honestly not sure, but trust I did, so I took a big breath and pushed myself away from the tree. And guess what? I not only survived, but had the time of my life.

We zipped from tree to tree, going ever higher up in the enchanted and historic Hawaiian forest canopy; sometimes we walked across long rope bridges a hundred feet off the ground, which was also scary and exciting at the same time. The picture above is myself and Margaret on that last, long and wonderfully heart-pounding zip, over 1100 feet and in tandem. Looking back at that picture later we found it highly symbolic. The two of us, precariously zooming off into the unknown, side by side. It was another adventure I'll never forget.

The guides told us afterwards that the longest, fastest zip line in the world is in South Africa - it's a mile long and at the fastest point you go 100 miles per hour. Margaret and I just looked at each other, raised our eyebrows and smiled. Maybe, someday.

We talked a lot this time about signs, signposts, life changes, big decisions, new relationships and that big, scary wide-open question of our futures. As events and people come and go and we are faced with new challenges and opportunities, how to pay attention, how to interpret the possibilities, how to maintain a positive outlook when we've lost so much and feel so unsteady.

I had a conversation with my cousin last week too, she called for my birthday - we don't talk as much as we like since she lives abroad, and among other things she asked me about my new companion. Do I love him? She herself is in a new relationship after the long and difficult ending of her marriage, so she was curious how I was handling it all.

I had to pause at that question. Perhaps there is still a lingering feeling of guilt, as if I'm cheating on Mike, for admitting to deep feelings for another man. I tried to explain that yes, I do feel love for this new guy, but it's not the same love I had for Mike. Does that make sense? - I asked her. It's not as if it's less or more - it's just...different. The love I have for Mike is still here. He still has just as much room in my heart as he did when he was alive - I am still in love with my late husband, and I will always miss him to the deepest part of my soul, to the point of agonizing pain. But yes - how ever impossible it may seem, now there is indeed emotion for a new person in here too. It's just...different. It's a very tangled web. Hard to explain, I told her.

We are a family of musicians, having being raised studying classical piano and other instruments, so I could relate to the analogy she used to explain her understanding of my lack of words...she told me she recently went to a concert to hear a certain symphony she had played herself with an orchestra years ago, but this version, this interpretation of the music, was just so completely different. At first she was taken aback, but she ended up enjoying it just as much.

And so it is with new love, with new relationships, she suggested. It will never be the same love, the same experience, the same expectations...but it can still be good. Great, even.

When I was married to Mike I interpreted the world a certain way. I saw things through a lens we looked through together; through a particular focus we shared. But as time moves on I feel myself less and less able to see things that way. Without him around to help navigate, I've had to re-learn, or maybe re-determine, my own path, and how I see the world. Some days, I see it as horribly difficult, scary and torturous. Other days the sense of possibility and adventure leaves me breathless. And sometimes all those feelings seem to be around at the same time, all jumbled up. Maybe like the experience of that zip line with my friend Margaret.

Maybe, it's just a matter of interpretation.


  1. I absolutely loved this post. I understand your feeling about the zip lining as well. Four months after my husband died, I went zip lining with my son in Mexico. It was something that my husband would have done with my son and I would have found something else to do. I was terrified at first but I absolutely loved it. During the first zip line, I screamed out loud (although no one could hear me) "this one's for you". I felt so empowered. It was a very difficult trip to take so soon after my husband's death but the zip lining was the highlight of the entire trip.
    I also understand what you mean about still being in love with your late husband. It has now been 2 1/2 years since my husband died and I still love him. However, I have been thinking of dating again. Your post encourages me because you have shown that it is possible to continue to love the person that we have lost and still try for a new relationship. At least I hope so.

    1. Hi Ruthie. Thank you for your response - it's never easy to put these personal things out there but I always hope they are relatable. And hey well maybe there is something empowering about zip lining. Good way to think of it. Wishing you blessings and hugs.

  2. Stephanie,
    I always read widow's voice right before i go to bed. It's become a nightly ritual that i have and i have to say i soooooo needed this post tonight. Today marks the 2 year and 4 month mark for me. As i was leaving work today i was overcome with sadness about all that i have lost and i cried as soon as i got to my car. Like you, I am seeing someone and the feelings for him are different than what i felt and still feel for my late husband. I have lice for him, but then i feel guilty for that and on top of that i feel bad for my new man because i feel like he will never get my best. But your cousin makes a great can never be the same but perhaps in time it can still be great. I called my friend on my drive home and cried the whole way, which was about 30 minutes. She told me how proud she was of me, how strong she saw me and even cried with me. Sometimes i think that is what we have to do when it gets to be too much. Thanks for the post, it really helped with exactly what i was struggling with today. Tracy

    1. That should have said love for him...duh i need to proofread:( T

  3. Oh Tracy, I am glad for you that you have found a new companion, and totally share your grief at your loss. I am so, so sorry. It will always be there, it seems...and having a friend to talk to is so important. I'm glad you have that too. It means everything. And thank you for coming here to comment, it means ever so much. Hugs to you.