Sewing My Widowed Oats

Okay.

So let’s just do it.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about love and dating and sex.

Yeah, I said it.

Sex.

And widowhood.

Lets not forget widowhood.

I need to talk about this.

It’s time.

The first thing that I will say about this, is that each of us is completely different, when it comes to our feelings about love, dating, and sex – after becoming widowed. And often, those feelings change and shift, depending on our circumstances, or with the passing of time.

Some people start dating again right away. Other people wait a very long time. Some people choose not to date at all. Some of us use dating sites. Some of us meet people through friends, or by socializing and going out. Others leave it to chance or fate. All of us do these things in fear. All of us.

When it comes to love, some of us really want it again. Some of us don’t. Some of us might want it again, somewhere deep inside, but are too terrified or too heart-damaged to believe that it can happen. Some of us want to love again, but are so scared that our new love will end the same way our other one did – with them dying and us being left here to pick up the pieces. Again. Some people will close their hearts off forever, because they are so afraid of getting hurt. Some of us will open our hearts again and again, because we really don’t want to be alone for the rest of time. Some say they will love their person who died forever, and they will never love anyone else. Others say they will love their person forever, AND they would also like to love someone else. Some are doing a fragile dance, when it comes to love. A balancing act of shutting down and opening up. All of us are living and loving, or not loving, in fear. All of us.

When it comes to sex, everyone is different. Some can seperate sex from love, and enjoy the physical act of it. Some use sex just to feel something again – or to zone out from the pain of grief and feel nothing. Some find comfort in sex, because of the intimacy, the skin-to-skin touch with another human being. Some need to feel sexy or wanted or desired again.

Some of us turn off sex like a light switch, and don’t even think about it after our loss. Some of us feel sick to our stomachs or nauseous, at the very thought of anyone else who is not our dear husband, ever touching us again. Some seek out safe and fun “friends with benefits” situations, so they can have the intimacy without the worries of love creeping in. Some people don’t have sex or want sex again after their loss. Some people convince themselves they don’t need or want sex again after their loss. Some can practice “self love” and be content with that. Others have trouble doing that, because when they go there, they think about their husband, who is now dead, so it kind of kills the mood. Some people change their minds about sex, or their libidos want it eventually, even when their stubborn brain doesn’t. All of us are in fear. All of us.

Why do I feel the need to talk about all of this today, right now, in this moment? Because it’s time. Because I’m scared. Because Im lonely. Because I miss my husband every single moment. Because I know the reality that he is never coming back. Not ever. Because the fear of being alone forever, and never feeling great love again, is now greater than the fear of having my heart broken into tiny little piece that shatter into oblivion. Because humans need humans, and because nothing is worth much of anything, without love.

It will be 6 years this July, since my husband’s sudden death. Six years since the life I knew ended, and this uninvited one began. For almost four years after he died, I was one of those very people described above, who felt nauseous and sickened by the very idea of “someone else.” For four years, I did not date. I did not have sex. I did not have intimacy in any way. Self-love did nothing except make me depressed, because every time I tried, my heart would start thinking about being with my husband. The pain and the realness of him being dead, overwhelmed any “turned on” feelings, and I would stop. And then I would cry. For a long time, I didnt like it when anyone touched me. I hated being hugged. By friends, by family. By men. Im not sure why. It just made me feel sick. I wanted to be alone with the thoughts of my husband, and if I could no longer feel his hugs, then all hugs were nothing.

One day, for no real reason whatsoever, the nausea feeling I got from thinking of dating or “someone else,” turned into more of a neutral feeling. It was around that time that I began what turned into a beautiful friendship with a widower that used to know my husband, and contacted me after reading my blog. We got close. I felt connected. I felt a kinship and a bond with him. It felt like it was coming from my husband, like he wanted me to have this person in my life, so that we could help and support each other. I experienced my first “feelings” for someone – someone that wasn’t my husband. I had my first kiss. Held my first hand. Felt my first butterflies. Made my first mistakes. Did so many things wrong. Didnt know what I was doing.

Last summer, I had my very first relationship, post-loss. It was while still living in NY, and it was with another widower who I met on a dating site. We were together about 5 months or so, and he was my “first time” after my loss. Sleeping with a man, who wasnt my husband. I think it was made easier, and less weird, because he was also widowed, and understood the strangeness of sex for the first time after loss. This person ended up hurting me pretty badly, because I trusted him and he chose to throw that away and disrespect me in the way he ended things with us. My self-esteem took a hit, and my walls went back up, into protection mode.

Last month, I flew to Tampa for Camp Widow, and my heart was broken again, when I was blindsided by my dear widower friend not only refusing to see me again while I was in Florida, but by his non-response to my every attempt to contact him. This is the last time I will mention of him in my public writing, because even though he hasn’t spoken to me in months, I told him I would stop writing about him publicly, and so I will. I dont know what happened between us, why it fell apart. It breaks my heart into a billion pieces to speak of it, because I miss him every day. It feels like he is dead, because Im no longer allowed into his world. And I truly thought we were friends. I thought we were life-long friends. Im not giving up. I cant make him be my friend, but I can still have hope that he will reach out to me again, and that I can hear his voice, and sigh from the relief that I still know him. The ache in my heart from missing him, stabs with a dull pain, every day. I dont think that will ever go away.

When I returned from Tampa in mid-March, my heart was hurting. I had gone from talking with this person almost every single day, to nothing. And I didnt understand why. I still don’t. It just felt like yet another person who chose to leave me behind again. Another person who disappeared out of my life with no explanation, with me not having a say about it. I felt like I didnt matter enough to them, to deserve a conversation. It hurt. It still hurts. It will always, always hurt.

I got back on the dating sites, and soon after, met a great guy. We went on a couple dates, shared some really great moments, and have decided to keep things casual and always be friends. Soon after, I met another great guy. This time, everything happened fast, but it didn’t feel fast. It felt good. It felt right. We connected on many levels. We bonded over our different experiences in life with trauma and loss. He made me laugh. He brought me Easter lillies. We saw each other several times in just a few short weeks, because we simply loved spending time together. We had breakfast together at a mom and pop little local place, where everyone knew him. He cried in front of me while talking about his 2 sons being proud of him for a recent accomplishment. He lived on a farm. We kissed in a barn with donkeys and chickens watching. We kissed more on his couch in the dark. We got intimate, but not fully. But enough for me to care. Enough for me to feel very real feelings. I know he felt real feelings too.

He loved sunsets like I do. He made me feel safe, like my husband used to. He was a paramedic, just like my husband. The day his life changed forever and the day that my husband died, was the same day on the calendar. July 13th. There were so many signs that we were meant to connect with each other. I had never gotten closer with someone, in such a short period of time. We talked and texted all day long. We flirted and made each other feel good, all day long.

And then it was over. Just like that. He ended it with a text message, informing me that he was still in love with his ex-girlfriend, and that he was devoting all of his energy into a relationship with her. He wished me well in finding someone, and said I was a “good person.” Just 2 hours before that text, everything was normal. And then it was gone. It felt like a business letter. It felt like shit. I felt blindsided. Another death. Another person who brought me into their life, and then snatched away access. Another person who didnt choose me. Why do people keep leaving me? Why is my love either not enough, or too much? Why am I never the one?

Which brings me to today.

My heart has been shattered. Torn apart. Busted open and cracked and damaged.

Yet I still keep trying.

Because for me, I do not want to live a life with no more love.

I do not want to live a love-less life.

I do not want to live alone, or grow old alone, or die alone.

I want my next great love, and Im not stopping until I find it.

In the meantime, the heartbreak I went through in Tampa, led me to a new feeling. Its a feeling of courage. A feeling of taking risks, when it comes to men and dating. Its a feeling of “why the hell not?” The day before leaving Florida, I took a last minute boat tour of Tampa Bay. The co-captain on the boat was flirting with me, which I was completely unaware of, until my friends pointed it out. Upon learning of this, I went back and gave him my card. He called, admitted to the flirting, and we have been in touch ever since. He sends me pictures of the Florida sunsets, and we talk of maybe spending some time together the next time I make a trip down there. That wouldn’t have happened without my new brave attitude.

Lately, on the dating site I am using most often (Plenty of Fish), I have had an endless stream of men who are interested in meeting me, dating me, talking with me. Some are nice, others are weird, some are not for me, others might be. The point is, something has changed inside me, to where Im attracting people toward me. Im not sure what it is exactly, but it wasnt there before. Ive also been reaching out to guys on there, if I find them appealing or attractive. I never would have done that before, but now I figure, who the hell cares. What do I have to lose? Right now, Im talking with 2 potential future dates, and we will see what happens. Im trying like hell not to take anything too seriously, or too personally. Im trying to not get hurt, and the fact is, I will probably get hurt many more times. That’s life. Im terrified. Im lonely. Im ready.

And now, almost six years later, the same woman who didnt want anyone touching her or hugging her, is feeling incredibly sexual. (sorry, mom – if youre reading this) Maybe its the fact that I had zero intimacy for FIVE years after my husband died. That I waited five years before I slept with someone. Maybe its the fact that lately, I have had “some” intimacy, but it got stopped short for various reasons, before turning into intercourse level. Maybe its the fact that at age 45, my sex drive is through the roof, and I have nobody to share that with. I don’t know what it is, but I can tell you that while Im waiting for the next great love to appear in my life, Im having a lot of fun. It is not the kind of fun I ever wanted, because what I want, is for my husband to not be dead. But since thats never going to happen, there is a lighthearted and carefree release in flirting. Flirting and chatting and accepting words from men who want to call me sexy or beautiful, or who spend time talking with me online, or on a phone call, where we make each other feel really nice for awhile, and then continue on with our forever friendship. It is respectful, it is harmless, and it is very much necessary, when you have been starving for male companionship for so long.

A lot of this type of flirting, happens between widowed people. There is a special bond that exists between widowed men and women. Its a friendship, but its more than that. Its a deep understanding of all that is missing, when you lose your spouse or partner to death. The person who used to call you handsome or pretty. The person who used to cuddle with you. The person you said goodnight to, and good morning.

There are private, secret groups on social media, filled with widowed men and women. We talk. We flirt. Sometimes people find love with one another, and the rest of us cheer and applaud. But other times, men and women can provide some innocent flirtation in the middle of the night. Or some words of intimacy or comfort. I have many widower friends in this new life. Some are just friends. Others I have dated at some point, or maybe even just once. Some, I have an understanding with, that if we are both ever single at the same time, maybe we can spend some intimate time together, no strings attached. Some live in other parts of the country, and some live international. They are all special to me. They are like brothers, in a way. They are protective of me, they want good things for me. They know the pain. They know how hard it is to open your heart again. They know that not every non-widowed person understands the loneliness, the isolation, the judgment. They know, and so they become like anchors we can hold onto, until we find our way again. When one of us finds love, we send them off bitter sweetly, wishing for them, every good and beautiful thing.

I want to find love. Im here. Im ready. Im looking.

But until it finds me,

my heart has been damaged,

my wings are torn,

It hurts to fly.

There’s a lot of birds out there,

all trying to find their piece of the sky.

So until i find mine,

maybe I’ll just keep fluttering around,

and enjoying the view.

There’s really a lot of lovely birds up here.

The Duality of Widowhood

The definition of the word “duality” is as follows:

1. the quality or condition of being dual

2. an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something; a dualism. “the photographs capitalize on the dualities of lightness and dark, stillness and movement.”

I think it is more than safe to say that every widowed person understands the concept of duality. Maybe you didnt know the exact definition, or you weren’t sure what to call it, or it was maybe more subconscious than conscious in your own mind – but at just about every moment in time, some more elevated than others, widowed people are living and existing in a dual reality. The above definitions describe it perfectly. After all, what is grief and loss and widowhood, if not the duality of stillness and movement? Joy and pain? This life, and that other life?

When I started my blog 4 years ago about this tsunami of grief (I still refuse to call it a “journey”- it’s a tsunami, dammit!), there were many things I could have named it. My Husband Is Forever Dead came to mind. Or maybe Widowed at 39. Or lots of other things. But none of those fully encapsulated the concept and the very real truth that when your spouse or partner suddenly dies, you are not just losing and grieving a person. You haven’t “only” lost your husband to death. The truth is, while all loss is impossibly hard, the death of a partner or spouse is the only kind of death that literally affects EVERY SINGLE aspect of your life. There is no piece of your life that this loss does not touch or affect. Where/how you eat. Where you shop. Your living situation. Your finances. Your job. Your parenting (if you have kids). Your loss of the dream of a family (if you didnt get to have kids). Your friendships. (Some grow stronger. Some grow weaker. Lots disappear altogether. ) Your dreams. Goals. Desires. Your sex life. Love. Your daily habits. On and on and on …

When my partner died, I not only lost my husband, but I lost my best friend. My biggest fan and supporter in life. My teammate. My car and computer and everything-else repair-man. My kitty-cat co-parent. My lover. My home nurse who took care of me always. My “run to Wal-Mart at 2 am because my wife is out of printer ink and has a writing deadline in the morning” guy. My sounding board. My gentleman, who treated me with such kindness and respect. My helper. My resident dork who guaranteed that I laughed at his silly humor at least once a day, and who guaranteed that I always knew how he felt, and who called me beautiful at least once a day.

When you lose the person you thought you would spend the rest of your life with and grow old with, it is not just the loss of a person. It’s the loss of that life. Everything you planned. Your future that wont ever happen. Your past that now sits in only your memory bank. Memories that the two of you shared, and now there is noone to turn to and say: “Do you remember that time when we ….” Your day to day life, that was taken, stolen away by thieves. Everything. All of it. Gone, in one horrifying moment, when you know that his heart stopped beating, and that the life that you knew is no more. That is why my blog was appropriately titled: RIP The Life I Knew.

So, with a loss such as this, one that affects every fiber of your being forever, it becomes a part of you. They become a part of you. And there are moments, often actually, where the life you have right now and that other life, merge together on the strangest bumpy path, and you are left there to navigate. You are standing there, inside of it, and yet, none of it makes any sense. This is not a negative or a positive thing – most things aren’t. Its simply a thing that happens when the life you had and the life you have, begin to marry.

This feeling of duality begins to happen more and more, as time goes by, and as you begin to live your life instead of just existing. It happens right in those very moments of passionately living. It has happened to me quite a bit lately, and each time is no less strange or surprising than the last.

Having my first “time”, post-loss, (last July) and right in the middle of it, hearing my dead husband’s voice literally cheering me on and saying: “Yes! Good for you! You deserve this! Finally!”, in that hilarious way that he might teasingly say such a thing. And yet, somehow, being able to completely get lost in the feeling, 100%, and enjoy it’s every wonder.

Doing my TED talk last month, about my husband’s death, and about the power of sharing each other’s stories to keep the people we love alive, and knowing that my husband would be so damn proud of me in that moment. And then immediately wishing he were there to see my talk. And then realizing there wouldn’t BE a talk, if he wasn’t dead. And then crying in the backstage dressing room area, because he IS dead, and I just gave a talk on a big stage about him being dead. And then wishing he were there to give me my favorite yellow roses and lots of his amazing hugs. And then shaking my head in confusion, for the one hundred billionth time in the last 5 years, that Im really, actually, truly a widow, and that my husband really did collapse and die. That was a thing that actually happened. And then laughing at how ridiculous and all over the place the inside of my brain can be.

Last Sunday. Standing in the kitchen of my parent’s house, which is not the same kitchen and not the same house that they lived in 5 years ago, in that life where my husband wasn’t dead and where my parents still had their home in Groton of over 45 years. Standing there, in a daze, as if frozen, as my date rang our doorbell. Watching as my mom answered the door, because I was too paralyzed by my fog to handle that task, and invited him inside. Giving him an awkward hello with a half-glance in his direction, as I accepted the beautiful Easter lilies he brought for me. Somehow not comprehending that they were, in fact, for me, and not for some other confused widow. Retreating back to the corner of the kitchen, hiding myself without realizing it, as this man who I was meeting for the first time, and who was about to take me out on a lunch date, had a conversation with my parents. Hearing only snippets of that conversation, but also not hearing anything at all. Noticing that sounds and words were happening, but being stuck in that duality of this life/that life. Looking right through the three of them, and into the television set, while thinking to myself every bit of this:

“Who is this man standing here talking to my parents? How did I end up here, on a first date, at age 45, living with mom and dad in fucking Fitchburg, Massachusetts? Who lives in Fitchburg? Just a few years ago, my husband was talking to my mom and dad, and I was happily and newly married. How is this happening? Is this real? What are they talking about, anyway? I think I heard something about Cape Cod. That’s where we honeymooned. The best week of my life. This man in my kitchen seems familiar to me, and I cant figure out why. I feel like I have met him somewhere, somehow. Is that possible? Thats probably not possible. Maybe its just because he’s a fellow paramedic, like Don was. Why do you keep putting EMS guys in my life, Don? Whatever message youre trying to send me with that, I GET IT! You can stop now with the EMS theme. He seems to be getting along with my parents really nicely. How long have we been standing here? It feels like a long time. Should I say something? He seems really genuine and really sweet. I like him already. I feel like Don would like him too. I wish he could somehow know Don, or that Don could somehow meet him, and know that Im hanging out with a truly good guy today. Maybe he DOES know. Maybe he is the one who is making all this happen. I hope he knows. Im excited to spend time with this person. But Im also not going to get carried away in my head. Its just a date. Stop overthinking everything. Okay, my sweet dead husband, let’s do this. We can do this. Hopefully he won’t run away screaming after being held hostage by the shit that goes on in my brain. He’s cute. I feel myself smiling around him, even just on the phone or in text. Im going to shut up now, and try like hell to just be in the moment. ”

This life, and that life. Merging together, as if stuck in traffic and down to one lane. Co-existing in the same space. The past. The future. The now. Like my friend Michele says about widowed life: “Finding a way to blend what was, with what is, with what will be.” A tapestry. Chaotic and calm. Tranquil and stormy. Heartbreaking and joyous. Death and life.

Living the life I have now, and being excited and hopeful about it ….

While always acknowledging and honoring, and yes, always missing,

that life I used to know.

They can breathe together.

They can marinate.

Everything is connected.

The joy. The grief. The hurt. The death. The love.

All of it.

Together.

Sometimes, in the same, complex and wonderful second.

Ain’t life a beautiful thing?