falling in love after losing one’s spouse

city in clouds

I “celebrated” the official end of the first year of widowhood, mourning or whatever one chooses to call it with lunch. I took a sick day and met my BFF for lunch at our favorite Mongolian grill.

It was a girly thing. The kind I don’t do anymore as my few girlfriends are scattered all over North America making lunch and window shopping dates a  bit hard to arrange. And being girly, all manner of girly things were discussed once she took my emotional temp for the day.

“How are you doing?” she’s a home health care nurse. Temp taking is second nature to her.

“Surprisingly fine, ” I said, though in retrospect it probably shouldn’t have been. The power of suggestion is strong and stronger when emotions are amped to the stratosphere, as mine were because I was an active member on a message board for widowed folk at the time. People in the first year or so were constantly bombarded with messages that probably led their emotions more than it helped them sort emotions out.

Being a nurse, the talk turned to the sinus infection I suspected I had and she applauded me for making an appointment for after our lunch with my doctor. I had a habit of trying to ride them out because they would supposedly peak and resolve themselves with OTC care – mine never did but I chalk that up to a run down immune system, among other things. I seldom run to the doctor for sinus now that I have discovered a few home remedies that I wish I’d had in my arsenal back then.

We talked kids and her husband, who was not stellar at the time until she turned the table and brought up Rob.

At that point, Rob and I had known each other a bit over a month. We were email pals and IM buddies. It was nice and though I recognized that he and I were quite compatible and scarily alike in more and more ways, I wasn’t inclined to pursue him. Mostly because he’d indicated that he was going to wait out his first year of widowhood before attempting to date and in some part because another widow at the message board where he and I had met stalked him for a while despite his point-blank refusal of her attentions. I liked Rob and didn’t want him to lump me into the same category with her.*

“I had a short note from him this morning,” I said.


“And what? We’re friends.” I said, and not for the first time. BFF suspected he had feelings for me from nearly the get-go.

“I like him and sure, I could go there, but it would have to be his idea. I won’t spoil our friendship by introducing romantic intentions. He’s too sweet and he wants to wait until after August to start dating. I respect that,” I said. “Besides, he lives in Canada and I live here. Logistically difficult at best.”

“He’s going to make a move, ” she said with that sage look of hers.

“I doubt it.”

I was home on the 24th too. Sinus infection. My new lease on work included taking sick days when I felt like crap and I did. I taught too many years with the idea that I had to drag myself in because I owed it to my students and employer, but as a 20 year veteran, I was finally over that. The only reward for dedication in education is nothing. Truly.

Dee was at preschool. She attended an all day Montessori school run by my school district and I was damn lucky to have gotten her a spot. Her teacher saw them for a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon. The rest of the time she was in the daycare that she’d been attending since she was seven weeks old. An awesome set-up that made the whole single mom thing far less of a hassle for me than it was for most.

After I’d dropped her off, I hit the Starbucks at the grocery near home. The young man had my drink started even as I walked in. He smiled and inquired after me, and I admitted I was playing a bit of hooky that day. He just laughed as I paid him. I stopped at the Chinese deli in the store for egg drop soup and rice. I lived off that because in spite of the removal of my gall bladder a couple of months earlier, I still couldn’t eat much. In fact, it’s only just recently that my ability to eat has started to return to normal.

Sipping chai and scanning my work email – because even sick there was work I could do and I could never completely shake my keener ways – I noted that my personal email had a new note from Rob.

It was long – even for him. And rambling. Even for him.

And it radiated with “I have something important to say”, so I began skimming until I hit a paragraph many paragraphs in that proved to be the big reveal.

He admitted having feelings for me that were more than friendly and proposed exploring them if I felt the same way.

That was four years ago today and though I write about this every year, it never loses its awesomeness. Nor its wonder. If I were ever to come to a point where I believed the universe had no meaning or that destiny was a fiction – I have only to remember this one day to set me right in my thinking again.

Rob’s modest proposal kicked off a whirlwind of long distance courtship that culminated with our meeting in Idaho Falls a month later and the rest, as they say, is history. One that we are still working on and is destined for the books, in my humble opinion.

*Every new widower who posted on the widow board was subject to her “attention”. It wasn’t the good natured banter that occurs in co-ed groups. It was predatory Gone with the Wind style. She fancied herself a southern belle and I always pictured her a cross between Suzanne Sugarbaker and Dolly Parton. In reality, she sported the biker chick look complete with a mullet on top.

Doki and Nabi meet, and Doki falls in love at ...

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Love at first sight takes less than a full second to occur.

A recent meta analysis study at Syracuse University discovered that the “infatuation” also known as “falling in love” trips the circuits in 12 areas of the brain and jump starts an overload of dopamine and adrenaline. It also unleashes bonding hormones. Powerful little buggers like oxytocin (which also plays a critical role in mother/baby bonding) and vasopressin.

It seems that infatuation is not to be lightly dismissed. Without it, there is no love.

The over-stimulated areas of the brain during the love first bloom are responsible as well for physical manifestations like heart palpitations and butterflies in the stomach.

Researchers didn’t mention whether or not people needed to be staring into each other’s eyes or making pupil contact across a crowded room, but my guess is that probably isn’t necessary.

Reading Rob’s words, via email and then IMing was enough to toggle my circuits. Perhaps it was some other life recall? Or just kindred spirits.

People still scoff at infatuation as though it were a lesser, inconsequential step in the process. All steps in the “falling in love” process are essential and none more so than the first steps.

Which take all of a fifth of a second.

Bruce Lee wall painting. Tbilisi, Georgia

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“Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.” – Bruce Lee


Rob has this saying that he uses to explain, qualify, quantify and generally achieve a zen state about nearly all things that are beyond his reach and control. “It is what it is.” I have to admit the path to Nirvana is not as cut and dried for me. I have a difficult time just leaving things alone even when all I can really do is worry about it.


Back in the last month or two before the first anniversary of Will’s death, I had this nagging feeling that something “wicked this way comes”. I called this feeling “the other shoe” as in “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. I am not unique in this anxiety ridden state of being. It’s common among the widowed. Common among most survivors of tragedy in general I would venture to guess. When you have lived through one of the worst things you could ever possibly imagine happening, no matter how fervently you hope for better days…..believe in their eventuality even…..you cannot help but fear the future a little. It hasn’t smiled too widely on your recent past after all. After a while I came to understand that this feeling I would get was nothing more than the grief alerting me to the passing of another milestone or “first” without Will. It was what it was, I guess. But even all these months later, and the ample opportunities life as provided for practice purposes, I am still not over the need to try and control circumstances through action. Pre-emption even when possible. I can’t let things just be what they are. I need to fix or explain or something. A side-effect of care-taking? Something inborn? My teacher side? I don’t know.


It’s turned me into something of a risk taker. Even while I was trying to shore up the crumbling sand castle that was my life, I was taking tremendous chances. Changing teaching assignments two years ago when I knew that the end was near for Will and I would be in a new situation without my established support network. Going back to get my masters when Will was first sick even. Tossing aside fair-weather friendships because I didn’t think their occasional help and support was worth the emotional strain. Completely changing the terms of my relationships with family and in-laws for much the same reason. The whole dating thing when I clearly wasn’t ready. And, of course, Rob – who turned out to be the least risky of all my leaps of faith.


I am asked all the time how I am feeling about leaving for Canada to be with Rob. Am I worried? Am I scared? Am I sure?


I worry about the details because that is who I am: a water rabbit. I am scared of crossing the border because Immigration is an authority unto itself. But, I have rarely been this sure of who I am, where I am going and what I want.


It is what it is. Just kick when you need to and punch when necessary.

Family arrangements in the US have become more...

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There is no new normal because, honestly, the whole idea of normal is highly subjective even under the best of circumstances which makes our former normal a matter of opinion really. Just as an example, for my four year old daughter old normal was a terminally ill father whose unresponsive shell she visited weekly at first in a nursing home, then in a hospice and finally in a cemetery where she would hug the grave marker good-bye before leaving. Now her normal is Daddy Will and Daddy Rob and two big sisters, one of whom she has yet to meet. This is normal to her. Even when she compares herself to her peers at the preschool she attends (and she does), she doesn’t see herself as different. Her friends have fathers and she does too. Her friends have older siblings and she does too. Her friends have DVD players in their cars, and now thanks to Daddy Rob, so does she. Four year old’s have their priorities straight and are shockingly practical.


Society fights a losing battle to norm itself, set standards and define optimal situations. While they seem to work for the majority of people, it doesn’t seem to be how the majority of people actually live. As another example, about a month ago a state trooper came into the high school where I teach to deliver a presentation to the students on the dangers of meeting people on the Internet. I sat as far back in the auditorium as I could, and I listened to the kids around me as they dismissed most of what the officer had to say as largely misinformed scare tactics, and although I don’t personally discount the possibility of predators on the net, I had to agree with the students. There are predators everywhere in real and virtual life. It is wise to know what signs to look for and to be careful when getting to know someone, but normal for most of the teens and young adults I know is meeting people via the Internet. Friends that you have never seen or talked to is no more unusual to them than the old concept of pen pals. Cyber introductions are similar to “friend of a friend” connections. I met Rob on a message board. In fifty-five days we are going to be married. In times gone by men and women met and got to know their potential mates via correspondence with their first face to face meetings often being their weddings. And that was normal. Twenty-five years ago my friends and I were meeting and dating young men we met at bars and frat parties. And that was normal, but I don’t remember any lectures on stranger danger from state troopers back then.


Normal is in the eye of the beholder. As my darling husband-to-be would say, “It is what it is,” which is a topic for another day.

"The Garden of Eden" by Lucas Cranac...

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Most married couples have this romantic expectation of spending eternity together. Buried side by side. Reuniting in heaven. It’s the kind of thing Hollywood makes movies about and Celine Dion warbles at us. But, what if there isn’t an eternity. No physical possibility of lying side by side. And heaven isn’t anymore real than the Garden of Eden?

Something I read on the YWBB got me thinking again about being buried. Someday. After I am dead. I have always maintained that my daughter should be the one to decide the final resting place of my earthly remains. Where I am will matter most to her after all. But, that was before Rob. Where I rest would matter to him as well now.

Dee’s father is buried in a little Catholic cemetery in a little town in Iowa where the bar that he played pool league out of is located. Will didn’t want his ashes scattered to the wind, even if I could have found a way to place him in the end zone at Heinz’s Stadium, because he didn’t want to be ashes. He wanted to be buried. He never specified where though he ruled out a few places most emphatically. Like Pella, where both of his parents are from and his father is buried. He hated Pella, and he didn’t much care for his father either. And Norwalk. The bedroom community he grew up in and considered a splat on the map for the most part – though I suspect he knew if he was buried too close to where his mother lived, she would cover his grave in death swag and bling. He loathed the idea of becoming a shrine like the ones you see along the side of the road.

Economically, a full burial was never an option I could promise him. It was partly luck that I learned of St. John’s and was able to afford to intern his ashes there. His name alone is on the headstone though there is room for mine, I suppose if I planned to stay in Iowa. But that was never the plan, even before Rob, I didn’t see myself here in another year or maybe two.

Will believed that a person’s soul went to heaven when he/she died. He believed that you met God. He told me once that he it would “suck” having to wait all those years for me because he knew I was going to be very old when I died. I told him not to worry that he would have my second husband to keep him company. He didn’t think that was funny, but I never could make him laugh. “You’re just not that funny, babe,” he used to tell me. Ironically, Rob holds much the same opinion of me.

I didn’t save any of Will’s cremains. I buried the container unopened. I literally buried it. With no money it was just me, Katy and the sexton standing over this little hole in the ground. The sexton, a very nice old man who had showed me his own plot the day I went to pick out Will’s, recited the “Our Father” and I placed the urn in the ground myself. I am a bit sorry now that I don’t have some of the ashes to take with me to Canada, but there is nothing to do about it now. As I told Rob when he asked, I am fairly certain there are laws against digging up your dead husband’s urn simply because you’re moving to another country, but to his credit, Rob offered to sneak out there with me under cover of darkness and help me dig Will up. Being arrested for unearthing my dead husband’s remains was not high on my bucket list, so I declined.

Truthfully, I feel only a sense of failure when I visit his grave anymore. It will actually be a relief not to feel obligated. In the beginning I went simply because it was something tangible to yell at or complain to or beg for help. Now it’s just a rock. He isn’t there. He was never there.

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I sent an email to my gentleman this morning. He told me last night that he had “fallen” for me and this morning I told him I felt that same way.

Why do I just want to cry now?

It’s nearly noon and I am still in my pajamas. I still love Will but I love R too. And it isn’t as if they conflict or even overlap. They don’t even run parallel. But, they do exist in the same space. I don’t even know what to compare this too. It is so outside of any reference frame I have.

People on the board have compared it to the love you have for your children. Different for each one but just as intense and special. But isn’t quite the same. You expect to have enough love for all your kids, you never expect to meet someone so amazingly wonderful that you would risk losing them forever….again. I have said that I don’t know if I could sit by a man’s side and watch him die, but I wouldn’t want R to be with anyone but me when that day comes. And between now and that far away day, I want to spend every minute I am allowed just being with him.

The first time I fell in love I was five years old. His name was Steve, and we were in Miss Smith’s morning kindergarten class together. A pixie of a boy, I can still picture him. He had these gorgeous brown eyes. The eyes have always had it in for me. Window to the soul perhaps, but my Achilles’ heel since day one. We played tag. He was the only boy I couldn’t catch. My other weak spot. A man who was unavailable.

I have long since stopped chasing men. If they don’t stop, it’s because they really aren’t that into you. But I haven’t yet managed to avoid being sucked in by a sexy set of peepers. And it’s not the color, the shape, or face they inhabit that make someone’s eyes so alluring.

The last pair of eyes to suck me in defied my ability to color code. The furtiveness of the glances made it difficult to catch them out. It was nice to be the object of a man’s interest again, but despite my best efforts since, it has gone nowhere, and I am disappointed. Read Full Article