moving on after the death of a spouse

I put this vid up on my FaceBook page today for Rob, my sweetly amazing husband.

It’s always been a favorite Valentine’s tune. Even before I met him.

But, I’d never seen the vid before and was a bit surprised by the headstone and rose at the end. However, it actually clarified something … for me anyway … because though now this song says “Rob” to me … once … it applied to Will, my late husband, and before him it was just a wish … attached to wind in hopes that one day the song would remind me of someone who loved me as much as I loved him.

The same song but three different me’s. Three very different times of my life. But still me at the core and sentiment of the song never changes even though I have and life, of course, has as well.

And to me, this is a reminder that living/loving in the moment is what truly matters.

Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950–1960

Image via Wikipedia

Sure I remember moments past/lost but I don’t live. Now is really all there is.

The heart is a surprisingly elastic and terribly practical organ with amazing capacity. To quote Shakespeare,

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Vector image of two human figures with hands i...

Image via Wikipedia

Blogging, Tweeting and FaceBooking  buddy, Abel Keogh, who is the author of Room for Two and The Third, has published a book on widowers and dating. Pretty much everything one would care to know from the perspective of a widower and women who’ve dated and married widowed men.

I haven’t read the entire book yet, but when I do, I will review it here. Until then, the introduction and first chapter are up on Abel’s blog and I encourage those of you looking for information on the subject to check it out.

Young widow, 1851

Image via Wikipedia

Although I rarely “widow” blog anymore, this blog attracts a fair number of the grief-stricken, who comb through the dead spouse tagged posts or even go back to the deepest corners of my archive and read every single post I wrote in the first two years. And I read griefy stuff here and there myself, mostly people with whom I am acquainted to one degree or another.

There is a blog called Widow’s Voice that showed a bit of promise in terms of balancing the diversity of grief experiences and I would read, comment if I felt inspired, but over time, the site went “party line” as it evolved into a business/career for some of the people involved.

And by party line, I mean it promotes the idea that widowhood is a borderline mental health issue that can be managed over the course of one’s life though never cured. It supports the idea that widowhood is a persona rather than the fact that it is merely one of the less fun life events that a person experiences, deals with before moving on to a hopefully more fun life event.

Recently, one of the bloggers wrote a piece on “getting it”. In widow speak, people who “get it” are those who understand that widowhood is forever and that it’s a delicate condition which should inspire your inner widow to bleed copious amounts of pity indiscriminately. It’s played off as empathy, naturally, but it’s pity – for yourself and the newly widowed – that’s really being promoted.

People who don’t “get it” are the non-widowed because how could they ever imagine such a thing, or begin to have the slightest glimmer of understanding, if they haven’t “been there” themselves? Don’t Get Its are likely to provide solutions and problem solve instead of  mindlessly drooling pity and acceptance of bat shit crazy actions or thoughts. Don’t Get Its are mainly uneducated – though this is rarely a good enough excuse to keep them from being scorned and ridiculed.

But the author of the post, someone I recall from my YWBB days with little fondness, wrote about – gasp – discovering that Don’t Get Its existed among the widowed. Shudder.

Not that she was making judgments. She clearly states –  That’s neither a negative nor a positive statement. It’s just an observation. My observation.

But a calculated and cutting one and then she goes on to clarify that the number of widow idiots is small though it apparently includes her widower boyfriend,* and that it’s mostly a phenomena of being years out and remarried.

The audacity of some of us. Letting time actually heal our wounds and then moving on. Hand the smelling salts to Aunt PittyPat.

I tried to leave a comment on the piece but the widow (not really as she is remarried too) screens her comments and doesn’t post ones that contradict the blog’s thing of “anything goes as long as its sufficiently brown-nosing and dripping with pity”.

Do I get it? In terms of being newly widowed and learning the ropes in the first year or so, I do. It’s brutal and people without support networks are more the norm than not in North American society, which makes it harder. We are also a death denying/fearing culture and this complicates matters.

But people who are farther along and still leading with their widow foot? I don’t get them at all. Why make loss and grief your identity? Why the need to solicit pity? Why blame every disappointment on the totally unrelated death of your spouse? Why still read between the lines of everything the people around you do or say and interpret it as a slap? Why feel sorry for the newly widowed and encourage them to take more time in the depths of grief than they normally would have but for your misguided “help”?

And frankly, I feel misunderstood and judged. Not a positive or negative? My ass.

It is the same old tripe message that implies that those of us who move on must not have had good marriages or loved our spouses.  And don’t get me started on the whole “soul mate thing”.  One widow’s comment on the post actually put forth the self-serving notion that people who move on never experienced real love. That their marriages were inferior and lacked the special magic that allows them to “get it”.  They were to be pitied.


If I am pragmatic, I must be unfeeling. If I don’t agree with coddling or condoning questionable mindsets or behaviors, I don’t get it.  If I think you are wrong, my marriage must have sucked.

But I do get it, all too well. I just don’t agree and that’s not the same thing at all.

If you want to make a living off your misfortune, you are hardly an anomaly. If you chose to work through your “issues” by pursuing a grief-related career, I’ve met more than a few people who’ve done just that. But don’t disingenuously smear those of us who’ve put our loved ones deaths into the perspective of our own lives and choose to rebuild off the cemetery. And don’t make assumptions about boots you haven’t walked in.

The only eyes we can actually see out of are our own. Myopic as they may be.

*Though she doesn’t  mention what he thinks about being lumped with those of us who clearly didn’t love our late spouses and/or had marriages of questionable soul-mate status.

Trusty Uhaul Truck

Image by Open Wheel via Flickr

The last tote was strapped to the topper of the Avalanche at about 7PM this evening. My best friend, Vicki, arrived with her youngest daughter and helped Rob and I load up the remaining items to be sold (or given away) into her van. The house was empty of everything but the few pieces of furniture that will go to my “niece” to furnish her new apartment next month. It was time to leave.




Time to say goodbye.


I went through the house alone. I had to close the garage door and leave the opener on the counter for the new owners. There were two openers. I think the other got packed. Next time we are hiring this packing crap done.


The last time the house was this empty was the day we moved in. Fours years ago in exactly two months from today. Four years ago. Katy was eleven months old. I was packing another house. Will was dying.

I can’t say that I will miss the house. I have said already it has few memories that one could call happy, and it was my prison for a long time. Still, it hurt to say goodbye. And it was silly really because like the hospice and the cemetery, Will was not there. I could hear him admonish me in a tone of voice that ranged somewhere between patience and exasperation, reminding me.


Outside and heading towards the truck and U-Haul with tears still streaming, Rob met me with an already sweat soggy shoulder and a strong, comforting embrace. Everything was still as it was a moment earlier and yet everything was all right as well.


Goodbye house. Goodbye Des Moines. But not goodbye to Will. After all, like Elvis, he had already left the building.

Wedding Dress For Happy Couple in Love

Image by via Flickr

On the morning of June 27th at just about this time in the morning, I will have been married for just a bit more than half a day. Rob and I remind ourselves often that time is too precious to wish away, but as I gear up for another week of separation I wish I owned a Toynbee Convector.


There is an old Ray Bradbury short story that I used to teach to my seventh graders back in the day. It is about a man who fakes a trip to the future in order to give the world hope of a better world to come. The faked proof he presents inspires people to go out and actually create the world he only imagined for them. I remind myself when I am feeling impatient and missing my love’s physical reassurance that what we are doing in our time apart is giving substance to our dreams.


You can’t build a future if you aren’t able to envision it in your mind’s eye.




He’s dead, Jim,” Dr. Leonard (Bones) McCoy (2227-?) chief medical officer on the starship, Enterprise

During the first year, when I was trapped by responsibilities I did as best I could to keep hopelessness at bay and anger to a minimum. But I longed to live life again. To be happy. To set goals and reach for them. To be out in the world and experience things again. Certainly I would have preferred to have had Will by my side, but that wasn’t the reality. He was gone, and I was still here.

Why do some of us see the world for the possibilities it holds for us as opposed to some sort of solitary confinement to be outlasted?

My husband’s dead. I don’t expect phone calls. He isn’t going to turn up in the kitchen one morning when I come down to get breakfast for my daughter. Although there are moments in the beginning when there is a Twilight Zone feel to this, I have a difficult time with widowed people who are further out than I am and still talking about grappling with the reality of their now. They talk about “diverting” themselves with projects and dating and getaways. How does one “divert” grief? It hangs on you like a too large coat, smothering you almost with its omnipresence. I guess what most annoys me about statements like these, and it is annoyance because I can’t empathizewith it  and it is for the rare one that I feel pity, is that they refer to life as a distraction. Living is a distraction? Reality is a time filler on the way to the grave?

Reunification seems to be the goal of many widowed people. While it is a nice thought, I am not so sure that it is the reality that awaits any of us when this life is over. I often have the feeling that Will is farther and farther away from me all the time, and that he is moving forward in much the same way that I have. A dear friend of Rob’s told him that he shouldn’t worry about the configurations of the next life in terms of our earth bound relations. The next plane is not bound by the rules that reign here. I don’t worry about it much myself, but I wonder how I could ever give Rob up. He is too precious and too much a part of me now.

A common question of the widowed is how do you make room in your heart to love another? There is a feeling that a broken heart is just not capable of being repaired to a point where this will be possible. The thing is, though, that your heart isn’t really broken. It still beats. It still feels and aches and has love to give. There is just no one to ease the ache or accept the love anymore. Fear is what holds us back from loving again at some point. Those who have trouble reconnecting with their ability to love and risk not being loved in return more than likely had difficulty with this before they married. I know that when I first tried to date I fell back into the bad relationship habits of my life before Will. It was as though I had forgotten everything I had learned from him and with him about relationships. It was only when I stepped back and acknowledged what I was doing and made an effort to put the lessons of my marriage into practice again that I found my footing and ultimately was able to build a relationship with Rob.

Often I hear widowed people say that though they are in a new relationship, or open to one, they will never love someone else as much as they loved their late spouse, or be loved as comparably. I just cringe. I love Rob as much as I ever loved Will, and I feel as loved as I have ever felt. Beyond that I can’t make any other comparisons. It is not possible and it’s not wise. “That was then and this is now.” Mark says that to Byron in the S.E. Hinton novel of the same now when he is asked why things can’t be the same between them. In the novel it is a rather cynical and very hard assessment of the reality experienced by these teen-aged characters. The two boys had survived hard childhoods and yet the severing of their near-familial relationship was one of the most difficult challenges either had faced yet. Life is hard sometimes, but reality must be acknowledged for what it is. Life is not static. It is ever changing, and it’s direction is only marginally ours to control.

I can’t imagine who I would be were it not for Will. I can’t imagine a future without Rob. My truths.

Sold it

Image by Mundoo via Flickr

Oprah hosted an episode recently that dealt with bereaved who weren’t able to get rid of their loved one’s things. The point that the experts made was that eventually closets need to be cleaned out and possessions are just “stuff” that needs to be given away or disposed of so one can “move on”. Someone on the YWBB posted about how they made it sound so very easy.


Of course it sounded easier on Oprah because, I would guess, not one of the people dispensing the advice had ever lost a spouse (or child). Anything is easy in theory.


I sold my house yesterday. It is the house Will and I bought together just weeks before he started to get very sick and less than two months before the doctors told us it was terminal. He only lived here a year and a half and suffered from dementia the entire time, so there really are no happy memories, but it is still a little sad. This is the house where Will and I had planned to raise Dee and a sibling. It represents all the dreams we had for the future. Our future. But that was not what was meant for him, or me, and all I can do now is hope that whatever it was he was supposed to do wherever he is, that he has as much love and happiness now as I do, and that someday our futures may cross again for a moment.


None of this is easy. And they are wrong when they call it “moving on”. You don’t do that really. You move forward because it is the only direction that time travels, and eventually you come to find that you are looking forward more than back and that there are things, people and places waiting for you up ahead. They won’t replace what you have lost, but they become new and special in their own right.


So, I have sold the house to a very nice young couple who were so excited at the mere thought of living here that they were nearly jumping up and down according to their realtor. That makes me happy.


I will see my new home in less than two weeks. I am not jumping up and down, mainly because I am too tired, but I am excited. Rob showed me the neighborhood on Google Earth the last time he was here. It already has a familiar feel to it. Enough that I already refer to it as home which has caused a bit of confusion.


Today Dee and I are going out to the cemetery to clean off Will’s headstone and place some flowers for Memorial Day. I am not sure when or if I will ever go back there. But like the house, it represents a path I am no longer on.