It wasn’t even two weeks after my husband died leaving me with a newborn and twin two-year olds that the comments starting rolling in: “You’re so young, you’ll find another dad for your kids.” “You’ll find someone else,” someone even told me, “All you need is a one-night stand.”
Now, four years later, I still hear advice and promptings encouraging me to date and “find someone.” Although, the only thing that was missing, was anyone actually asking me what I wanted in my life and if I was ready or not, I didn’t give myself permission to explore that and to appease friends, and albeit my own curiosity, I signed up for the dating sites. I went on more than a dozen dates and it was all just “meh.”
Why? What was wrong with me that I just wasn’t interested in meeting someone and starting a romantic relationship? I had done a lot of hard grief-work, I had processed and reconciled my grief with my late husband, and while I miss him every day, I’m not pining after a dead man. I know he’s not coming back, I know he’s not here, and I know there’s no replacing the man that took up so much of my heart–sounds harsh, but it’s something I had to be blunt with myself about. I figured out why I felt so disconnected with the dating process and it, for the most part, had nothing to do with my late husband. I had spent SO much time and energy on processing the loss of my husband, going ALL the way back to when he was still living. Because he died from cancer, I grieved the loss of him before he even died as a little part of him faded away every day. As a cancer caregiver and then becoming a widowed parents, the last person on the “care” list was myself. I was so busy keeping everyone else alive, I didn’t realize I was fading away too. My vitality. My motivation. My love for and acceptance of myself. I was so used to being a part of a pair, that when he died, I completely lost myself. One of the most common phrases I hear from other widows and widowers is “I feel like I died too.” I said it too, I felt that too, but the truth is, I didn’t. I didn’t die, instead I got lost. I got lost in the tangled mess of cancer, death, and trying to navigate parenting on my own, throw “You should date and find another dad for your kids into the mix”…well that just threw me even further off-course.
What I’ve finally realized I had a broken heart, but I wasn’t broken. The scars left from the pain of losing my husband will always be there and no amount of moving forward would ever equate to forgetting, but the gaping wound has since healed and those scars are what remains, but they don’t define who I am. I define who I am and that’s why I deleted the dating apps, because I didn’t know who I was. So I’ll repeat, dating, one-night stands, friends with benefits, won’t fix you, because you’re not broken.
My late husband and I didn’t talk about death even when he was dying, but I do remember a moment when I was so exhausted, so poured out, so beside myself with heartache that I fell to my knees at his bedside one night, weeping into his shoulder as he held me. He told me, “Nothing around you can make you happy. I can’t make you happy. No one else can make you happy. You have to find it in yourself. You have to find it above, in God.” I know, it probably sounds like a Hallmark card, but that’s one of the final conversations I remember having with him and it’s stuck with me since. Stuck with me so much that I knew, deep inside, when I felt the itch to start dating because other widows I knew started dating, or because someone told me the Bible tells me I should find someone else, or because my friends want to set me up with someone, or just because I’m so damn tired of feeling lonely and going to be alone, that I knew that I was doing it for the wrong reasons (my own personal reasons).
Finding someone, for sure, can compliment your life, he or she can add to it abundantly, but using it as a distraction, or a band-aid to the wounds that haven’t been attended to just won’t work. Putting the responsibility on someone else to fix you, rescue you or make you happy isn’t a fair expectation to put on him or her, and it shortchanges yourself. Rather, looking at it to fill a void or to complete something that is allegedly incomplete, might end up in more heartbreak.
There isn’t limited space in our hearts for love, if that was true, no one would have multiple children. Instead, if I allow it, my heart can expand, but it starts with loving myself. I’m not waiting for anyone to rescue me, to fix my broken life, because I refuse to believe either. I don’t need to be rescued and I’m not broken. I don’t need to be set up with yet another man, because I need to make time for myself, to get to know the woman who carried and delivered three lives, the woman who held her husband’s hand through sickness and in health ‘til death parted us. The woman who fought to see the light when darkness closed in. The woman who persists and continues to conquer the darkest days in order to be whole and healthy for not only her children and others, but for herself. If I can’t look in the mirror and see that woman, to love and accept her, I can’t expect anyone else to either. I’m not out to “find” a man, I’m finding myself, fully trusting that my future love is waiting, we just haven’t met yet. In the meantime, I’m getting to know myself.