Sex and Dating for Widows

As a widow I have learned many things, but none more important than the things I have learned about myself. I once lived as if I had all the time in the world to get it right. I was insecure in a thousand ways and I didn’t understand what it meant to be kind to myself, to go easy on myself, and to own who I am. I have a wonderful group of young widows, they are some of my dearest friends. Most of my ladies have children and are learning to do it all. We have recently started into the discussion of dating. Some of us are dating, some of us aren’t ready yet. But all of us have agreed that there is one thing no woman, widowed or not, should have to go without… Sex.

All of us have found ourselves in a precarious situation. We were all married (whether by formal title or otherwise) and we had all been quite happy to leave the dating world behind. None of us expected to find ourselves back here, but here we are. A group of widows talking about dating and sex. This is, by the way, a conversation that I would not have expected myself to talk about publicly. Despite my writings, I am a fairly private person. But this is important. So I am talking about it. We are all human, we were all married, and all of us love our husbands and wives more than I can express right here. But we also need to live, and to our collective dismay, this means dating.

I met my husband 8 years ago, which means it has been 8 years since I have dated a new person. I am not looking forward to starting this whole thing again. The last time I dated I was 23, single, and I was just looking for a good time. Now I’m 31 and raising a small child alone. Eventually, this will complicate the dating scene when I am looking for a serious connection with someone that I want to allow my child to meet. But right now, the complication is a pretty simple one – getting a night out!

A night out without my child is not as easy as it sounds. I need to find and secure a babysitter, then I need to pay the babysitter. Nights out are not cheap! And I have only one babysitter; and she has a job, other families she sits for, and a life of her own. This means when I go out, I make sure it is worth it! It is absolutely worth going out with my girls, we have a fabulous night each time. But now I’m thinking about dating again. Dating means taking the risk that the one rare night out this month may end up a complete dud, and the babysitter costs the same no matter how my night turns out. On top of that, I don’t actually know what I’m really looking for, or what the hell I’m doing! Do I want a relationship or just a good time? Am I ok with getting hurt if I put more on the line than I should have? Can I manage to keep my expectations reasonable? Am I looking for my husband in places that I won’t find him? And what about sex? I have been married since I last had sex with a new person. I donated a kidney and had a child. I have stretch marks and scars, and I am not as small and fit as I was the last time I was out dating. And, as if that weren’t enough, I have a small child and that alone narrows the market.

I don’t have any answers about this topic. (If you do please, for the love of all that is good in the world, please share them!) I am just starting to think about all of this. I imagine that dating is hard for any single parent, but for a young widow it seems like such a big and complicated part of life. And yet, that is what it is… part of life. It is part of learning to live again. Our loves want us to be happy, and yet it feels so lonely without the ones we 0nce married and loved and dedicated our lives to. Life is for the living, so I intend to live, and play, and have fun, and be happy. I won’t be happy without my husband. Instead, I will be happy with him in my life and in my heart. But he is not in my bed anymore, and I am just as human as anyone else. So after a year and a half, I think I am ready to go out and have some fun. If I am lucky, I will eventually find someone that I will introduce to my daughter. But in the meantime; I intend to be human, have fun, and start to live again.

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I Went to a Funeral, and I Never Went Home

I recently read an article that hit me from the very title, You went to a funeral and then you went home. I hadn’t even finished reading it before I started typing away…

When my husband died, I was so grateful for the love and support that I received from friends, family, coworkers… Everyone. I have never felt anything but love and gratitude, and even a little bit of peace, from all of it. So many people came to the funeral, and it was beautiful. They spoke, told stories, made fun of his flip flops and terrible golf game. We laughed and cried, it was perfect.

And then everyone went home. Everyone except me.

I never felt as though I went home from that funeral. He was my home, I felt homeless. I was a wife without a husband, a left without a right. I will never forget how strange my house suddenly felt without him. It went from a home to a house. My life was upside down and backwards, and it felt oddly like a prosthetic life. It was mine, I knew it was mine because when I opened my eyes there it was. But it didn’t feel like mine, it didn’t look like mine, it didn’t move when I told it to move. It wasn’t mine, but it is what I was left with after mine was ripped away.

I never went home from my husband’s funeral. Not to the home that I once knew. Instead I had to learn how to build a whole new home from the scraps of the old. I’m still building, I’m still scraping, but now I have a home again. It is a smaller home, a more humble home, but within the walls of this home I now live in is an echo of the home I once knew. And though it is not the same, there is something warm and comforting within these walls that comes from knowing what I had within the old walls of that home that I once had. The home that I lost the day my husband died.

The life I had started with him ended before I had the chance to settle into it. I miss what was, but more than that I miss what could have been. I miss the life that I was supposed to have. I miss the anniversaries that I will never have with him. I miss the children we will never have. I miss the years of bickering, compromising, laughing, playing. I miss arguing about his ridiculous drive to his barber every two weeks when he could be helping me with the baby. I miss the inside jokes about the cat that will fall flat with any other audience. I miss hearing about his day at work. I miss texting him all day long about every little thing in my day. I miss his jokes. I miss his laugh. I miss the sound of his voice when he’d tell me he loves me. I miss him.

So to everyone who came to his funeral and then went home, I am glad you came. I am glad you were there for me. I am glad you were there for him. I am grateful for all of it. I struggle to find the words to tell you how much you have done for me by being there for him, and then me. And I hope that you never stand in my shoes. What I want is for you to be grateful for what you have. Honor what I have lost by being grateful for what you have. Love completely, fight less often, find more opportunities to show compassion and love to someone who needs it. Look at your families and know that there is someone out there who is missing theirs. You went to a funeral and then you went home. Don’t take that for granted.

Widowed Parenting: Struggle is not a strong enough word

In many ways I have been struggling as a single parent and as a widow. Lately, however, it has seemed to be exceptionally difficult. My daughter, our daughter, is two and a half years old now. My husband, Matt, and I always joked about the fact that, as two of the most hard-headed people we knew, we were in for it! I am so glad I knew it was coming. I don’t know if it helps, I don’t know if I am handling anything better than I would have if this were a complete shock to me, but I did know what was coming. 

Rather, I thought I knew what was coming. 

This is hard, and there is no handbook. No cheat sheet sheet. No guide to parenting at all. And while I struggle to get this parenting thing right, as we all do, I also struggle to do it all myself. Dishes need cleaning, laundry needs folding. Elsa Barbie is missing (the toddler will just die if not found in the next 240 seconds!). Shop for groceries, cook the dinner, change the lightbulbs, feed the cats, walk the dog, clean the house! It’s just so much, and it’s never ending. This is parenting. Parenting is hard no matter your circumstances. But there is something different about widowed parenting. There is a loneliness and longing that makes every decision hurt to the bones, and in ways I had never imagined I could hurt. And every time my two-year-old has a tantrum over something that I struggle to  handle, I am suddenly utterly aware that I  have no husband to turn to. Because he is gone. Her daddy, my husband, is gone. And it is so hard to do this without him. Wondering what am I doing? Am I doing this right? What would he say right now about how I am handling myself? What would he suggest to me if I could tell him about my struggles and hear him talk back? 

Losing my husband is the hardest thing I have ever gone through, and the hardest thing that I hope I will ever have to handle. There is only one thing more unimaginable, and I dare not say it. When I married my husband we had our whole lives ahead of us, to make plans, to make babies, to settle into our life together. We had a lifetime to figure everything out. And if I could go back, knowing what I know now, I would do it all again. Time and time again. But I am glad that I didn’t know, because who knows what decisions we would have made. I am glad I didn’t know. The idea that I once lived my life with him as if we had an endless road together… I miss that. How perfect it would be to go back to a moment where our time together was just beginning. 

We were married less than three years when I lost him. We had been through so much in such a short period of time. He had been through dialysis, I had given him one of my kidneys, we had a beautiful baby girl, and we were trying for another. And then one night he went out to pick up dinner and never made it home. I was widowed at 29. My daughter lost her daddy at 13 months old. She will never have a memory of her own. She will never dance with him at the father/daughter dance, he will never coach her soccer team or help her with her homework, he will never walk her down the aisle when she is lucky enough to find the kind of love that I found with him. 

I have struggled with WHY for a year and a half now. I will continue to ask, and I know that I will never have an answer. But I have recently decided that maybe it is possible that I wasn’t meant to have Matt for very long. Maybe he came into my life to give me a child. Maybe it is her that I am meant to have. I know that I will never have an answer to such an unthinkable question, but sometimes it brings me comfort to think that maybe he came into my life to make me a mother. And even though the idea of losing him still brings me to my knees, still breaks me down and shatters me over and over again, I am at least able to pick myself back up each time knowing that yes it is true that I lost him, but I had him! Even if only for a fraction of a lifetime. And even though the life I had chosen is gone, in its place is a life that he will always be a part of. I’m still learning how to do all of this; how to be a single mother, how to be a widow. It’s a lot to take on, it’s a lot to handle. There is no one lonelier than a widow. 

But the sun still rises, the tides still change, the moon and the stars still find their way to me when it is dark. So I still live. And I believe now, more than ever, that the most important thing that has ever been given to me is love. So in the wake of my husbands death I did not harden, I became softer, gentler, more willing to open my heart and let others see me. Because my husband saw me, and he loved me. And I don’t want to live the rest of my life without that kind of love.

I struggle to raise a toddler on my own. I struggle knowing that I am not just caring for a child, I’m raising a young woman who will one day make a mark of her own on the world. I want her to be proud of who she is, proud of what she will have done with her life, and proud of where she came from. I want her to be proud of her daddy, because he is someone to be proud of. I can’t fail her in this regard because I can’t fail him. He was the love of my life and he matters. He will always matter, he is her dad. He is my husband. And though I will have to, in time, live a new life that is separate from the one I once knew, the one I struggle to let go of, I will never live my life without him. He gave me her. He gave me everything. He changed my world, he left his mark. And no matter how much I struggle to keep it together (or how many texts my dear friends get when I’m not sure that both my daughter and I will make it through this next tantrum alive!) I know in my heart how much I have, because I know how much I have lost.

I love my husband. I love my daughter. One day I will love the life that I live now, even though it is not the life I had chosen. I will start by being grateful for the life that I have, and for the life that I once had. He is always here in this new life with me. He is in her. There is no more perfect thing than that.

Something Worse Than the Empty Chair

My heart broke again today. For the hundredth time in the hundredth way, it broke. On a typical morning of a typical family vacation, I fixed my daughter breakfast in the kitchen while my cousin’s husband sat at the table in front of his laptop across from my dad, who also sat in front of his laptop. The two men sitting normally at the breakfast table getting in a little work before relaxing for the day. What a normal sight. Two wonderful people whom I love dearly. And as I looked at them my heart cried. I kept a smile on my face but inside I was screaming. Because that should be my husband sitting in that chair across from my dad. Silently doing the little bit of work that he has to do in order to feel justified to be away from his laptop. That should be my husband in the kitchen on this family vacation. But my husband died. He will never again sit at that table.

I didn’t know this a year ago, but there is something worse than the empty chair at the table. What’s worse is having that chair removed. What’s worse is being the only one in the room who knows how empty that chair is. I have spent a lot of time now learning to be a widow. It’s not easy. I’ve learned to put a smile on my face when my heart is screaming. I wish I could say that I don’t need to do that. I wish I could say that when it hurts I could just say it. But lives have gone on, even mine. But mine is not the same. My life will never be the same, nor would I want it to be.

I cry and it hurts. But I don’t want to stop crying, I don’t want it to stop hurting. Because if that stopped then I would stop feeling. The one thing I never want to do is stop feeling, because his love is always there with me. That’s why this hurts so bad. So I guess what I have to do now is keep doing this. Keep smiling, keep living, keep loving… And sometimes smile when my heart is screaming. Because life did not go on for him, but it goes on for them. And as broken as I am that he does not sit at the table with them, they are at the table. And it is ok that I have to remind myself to be grateful for that, as long as I remain grateful. As long as I remember to be grateful.

Life is short. Life is hard. Life is beautiful. Keep going even when it barely seems worth it. It won’t get easier, it won’t get longer, but it will get more beautiful if you insist on making it beautiful.

The Second Year is not Harder, it is Different

They say the second year is harder than the first. In the first year you have to go through all the firsts. The first Christmas, first anniversary, the first birthdays. For the first time, you have to “celebrate” the first of every occasion that you will live without them. These firsts are a big deal and they weigh very heavily on the ones who are left here to grieve. It is so hard to get through those moments that are supposed to be happy and hopeful. But as hard as those specific days are, what is even harder is watching the “everyday” pile up, one after another after another. The firsts are so hard, because it feels like the rest of the world gets to celebrate the fact that they have what you are supposed to have, while you are left with emptiness.

I am in my second year. In my first year, I heard that the second year was harder. I will be honest, hearing that made me want to die. I couldn’t bear the idea that it only gets worse when what I was already feeling was too much to bear. I was left with the feeling that this was my life now. The unbearable pain, the stones in my chest. I had this dreadful fear that happiness was behind me and all I had left was pain and despair. It was suffocating. There were times when I couldn’t breathe. I was told a hundred different times in a hundred different ways to look forward and leave the past in the past. I’m sure these words were been pretty easy to say but they were irrelevant to my life, because overtime I looked forward, it would suffocate me.

The second year is different. In the first year it is hard to wrap your head around deep loss. The first year is foggy and much of it is spent almost in a daze. But what happens is that eventually the reality sinks in. It takes a lot longer than you would expect it to. For me, it was around 10-11 months after losing my husband. For me it sank in around the holidays. It was this sudden full body “realization” that he was gone forever. That he was never coming back. That the last words I would ever hear from him had already been spoken. That there will never be another memory to make with him. There will never again be another new moment with him. I think I spent a month on my knees, my body felt so heavy it was as if I were filled with stones. For me, it was the moment that it sunk in that was the hardest and most painful.

The second year has been a different type of hard. The first year is when you go through your firsts, but the second year is when you start to learn how to live this new life. For grievers, time becomes quite simple. There is the before and after. The old life and the new life. The second year of the new life is hard, there is no doubt about that. But the pain no longer flows through your body the way it used to. Yes, there is pain. I believe I will always yearn for my husband and it will always hurt to know that he should be here, but he’s not. But the pain used to flow through my veins like blood. Every waking moment hurt, even when I tried to be happy and “normal”. The pain is no longer in my veins. I have replaced the pain with gratitude. I am grateful every second of every day for the time that I had with him, and for his daughter. With every breath I take I am grateful that he is a part of my life. I am better for having known him. The pain in the second year is different. There is no more wishing, no more what if’s, no more hoping that any moment now I will wake up from this terrible dream. It hurts beyond belief when that sinks in. When you realize this is not a dream and you won’t wake up… this is your life now. When that sinks in the pain will bring you to your knees. But then eventually you will stand up and start walking. Walking towards whatever may come in this new life.

Gratitude is what propels me forward. Gratitude is how I keep moving forward. Gratitude is how I look my daughter in the eyes every single day and thank God that she is just like her daddy. Gratitude is really all I have right now, and it keeps me going. What keeps you going?

Leaning Into Pain

I want to talk about pain. Grief and pain go hand in hand, because grief is painful. Grief hurts. There are different types of grief, different ways in which we grieve, and the ways in which we experience our own grief struggles can be very much the same and vastly different, sometimes at the same time. But the one thing that is the same for all of us is pain.

In the beginning there is only pain. In the beginning, there is this numbness that is hard to recognize. I remember wondering, how can I be numb when the pain is so debilitating? When others who have gone through this type of deep loss would tell me I am still numb, I didn’t understand how that could be true. It wasn’t until much later when I understood what they meant. This loss is too much to handle. This loss will eat you alive if you don’t face it head on. I found various outlets to discuss and learn about my grief. I found a Young Widows group in my local community. I found an amazing therapist to help me through my personal struggles. And I turned to social media. All of these outlets are still part of my process. I still go to group, I will continue to see my therapist, and I absolutely lean on social media for community. The truth is, this struggle is beyond difficult, and it is lonelier than I ever knew lonely could feel. This is hard and we can’t go it alone. We shouldn’t go it alone.

And yet, we feel so alone, as if no one really understands what we are going through. Often times that can be true. Our family and friends want to help, but they haven’t been here and all they know are the five stages of grief and they want to patch it up and make us feel better, but a bandaid can’t fix this. This pain, this reality, this brokenness… it can’t be fixed. No one can fix this problem, because that’s not how death works. So we spend so much time hearing so many platitudes over and over again:

You’re so strong. (my personal favorite)
God never gives you more than you can handle.
Everything happens for a reason.
At least (s)he isn’t in pain anymore.
He/she is in a better place.
Time heals all wounds.

There are plenty more, these are just the ones that come to my mind right now. We hear it all so often that it makes us crazy! After a while, we try to smile and nod but the anger builds until we want to scream. We know that people mean well, but none of it helps and sometimes it only hurts. So what does help? What helps is a listening ear. What helps is to be heard, truly listened to. What helps is empathy, not sympathy. What helps is to tell me that you haven’t been there, you don’t know how I feel, but you are listening. We all need community. Those who know this pain need to find those who have been through this pain. We need to guide each other.

My healing was shaped by many things, but a man named Benjamin Allen wrote something that resonated so deeply that it really helped to shape my healing process. He wrote, “I had to find a way to let my sorrow flow. I had to lean into my pain and give it expression or in my resistance I would have been totally overtaken and destroyed.” This was so powerful to me. He wrote many times about leaning into the pain, and so that is what I did. I leaned into the pain. After I put my one year old to bed at night I would go into my living room and turn on the music that took me to that deeply painful place and I would lean into the darkness and allow myself to feel destroyed. I would force my body to go into that place where only pain exists and I would cry, I would scream, I would hate the world and everything in it. I would lean into that darkness where only pain exists, and in it I would find love. I learned to find comfort in the pain, until eventually I would go to that painful place just to feel that love, the love of my husband, the love we shared that had been stolen away.

What I learned, in time, is that by feeling that pain so deeply and completely, I also learned to feel connected to my husband, and to myself. I understand that by leaning into the pain, the way that I did, I left my friends and family concerned for a while. That was OK with me because I needed to do it for me. I felt as though I could come out of that really dark place anytime, but if I never went in I would live in a gloomy gray world. I did not and do not want to live in grayness. I do not want to survive. I want to live. I want to be happy. I want to live among the birds and the butterflies, in the place where my daughter can believe that unicorns are real. I want to live in the sunshine. So I forced myself into the dark to do my healing. I found that the only place I could heal was in the dark. At first, anyway. I eventually made my way out into the light.

Now, I still go into the dark from time to time. I need to go there sometimes. I am now much better at finding my husband in the light than I used to be, but sometimes I still find it easier to find him in the dark. This is not a short journey. I am a year and three months into it, and I do believe this will be a lifelong journey. But I do not want it to be a lifelong struggle. I never struggled with what my husband would want for me. I was 29 when I lost him, I have so much more life to live. And from the moment he passed, I knew that the only thing he wanted for me and our daughter is happiness. I was beyond lucky to have had him for even the short time that I had him for. Now, my daughter and I are his legacy. We continue his life by living our lives in his honor. This is what I want from the both of us. This is why I am sharing my journey with you. I need his life to mean something that is bigger than him and bigger than me. I don’t know what that means right now, but I am working on it. And in the meantime I hope to be able to shape someone else’s journey the way Benjamin Allen shaped mine.

When Things Are All You Have Left

Today I lost my husband’s wedding ring. I am grieving this loss and reliving the moment when I lost him. That ring is not just a ring to me. If I had lost my husbands wedding band and he were still alive I would feel awful, but it would be just a ring. A very special ring, but just a ring. But he’s not here and it’s not just a ring. It’s one of the few things I have left of him. It wasn’t just a ring. It isn’t just a ring. There will never be another ring to be worn on his finger. That ring was his. He wore it every single day since the day we were married. Two years, nine months, eight days. He wore it every single day, I don’t think he ever took it off. And since the day of his funeral when the ring was returned to me, I wore it on my finger. Every single day since it was given to me. I never took it off. I played with it on my finger a lot, but I never took it off. And now today it is gone. And it’s like losing him all over again. It gave me comfort to wear his ring. It was like I was carrying a part of him with me. Kind of like a security blanket, I just knew that having that ring kept him with me in some way. And I know that most people will tell me that he is with me with or without the ring, but those people don’t know. When you lose someone, when the person you love dies, all you have left of them in the physical world is their things. And maybe one day it will become true that I don’t need his physical things, but right now I still do. Because the physical world is the only place that we, as people, are experienced in living. And when someone you love dies, when the person you shared your life and your world with is gone… You suddenly find yourself holding onto them in ways that even you can’t understand. And it takes practice. And it’s hard. It is so hard. Learning to live without the one you love is excruciating and trying. It starts out as a constant struggle to simply keep from drowning. And as time goes on you get a little better at keeping your head above water, but every once in a while a wave hits and pulls you back under.

Today this wave hit me. And I am sitting in my living room amid all of my things hoping to God that this ring will miraculously show up in front of me. Maybe it will be found, maybe it won’t. Tonight I will cry. I will let it be ok to cry myself to sleep and wake up in the morning and cry some more. My daughter will see me cry and she will hurt for her mommy, but she will be ok. And I will be ok. I will piece myself back together on another day. For tonight, though, I’m not ok. Tonight I’m broken.