Recently I discovered some new authors that write poetry that spiritually transforms me. As I read it, I feel compassion fill me and in that moment everything feels quiet and peaceful. As I've been reading, I came across some quotes on writing that made me think about how I haven't taken time to write. Writing is often therapeutic for me, but it also makes me feel vulnerable. When I post something, to some degree I can't take it back. It's a stamp on my life of who or how I was at that point. It's scary because people can easily judge me on a given point. There is a part of me that wants to keep it to myself because then there is no risk. But there is a greater force in me that has been striving to live authentically and honor the grief I experience by exposing it for the process that it is.
There are few things that I've been pondering lately in relation to my grief, so settle in! Often people will comment on how well I'm doing. Sometimes they might call me a "supermom." Sometimes it won't be a compliment but they will comment that I'm functioning as "mom and dad." I'm pretty sure that I've even said that I'm filling in for both roles. None of it is true. I'm not a supermom cause there is no such thing. You can't "super" mom. "Mom" never needed a qualifier. And, I don't feel "super." I feel tired. I do a lot. That's true, but I'm not better for it. When Isaac died, I didn't grow in energy and I wasn't given any extra hours in a day.
It is hard for me to want to talk about myself as two parents. I don't want to be mom and dad, and the truth is I can only be mom. I can provide financially for my kids, but I did that before Isaac died. It's different now that I'm the only earner in the home but providing doesn't make me "dad." And the way I sing to, play with, discipline, or touch my children will forever be motherly. I think that sometimes when one parent isn't present there is this false belief that I have to make up for Isaac. I can't put that pressure on myself because I know I'd fail. I can never be what he would have been to my children. And I don't know enough about spiritual connections with the deceased to understand what role he still might play in my children's lives. I'm not going to alter myself to compensate for his death. It only makes sense to be more me. My children lost their father. They don't need to lose their mother too. And the truth is, I'm a better mother than I'd ever be a father. As much as I don't want them to feel the emptiness that I feel at times in Isaac's absence, they already feel it. I can't hide it. The more that I try to downplay their loss, the more I shame them longing for the man that helped bring them into this world. They will and they should long for him. Even if/when I remarry they will and should long for their father. The world may want us to simplify things, but I will stand firm in the complexity of my life.
There is a widow blogger who wrote about how after she remarried she felt like people wanted her to turn in her widow card (see article here). As I read her blog, I realized that many people will not understand what I experience. Being a widow isn't a marital status. Becoming a widow forever changed how I view love and the world. Even if I remarry, I can't and won't love the same because now I know the price. I'm paying it. I feel it.
When I opened my heart for Isaac, I did so naively thinking that nothing could limit our love. Now when I think about opening my heart for someone, I know that there are forces greater than myself. That makes it scarier but that also means that I'm more consciously committing. I often think about how wedding vows talk about loving "in sickness and health...until death do us part." Even if you marry until death, you commit to love in life and death. We think about the challenges that a couple might face in life but marriage vows don't acknowledge that the biggest chance you take, the biggest commitment you make is to love someone that you might lose. And there is no rule book or great advice about loving a dead person or what to do when your heart breaks but won't stop beating. So as much as people, or even I, want for things to be restored, they can't be. No man can fix what happened, and he doesn't need to. More than anything I have to be the woman I am today, because I can never be just what I was before.
Recently, I've been learning what it's like to be Rebecca, the widow. Until I started school, almost everyone I interacted with knew me before Isaac died. They had been with me through all the changes. The other day I realized that some people only know me a year after Isaac's death. They don't know Isaac. I find myself talking about him differently. This last year it seemed that when I talked about Isaac, it was mostly about my grief. Now when I talk about him, it is more like I'm telling my friends about my family. Sometimes I think people are afraid to ask me questions. And maybe they should be because I'm sure I might cry depending on when they asked me. Sometimes it feels strange that people don't ask more about it. Sometimes I confuse people cause I might tell a joke about Isaac being dead. None of it is good or bad, but it is interesting to experience this new phase of grief.
Now that it has been a year, I've noticed that I get asked about dating a lot more. I'm not sure if that has to do with the year mark. I have a lot of feelings and thoughts about dating. Some of them I've written in a essay for a book that my friend will be publishing in the future. It was emotionally difficult to write. It made me aware that I not only grieve the loss of Isaac, but I also have grief associated with things that might not be possible in second marriage. I've also thought a lot about why it feels like someone would make me feel better. Then, I read this poem and I finally understood:
The love that Isaac and I shared healed and restored things to me. It wasn't immediate. Most of it happened over time. And it isn't that Isaac fixed anything, but love heals. And the deeper and more secure the love, the more old scars fade. So even though I know a person can't fix what happened, it does feel like at least some of the things I've lost might come back to me through love. I don't know what that means for me but at least now I understand the feeling.
It's funny how people ask me if I'm dating as though this is something I just up and choose like participating in a soccer league. I guess if I put up an online profile that might feel as though I've taken some sort of step that says, "I'm ready." The truth is I don't know that there is a "ready." I'm not dating or not not dating, and I think it will probably feel that way until I'm actually dating a specific person. I don't want to online date. I refuse to meet someone long distance. That doesn't feel safe or smart. That may work for other people but it isn't realistic for me. I have two children and I don't plan to seriously date anyone who couldn't be a part of my daily life.
I will say this, it is interesting to be a previously married, 32-year-old woman with children and think about dating. There are certainly ways I feel more insecure now, but it is also nice to know myself better. Before you get married, you ask, "How do you know it's the right person?" I know exactly what that looks like and feels like. Sometimes that feels exciting that I won't be confused about how I feel. I also think it is nice to know that I don't have to make anyone love me and I don't have to make love happen. I think that sometimes the longer you are single, people start to say things that send the message that maybe you aren't doing something right. My marriage to Isaac taught me that love doesn't follow the rules. Isaac and I were such an unlikely pair. Our backgrounds were different. Our favorite hobbies weren't shared hobbies. He was younger than me. And, it worked. So I don't feel constrained like I did the first time I was in the dating world. Overall, I think I know that I can trust myself and there is a lot of freedom in that.
By no means do I think dating will be an easy experience. Over the past year, I've noticed that my positive interactions with men often trigger my grief. When I've emotionally connected with a man, I often feel a deep sense of loss afterwards. If I have a fun time or enjoy flirting, I can feel frustrated afterward. If I feel friendship with a man, I can later feel a sense of longing. At first I wasn't quite sure why I was feeling so crappy after feeling good. But then I realized that as I experience things that were similar to experiences in my marriage, I remember exactly what it felt like. And when I feel it, I realize how much I need it, how much I miss it and long for it. And I can't have it. It only lasts for so long. That is dating. Marriage is knowing that it's there everyday. You don't worry that it won't be there tomorrow. You don't miss any of it because the opportunity is always there. This might be why a lot of people remarry quickly. No one wants to feel this. I don't want to feel this, but I also know that I have to tend to it. I have to mourn all the things I lost even if they will be mine again. I think dating will require acceptance--acceptance that it can't and won't look the way it did before. I think dating will require patience--patience to let love grow in the season and way that it grows. It's easy to resist and resent pain, but if I'm honest, all my emotions expressed make room for peace.