Growing My Heart
Whenever anyone of us has daydreamed about romantic love in the future, no one ever thought, "I'll met a wonderful person, fall in love, and then he'll die. And then I'll meet another wonderful person and fall in love." Every fairytale or love story follows a pattern where two people meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. As these stories start there is usually a dreaded additional suitor, a mean boyfriend, or a lack of connection in the woman's current relationship, but all signs point to the fast-approaching moment where she meets her one and only soul mate. In some ways, my life mirrored this story before Isaac died. It was like a love story out of a book. City girl falls in love with a humble, cowboy. But when Isaac died, my happily ever after was interrupted with a sequel.
After Isaac died, my heart shattered and my world shifted. Whether I wanted life to move in a different direction, it was moving and there was no way for me to get off the train. I knew quite quickly how I needed to adjust in the aftermath of his death. I knew I was to go back to school and develop a more advanced career. I also knew that at some point I would want to marry again. Although I think most people assumed that I would date and remarry, I know it can be difficult for others to watch me actually date. As I move forward, I understand that for others this only makes their grief more real. As Isaac's wife, every moment following his death was a reminder of his absence. Those millions of moments made it impossible for me to ignore or push away the great loss that I felt. Others do not experience the same number of moments and changes that I have. I felt very nervous when I told my in-laws that I was dating. I felt scared because I knew it could compound their grief. I felt scared because I love them and I didn't want them to feel more loss. I felt scared that it could change my relationship with them. There is no rule book on how to introduce your boyfriend to your in-laws. While introducing my boyfriend to Isaac's family was intimidating to me, informing others of my boyfriend has not been easy either.
When I told my family that I had met someone, there was some trepidation along with excitement for me. I think those who love me knew how much pain I had experienced and did not know how to respond to news that I would now be in a position that could leave me vulnerable to heartbreak once again. Some friends were very excited. Other friends and colleagues expressed concern. Often widows get advice like, "You need 3 years." While some people questioned if I should date, others questioned how much I still incorporated Isaac into my life. Some questioned if I was ready to date.
I wasn't ready to date and I'm not "over" Isaac. This can be difficult for others to understand. I will never get over losing Isaac. There is never a time that a woman is ready to lose her husband or ready to date again. Life almost never works that way. Life has a way of preparing you as you simply live it.
As I've noticed people's reactions to my situation, I've realized how much we want things to be simple, or black and white. I, too, like things to be organized and in their place, but when Isaac died everything changed. My life could no longer fit in a box; it wasn't cookie cutter. I not only mourned the loss of Isaac, I mourned the loss of my simple life. Isaac was a simple man and there was something so beautiful about that. I knew that life after Isaac would be complex. I worried about my ability to love another person. I hoped with all my heart that I would be able to.
As I pondered what my love for Isaac meant for my future, I asked myself a few questions. If you really loved someone, does that carry you to the end of your life? If you really loved someone, does that prevent you from loving another? Does great love help you to feel open to new love? Is suffering or loneliness a manifestation of love? To love someone new, would I stop loving Isaac? Could I still love Isaac and love another man?
I struggled with similar questions when I was about to have my second child. I worried that I would be able to love Rose as much as I loved Wyatt. Or what if I loved Rose more than Wyatt? But once I had Rose, I knew that love doesn't divide, it multiplies. And although I can't explain how it is that I can still love Isaac and now love Adam, I know that I do. When others seem confused, I feel like they are asking me, "Is it black or white?" And I want to answer them, "It's a beautiful rainbow." But how do you explain color to someone who can only see black and white? It may seem strange to use the analogy of color to explain grief when we usually associate death with black. However, death has taught me that just like color, the possibilities are endless. In a way, Isaac was my sunshine and his death was the most terrible storm that blew in. But Adam is my rainbow. He is this miracle that I never could have expected. Rainbows require both sun and rain but sometimes rainbows appear before the storm is over.
When I met Adam, I didn't how our lives would fit together. As my feelings for him grew, my heart grew too. It hasn't been an easy process. I've had to heal my heart as it grows. In many ways my relationship with Adam has forced me confront parts of my grief that I might otherwise have procrastinated. It's been such a blessing to have Adam's support as I grieve and heal. I think people can worry that Adam replaces Isaac and Isaac will be forgotten. Others may assume that Adam fixes the loss and that I'm "all better" now. I've heard other widows say, "I'm not giving back my widow card." I'll always be a widow because I lost my husband. And someday I'll be married again, but entering a new relationship doesn't change the journey I took. My journey to point B was not a direct line from point A. It's not that everyone needs to know what it took to get here. I don't feel some great need to hold onto the title of widow, but I also can't pretend that I'm the same as I was before or that marriage reverses things.
About a month before a met Adam, I remember feeling really down. It had been almost a year since Isaac's death. Even though a year had passed and I was more used to being a single mom, it still felt so heavy and difficult. I remember praying on my knees one night. I told God that I couldn't understand why he was asking me to go through the hardest thing I had ever been through and to do it without my partner. I told God that if this is what he wanted me to do, and I wasn't going to have help from Isaac, I was going to need His grace. And then He sent Adam. I really believe that. As a grieving, single mom starting a PhD program, I didn't have time to date in the ways people typically date. I couldn't imagine dedicating time to online dating. I couldn't imagine dating long distance, and I couldn't imagine that I could find anyone to date in Lubbock. But as Adam and I became friends and I started to like him, I realized that maybe I could date. As we interacted through work and school, it was easy to get to know him really well without the dating process taking away from my time with my children. There was no other way I could have created the space for a relationship. The relationship was possible because it didn't require me to make big changes overnight or sacrifice the other important things in my life.
As I look back on the past year, I'm filled with wonder as I see how God has worked in my life directly and through others. I can't say that it has been easy because it has still been a difficult year as I had to navigate school, work, single parenting, and a new relationship. God didn't make things easy but He made things possible that felt impossible. And most of all, He helped me to replace tears with laughter and loneliness with connection. I'm so grateful to have Adam in my life. There aren't a lot of people who will join you on your journey, especially the way a partner does. Most of us commit when things are at their best and we commit to stick around when things get bad. But because of my situation, I think Adam and I have been able to see both the good and the bad. Dating after marriage is very different. It can often feel more like marriage because you can't so easily be swept away by the fantasy. There are children, responsibilities, and grief to remind you that you still live on earth, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Real love doesn't live in a fantasy but lives in adversity. Finding love isn't about finding a big heart, a perfect heart, or an unbroken heart. It's about growing your heart.