Sunday, August 22, 2010
Acceptance- a widower's perspective.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of being invited to my nieces home, just 30 miles north of me. Also there was my older brother and his wife, as well as both of my parents. We were all enjoying our barbecued burgers when the discussion turned to the subject of my nieces father in law. I have met him on at least a couple of occasions, and he is a friend on Facebook. You see, he and I have the distinction of both being widowers. His wife died of cancer two years ago.
I remember hearing a lot about him, and about the years that he cared for his wife through her illness. His wife died about a year before Michael died. I remember visiting at my brother's house one day, and by chance he dropped by. All the family had been curious about the two of us meeting, as they knew that my life was somewhat mirroring his. He was very kind, and shared a bit of his experience with me during our brief introduction.
I remember hearing people's thoughts about his response to widowhood during that first year. Some were concerned that too much of his life had changed when he lost his wife, and that he was now strongly identifying with the widowed community. I couldn't understand why so many people were concerned. He is an adult, and can deal with life as he sees fit. I also remember telling others, like my brother, that when something like this happens to you, your life can't help but change. I added that perhaps he has found the type of comfort he needs in various widow groups, and that other's should just support him, rather than worry.
Anyway, the topic came up about how he is now in a new relationship, and how this is uncomfortable, or difficult, for other's around him. I was hearing my niece describe her feelings, and the feelings of others, while my parents, brother, and sister in law listened. Throughout this my older brother kept looking my way, knowing that this would bring up some strong feelings in me. Eventually I had to speak my mind. I told my niece, and other family members, to remember that their experience with loss is very different from his and mine. While most at the table have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling or other relative, they haven't experienced the loss of their spouse. I tried to acknowledge that any loss is quite traumatic, but when that loss occurred, they had their spouse to turn to for support. Who did he or I have to turn to?
I reminded my family at the table that while all of them have been very compassionate to me, and to him, they have been living their own lives, while I, and perhaps he, have sat with our grief on a moment to moment basis. I explained to them that outside my relationship with my own children, my most central connection to people has been through this computer. I told them of all the widows and widowers who have been there for me, and I for them. I spoke of the emptiness that Michael used to fill in me, and how it is now a very dark place of loss. I shared with them that while they may feel that I am rebounding quite well, that the reality if that I cry for Michael every night. I experience a very deep feeling of loneliness, not just because I am alone, but because I am alone without my spouse.
I then explained how rare it is to feel someones arms around me. I went from having someone who loved me, who shared my bed with me, who told me each day that I was loved, to suddenly being quite alone. I asked them to try to imagine going from the place of love and intimacy, to being completely alone. I also reminded them that as humans, we seek to love and to be loved. And, while not everyone will choose to seek out a new partner, most of us will recognize the need to have one. This is especially true for us if we had a good relationship. We know what true love brings to our lives, and at our core, we still desire that.
I asked my niece to consider that no matter how hard it is to consider her father in law with someone new, try to consider him completely alone, hurt and lonely. I shared with her, and the rest, that Michael was very clear with me that he wanted me to find love once again. He wanted to know that I was being cared for. I am sure that is what my nieces mother in law wanted for her husband as well. Because of this, everyone should put this in perspective. Yes, perhaps his family will find it difficult to see him with someone new, that is expected. But unless his family is actively doing something to deal with this difficulty, they are doing him a disservice.
What I have learned through this process of illness and death is that time is very precious. If we allow our emotions to build walls around certain relationships in order to protect ourselves, then we will in effect be limiting how much love we can share. Saying to someone "I am not ready to meet that new person in your life because it makes me feel..." is not okay in my book unless you are actively doing something to work through those very feelings. What if that person should be taken from this world sometime soon? Would we be okay with the reality that we chose to not participate in a big part of their life? What about that other person? Did he choose to be in a place where he lost the love of his life? Should he now be penalized for wanting, and finding, love now that time has gone by?
Because I am a gay man, I can truly say that I know what it feels like to not have your relationships recognized. It is painful, and it tears at your heart. People can say they love you, but when it comes with conditions, you have to wonder what it is that they love. My relationship with Michael was recognized by most of my family and friends, but there were several before that few wanted to be a part of. There are still some family members who have never acknowledged that Michael existed in my life. They don't realize what a wonderful person they missed out on. Now that he is gone, those people have no place in my life. To come back later, and say I am now ready to recognize him would be a nice step forward, but it will not allow us to step back and correct what has already occurred.
If you love me. See me. Put your feelings aside for just a moment, as you will be returning to your life very soon. Recognize that which is significant in my life. Share in my joy, sit with my pain. When you leave, I will thank you for your time, and your unconditional love.