You didn’t ask for it. You don’t want it. But it’s here. And there’s no stopping it, try as you might. You can either stand in front of it, your arms extended, only to have it destroy you along with everything around you, or you can step aside. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty. But I believe there is some redemption in the midst of what is lost.
In this blog entry, I’m going to attempt to describe what it is like to be a young widower — for me at least. I can’t speak for everyone, but as C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, despite my desire to be a lone, tragic figure, I am in fact a part of an army of widowed people now, many millions in the world today whose marriage has ended in one of the two ways they always end: divorce or death. It sounds morbid, but it is true. We lovers are all headed toward one or the other.
I’ve had a really hard time writing about this so far, not because it is some big emotional issue for me, but because there is just too much swirling around in my head. Every day I am thinking or feeling something that I haven’t thought or felt before. There is just too much. I’m going to try to capture some of the major aspects of my experience here anyway, even if they are just a small fraction of the real thing.
This is a long one. If you make it through the whole thing, God bless you. For the short version, read the headings.
Linz and Me — Currently One of My Favorite Photos, Taken Last Night
Here’s a question for you: Why did God create Adam alone, knowing that “it is not good for man to be alone?” Did He want Adam to feel alone before He gave him a wife?
Well, God, I’m feeling it.
I’m usually OK when the girls are home with me. It tends to be loud and busy. There’s a lot going on. Fights. Homework. Questions. Piano. Chores. I realize that the kids are God’s gift from So Young to me in many ways, not the least of which is that they are a pretty good antidote to loneliness when they are around.
It can become difficult when I am alone at home for a few hours or days. (Please understand that this is not to say I never want them out of the house without me.) When I was alone for a week while they were in North Carolina, it was pretty hard. I just really longed for that human connection that I had when So Young was around. Nighttime is also difficult, pretty much every night.
It’s a strange thing to experience. You want her, but she’s not there. There are wonderful but inadequate substitutes. A lot of people say, “Talk to your guy friends.” Well, I have really good male friends that I can talk to and do, but it isn’t the same. I read one book saying something about widowers wanting “the feminine perspective” occasionally. That’s not it at all. You think I want to talk to a woman because I lack affinity with her? I don’t see things the way she does, so I want to talk? I don’t think so. I have always found more commonality in perspective than difference.
I can’t describe it well, but I have this feeling that talking to some dude isn’t enough. Talking to one of So Young’s friends, her sister, or my mom also isn’t enough. Even talking to God isn’t the same. I don’t have eros for God, after all. I need Him, but not in the same way. I’m pretty sure he “gets” that. (Again, see C.S. Lewis, this time The Four Loves.) It’s not a replacement. Does that sound terrible? It isn’t just about talking to a woman. I think it is about wanting So Young, and more specifically, not wanting to “be alone” in the way that God said it was not good for man to be alone. Sorry if that’s too personal, but that’s kind of the way it is. You probably won’t understand until you go through it.
I sometimes also have this sense of outrage at the unfairness of the way things are for widows and widowers in general. God took her, and there are rules about finding someone else that seem unfair to me. Husbands can talk to their wives. Single men can talk to their girlfriends or single women. Widowers, for a certain period of time that is different in everybody’s head, can’t talk to single women period. You have lost your only female companion. Too bad for you. There can be nobody else until we say so. I’m just telling you how I see it. Hopefully that isn’t too upsetting for people to hear.
A lot of it is just longing for the presence of this one person and realizing you can’t have it and never will again. There’s a song by the band The Welcome Wagon that captures this perfectly for me called “Would You Come and See Me in New York.” I’ve cried each of the dozen or so times I’ve heard it. It’s about a guy who wants his dad, who has died, to visit him in New York to see him now that he has gotten older and things have changed. There’s something about just having that person there and they aren’t and you can’t have them back but you want to. It’s really a visceral thing that is hard to articulate in words.
Lewis talks about a generalized sense of fear in his book A Grief Observed. I don’t feel that. I have a sense of fear about something Lewis embraced: the notion of my wife visiting me as a ghost after she has died.
You have to understand that I sleep in the room she died in, right next to the bed she died in. I have some pretty powerful visual images of her in that bed after she passed. And of course there are her hallucinations of children, corpses, etc. in the room, which weren’t pleasant and seemed almost demonic to me at times.
People have told me that she might visit me, I might see her, she might touch me, etc. I am horrified at the thought. This is not something I look forward to or that comforts me. I want her in heaven, which is where I believe she is, or “paradise” as Jesus described it to the thief next to him as they both died. I don’t know how it really is on the other side, but I hope for her sake she is not wandering around on earth, lost and perhaps tormented, still wanting to reach those she’s left behind. I don’t believe it, and the thought is no comfort to me. Those thoughts also make the night difficult.
There is also a general sense of fear that I too, like So Young, will die, and soon. The stress of the situation in itself seems to be enough. (And no, the stress of raising the girls isn’t it. Don’t assume I can’t handle it. It’s more complicated than that.)
Which brings me to still another point: Did I mention that I can handle this?
I’m going to step onto my soap box for a second. I get this feeling — and I could be wrong — but I get this feeling that there is a perception out there that I can’t raise my kids because, well, because I am a man. WRONG! I am just as capable of taking care of my girls as a single mom is, thank you very much.
I don’t need to be rescued. I repeat: Don’t try to save me!
I don’t need pity.
I am not overwhelmed.
Don’t read into my face too much when you see me. It is not the look of a man cowering in fear because he is surrounded by terrible little girls stomping all over him. On the contrary, my wife just died, and I may be a bit saddened by it. I may be having “a moment.” Also, I’m not a very smiley person in general. We are doing very well under the circumstances. I’m not perfect by any stretch, and neither is anybody else… OK, stepping down from my soap box now.
So much went wrong while So Young and I were together that I can’t help but feel regret. We had 20 years. That was half of her life. I would characterize five of those years as miserable for both of us, as my friends and hers can attest. When you die at 40, that’s a pretty good percentage of your earthly existence.
I always laugh to myself when I hear people vowing to live life with “no regrets.” Really? No regrets? You won’t make any mistakes? You’ve already learned everything before you lived it? I wish I could do that. I don’t know anyone who has.
There is this desire as I look toward the future with an understanding of the past that I want to do it better next time. If I marry again, and Lord willing I will, I want to do it right, or at least better, and learn from the mistakes of the past.
Waves of realization
Almost every day since So Young died, I keep remembering things she went through during the months she was declining and dying, and it pains me greatly. There’s not much to say about this one other than that it happens. I don’t intend to try to stop it from happening. I think I didn’t feel it while it was going on, so I need to feel it now.
Just plain sadness without any reason other than that So Young has died
Not much else to say about that one. Sometimes you just feel sad and cry.
A great sense of accomplishment
Almost since the day So Young died, I have had this irreverent thought that is absolutely true. It fills me with great satisfaction to think it, as strange as it is: We made it! ‘Til death do us part, as we vowed to one another on our wedding day. There were times we could have given up and very nearly did. Still, by God’s grace, we made it. This is one of the bright spots of this situation, although as I told Shanny the other day, too bad Mommy had to die for that to happen.