This isn’t going to be a depressed or sad entry, I swear, but the idea of the past having its shadow hanging over us is something that seemed appropriate.
I get occasional pieces of advice and emails and notes that are meant to be helpful, and I truly take those in the spirit in which they are intended. I don’t mean to make it sound like I don’t like or am disappointed in the advice, but I’ll be the first to admit there isn’t a lot of information or advice out there for – well, for people like me. A very good friend who lost her husband touches base with me occasionally and her advice – as she’s a good 2 years ahead of me and raising her kids and dating a great guy and the like – has been invaluable.
Here’s something I have noticed, and I think she’s felt the same…losing a spouse as opposed to ending a marriage or ending a relationship isn’t the same thing. Yes, the phrase still fits – my marriage has ended. The difference here, I have to say, is that there was no decision to end that marriage. Let’s put aside the possibilities of abusive or violent relationships, those factors really don’t apply to my situation. But the biggest difference is the fact that where divorce or breakups happen, there is still the option of seeing your ex again. That’s not an option for me. My wife didn’t want to end our marriage and neither did I. So the negative connotations just aren’t there.
So the latest pieces sent to me had to do with “moving on,” so to speak. Some were just coping with losing a spouse – which most of that information was for where I stood more than a year ago. Now I’m getting stuff about how I’m supposed to handle things and how the move forward in my life is supposed to go.
But the interesting thing about most the “help” that has come my way is the fact that the majority of it was from internet bulletin boards and articles written by someone who’s in a relationship with a widower, not the widower (or widow) him(her)self. I was more than a bit disturbed by the number that had headlines like “getting a widower to love you” or “girlfriend of widower” or “wife of widower” and how to handle the ever-present “shadow of the late wife.”
Some of the articles listed guys who had a shrine to their wife, and a sealed off room for only her family to visit. For the record…I don’t have a shrine or a secret room.
Some talked about clothes and items kept pristine and neat in the house so she’s still there. Most of Andrea’s clothes had to go when we had to move. It wasn’t easy, but the clothes didn’t make her Andrea. They didn’t smell like her, her presence wasn’t in there. The ones I kept were expensive, professional clothes that I thought our daughter might be able to wear in the future. Classic pieces. Sweatshirts my oldest wears because they make her feel comfortable. They’re not enshrined anywhere. The only thing I did keep was the wedding gown because it’s preserved and…well, it’s her wedding gown. It’s not on display, it’s on a shelf in the closet.
The more disturbing thing to me was the number of – and I’m sorry if this offends, but it’s true – but the number of women who were simply put out because the late wife was present, mentioned or even in pictures throughout the guy’s home. Here’s where I have concerns: Andrea is present in a ton of photos in our home. It wasn’t done, though, as a shrine. (many of the comments talked about people counting the number of pictures…then the number that had the late wife in them. I thought that was a bit creepy. I don’t even know how many pictures I have hanging up.) There’s one solo picture of my wife in my house and it’s mine. I have one of her – just one – at my desk. There are a bunch, though, where it’s her and the kids. Family photos and portraits. I choose to believe there are just as many without her up on the walls. I’ve added photos of the kids and I to the litany of black and white and color snapshots but that’s each time we get new ones.
The stuff sent me is from a perspective of someone who hasn’t lost and hasn’t thought about the past and the kids. It’s assuming the reader is dating – which I’m not right now. Comments are even more disturbing – telling the woman the late husband has to remove the photos. She’s his girl now. She’s his life, shouldn’t talk about her, shouldn’t come up . . . none of it.
Look, I write about Andrea here and there in this blog…maybe more than here and there at times. But I cannot simply turn off that part of our lives. That’s what I just don’t understand. I’ve known tons of men and women who have had a breakup and even a year and a half later are ragging on the ex. That’s apparently acceptable.
I have female friends – a number of them. Some are friends that Andrea and I had together. Some are her friends. When Andrea’s name comes up I talk about her with fondness and joke about the not-so-fond moments. But at no point am I pulled into the pit of despair when her name comes up. I am quite aware that it’s unfair to compare friends, relatives, the kids or even someone I might be close with to Andrea. They’re nowhere near the same people, nor should they be. Would I seek out someone just like her again? I doubt that, I’m not the same person, nor was she.
But here’s where the advice columnists and the commenters and the information superhighway and I differ. I know, compared to a lot of the people described in some of these articles, that I seem a bit more stable. I don’t have “shrines” or “monuments” to Andrea. I’m well aware how imperfect she was. There were things she did drove me batty – and the kids all have one or more of those same tendencies. But don’t ask me to not have her in context to points in my life. Half my life – literally – was spent in the company of this woman. As each day goes by that influence diminishes a little more, but to erase that would be to erase the great things she did for me.
I’ve said this before – I was always the person I am now . . . but I wasn’t able to let him out, I’d walled him in some dark space of my own making. Andrea saw that person and just never allowed me to stay in those places. I came into the light and have been there since. But it’s also true that in a lot of ways she didn’t understand me . . . and it took a lot of time for her to try to understand me. We had strong days in the last year of her life, but we had many, many awful ones halfway through it as well. I cannot remove those influences, to do so would eliminate a part of who I am.
It would also hurt the kids, like we’re trying to get rid of their mother.
So know this, folks, advice is just one person’s opinion. I’m not giving it here, not really. But for me, my life, my kids . . . I know that she’s a perspective…a harkening back to a different time in our lives. As much as her life influenced us, her loss cannot help but influence us as well.
The past has its shadow, for sure. However. . . every little bit of light brightens memories of it as well. I’m not influenced on a daily basis by the eighteen years of marriage, but I have been shaped by it. But our life is our life, not hers. I can make decisions and have thoughts on my own without her. I can also think about how she helped us as well and both situations are good. I can’t erase my past or her life and its imprint on our history. Some may say that’s bad, but I think that’s a good thing.
I don’t ignore my history but I just don’t live in the past.