The girl I used to be (okay, ‘girl’ might be a bit generous) has been AWOL for some time. The kid who sang, not perfectly but at least on key, and loved to dance could be a lot of fun. Divorce, single motherhood, and a lot of tough times shaped her appreciation for every and all moments of joy. As she slowly discovered her true self, she kinda liked what she found but she also uncovered a healthy dose of protective skepticism. That skepticism might have precluded the urgency to get married again — but one guy blew all her fears out of the water. And despite her best efforts, she became a wife again.
Even with the boatload of medical challenges that came with our “I do’s”, I was suddenly, unequivocally and authentically happy. That is until the one night the man whose unconditional, profound love made me a believer — died in a heartbeat. The love boat I had neatly packed with all I had become — capsized. And I’ve pounded the treadmill of ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ ever since.
Yet, if I had to take my emotional temperature right now, I’m not sure I could decipher the results. I’ve never been here before. But, as Lewis Carroll said “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then”. Duh. Since that terrible October night, Pollyanna has been in full makeover mode and it’s not always pretty. That’s not to say I don’t grudgingly appreciate the woman I’ve been slowly becoming; she’s actually not all that bad, sometimes even bordering on cool. Her head is a little messy sometimes (I don’t mean just my hair; my war with that is legendary) and at moments, she can get a little off-track and teary. But with no Fodor’s guide for grief, she’s doing the best she can. She may not be crushing it but she’s doing pretty damn good at practicing.
Married life is never static — for anyone. It doesn’t hold steady at one temperature every single day. The changing weather of just being human makes sure life isn’t a constant fluffy bliss ball. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself for the profound happiness right next to you; other times the pinch is more like ‘what was I thinking’. In the end, the right marriage to the right person is a ride you never want to end. That’s why it sucks the big one when it does.
In the months ‘after’, I feverishly created photo books about “grandpa” for my grandkids. I had toss pillows created from my husband’s shirts for our kids, desperately wanting all to have tangible memories of the man they cherished. I was in task distraction mode but when all the ‘stuff’ was checked off and I came up for air — it was hard to breathe. I had spent the first year trying so hard just to clear the wreckage, I hadn’t noticed I was still in the middle of it. But I was still standing, and that was something.
I began to take inventory of the woman left behind and found, to no surprise, I still have overactive tear ducts. Sometimes the most innocuous thing can still push my heart down the elevator shaft but spaces between those times have gotten much wider. Today I’m more conscious of the whole concept of time and of its exquisite importance. I am more open; less interested in tailoring myself to other’s expectations, which is hard for an inveterate people pleaser. I have a truly ‘empty nest’ but not an ‘empty heart’ because I try to keep that sucker filled every day.
It certainly isn’t easy to become a new person, to reinvent yourself once again, but then it wasn’t easy to become the old one. Life made that person, too.
If the messiness of life doesn’t teach you anything – what was it all for? Mercia Tapping’s words make pretty good sense ‘Grief changes you forever; but how it changes you is your choice’. I knew if the choice was being better or bitter, better wins every time. That’s not to say you get ‘over it’. Widowhood is like ‘having a broken leg that never heals perfectly. The bones still hurt when the weather gets cold but you learn to dance with the limp’. When we lose someone, we are forever changed. We aren’t and shouldn’t be the same person we used to be. Life opened wide when my husband walked into it and I don’t think he’d be happy if it slammed shut after he left. I learned so much just being with him in this life that it’s only natural that he will forever be part of who I am.
Somewhere inside me the dancing girl still exists; she just lost the rhythm when she lost her guy. When my youngest daughter got married, I was the proud mama who gave her away (though she’d be the first to attest I never cut that cord!) Knowing a mother/daughter dance would be a little awkward, she dedicated one of my favorite dance songs to me and, though she really hates to dance – danced with me center floor. That song, the one that always got me moving, seems prophetic these days. It would make a very cool tattoo, if I had the guts, but for now remembering it’s title will have to do – “Born to Be Alive”.
Much to my adult grandgirl’s embarrassment (love when that happens), I will dance again and I’m planning on doing it to the max at her upcoming wedding. (warning, warning) They say that “Dancing with your feet is one thing; dancing with your heart is another”.
Memo to self: Rock on.
Are YOU ready to dance?