August 3rd, 2009 by

We put all kinds of things inside of closets. There are things you expect to find inside this storage space like sweaters, dresses, and shoes. Then there are the other things that you can’t find a place for somewhere else in the house like old yearbooks, memory boxes, or last year’s tax returns. Perhaps there are mothballs, spider webs, or the odd price tag dropped from a purchased item….all of this you might find behind the doors of your wardrobe.

The useful thing about closets is you can shut the door to cover up any messiness that might be found inside. I suppose that is why we also hide some feelings in places with doors that snap securely shut. No need to look at those fears we place behind shuttered doors or to share them with the world or to force ourselves to examine them too closely. At least that is how my emotional closet works. I have shoved a bunch of stuff in there over the last four years. Trouble is whenever I need a sweater (aka some emotional stamina) I have to peek inside and try to stick my arm between the doors without allowing any of the hidden items to find their way into the sunshine of my room.

One thing I have stored way back behind the formal dresses, and the ridiculous high heels that kill my feet but look perfect with my dress, is my need to be in a loving partnership again. This need took me almost two years to look in the face, almost three years to admit publicly, and close to four years to stop worrying about how loving another man would reflect on my devotion to Phil. So let’s free a few more of the stowaways from my emotional closet…Am I betraying Phil by loving someone else? Does finding a new man give the world the false impression that I am, God forbid, “over it?” Will I ever stop feeling like the other shoe is going to drop any moment and my new partner will die too? How do I handle the fact that I was happy in my marriage and never wanted to see it end…but here I am without a partner? Why do some people think that grief ends when a new relationship begins? Will my widow community understand that loving someone else does not make me less of a widow? Because as much as I hated that word the first time I had to own it, I have come to realize that being Phil’s widow is the only way I can still be his wife. And how in the world do I explain THAT to another man?!

Last week I told another widow that I have a boyfriend, a serious boyfriend actually. And I was shocked by her reply…..”What a relief, finally, someone to talk to about this!” While reading her response I realized that my fear of being judged for moving into a new phase of widowhood has kept me from sharing information that could be helpful to our widow community. I happily share my widow self, my mother self, my sister/daughter/friend self…but I for fear of hurting or shocking newly widowed women who aren’t ready to think about life four years from now, I have not shared my whole self. I am a widow, I will love Phil forever, I have learned to accept that life will not be what he and I planned, and I have found a man who understands that my past, my loss, and especially my grief have made me the woman I am today…and he loves the woman I have become. As I have learned to love again I have held on with both hands to the reality that true love never dies and that I don’t have a limited supply of love to give.

3 Responses to “Closets”

  1. Ann Says:

    I have been a widow for only two months, but I understand what you are saying, Michele. A turning point in my widowhood came when I suddenly said to myself “I’d rather have a dead husband than no husband.” There was a realization that Gregory is still my husband, though of course not the way he was when he was alive. So I understand what you mean when you say “that being “Phil’s widow is the only way I can still be his wife.” I know what you mean. I will always be Gregory’s wife. He is in another place now, so I can’t be his wife the way I was. It is a deep spiritual thing. If I were to find someone else to love that would be fine, but it would never diminish my love for Gregory one bit.

  2. Jeannie Says:

    I am still Earl’s wife even though he died six months ago. I write letters to a former high school classmate who is widowed three years ago. He has been a real comfort and understands that I will always love my husband and I’m not ready to begin a relationship with another man while the grief is so raw.

  3. Mary Says:

    Thank you for sharing that. Within a few months after my husband died, I entered into a relationship that I now realize was for all the wrong reasons. I was lonely, afraid, and quite frankly was trying to replace Steve. Carole Brody-Fleet calls this “plugging holes”–trying to fill the void of the deceased loved one. I ended that relationship within nine months and then had a short relationship with another man. While I know those relationships were not exactly healthy, I have no regrets because they were just part of my necessary journey. Since those relationships, I completely took a break from seeking a relationship in order to focus on who I am and to become content with my widow status and my life independent from Steve. During that year I became at peace with my life. I can now say that I am in total acceptance of my life. I can say that I love myself and who I have become. Quite by accident I recently met a man with whom I am in a relationship. This relationship feels right. He is not intimidated by my widow status. He understands that I still love Steve, but that I have abundant love for him. At this point I cannot say where this journey with my new love will go, but I am hopeful, excited, and happy. My friends tell me that they are elated to see me the happiest I have been since prior to Steve’s passing. They know it is partly because of the growth I have made during this journey and partly because of my new found love.

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