“I don’t want to have a dead husband,” I screamed to my mom as we sat at the dining room table addressing the 250th thank you card. It was 3 weeks after he died. It was time to thank all the people who had made an effort to express their condolences.
I was fortunate. Friends, family, colleagues and neighbors came out of the woodwork and had taken over that first week. I was of course in shock or denial. This was ridiculous. There is no way this should have happened I kept thinking that any minute now Mike would come back.
Writing these cards was simply a formality and a way to bond with my mom.
I didn’t want to write any more cards. I started to cry and scream. She hugged me and cried too. Why couldn’t she just tell me that it would be O.K?
We left the cards on the table and we went to the ocean. I like the beach. I actually fell asleep on the beach. It was a late September afternoon and still warm.
My mom lost her husband in 2001. She was 61 years old. He died of lung cancer. We all felt that was unfair because the answer to the obvious question, “Did he smoke?” was an adamant NO!
He was a hard working, devoted husband and father. He had recently retired and then gone back to teach at a Catholic High School because he was an amazing Chemistry teacher and loved what he did. He drank a couple of pina coladas in the summer but never smoked. It was totally unfair.
And now here I was – in the same boat as my mom, a widow.
It’s been 16 years since she became a widow and last week I had lunch with mom. I asked her lots of questions about how she felt after my dad died. We also talked about how she met her second husband Phil and how life has changed. She has been a great role model for me.
Me – Tell me how did you handle the first year?
I don’t remember. I journaled a lot the first year. I still haven’t gone back to read it. She did some things differently that year. She went with a friend to New Orleans for Thanksgiving, the first time she had ever visited that city. For Christmas, she treated all three children and their families to a 5 day stay at Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge in Orlando, Florida with excursions to all the parks and some character meals.
After the cancer diagnosis, she and my dad had downsized from the house they lived in for 28 years to a 2 bedroom apartment nearby. She was very thankful that dad had been smart enough to sell the house and get rid of all the stuff before he died.
She recalls a turning point when 5 months after my dad died the tragic deaths of so many young people died on September 11, 2001 in New York City. I kept thinking that I had 39 years with the man I love and all these young families have been tragically torn apart. I appreciated all that I had been blessed with.
Me – What was your biggest fear?
Finances. Dad had made a list for me of names and amounts to write on checks when I asked about paying the bills. I wrote out the checks. I knew how to do that but I didn’t understand all the bills that would be coming in. I didn’t want to be alone. There was an Oprah magazine that came out right after your dad died that had the word JOY on the cover. I remember looking at that and thinking will I ever know JOY again.
Me – Tell me how was the second year different?
It is harder. You knew he really isn’t coming back. The first year you think this nonsense will end. The second year you realize it not going to change and that is what is really hard. You have to deal with that.
Me – What kept you going?
My friend Joyce encouraged me to join a program at her church in Florida to be trained as a Spiritual Advisor. I was searching. What is my purpose? What am I going to do? So I went to Joyce’s school. The first year you have readings and you write responses to them. Every afternoon we would meet together and share what we wrote and I would cry. Of course I was writing about Dad. Whenever it was my turn, they would pass the box of tissues over to me. The second year I did the same thing. I would read, write, share and cry. The third year was different. This time when I shared my writing I was nice and happy. I had met Phil, and he was taking the train down from New York to meet me after the class was over and we were going to spend time together in Florida.
Me – Tell me how did you meet Phil?
We met in a bereavement group for widows and widowers. It had been over a year for me but only 3 weeks for Phil when the session started. After the 8 weeks, we continued to meet with the people in the group. We met for dinner every Tuesday night for the next 10 years or so. We also went out dancing as a group on Saturday nights. I danced with all the fellows but started to dance more with Phil. One weekend we went to Connecticut on a bus trip to the Casinos. On the bus ride home it was like a bolt of lightning struck and we both realized that our friendship was turning into something more.
Me – Tell me how did you handle the differences between the two men in your life?
It is amazing because you could not pick 2 more different men than Phil and your dad. Daddy was big, strong, liked playing and watching football and spending time outside in the garden. Phil grew up in the city, collects trains and loves all classical music and operas. But the one thing they both have in common is their love and affection for me. And after all, that is all that really matters.
Me – What were some of the challenges you had?
I moved into his house and had to make some changes before I felt comfortable living there. Our children weren’t always as happy for us as we were for ourselves. We also had separate finances and I felt strongly that we should keep them that way. We met with a lawyer before we got married.
Me – What advice do you have for me and other widows about dating?
Based on my experiences and people I know, if it’s online, have a few conversations first. Have a friend call you and have a code word so they know you’re OK. My best bet was our widow and widowers group – what started as group activities later turned into some pairing off among the members.
Signs to be alert for: If he asks you first off if you like Victoria’s Secret; If he’s much older and looking for someone to take care of him; If he comes for the weekend with liquor hiding in the suitcase; If he wants you to take care of him and doesn’t want to help you out when you are feeling down.
Ask: is your life better, more fun, interesting with him or her in it? We spent most of our lives with someone else. Yes share stories about your late spouse, but not in every sentence. Does he show you he cares about your hopes and dreams. Does he do nice things, hold doors open, ask about your feelings and listen to your answers?
Before you get to the should we be serious, talk about family, finances, living places and money for cars, gas, food, gifts, etc. And ask yourself, is my life better with this person.
Don’t be afraid but be real. Good luck and God Bless.
Me – What gives you joy now?
Warm weather in Florida. Watching my children and grandchildren grow. Having someone to share your life with and wake up with.
Phil and I enjoyed traveling in our 60s We had time and our bodies were able to handle it then. I’m glad we took the time to travel and would highly recommend it to others. Also, I believe we are here for a reason and if we are still here we are not done with that reason yet. It could be something we say or do or how we act that will influence someone else.
I am currently writing another young adult novel. My writing is my way to help others. The characters in my books deal with issues like the boy who is afraid of hospitals and losing someone, and the girl whose parents are separated and she feels like a throw away kid. It is about families and the problems and decisions they make.
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Addie Meyer Sanders is a published author and poet. To order a book, click on the title below.