I was happily married for twenty years to my high school sweetheart before he tragically died in a commercial airplane crash in 1994. I was certain I had died in that plane crash right along with him. Never have I experienced such total despair and hopelessness. I floated through life like a piece of drift wood in the middle of the ocean.
For the first year following the plane crash, I needed to learn how to live without my husband. I had to reconstruct my goals, rehabilitate my emotions, and stumble my way back into society without the man who promised to be with me forever. At first it was dreadful. And then it got worse. I attended support groups. I read grief books and articles on bereavement. I even started to write my own book about being a widow without any warning.
I spoke endlessly to others who seemed to go on with their lives after the death of a loved one. When the person you love dies, it tears a hole in your heart that is so insurmountable you never think the hurt will end. When the person you love dies suddenly in a public airplane crash with the news flashing on the television every day for a year, it is difficult to have any measure of closure. I wanted desperately to know if I would ever feel normal again.
One thing I have learned about understanding loss is the misleading belief of getting over it. We never really get over it. We surrender to it. We are held hostage as the grief mercilessly rips our hearts into a million pieces before allowing us to rebuild our lives again. It is a daily part of us forever. We learn to get through it. Someone once taught me that the only way to heal grief is to grieve. After a certain amount of time, we learn that we can laugh again. We learn that we can enjoy living again. It does in deed get better in time. Life is only as good as we make it
After my thoughts were no longer totally on grieving, I decided I wanted to try and go on with my life. With the anticipation of a teenager and the fear of a deer jolting across a busy highway, I forged ahead and decided to date again. My daughter who was nineteen at the time was more emotionally mature at dating than me. It had been more than twenty years since I was in the dating world. Who pays, who opens the door, who makes the first move? What will he expect from me after dinner?
On my very first date, I felt out of place sitting next to a man other than my husband. I was certain everyone in the restaurant was staring at me and I needed to remind myself that I was not being unfaithful. I was now single. I unconsciously compared habits, clothes, cologne scent, and yes, even kisses. One might be inclined to hurry and get into a relationship as quickly as possible because you will want that partnership and “normal” life back immediately.
My advice when suddenly single? Take your time. Get to know who you really are, because you are no longer the same person you once were. After several disappointing dates I realized that I did not need to settle for someone because I was afraid to be alone. I needed to be certain this other person would bring me joy and humor and compliment my life.
Dating divorced men did not work for me. They were coming out of a bad marriage. I was coming out of a good one. They did not want to hear about the husband who was placed high upon the pedestal.
I came to the conclusion that the important element was to just be myself and not look for what I once had, but experience different men and learn something from each of them.
I also realized being single was not all bad. I could spend an outrageous amount of money on a sweater and not have to justify it to anyone but myself. At night alone in my bed, I could eat a bowl of popcorn and watch a late late movie with the lights on without disturbing anyone. I learned the difference between stocks and mutual funds. I drove the interstate alone for the first time in my life with my favorite music blasting while I sang along and I traveled to different places all over the world. Even though I made a few mistakes, I was holding it all together the best way I knew how. I actually liked the independent person I had become.
I still wanted someone special to share my dreams and to grow old with. But I no longer had that desperate feeling of being alone for the rest of my life. I did not need to settle for anyone unless he was one hundred percent!
I realized that losing a spouse did not mean the end of the world. It only meant the end of that particular world. I learned that my new life can be filled with meaning, hope and even love again. I had a choice to make. I wanted to go on.
Joanne Shortley-Lalonde is the author of Widowed Without Warning, www.widowedwithoutwarning.com