I recently moved in with my partner and his children. We met the same year my husband died, at a support group. Widowed and Young, or WAY for short, is a support group for people who have lost their partners while they were under the age of 50. Initially, we became friends and our children spent time together, so that they could see that it hadn’t just happened to them. I believe that the time we spent together that year, saved us all a little bit, in our own individual ways. It certainly made me feel less alone to be able to talk with someone who had lost their spouse too. There were things that he just understood, because he had experienced it first-hand.
Over time we fell in love. I’m sure people struggled with our timing and made assumptions about what it meant. I worried endlessly about observing the ‘industry standard’ of not getting involved with anyone until at least a year had passed since the death. I worried people believed it meant I loved Matty less and was leaving him behind. I worried that people believed that my partner and I only loved each other because we had each lost the person we believed would be our one person for life. I think the idea that you can’t truly know how you would respond, unless you’ve been in that situation, applies here. But I did feel judged by others sometimes.
After a while, I let the overthinking go. I realised I cared less now about what people thought of me than ever before. Perhaps this was as a result of age and the trauma of my experience. Who determined that there must be an arbitrary time spent grieving, before meeting someone new? I’m not sure the same time bars are applied when someone goes through a difficult break-up or a divorce? It felt to me, at the time, that this was specific to someone dying. Other widows and widowers I met, would literally talk in whispers about having begun a new relationship, like it was a shameful secret. Of course, it is important to feel ready and for everyone that comes at different times. For some, they may choose not to pursue love again. That’s their decision. The overarching misconception here, is that grief and new love cannot co-exist. In my own experience this just simply isn’t true.
That people would think that I loved Matty any less because of a new relationship, was difficult to accept. When your person dies, how could you possibly love them any less? I choose to accept that I love him differently now, because I have to. The love didn’t die with him. It lives on in every decision I make and task I undertake for our three children, every tear I shed for him and in the passing of each year. He comes along with us for the ride. And so does my partner’s wife. This is essential for us and our children.
Finally, this notion that my partner and I love each other because we were both widowed, is such a nonsense to me. I understand it is quite common for people who have been bereaved to build a relationship with someone else who has too. However, the idea that it is the convenient and safe option is almost absurd. Blending two families who have experienced such unfathomable loss, could never be described as easy. Collectively, we have five young children. My partner and I met because we were widowed and are now together because we fell in love. We are doing the best we know how for our five children and we are doing it all, in spite of what we have been through.
I’ll finish up with this last thought. As we were unpacking all our belongings into our new family home, both of us were unearthing wedding presents which had largely remained unused or packed away in boxes in the attic, only to be brought out for a special occasion. We both instinctively knew how sad it was that these things we had been gifted, as symbol of choosing to live a life with someone, had barely been used by our spouses. These items are now in daily use and we are taking pleasure from them. The china tea sets, the good steak knives and the crystal wine glasses.
If our experiences have taught us anything, it’s this. Don’t wait for a special occasion. There is meaning to be found in your everyday moments. Life is the special occasion and you should treat it as such, because one day the landscape might look very different.