Mike and I are both widowed. Which means that there are two days every year that are very specific to our relationship. Two days every year that most couples don’t have, nor have they probably ever considered. These two days are extremely special, but hard. And each year as they approach, in June and in August, we’re not exactly sure what to do with them or how each other will be feeling. After all, these two days are in celebration of a beautiful beginning with someone else, not our beginning with each other.
These two days are hard, and complex, and beautiful. Usually, we go out to dinner on those two days together. Sometimes it’s very joyful and full of love and laughter. Other years, it’s hard. And no matter how great our meal is or our love for each other, nothing removes the sting of why we are there. Or why we are together in the first place. And we never know from year to year which way it will be.
Just last week was Mike’s anniversary with Megan. We went out to dinner to one of her favorite steak houses. And it was lovely and it was hard all at once. The kind of hard I’ve come to know well since loving someone that is widowed. The kind of hard that often times lies under the surface of things. As I sit across from him in the dimly lit restaurant, I can feel it pumping through his veins – entirely unbeknownst to anyone else in the room.
It is the kind of hard that I want so badly to “fix” or take away… because I love him. And naturally I don’t want to see him hurting. All the while, I also know that I cannot ever fix it – because there is nothing TO fix. And I should not try. To try and take away his pain on this or any other day would be a total disrespect to the love that he continues to have for his wife. To try and take anyone’s pain from them is to rob them of a piece of their connection to who they love. That isn’t something I never really understood before I loved someone who is widowed. No matter how much loss I had been through in my life… losing my mom, or my dad, or Drew did not teach me that. Not until I had to sit in the pain with someone I love – without attempting to fix it – did I start to understand this more.
It’s a beautiful thing to want to help, but sometimes helping isn’t about making someone laugh or feel better. Sometimes helping, I am learning, is about doing what is uncomfortable for you. Sometimes it may be to not bring up the painful thing at all, if that is what someone needs. Sometimes it is to just be quiet and let them feel. Sometimes it is to laugh and other times to cry with them. And always it is about paying attention, because someone grieving will let you know what they need as long as you pay close attention.
I’m grateful for these lessons. I’m grateful for the things that loving this man who loves his wife has taught me. I’m grateful to have a loving man who will sit with me at dinner on my anniversary with Drew – which I feel honors Drew so deeply. I’m grateful to honor Megan by sitting across from her husband on their anniversary just the same. And I’m grateful that we have not just one anniversary to celebrate each year, but three.
So many years ago, before I’d never known the widowed world, when love was young and traditional and simple in my life… I would have never imagined that love could be so complex and so simple at the same time. Nor would I have ever imagined I’d someday be a part of a love like that. Even on the hard days – sometimes especially on the hard days – it is so beautiful.