In the year right after Boris died, I was a bit socially withdrawn–I mostly spent time one-on-one with people, rather than in groups. And all of the people I spent time with knew me very well and also knew Boris and about his loss. I didn’t really have to tell my story to anyone. I didn’t have to decide whether or not to mention it. And, sometimes, I did, in the most awkward ways. Like with the hygienist at the dentist when I burst into tears when she asked me about flossing. And the hairstylist who I went to when washing and blow-drying my hair felt like the biggest chore in the world. But, not to people who I might have a friendship with or work with for any length of time.
I started a Ph.D. program in fall 2019 and that was my first venture into new social situations and forming relationships with people who didn’t know Boris and didn’t know about his death. I remember a few sort-of awkward situations. One was a post-doc who asked me about my “I love you” tattoo (it is Boris’s handwriting from a card). He said something jokingly like, “are you telling yourself that you love yourself with that tattoo?”. I smiled and told him what the tattoo was and his tone changed and then told me about his daughter’s death and how he has a tattoo for her. There were other people around and I remember feeling a little awkward but quickly relieved when he had a grief experience to share. There were a handful of other instances where I shared about my loss, and most of them turned out okay.
Last night I talked to my parents’ new neighbors for almost an hour. They asked a lot of questions about my dad’s health and we talked a little about my life, too. There were a few moments in the conversation where I felt like blurting out, “well, I had a boyfriend for 10 years and he died” or something to indicate how my life had drastically changed suddenly 3 years ago, which is sort of how I ended up where I am now. But, it never seemed to make sense. I didn’t want it to seem random or for them to feel uncomfortable. I wondered, if I were married to Boris would I feel differently? Would I feel more open to telling them that I am a widow? If I had that marriage to “legitimize” it or maybe if we had children together…maybe then I wouldn’t hesitate to talk about that part of my story.
If I live long enough, I know I have many, many years of navigating this. Of meeting new people and forming new friendships or other relationships and deciding how to tell them about my story. I know in my heart that my relationship with Boris was just as significant as many marriages are, and I know a piece of paper doesn’t change anything about a commitment or a love, but because our culture seems to still center around marriage, I feel some nervousness about this piece of my life.
Ya know, this whole problem could be solved if Boris had just *not died*. Sigh. So many of our problems, secondary losses, and heartaches could vanish if our person were still here. But, here we are.