Well, it happened! This past week, Mike and I went to the courthouse and stood with a judge, said our vows, and got married. It wasn’t the big wedding with all our friends and family like we imagined. Instead of a wedding dress and tux, it was matching t-shirts and jeans, and “Just Married” face masks. The day certainly wasn’t anything we planned for it to be at all, but it turned out to be no less special. We decided to each share a bit in this post, talking about the many emotions and the different ways that we each experienced this big day. Given that Mike was married before, and I was not, and he had time to process his wife passing while for me, it was sudden and unexpected, there’s such different experiences here to share:
Did I ever think I would be back here, taking vows, wearing a ring, having a wife? Well…yeah. I honestly thought about it, a lot. Granted I was in this weird situation where I was pre-greiving the loss of my wife, and she understood it, and flat out told me that she expected me to marry again. After she died, I never really went through any type of long-term phase where I wondered if it was “acceptable” to even think about dating or seeing someone new. Of course, I sat through those first months totally convinced that there would never be anyone that could even hold a candle to Megan. I was fine without ever even dating again. It was Megan that wanted me to “find a good mom for Shelby”, but hell, I could handle being both dad AND mom.
Then, in the midst of all this grieving and low expectations, I met Sarah. It was weird, of course, at first. I mean, it had only been three months since Megan died, and here I was at a widows’ conference in Florida, looking to find some semblance of help in being alone, scared, and grief-stricken, with an eight-year-old. There was an instant kinship with Sarah, but all of it was not by choice. I wasn’t looking for anyone, I wasn’t comfortable dating, and I for damn sure wasn’t planning on meeting my future wife.
Five-and-a-half years later, Sarah and I are married.
I honestly had no “extra” grief over Megan when I said my vows again. None when I proposed, and none through the “planning” phase. This is what she wanted. Having that conversation as she sat in a hospital bed was truly course-altering as it pertained to my life without her. Both of us reaching the “acceptance” phase before she was ever gone and then getting to grieve together was the best support structure I could have asked for.
So, when I said my vows again, there was no fear. There was no ominous foreshadowing or hesitation. I kept my vows to Megan, and I’ll keep my vows to Sarah. Having promised them once, I know what they truly mean. Cliche, boilerplate, simple or not, those words mean something, and they mean everything.
I was, and am, in-the-moment. Sarah could have a stroke on the couch right now, keel over, and die. I would be devastated, and I probably wouldn’t think about it right away, but given time, I would know that those vows meant something yet again. The grief would certainly be harder for me, but I also now have the experience of some tiny part of it that tells me I can function through it.
I don’t fear the future. I didn’t when I married Megan either…it was already certain that she was going to die, long before she “should” have, but I didn’t fear it. I loved her.
I suppose that having been married once made it easier to be married again. Had my marriage to Megan ended in divorce, then sure, I would have been far, far more cautious and untrusting, but it didn’t. It ended with “death doing us part”, which is how I fully intend my marriage to Sarah ending…a long, long time from now.
I think my experience of getting married has been so different in some ways from Mike’s. He definitely is more matter-of-fact about many things whereas I tend to get really emotionally attached to specific ways of doing things, sometimes to a fault. For one, this was the first time getting married for me. And with any luck, the only. It was hugely important to me for all of our family and friends to be there with us and for it to be what I envisioned in my head and heart. When COVID postponed the wedding, and then pretty much canceled any chance of it happening, it was a flood of emotions for me and a lot of grief.
It almost feels silly now that I had so much grief and sadness for a whole year leading up to this big day… when in fact, the day was so beautiful, and so lovely, and so perfect and most of all, SO FUN in a way we never could have planned. We said vows in matching Star Wars t-shirts, were done in ten minutes, took our own photos with Shelby (Mike’s – and now my – daughter) helping out as photographer, then went to have burgers and beer at our favorite restaurants before coming home and just hanging out for the rest of the day. I did my own makeup and did nothing special, and just did my hair the way I would any other day. So the whole thing just felt effortless and exciting and fun. This really surprised me, and reminded me that there are many different versions of perfect, not just one. And sometimes the version we didn’t plan for can be just as beautiful… if that isn’t a metaphor for widowed life I don’t know what is!
There has been other hard stuff for me. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about Mike dying before us getting married, and am still having the thoughts of him dying just a week, a month, a year into our marriage. I try and keep those thoughts calm, and remind myself I can’t control any of that. In a way, this does help me appreciate what’s here, today, right now. “I’ve made it a whole week married!” was said the other day in fact. So, I try and use it to stay thankful, since it’s pretty impossible to not have those thoughts at least a little bit.
The very hardest part for me leading up to us getting married wasn’t grief about Drew, but was the absence of my mother. About a week before the big day, it suddenly slammed into me with full force. Every night leading up to getting married, when we’d get up to bed, I’d let loose a flood of tears and pain, missing my mom. Wishing she were even just alive for this day and unable to travel, because that would have been still better than her being gone. Never have I felt the pain of missing her so sharply, or at least not since I was a kid when she first died.
And so, every night before our marriage day, Mike and I crawled under the blankets and I cried for my mom. And sometimes I cried also a little bit for Drew, for us not getting to share this together, but mostly, for my mom. And this person beside me in bed laid with me, and just let me cry, and let it out. And I think it only affirmed for me even more how right he is for me, because he left all the room in the world for the missing of my mom to share the space of those days leading up to our marriage.
I know I’ve always feared that getting married would trigger so much pain about not getting to marry Drew, when actually, it really didn’t. I believe with all of me that Drew chose Mike to be in my life. I believe fully that he is watching all of this, and sometimes laughing because he feels so clever to have chosen a cheeky man like Mike to annoy me! Ha! Those two, I tell you, they are in cahoots. Seriously though, I have always believed and felt that Drew and Megan chose us. And even though Drew was not sick, he had a dangerous job, which led us to have a similar conversation as Mike and Megan about me finding love again if anything ever happened to him. I didn’t feel like Drew was not a part of us getting married. Quite the opposite, I felt very much that he was so joyful to watch this all finally unfold. Because I feel like he’s still part of everything in my world, and always will be. All of this has brought a lot of peace to me around us not getting married.
So for all the fear I had about the big day not being “Special enough” or about being so caught up in my own grief and pain that I wasn’t able to be fully present for this big moment with Mike… none of that turned out to happen. Instead, I did a lot of grieving in the days prior, and on the day of, there was this beautiful lightness and joy. The kind of joy us widowed people don’t really feel very often… the kind before death and loss and heaviness of life needed space in our hearts. The kind that is so fully and deeply in the moment that nothing else even exists. And I’m happy to share that, as we left the next day for a mini-honeymoon, we felt that joy the entire trip. And literally NOTHING went wrong on that trip. What an incredible thing, especially, to be able to still feel such deep joy as widowed people. To still get to claim our joy so fully as we begin a new chapter is something I think I will spend the rest of my life feeling grateful for.
Very few things in my life have gone according to plan. Really almost none of them. And it has brought such a lifetime of pain and grief for me to the point that I always fear when “the other shoe will drop” when things start going well. But this one, despite “the plan” changing 10 different times because of a pandemic, this version went exactly and beautifully according to the very simple plans we had, and maybe even better than we could have planned. It has felt, in a way, like it has righted a lifetime of “everything going wrong”. I only hope I get to keep him (LIVING!) for a very very long time, but we don’t ever know, so we’ll make the most of now.