The years between our graduations and this year of 2000 have been filled with innumerable life altering experiences for each of us. Some wondrous, some disastrous, some fun, some sad, but whether dire or uplifting, each encounter forces us to make decisions that will forever change our lives. And with each encounter is a lesson for us that we can choose to learn, or not. One year recently I was handed a variety of experiences that I share here with you.
A Year Like No Other...
Widow. Not a word I had ever associated with myself. The death of a spouse was something that was not in my consciousness - ever. Even while Walt was struggling with liver disease I didn't face the possibility of losing him in real terms. Death was far off in the future and didn't need my attention right then and there. But, as it turned out, it wasn't that far off in the future after all, and nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming devastation that came with losing him. No matter what preparations I might have made, I would not have been ready to face that kind of reality. The world, as I knew it, changed with a final goodbye. How do you face this kind of sorrow? How does one face change of this magnitude? How do you survive and carry on? Where do you find the courage to live with this kind of upheaval?
Widowhood was the first of many challenges that would present themselves to me over the next 12 months. Looking back on the events of that year I've come to a better understanding and appreciation of my own strengths and limitations, beliefs and uncertainties, needs from others and self-sufficiency.
Walt and I had been married for 18 years when he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Having been on the liver transplant list for two years, we knew that this pronouncement was the beginning of the end. He would no longer be a candidate for a transplant and after several tests and CT scans the doctor gave us the prognosis: Walt and I had six months to a year to say our goodbyes.
How often I've thanked God that our life together had included daily expressions of our love and devotion to each other, so our remaining time together didn't require any catching-up, apologies, or reconciliations. We could spend our final days appreciating the life we'd shared and living each precious moment we had left to the fullest.
It became evident that we weren't even going to get six months when the doctors at Stanford had the talk with us about Walt's request not to use any extraordinary measures to keep him alive. And, in less than five months, on December 2nd, Walt said, "I love you" for the last time, and four hours later he was gone.
Because Walt had told me many times that he wanted me to be strong, and because I've always been a very pragmatic sort, I found myself fighting the natural grieving process in order to not let it get me down. But the process was taking on a life of its own, and after several weeks of being strong it became quite clear to me that that tactic wasn't working and, as a wonderful book of the same title states, I had to have the courage to grieve. So, I allowed the process to take over and it possessed my very being. It engulfed me and forced me to deal with the emotions inherent in the loss of the love of my life. And once I stopped looking at grief as a weakness, and realized that in order to get to the other side of it I had to go through it, I began the process of healing and moving on.
Moving On (literally and figuratively) Walt and I had owned our own business for eight years and then merged our company with another printing business a year and a half before his death. We had known our new partner for eight years and we thoroughly enjoyed what we were doing. But after Walt's passing the relationship between our partner and myself changed dramatically. The person we thought he was became someone I could no longer work with. I had been contemplating selling my half of the business, but thought Id put that on the back burner because I had enough to handle for now. But one day as we were discussing a cash flow problem he made the statement that, "We wouldn't be having such a cash flow problem if Walt had been insurable." Stunned, all I could say was, "If Walt had been insurable he would be alive today." That he could relate Walt's death with financial gain was horrifying tome. I walked out of his office knowing that I had to figure out a way to end our partnership, and within two weeks I offered him a way to buy me out - one I knew he couldn't pass up. Even though I practically gave my half of the business away, I had to move on. But, the relief of not having to deal with our partner any more was tempered by the sadness of losing what Walt and I had worked so hard at developing. For close to ten years we had worked our little butts off growing the business into something we were very proud of. And, in the stroke of a pen, it was gone.
Now I was totally on my own with a clean canvas on which I could paint any picture I chose. What would I like to do? Where would I like to live? I had no family in Northern California - I could be close to family in Denver, Long Beach or Fallbrook. I had been given the opportunity to make a whole new life limited only by my imagination.
I chose to relocate closer to my mother and brother, and within 4 weeks of that decision I had packed up 18 years of memories and the contents of a 2000 square foot house and moved 500 miles from where I had spent the past fifteen years.
After moving on in the literal sense - and settling in to a new home in a new town, I found myself facing moving on figuratively. The first issue I needed to address was finding a job (which proved to be very easy thanks to a temp agency) and then I soon found myself considering the possibility of finding someone to share my life with. I missed being a couple. I missed loving and being loved. But, at the same time there was great conflict going on in my heart. How could I have been so completely devastated by my loss yesterday and yet so willing to consider finding someone else today? It finally came to me that not only was I not replacing Walt, he will always be with me, but it is precisely because of the beautiful relationship Walt and I had that I could look forward to finding love and happiness with someone else. I could love again because of the great love that we had shared.
Then the reality of this new decision hit - I would be required to enter the scary world of the dating scene. I had faced it with trepidation at 38 and certainly didn't see that it could be any easier at 57, but a friend introduced me to a web site called MatchMaker which proved to be a safe and easy way to "meet" potential dates. Over the next few months, I "met" about 25 men via email and 8 in person. Each one was a very nice man (much to the surprise of my support network of family and friends - they were all convinced I'd lost any hint of sanity I might have had). The meetings in person were varied: One flew his airplane into Fallbrook Airport and took me to lunch; I met four at Starbucks; one took me to dinner in Carlsbad; one met me for brunch in Palm Springs; and one man joined me for a picnic in the park in Fallbrook, a walk on the pier in Escondido, a sunset from the surf in Carlsbad, and tacos in Leucadia. During this multi-faceted day I found a wonderful comfort and contentment and knew I wanted to see this man again. And three months after our first picnic Lynn and I decided we wanted to be a couple and spend the rest of our lives together.
My cup runneth over with love for a wonderfully caring and sensitive man with a fabulous sense of humor and fun, who has a huge heart and who loves me back. Our home is filled with love and laughter - what more could I ask for? I am truly blessed.
I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.