Be Gentle With Me
Author: Linda Ambard
I thought I knew how my life was going to play out. Sure, both Phil and I were going to grow old and die one day---one day far, far away. A day after a brief illness and a time to get one's affairs in order and to say goodbye to loved ones. Before that one day, some day in the far off future, there was so much more that was supposed to happen. We married when we were both very young and had more children than anyone else. Phil was a Staff Sergeant select when our youngest was born and we chose for me not to work outside of the home for many years. We did not believe in handouts, thus all we had was one another and the dreams of the one day, some day time together living our dreams. The time for dreams was over before it even started and with the implosion of what I thought was going to happen, I was thrown into a world I knew nothing about. I was lost and I was very, very afraid.
Time has given me a voice and a fire to speak and to work with other military members and families because my story demands attention. My story is more than a story, it is my life, and in the showing up and speaking up, I have found my footing. The voice has led to a life that is full, meaningful, and thriving. Yet, and this is a big yet, time has not erased my need to be loved and to love. Grief is sneaky, though.
While many know the last face to face conversation I had with Phil, that conversation will always be the barometer as to how much that man loved me. We had been married 23 years and never once in those 23 years had we had the “what if” conversation. This time? He wanted to have it. I wanted none of it. I made jokes about Raul the Pool Boy. I do not know any Rauls and I do not have a pool. He stopped me in my tracks when he asked me, "If you died first, would you want me to be happy?" Oh, yes, yes, I would.
For the first few years, I was encapsulated in wanting what I could not have. My heart was barren and shattered. I wrapped the shroud of grief around me so tightly that as time lapsed I could no longer see how I could ever let anyone else in. I found myself shutting down and closing doors with males because it was easier and it seemed almost expected. Military widows are young widows and the people around us seem to have ideas of how we should grieve, how long we should grieve for, and how much of a badge of honor it is to stay committed to the memory of a love that once was. That memory does not provide companionship, joy, or life.
The problem is trying to navigate letting someone in while there are still memories and still days that will poke the heart. The problem is compounded by the thoughts that something bad might happen to this one too. Fear is very real and at times it seems easier to shut off and shut down, but almost five years later, I am at the point where I know there must be something more in my life. I want to love and to be loved again. I want to have someone who knows me well and that I run to. I want to be the steady force behind someone. I want to be better with someone than stand alone cold.
It is very difficult to think about taking a chance because I already have myself convinced that surely my grieving widow status makes me somehow off-putting. I don't know how to explain the melancholy on certain days or weeks. I don't even see it coming sometimes, but I do recognize there is room to love again. I recognized it long before I was ready to do something about it. When I was married to Phil, I had needs that were not met. I didn't know it. I was happy. When he died and I started to come out of my fog, I recognized I was pursuing and doing things Phil would not have enjoyed. I started telling my story and living in a pretty public manner--something Phil would have detested. In the growth and in that moment, I realized I could love differently and well in a different way. With Phil, I did not know there were holes, but the difference now is that while someone else may feel the spaces between the holes, there will always be gaps Phil left.
Learning to love again does not negate or cheapen the love I had for Phil. In fact, I wouldn't be able to love if he had not loved me well. The scary part is the vulnerability of widows. It really doesn't matter how much time has passed. I think widows who had good marriages tend to put too much validity into relationships too quick. We want what we once had. I also think military widows are in a unique position where if we remarry, we lose our benefits to include medical. Knowing these components was the largest reason I shut people off the past two years. It was just simply easier to wrap the shroud of grief tighter, but it is cold.
Recently, I have started to let someone in. I do not know where the relationship is going. Each and every day, I have to talk myself off of the ledge of sabotaging the friendship we have. Relationships are a risk, a big risk, but it comes down to this: I know Phil would want me to be happy again and I know that while I do not know the outcome of this relationship, I do want to see where it will go. There is still so much to navigate and it all scares me. I do not need to know the answers today or even a year from now. Maybe the relationship will end, but if it does, I have been through much, much worse. There are still conversations we need to have, but I am not looking to replace Phil, I am looking to give my heart. I am not looking for the human touch--and though I want that aspect of a relationship, it isn't the reason to be in a relationship. If and when I give myself to someone, I am giving them my heart. In the giving of my heart, I am baring my soul. Be gentle with me.