When I was a new widow, one of the things I hated most was ending up on the dance floor alone.
It’s not like I’d never danced without Shawn. I mean, I’m a decently confident person, and I never needed him in order to dance at a party or a bar or a wedding. It’s just that I was so used to dancing with him after 15 years together. I dated men before Shawn who didn’t like to dance, so when we met and I realized he had no insecurities about getting out on the dance floor, I happily joined him at any chance I could get.
When he was gone, other people danced with me, but it was never the same. I danced with groups of people or with my sister or my best friends. Even in the midst of some of my deepest grief, in the hours after Shawn’s funeral, I danced to a Bon Jovi song surrounded by a group of women who would hold me up for years after that. I was not alone on those dance floors.
And yet…I was alone. Or at least it often felt that way.
It took a long time after Shawn’s death before I really wanted to dance again. I didn’t burst into spontaneous movement listening to my favorite pop music anymore, and I didn’t sway to a slow ballad as I stirred a pot of risotto. I just existed for a long time.
But slowly, I started to dance again. It happened because of my kids. “Dance with me, mama!” is a favorite line they all say to me, and it’s hard to tell a 4-year-old no when he says that. So I danced, at least a little bit. For a long time, I was just going through the motions, doing what I knew I would have been doing if things were different. I could feel bits of joy spinning around the kitchen with Claire or swaying to the music with Austin or bopping up and down with Tommy. But those bits of joy usually ended once the song was over.
Still, it became somewhat of a ritual in our house. When I started dancing with one of the kids, the other ones would join, and we’d all do this group jump-up-and-down type dance.
It was about a month ago, just after school closed, that I started to feel like dancing felt different.
I found myself doing it more on my own. I’d be in the kitchen making dinner and I’d realize I was dancing to the Fleetwood Mac song I had on in the background. Or I’d be stretching after my run, and feel the need to move my body to the house music blaring in my ears. And sometimes, I’d dance in the shower, like I once used to do, years ago.
My kids loved it. “You’re so happy, mama,” Claire said to me one evening when she saw me dancing as I cleaned up after dinner. I laughed. Was I really so different these days? I was certainly under a lot of stress, but somehow being home with my kids was bringing me joy too. Claire could see it mostly through the way that I let myself enjoy the kitchen dance floor.
That same evening, as I finished prepping for the next day, I stood in my kitchen looking out at the kids in the hammock, and I swayed to the music in the background. I thought about how long it had been since someone had held me as we danced slowly in the kitchen. I thought about dancing with someone else.
Of course, no one else was there.
Minutes later, my kids ran in from outside, eager to take their showers and start their evening screen time. I shooed them upstairs and took a few minutes for myself, thinking about how I was coping with everything lately. Were things actually changing for me, or was this strange time period simply causing me to react differently to widowhood?
Upstairs, the music was blaring. Claire was in my bathroom (“our bathroom, mama!”) dancing around to all sorts of music. “Dance with me!” she shouted when I came in the bathroom, and I did for a bit.
Then I got in the shower, and she kept dancing. She was singing to Whitney Houston’s “I wanna dance with somebody” and kept putting it on repeat. Eventually, Austin walked in and started singing with her, and I peeked my head out of the shower to watch. Claire had given him a toothbrush to use as a microphone. She was using a hairbrush, and they both sang at the top of their lungs.
“Sing with us!” Austin said. I pointed out that I was actively in the shower, but he said, “please…..” and so I poked my head out of the shower with a shampoo bottle microphone and joined them for a few lines. They laughed hysterically. “Sing with us again!” Claire said when the song was over.
So I got out of the shower and put on my robe while Austin went to find Tommy because “we all need to be together.” Everyone got a microphone (Tommy’s was my bottle of Aqua Net) and we decided to start the song at the beginning. “Let’s make a video!” Claire said, and she instructed Austin to start recording right as she started the music.
Then we sang. And we danced. And we hugged and laughed and for five short minutes it was a bit of bliss right there in my bathroom.
No one really knew the words until we got to the chorus, but when that happened, we all started jumping up and down and scream-singing together.
Oh, I wanna dance with somebody
I wanna feel the heat with somebody
Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody
With somebody who loves me
Outside, the world was crumbling. But inside my bathroom, dressed in bathrobes and singing into hairbrushes, we were laughing.
And I was dancing.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.