Valentine’s Day, Year 3

Red roses like those of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley

I’m spending Valentine’s Day with 3000 high school students.

I actually volunteered for this assignment. It’s one I’ve been doing for years, including when Shawn was alive. I run the Model UN program at my school and the students have a big conference every year right around Valentine’s Day. The first year I did it, Shawn sent a massive bouquet of red roses to the hotel where we were staying, and all of my students went totally crazy. (“OMG, that’s so sweeeeeet!“) I laughed when I called him later that day, recounting the story. He didn’t do it because he needed to show me he loved me – I already knew that. He did it because he knew it would make me smile, and make me feel special. Especially when I was dealing with a hotel full of high school students.

I’ve been grateful that for the past two years, I’ve continued to spend Valentine’s Day with my students. There’s nothing like high schoolers (and high school drama) to distract you from your own emotions. And it’s so innocent! At our Model UN conference, the kids give each other “candy grams” which are notes filled with those tiny candy hearts. I love how wrapped up they all get in this simple gesture, and I also love that when I talk to the kids about their lives – and the love they want, or hope to someday have – their expressions are full of possibility.

So as I’ve been sitting at this conference, I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day, the future, and this idea of “possibility.”

When Shawn was dying, he repetitively told me that if he died, I would need to get remarried. In fact, it was one of the first things he told me after he received his stage four cancer diagnosis. Each time he’d bring it up, I would push the suggestion away and tell him, “I only want to be with you!”

It was true. It’s still true, in a lot of ways.

Shawn was a realist, both in his professional and his personal life, and he knew that he needed to push me to date in order for me to be able to move forward, eventually. And yet, he could not have foreseen what it would be like for me to do this. Based on my conversations with him, I think he thought I’d spend some time consumed by grief, but then I’d wake up one day and want to date and I’d easily find someone to marry.

I mean, Shawn and I had gone from “just friends” to “we’re so in love that we are pretty sure we’ll get married” in the span of just a few months. So why wouldn’t that be how it happened for me again?

I think he also imagined that when I started dating, men would come flocking and I’d easily pluck one out to become my next husband.

Well.

That has not happened. At all. I mean, my life doesn’t exactly lead me to meeting a lot of available single men, but that’s not really what seems to be the real sticking point for me. Yes, I’ve managed to meet a few men that are around my age bracket, single and gainfully employed (among other related and important characteristics.) And every once in a blue moon, I actually manage to have a moment with one of them.

But it’s never simple with me.

For example, a while back I was with a guy who I found attractive. We were hanging out, talking about life, and generally having a really nice time. He was being sweet, and (I think) trying to figure out how much I liked him, and he started to play with my hair. (I just re-read that sentence and it sounds creepy. It was much sweeter in person, I promise!)

Anyway, at that moment, I could have leaned toward him, smiled, and let him proceed with this strange dance of emotional intimacy. Instead, I stood up, put my hair in a ponytail, and started telling a crazy story to distract from the moment.

I couldn’t handle it. But I wanted to. I wanted to be that girl who I once was. The girl who could easily look a man in the eye. The girl who liked having her hair played with. The girl could let a man in, emotionally.

But I’m not there, apparently. I mean, maybe (as my friends suggest) I just haven’t met the right guy. That is a distinct possibility.

Or maybe I just need more time. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that you don’t arrive at (“I’m ready for emotional intimacy!”) but rather that you come to, slowly. I mean, it took over a year for me to really enjoy eating again after Shawn died, and there were still times in the second year when I couldn’t even look at food. So maybe – maybe – I’m asking a lot of myself.

And maybe Shawn was too. “You’ll find someone else,” he said to me. And maybe he was right. Or maybe not. But I think, for both of us, we assumed that if and when I wanted to date, the next step – finding a new husband – would come easily. We didn’t think about all of the in-between steps, because just imagining not being with each other was horrible enough.

I’m working on it. I want the possibility of a new relationship – a real one, where I can look someone in the eye and let him in. One where I can talk about my life, and all the emotions that I have on a daily basis. One where I can at least let a man play with my hair.

I believe in that possibility, even if I’m terrible at it right now. I believe in it, because Shawn believed in me and in my ability to make myself happy.

For now, I am going to just relish being around all these high school kids who see a future that has so much possibility. They don’t know what will happen to them over their lifetimes. They don’t know if they’ll find love early in life or much later than they thought. Most of them don’t even know if they’ll get a candy gram from someone they’re eyeing at this conference.

But the possibility exists for them.

And I think it does for me too. Not to get a candy gram, obviously, but to find someone that I can really let in. It’s not guaranteed. But it’s possible.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

23 Replies to “Valentine’s Day, Year 3”

  1. Your words always leave me in deep thought….raw and emotive piece. You are amazing and inspiring Marjorie and I can only pray that while the beautiful love and memories you shared with Shawn forever remain rooted in your heart, that the future brings much light and joy to fill those years ahead. Because any guy would be lucky to have you…and Shawn knew this.

    1. I know that Shawn believed that I would find new love. He told me often. Figuring out how to navigate that has been harder. But thank you for your kind words of encouragement!

  2. Uggh, this only my 2nd Valentine’s without my wife. There are days where I want to start dating and then I don’t know what to do. We were together for 15 years. I don’t “social media” much so I don’t know the “game” on that label on what to do. It’s hard to not look over at people or hear about their plans this evening and not feel envious. You know you used to have that and now you don’t. And their is this thought that you may never have that again. It’s scary. Although I have all these thoughts and questions, tonight we’ve made it a thing and the boys make Valentine’s for mom and we take them to the cemetery and then go to dinner and order mom’s favorite appetizers and tell stories. Here’s hoping you have a great Valentine’s Day!

    1. Oh, yes, the belief that you may never find love again – it’s terrifying. And yet trying to find love again is ALSO so awful. I’m working on a post right now about this very idea….and I’m having a hard time pulling it together because it’s just SO TOUGH to put into words. But thanks for reading.

  3. Yep. We never did much for this day but it’s still hard to keep from comparing to others who (thankfully) don’t understand the peculiar isolation this way of being is. I had a very Un-Valentines Day: several massive and largely unexpected bills, no message from the guy I’ve fallen for, then on evening tv was showing ‘He’s just not into you’!! 🤣 Umm- better luck for us all next year? Glad you had the teens surrounding you Marjorie, I have 3 and it’s a great (and dramatic!) distraction!

    1. Oh, that’s awful. I’m so sorry. I mean, I don’t even care about Valentine’s Day, really (it’s a made-up holiday!) but it always gets me down. I’m not sure what the best remedy is either!!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing with such honesty and vulnerability. This is my first Valentine’s Day alone and I can relate to the mess of conflicting emotions and loneliness. Volunteering to chaperone Model UN is a pretty genius way of providing yourself with healthy distractions on what is otherwise one of the worst days in the calendar for widows. Good luck with the kids today!

    1. Thanks! Honestly, I didn’t think of it as a genius idea, but now that I did it, I’m SO GLAD I did. The first Valentine’s Day is the worst. Hang in there.

  5. Still in the early months but I can’t help but think about this constantly. I was sure if this ever happened I would never remarry but then I didn’t think I would be alone so young. Being alone for the rest of my life seems impossible but so does finding someone new to love with all that comes with (especially the meeting, dating and being emotionally available to someone else). Sometimes I think My heart is just wishing for myhusband to come back but in my mind I know that isn’t going to happen. I think I am just “looking” for someone to fill that space in my heart that is just a big hole right now.

    1. Yep. I get that SO MUCH. I actually think I wanted to get remarried MORE when it was the early days, because I just wanted the hurt to go away. Now that things are just a bit easier, I am not so sure. But yet….I still want love. It’s such a strange conundrum.

  6. I was walking with my little dog at the small park behind our library and courthouse today. In the middle of the park is a gazebo like bandstand that many people use for small weddings, etc., since our town is a tourist destination. There was a middle-aged couple waiting on a bench nearby. The woman wore a red cloche hat and was carrying a bouquet of red roses wrapped in white lace that fluttered in the breeze.

    After a bit, a man with a black judge’s robe slung over his arm approached them and said “I guess you two want to get married today!” I felt torn between staying and watching or moving on because I didn’t want to intrude on their special moment. I moved on down to the far end of the park. At one point I looked back and saw the three of them in the center of the gazebo, the man standing close to the woman and both of them attentively facing the judge, now in his flowing robe. In my mind I wished them well and hoped they have many happy years together. That was my Valentine’s Day.

    1. Oh, that is just SO BEAUTIFUL. I love this story SO MUCH – thank you for sharing!

  7. Francine Whitehorn says: Reply

    Marjorie your stories always touch me and many are so similar to mine. After watching my husband of nearly 30years die from small intestinal cancer (aged 54), I vowed and declared that I could never love again and would never need it.
    Out of the blue I met someone through close friends, at the zoo of all places. He too had watched his wife die of cancer. Our meeting was 1 year out for me and 2 years for him.
    Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could fall in love. We live 4 and half hours from one another, so our relationship grew over the phone every evening. We helped each other out of a very dark place and fell in love in the process.
    The journey has been beautiful and totally different.
    I wasn’t looking for anything, and that’s when the most amazing things happen sometimes. We have just had our first Valentine’s Day and I was spoilt with red roses and it marked 9 months of our new journey.
    I couldn’t be without my gorgeous zoo guy now.

    1. Oh, I LOVE this story so much. It’s so beautiful – like something out of a movie! I also love the obvious love you can hold for both men – that is a truly wonderful thing to behold.

  8. My mother was widowed at age 42. She didn’t date for at least 3 years. She remarried after six years and a bit, at age 49. (We, her three children, were by then 13, 19, and 21.) My stepfather was a wonderful addition to the family, and gave her, and the three of us, so much. I was the thirteen-year-old and after a few years, he adopted me. He didn’t have any other children. It was such a comfort to us both.

    Mom said she just wasn’t ready to date before the three years had passed. I’m just two years widowed, and I think of that when I contemplate dating. Not yet. It takes time to grieve, adjust, let go. It’s doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes when I read your blog (I’ve read every post) I get the sense you are impatient with the process. It takes time.

    1. Oh, I am impatient! I think that’s pretty much the point of my most recent post about dating 😉

      I’m doing what I’ve always done, which is to be as proactive as I can. I agree that it takes time, but I also think that sometimes it doesn’t – I really do think that some of it comes down to luck. Some of my widowed friends have met a significant other early, and some never have. But yes, I’m impatient for love because, well, it’s an awesome thing to have.

  9. I don’t know if I ever remarry again. but I would like to fall in love again. I find the prospect of dating or even meeting suitable men very difficult and daunting. Being a Mom to a young child makes it even more difficult. I have yet to meet someone of the caliber of my late husband. It is not that I necessarily compare, but there is an entire new component to dating when you are over the age of 40 and widowed with children. I have not tried online dating because I have heard awful stories about the scammers and hook-up seekers that my single girlfriends have met in the past. My free time is scarce and precious and I don’t really want to waste it on somebody who is not worthy of my efforts.

    1. I totally understand what you are saying. It’s so hard to devote time to dating! When dates aren’t awful, sometimes I relish the time away from my kids, but many times I just think, “I’d rather be at home watching a movie with my kids!”

  10. Thanks to D for the story that gives hope and to you Marjorie for continuing to helps us see that all of our fears, wants, needs, and emotions are completely normal.

    I feel like widowhood just puts such a pressure into the universe not to stay stuck in the misery of heartbreak, not to be the “undateable”, not to move too fast, but not to slow because “youth is fading” and the more tome that passes could mean it’s less likely to happen… then there’s the desperate need to be “saved” from the sunken hole in our hearts that like quick sand pulling us in. A void that we know can never be filled. Time goes by so quickly. I cant believe in May it will make a year. I’ve been going out with friends to see if someone can catch my eye or I meet someone to even entertain, but its so hard. I relate so much to the avoidance described. I cant even bare to make eye contact. I get super uncomfortable and turn away. Its the most awkward thing and I am just wondering at what point in marriage did this happen to me🤦🏻‍♀️. I know it means that I need time although the loneliness really sucks, but I’m just feeling crazed with realizing how out of touch I am with the universe where I can want to have the company of a male but can’t even take someone looking at me. What a journey after a journey.

    1. I will say this – the “looking people in the eye” thing does get easier after a year, or at least it did for me. But it’s SUCH A DAMN PROCESS. I recently went out with a man I really liked, and he kept looking at me and even though I liked him, it was really hard for me to hold his gaze. But I did it, at least a little bit! Baby steps.

      1. Thanks Marjorie.
        It helps so much to read your blogs and learn how normal to our world all of this is and to also see that healing for us does simply mean that we cried one day less or didn’t have to work as hard to drag ourselves. The missing them part never goes away, but it helps to have those days where i feel just a little bit together.

        Best wishes as you continue to work through this. I am sure we are all hoping for happiness for you again. You are us.
        Jenn

        1. Oh, this comment means so much to me in a way you may not fully know. I’m going to write “you are us” on a piece of paper and hang it by my writing desk!

  11. […] Life finally had a rhythm to it, and I was getting used to year three of widowhood. I thought about Valentine’s Day, and how it was around the corner, and I was still without a partner. This year, however, I was […]

Leave a Reply