You Are Alone. Accept That. Carry On. (Part 2)
December has been hard, in a lot of ways. It’s the month when I re-live every painful moment in the hospital with Shawn, it’s the month when I’m supposed to be happy but sometimes just can’t be, and it’s the month when I remember that yes, it all really happened. This life I’m living is really true, not just some terrible nightmare.
I was running the other day with my friend Purva, because we are not deterred by freezing temperatures and darkness, and she asked me how I was feeling about my life. I’d just finished telling her about a guy I liked who had recently told me he didn’t want to be involved with me and I was feeling down about it (that’s a story for another time, dear readers.) Anyway, Purva said to me, “how are you feeling about dating overall?”
“I mean, it’s kinda terrible,” I said. “I’m looking for a guy who has everything – good looks, intelligence, kindness and a dynamic personality – and those guys are uncommon. I knew that Shawn was special, even when he was alive, but now it’s even more apparent how rare he was. I meet guys who often have 2 or 3 of the characteristics, but all 4? That seems impossible.”
She was understanding, and didn’t say something annoying like, “you’ll meet someone like that when you least expect it!”
We ran for a while uphill. “But you know what?” I said, eventually, “I’m starting to make peace with the idea that I may never find someone else. I’m not saying I’ll be forever celibate, but I may never find another long-term partner. It just might not happen for me. And for the first time in almost two years, I feel okay about that. I mean, I’d much rather fall in love again and feel that dizzy perfection of a new flame. But if it doesn’t happen for me, I think I’ll be okay. I have my kids and my work and my dad and my friends and my extended family, ya know?”
Purva smiled. “I love how you are talking about this,” she said. “You sound so much more okay with how things are. It’s such a far cry from last spring when you were trying out ‘radical acceptance.’ Remember that?”
I did. I actually went back and dug up an old blog post on this topic, which I’ll excerpt here. It’s from March 25th of this year, and I was writing about how I was trying to make myself “feel better”:
I started reading everything I could get my hands on about grief and sorrow, including some interesting online articles about the idea of “radical acceptance.” Basically, the idea with radical acceptance is that you have to accept the reality in front of you in order to really move forward.
So, I took out a post-it note one morning. On it I wrote 3 lines:
You are alone. Accept that. Carry on.
I put it in my pocket and went to drop off Tommy at my friend Purva’s house. “I’m trying radical acceptance,” I told her, and showed her the note.
“That’s one way to do it,” she said, “but I think the future is probably brighter for you than that.”
But I couldn’t see it. All I could see – especially in the middle of the night – was a sad future where I was totally alone in the world.
I’d forgotten that I’d written about the idea of radical acceptance before, but with a totally different perspective. Back in March, I’d just ended my first (and only) post-Shawn relationship. I was crushed, partially because of my ego and partially because of the hope I’d pinned on this one person to save me from forever being alone. I had been desperate to find someone new, to “move forward” with a man who could fill the massive hole that Shawn’s death left in my life.
But radical acceptance in March made me miserable. It made me miserable because I felt like things would never improve. I just kept saying over and over, “You are alone. Accept that. Carry on,” which sounds like it could have been helpful but just made me feel despondent. I accepted that I was alone, but the idea that I’d be alone forever was terrifying. I didn’t know how to be alone. I only knew I didn’t like it and that it filled me with anxiety.
Now, things are different, though it’s hard to pinpoint why. Yes, I’m living again through another terrible (and cold) month. And yes, I’m realizing again that I may be alone for the rest of my life.
But I feel different about this aloneness now.
I’m not in a perfect place. I still wish I could meet a man who could check all the boxes. I still feel lonely sometimes at night. I am not a perfect singleton who is writing blog posts about how wonderful it is to be single and how I could never marry anyone else after being married to Shawn.
But I feel better than I once did about being alone in this world. Maybe it’s because time has gone by, and I realize that I’m still able to feel joy at many points during the day. Or maybe it’s because I’ve dug into the DC dating pool, and while I’ve met some interesting people, I’ve realized that I don’t want to settle for someone who is just a mediocre match for me.
Or maybe it’s because I’ve actually been able to take stock of my life – almost two years after losing Shawn – and realize that I’m doing okay. Yes, I’d love a long-term partner someday. But I don’t need one anymore.
It’s a place I wish I could have been a year ago. But I had to live through the pain of being alone first, before I could be comfortable in my own skin as a single woman.
A single woman. Maybe just for now. Or maybe forever.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.
You know, I realize that Shawn was a very special guy, but he wasn’t perfect. I mean, he got the choice between Star Wars and Star Trek totally wrong and from time to time he was argumentative about that rather than accepting objective logic. Love to you and the children. Was just thinking of you all the other day.
Haha! I love how you knew him. He was not perfect….but as you note, he was such a real gem. Love that.
This is my 6th holiday without Cindy what’s difficult is everywhere its broadcasted about having a “ true love” at Christmas I had that for 22 years and I miss that magic love brings into your soul. Not just now but for me every day was magic: we had us.
SERIOUSLY. I’m really trying not to punch anyone when I hear those “love you at Christmas” songs. The worst!
I love your writing and your courage to share, thank you. I went back to the part 1 post and found that resonant. Stay in the small. That’s truly sage advice, and I think that will be my new mantra. I’m 11+ months out from my husband’s death from brain cancer, with the first holiday season and his death anniversary coming up. So many hard memories right now. I miss him so much. Stay in the small. Thank you, thank you.
Oh, I’m so sorry. The firsts of everything can seem so impossible. Hang in there. And yes – stay in the small.
I’m the lucky guy whose wife (Anne) took a chance on him after being widowed twice, and we lasted 40 years. Her 76th birthday is Christmas Day. This will be the 3rd without her. We (son, daughter-in-law, grandsons) will gather for breakfast on Christmas Day, eat breakfast, open presents, and try for gratitude that we have family that we treat like friends and friends that we treat like family. Then off to the 4:15PM showing of Star Wars Episode, 3D. I expect to cry on and off all day. Tears get rid of histamines and histamines cause inflammation, so tears are therapeutic. Also, I loved your Halloween picture. Thanks for writing. Your words give me comfort.
This is beautiful – and I love that you say that your wife “took a chance on him after being widowed twice.” That’s amazing and so wonderful to hear. I hope you have a peaceful Christmas.
December is hard! This is the second Christmas since we lost my husband to cancer. I dreaded decorating the house and cried before I worked up the courage to unpack ornaments. My kids and I took turns crying and missing Daddy. I know we will survive December, just as we did last year. But for now, we are being gentle with ourselves.
Thanks for validating December is tough. Thinking of your family during this dark time.
December can be DARK. I think it’s one of those things – we try and make it be filled with light and happiness, but the days are short and many times, this is when people remember those we’ve lost. I think embracing the darkness is something that feels right this time of year.
Being ok with being alone, too. Mostly because I think it would be a rare someone who checks your (and my) boxes, and is also a being a great parent with a heart big enough for my children, too. I am not just me anymore. I am us. We’re a package deal. I wonder how what you’ve learned on the front lines has influenced your acceptance of alone-ness, specifically in terms of parenting. Maybe this belongs in “Ask a Widow.”?! Have a good holiday and New Year.
Actually, that’s a great idea! I’m not sure if I really have any answers, but I do feel like I’ve been on a rollercoaster for two years that is settling just a little (thank goodness!) And yes, I am so lucky to have my kids, as they keep me grounded.
I feel fortunate to have my child because he keeps me busy and engaged. I have developed some new hobbies and I try to get out in nature as much as possible. Meeting new friends and socializing when possible also helps. I still feel lonely quite often, but I’m able to work through those feelings much better nowadays. In the beginning, I did not think that I would survive the pain and the feeling of loneliness and abandonment. I also have my ‘boxes’ to check, but I feel that I’m willing to compromise on some things. However, I don’t think that it is something that can be forced or that I can actively seek. I feel that meeting another life partner will probably something that randomly happens if ever… I met my husband like this. A random meeting of two strangers, not really looking for love who fell hard for each other. Two strangers who just clicked in their interests and who grew up together. I know that I will not be able to duplicate this and I was lucky to have loved and been loved in that way. I wish it would have lasted longer. I now know that I will never have THIS again. It is also not just me anymore, but there is a family and a history of love and loss. Someone else would need to accept this and learn to love what I have to offer now. I’m a different person, a different woman. I don’t know how many years (or months or days) I have left on this planet, but I do know that life is short and precious and I will try to make the best of it while I still can.
I agree. I don’t think everyone finds someone new after loss. My dad didn’t, for a number of reasons, and I’m not so sure I will. It’s tough to sit with that knowledge, but as you say, we all have to try and make the best of the time we have on this planet.
I’m only putting out a few decorations and lights and it feels wonderful! Just doing what I want. A new tradition. Appreciating the past, and redefining myself A bit more . Great!
I love this: “appreciating the past and redefining myself a bit more” – yes!