About a month after Shawn died, I was on the phone with his former boss. She was asking about the kids, but then we started talking about Shawn. She shared stories with me, and I smiled, but mostly I cried. She worried that she was upsetting me, and I reassured her that I wanted to keep talking about Shawn.
In fact, it’s all I wanted to do in those early days. I wanted to talk about Shawn all the time. I knew it was inappropriate to tell strangers on the metro and at the grocery store about my dead husband, but I did it anyway. It was a compulsion of sorts – one that said: “World, please don’t forget him. Don’t let me forget him.”
These feelings eased after a while, and I could move through normal life without needing to mention Shawn at least once an hour. But I always loved it when other people would tell me a story about him. I loved hearing people tell stories about his obsession with DC baseball, his love affair with Coors Light and the funny antics he pulled when I wasn’t around. I would hang on their words, desperate to hear more about the man I still loved.
Once I’d been writing this blog for a few months, I started to notice that other widows would write me (usually privately) and tell me their stories. But these widows didn’t just tell me about their spouses dying. They also almost always shared about what their spouses were like when they were living.
He was a baseball coach of their son’s little league team. She was a nurse, who worked through much of her cancer diagnosis. He could fix anything, and loved to work on his car. I heard about first dates and honeymoons and births. I saw photos. I learned about all of these men (and sometimes women) who had been lost to cancer, heart disease, suicide and dozens of other tragedies.
I never really knew what to say back, but I usually wrote something like, “thank you for telling me about your husband (or wife).” I meant it. I loved hearing about the spouses they loved and continued to love.
Why do we do this? Why do we want so badly to tell our stories and the stories of our dead spouses? Why is there such a compulsion to say their names and tell their stories after they die?
I think it’s because our stories with our spouses aren’t done when they die. Maybe that’s because we are still very much alive. And part of them lives in us, forever.
My dad believed this, and so even after my mom died, he kept talking about her. He told me stories I already knew, reiterating her personality traits so I wouldn’t forget. He told me new stories as I got older, showing me pieces of her I never knew.
He kept her alive for me.
So, yes, Shawn is gone. I am moving in a forward direction and I am trying to live fully because that is what Shawn wanted for me. But I don’t want to stop saying his name or telling stories about him. I don’t want him to disappear, just because he died.
What I’ve realized lately is that I don’t just want to tell my story about Shawn anymore. I also want to hear about the people you’ve lost.
I want to hear all the stories I don’t know yet, or those that I haven’t heard in a while.
If you are grieving the death of your a husband, wife, sister, brother, child, parent, friend or someone else you loved dearly, I’m specifically inviting you to tell me about that person in the comments below. I’ll read them all, I promise. And if you don’t want to do something so public, you can send me a private note, or just silently take a moment to remember exactly how he used to unload the dishwasher or how she used to crumple up her face when the sun was bright.
We keep them alive when we say their names, and when we tell their stories.
I’d love to hear yours, too.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.