I went to try on wedding dresses the other day and the craziest thing happened.
I mean, let’s be clear, I kinda thought, “maybe trying on wedding dresses will be the subject of a blog post” because there was bound to be something that came up as a young widow, wasn’t there? But mostly, I was just excited that I could go with my dear friends Becky and Michelle – the same friends who’d been there when my kids were babies and planned Shawn’s funeral and helped me through the terrible early years of widowhood and actively encouraged me to date and shrieked with joy the night Chris and I got engaged. I was excited to do this super fun thing with them and I was also really excited to start doing some wedding planning stuff, because (even at age 42!) this is fun.
Anyway, we gathered in our masks at the bridal store and met the woman who would be helping us. She was about 15 years older than me, I think, and she was warm and excited about showing me all the latest dresses. “So how do you all know each other?” she asked.
I hesitated for a second. Should I lay it all out for her? Was that weird? I quickly decided that it was best that she knew more rather than less. I told her the basics – that Becky and Michelle were some of my oldest friends from parenting, that we met when our kids were very young, and that they had helped me through the death of my late husband, over three years ago. “And now they’re here, supporting me as I’m getting married again. Actually, I’m marrying Becky’s brother!”
I recognize this is a lot to take in. I think I need to figure out how to say it more clearly and in a way that makes it easy for strangers to respond. But the woman just tilted her head a bit and smiled. She wore a mask, but I could see it in her eyes.
“My husband died young, too,” she said, simply. “I am also a widow.”
She told me a bit of her story over the next hour. How her son had been young when it happened, and how her husband had been healthy and how it all came crashing down over a series of weeks. “Good for you for finding love again,” she said. “It took me a really long time to start dating again.”
We commiserated about dating (because that’s a theme that I can do with anyone) and then she helped me find a dress that had lace on the sleeves, like I wanted. Michelle and Becky took photos and we discussed the merits and drawbacks of each dress. And each time I went back to change to a new gown, we talked a bit more. I wondered out loud how she could work at the bridal store as a widow, and she wondered what it was like to really fall in love again.
After we left, Becky and Michelle and I marveled at the fact that – of all the people we could have had help us – the person who did help us was a widow! What are the chances?
I thought about the last week that I’d had. Two other events – one at my work and one with my sister – had led me to meet two different women who’d also been touched by tragedy. The first one I met through my work, and I mentioned that I had lost my husband. “Me too,” she said, “though it was a number of years ago. My son was young at the time. It was really hard.”
We talked a lot, and later when she sent me an email, she told me she saw strength in me. “There’s a sisterhood for women like us,” she told me.
I’d also had a chance encounter with my sister’s neighbor, one who helped me out when I was visiting her. I ended up chatting with this neighbor who told me all about her brother that she’d recently lost. “It’s so hard,” she said. I told her I understood. Early grief is raw and real.
I see very few people these days, so these three people – all touched by tragic, early loss – stayed with me. I thought about the three of them in the days after I met them.
What are the chance that I’d meet all of them in such a short time period?
I guess the simple answer is that there are a lot of people out there who are grieving. In fact, we are everywhere. We are working as office assistants and grocery store clerks and we are living next door to you and we are sending our kids to preschool with yours. We are in the most common places and in the most unexpected places. We are widows, grieving parents, orphans, and all the others that are out there who are grieving. It might not be easy to signal that we are grieving. We might be far from that grief. We might be mostly healed.
But those of us who know death – we are not a minority.
We are everywhere.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.