Today I got a message from one of my best friends letting me know a former neighbor lost her husband. We bonded with this family when my daughter was just 3 years old. His wife had waved at her while she was playing in the yard and, on Christmas morning when my mom took our precocious little girl on a walk, she insisted on going to visit “her friend”. My mother, thinking we had known them longer than we had, took her right up to the door. Christmas morning in the rush of family obligations, our happy little girl bounced right inside their house. From that point on, they were family. When Matt was diagnosed with cancer they fed us. Prayed with us. Her husband was on oxygen and going through his own cancer battle, and he cut our grass on more than one occasion. These people carried us through the mundane, showed up when it counted, and loved us at our most unlovable. When I sold our house and moved, I hugged her with tears in my eyes. When Matt died, hers is one of the first faces I saw at his funeral. God places so many people in your life through trauma, and I have to believe it’s because you need those people at that exact time.
When I learned of our neighbor’s passing, I knew I had to go see the newest member of the widow club. It’s a terrible club to be in, whether you are 38 or 68. I tried to put it off until tomorrow, but everything inside of me, despite having an awful day, was saying “go today”. So I went. She was always there for us. I needed to show up. I prayed for guidance on what to say. How could I walk into her house, her with more years of experience and more life lessons in her pinkie finger than I have in my whole body, and say anything of value to my precious friend? I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.
And there it was.
Grief. Fresh and raw and the worst possible thing that can happen to a devoted wife who watched her beloved husband suffer and die.
The words came. We laughed about the idea that Matt and her husband are now wreaking havoc in heaven. We held hands. I held her while she cried. I reminded her that she would feel the need to get up and fix for everyone who came in her door in the coming weeks, but that she had to let them do for her. I told her that the best piece of advice I got from another widow was to just say yes. Someone wants to cut your grass? Yes. Bring you dinner? Yes. Someone told me to let people love on us. And I did, and it carried us when I couldn’t function or put together a meal for the hoards of people who were in and out of my house in the weeks following Matt’s death. Nothing I said to her was monumental advice, but it was heartfelt and I meant every word. Most of it came from widows who had gone before me down the same lonely road- passed on wisdom born from great loss and pain.
I remember looking out into the crowd the day of Matt’s funeral and seeing my favorite widow’s face. She lost her husband to the same type of cancer just three months earlier and she just looked at me before I gave his eulogy and nodded. It’s as if she was saying to me “I’m here. You can do this”. There we were, two women who shared an unbreakable bond that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, pulling each other through it. I cannot put into words what her support means to me. It’s unwavering and priceless.
My friend tonight told me she just didn’t know how she was going to be ok. I told her, with confidence that surprised even me, that she would be ok. I told her that it’s going to be sad. It’s going to be different. But with great love comes great loss, and with great loss comes a new appreciation for love. I never waste a single opportunity to tell people how I feel about them. If I love you, you know it. Time is fast and fleeting and not a single person on this earth can plan for tomorrow. We could all be gone in an instant, so I live and love with that in mind.
My therapist told me that at the end of people’s lives, they never regret the things they tried and failed, but rather they regret the things they were too scared to try. So I take my shot, because trying and failing doesn’t scare me. But missed opportunities and regretting not letting people know exactly how I feel until it’s too late terrifies me.
I know what it’s like to wish you would have said more.
I know what it’s like to feel like your world is ending.
I place value on time and life and opportunities for happiness because I know what it’s like to run out of time. I know how valuable life is. And I know what it’s like to lose happiness.
I know what it’s like to be so deep in grief that I couldn’t care for my child. I know what it’s like to be so heartbroken that I wanted to die. I know what it’s like to love someone so much and watch them suffer and die and then try to figure out where to put all the love left behind. I know what it’s like to be awake for days because sleep is where the monsters lived in my nightmares. I know what it’s like to numb grief with alcohol and pills shoved my way so I wouldn’t “feel” as much. I know what it’s like to feel pain from other people when I was at my lowest. And I know what it’s like to come back from all the bad.
Grief doesn’t define who I am as a person, but it has shaped the way I live now. My takeaway from losing my husband at an early age is that life goes on, whether you want it to or not. And it rages on, sometimes too fast to keep up with. We’re all just flying through life, grasping at some semblance of normal and trying to achieve what I married- happiness. Pure, uncomplicated, happiness.
My husband took the world’s biggest chance on me. It’s like he knew all along what grief had to teach me years later, that moving your whole life 4,000 miles to marry the love of your life wasn’t crazy after all. We built a beautiful family for ourselves because he wasn’t scared at all to pack up his entire life and bet the farm on a divorced, bitter, jaded woman in America.
At the end of his life he thanked me for being everything he ever dreamed of. He thanked me for being the best wife to him and mother to our daughter. He told me he couldn’t have asked for anything better than what we had. His only regret was not meeting me sooner so that we would have more time together.
I carry that with me. Once upon a time, I was someone’s everything. Once upon a time, I was loved by someone who crossed an ocean just to breathe the same air as me. I know it exists because I lived it. I don’t have to die wondering what it’s like to be loved unconditionally.
Tonight, as I held my friend’s hands and cried with her, I reminded her that she was everything her husband ever wanted. The love they shared was admirable. He was always taking care of her and she was always taking care of him. They got to grow old together. When he died, she was making him a glass of water. She was taking care of him until the very end. Relationship goals. Find the person who will love you at your best, and love you extra at your worst when you need it the most. That’s where the magic lives.
At the end of my life, I will never regret the shots I took, only the ones I didn’t have the courage to take. I will never stop believing in the good in people. I will never stop believing in love. And I will never stop believing that happiness is a place you arrive when you throw fear out the window and lead with your heart. The heart wins. Every time.