“I Want You To Find Someone” — Guest Post
May 4, 2018
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Now Reading: “I Want You To Find Someone” — Guest Post
May 4, 2018
Intro: Jim lives in Pittsburgh where he works as a Project Manager by day and moonlights as a special needs parent blogger by night. He is the father of two girls, one with autism, and a widower. He writes about his family at www.justalilblog.com, and about autism in general at Healthline.com. His Facebook Blog Page is www.facebook.com/JustALilBlog/ and he’s available on twitter @blogginglily.
“I want you to be happy,” she said. “I want you to find someone.” My wife of fifteen years, fifteen brief years, told me this through tears on the hospital bed we had set up next to our Queen-size in the master bedroom. A cannula snaked from her nose across the coverlet to a large liquid oxygen cylinder where my dresser used to be, pushed aside so this hulking stainless steel vessel (there were three, side by side by side for easy swap-out) could be bedside. The top was rimed with frost as the pressure slowly leaked out, the gas filling the cannula and hissing into her nose, her lungs. Despite this, her words came in short clipped bursts, each sentence draining her reserves, pushing against the cancer that inexorably squeezed her lungs until all she could do was sip the air endlessly, never able to satisfy her thirst for air.
“I want you to be happy,” she said, but my happiness was the last thing on my mind, and I angrily shook my head, dismissing it. We were holding hands. We always held hands. Hers was so small and frail, the skin like paper, an old woman’s hands though she was not yet 46. We were crying, saying things to each other so that we…I…never had to face the idea that I’d left them unsaid. She continued, unrelenting, through her sips of air, “I don’t want you to be left alone.” And what do you say to that? What do you say to your wife as she’s dying and telling you to find someone else so you can be happy and not alone? I didn’t know. So I said, “I don’t want to talk about someone else while I still have you.” And that was the end of the discussion.
It’s been almost three years since she died. In the space of that time I’ve processed my loss…am processing my loss. Though the tears are still there just under the surface, the gut punch reminders that trigger them have decreased. And…I started looking for someone. And I thought about Leslie, my wife, telling me she wanted me to find someone.
I started looking in the mirror; in the closet. I had the same haircut as I did more or less in college. 30 years…what could possibly have changed? I looked at my wardrobe. I had/have shirts that are older than my now-16-year old daughter. So I decided to…update myself. In the background of this updating process was a continuous overthinking process. Why didn’t I do this before? Why not look my best for my wife? Why was this different? With this thought came guilt…was I mailing it in with Leslie? Could I have tried harder? Would it have mattered to her? Why did it matter to me now?
I had to answer those questions. Some weren’t the answers I might want to give. And although I could make a strong case that supporting my wife through cancer and raising a special needs daughter and a teenage daughter while working full time doesn’t leave a ton of time for makeovers, there’s definitely a comfortable complacence in a tested and true relationship that I had rested within. I got lazy. I stopped trying. I got off the treadmill. I stopped watching what I was eating. My blood pressure crept up.
So I updated my haircut. I bought some new clothes. I looked for babysitters. And…I started to date.
Dipping your toes back in the dating water after so long was the same but different. Like riding a bike again after all these years, but now the bikes all have jet packs. And what’s most different about dating now is not the Tinder/eHarmony social media virtual speed dating world, although that is certainly different, but me. I’m different.
I didn’t grasp it at first. Why was I so different? To me my twenties seems like last week. But I’m not the same man I was in my twenties even though it seems like yesterday. Certainly kids were a huge part of it. But what else? In the back of my mind was this voice telling me that I needed to find who I was now without my wife before I could figure out who I wanted to “find”. Who am I? What do I want/need, now that I’m looking for someone. Take some time, get comfortable alone. Get comfortable again being just Jim. Not Leslie’s husband, Jim.
So…take it slow…baby steps. Part of me wanted to recreate the way Leslie and I started. We were friends first. I met her when I moved here. We became friends. I dated her a friend of hers, and supported her when she dated. People came and people went, but we were consistent. We played tennis, went to bars, hell, I even went on a blind date with her (it didn’t work out for them). Eventually we morphed from hanging out to dating. It was the healthiest relationship I’d ever had and I always attributed that to our friendship.
So I tried that. I wanted a friend. But I also wanted more. And when friendship stopped being enough for the girl I was dating I backed away fast, commitment phobia flaring, “I’m just not ready for this yet”. Was I? I was confused. I thought I wanted to date, but maybe I just wanted sex. Maybe I just wanted someone to talk to, a soft voice, a shoulder. It was confusing. And it was confusing for my dates. And no matter how casual I wanted to keep things, feelings always built up, and they were never seemingly on my end. I started thinking maybe something was wrong with me.
At the same time I didn’t know what I wanted, I found myself keenly aware of what I did NOT want. I hadn’t been on a date in over 20 years. What I wanted in my twenties was very much different than what I want now. I have a house. I have a ‘career’. I. Have. Kids.
Kids. Every potential date was immediately viewed through the lens of “would my kids like her”? Sometimes the question that preempted that one was, “would I even feel comfortable introducing her to them.” The red flags I might have overlooked in my 20’s were bright and menacing when I considered them in the context of my children. I was astonished how quickly I felt I could “disqualify” someone from a future with me. But was really struggling to find someone I could instead “qualify”.
I wondered if maybe it was a trauma thing. Maybe it was too soon. Would I always be so quick to dismiss a relationship when I sensed the other person was getting too serious about me? Was it just the awkwardness and the logistics of the future fantasy I envisioned? Because the practical reality of “being in a relationship” with someone means they come over to visit. My house. My kids.
My house is a shrine to my wife. Everywhere there are pictures of us all together. My wedding picture hangs over the bed. Our family portrait hangs above the mantle. Family pictures in collage practically wallpaper our basement. This isn’t planned. This is just the way families decorate. And the act of taking down a picture of my wife and I…seems deliberate…seems treacherous. Where do these pictures go? If you make a life for yourself and your family with someone new…where do all the old pictures go? The garbage? Too painful. Storage? Forever? And the pictures are just the first thing.
It has been three years and I still haven’t cleaned out her night stand. When I went to the grief social group (“we can’t call it therapy for insurance purposes”) one of the other men who had lost his wife hadn’t put away the clean folded clothes his wife had put on their dresser days before she’d passed. Her clothes, stacked neatly on the dresser where she’d left them…for a year. It’s…hard. You open a drawer and think, okay, time to clean this out…and it’s a card for her birthday, or pictures from someplace you vacationed. It defies the emotionlessness of quick efficient filing.
Each step we take toward someone we think might be special someday feels like taking a step away from the person we lost. Getting beyond that feeling is a struggle. The sensation that you’re being watched and judged is palpable. Whether it’s true or not…will people think this is inappropriate? Will people think it’s too soon? Will my CHILDREN think it’s inappropriate or too soon?
It all has to be handled so delicately. It all has to be talked about. Hashed out. Deliberated upon. But…can we pivot her for a minute…THIS IS (to an extent) HOW WE SHOULD DATE. We should date deliberately. We should date thinking about things like “how will this impact my kids”. We should date with an eye toward some future where time will be spent together in each other’s homes instead of movie theaters, restaurants, or (hold on to your beads) hotel rooms.
I ended a relationship a while back. Too many flags. It was promising. Things were good, but there were just weird…incompatibilities. I decided to put a pin in dating. With this breakup I seriously started to look into counseling. Maybe the problem wasn’t the red flags. Or maybe it was the red flags, but maybe the person putting up the red flags was me. I needed to talk to someone. I started looking for a counselor with grief/loss experience. We played phone tag. My schedule is trash. Hard to commit to a day/time. More phone calls.
And I stopped looking. I never reloaded the social dating apps. I flirted a bit online. Nothing that would work. Nothing that was practical. It was light. Non-threatening. Through a screw up posting to instagram (on her part, not mine, I’m a master of IG) I randomly chatted with someone off and on that I’d known from twitter for years, but had never really previously spoken to. Funny, smart, local, and easy to communicate with, over the course of a few weeks we made plans for a “meeting”. I made her call it that because I didn’t want it to be a date. I didn’t want to expect too much. She just seemed like someone I could be friends with. She seemed like someone I could talk to. No expectations. A meeting, not a date. Until it became a date.
I later told her indirectly that I found her like all the best things are found; when you’re not looking for them. A twenty dollar bill in a jacket you wore a month ago. While I was looking for myself, I found her. I never made the therapy appointment. I’m not broken. It’s not trauma. I just hadn’t found the right person and thought the reason must have been me.
“I want you to find someone”, Leslie told me, and although the pangs of guilt still crop up from time to time as I contemplate a future with the someone else I’ve found, it is a comfort to think of her at peace, this new woman not a replacement, but an addition. My daughters like her. My family likes her. And, as weird as it may seem, Leslie would have liked her too. Leslie would approve. I’m happy.
Written byJim Walter Jim lives in Pittsburgh where he works as a Project Manager by day and moonlights as a special needs parent blogger by night. He is the father of two girls, one with autism, and a widower. He writes about his family at www.justalilblog.com, and about autism in general at Healthline.com. His Facebook Blog Page is www.facebook.com/JustALilBlog/ and he's available on twitter @blogginglily.