By Mie Elmhirst
I had a lovely holiday this year. Nothing really big happened. My daughter Anneke and I baked bread, we told each other silly stories about what presents the other was getting, we made soup, went to a movie, hugged a lot and we celebrated our family. Our very small family. We were enough. I had enormous gratitude as I remembered where we were eight and nine years ago, when we were trying to keep our heads above water as we watched our husband/father die, and then as we struggled to learn how to live without him.
But of course, in the midst of all this peace and gratitude, I found myself thinking some disquieting and uninvited thoughts. Similar thoughts have come and gone during the past eight years, and to be honest they have finally begun to irritate me.
These unwelcome thoughts are similar to what a 6-year old might think when, after her mother has said “no” to more cookies, she sneaks back to the cookie tin to get yet another and then worries, “Does Mom know? Does she see me? What does she think?”
As smart and as worldly as I would like to believe I am, when I step out of character, and do something spontaneous or daring, my thinking becomes that of a 6-year-old. But instead of worrying about my mother, my thoughts are about my late husband Mike.
“Does he see me? Does he know about______? What does he think about_____? Or, I hope he is not mad about_____.”
“______” could be anything. It could be about how I discipline our daughter, how I rearrange furniture, how much money I spend on a pair of lowish rise jeans, or about the fact that I finally threw away that stupid can of sausages labeled Porcupine Peckers. (I kid you not, my dear sweet brilliant husband thought it was funny! Had to be a guy thing?)
Of course, if I were to be honest, what I really want to know is what he thinks about my love life.
* What does he think about the fact that I joined Match.com?
* What does he think about the various men (especially that motorcycle dude) who asked me out and the fact that I said “yes” to a few of them?
* That does he think that I had love again and gave it up?
* And what does he think about the fact that I have a bigger libido now than when we were married? Does he feel gypped? (He had cancer and we had a newborn!)
Why do I still care about his opinion (if he has one)? He is not even here any more, right? Am I afraid at any moment he will yell down at me “Hey! What the hell do you think you?re doing, woman?”
Sometimes I think I care because I have this tiny but powerful belief tucked way back in my brain that says that we — Mike and I — were in it together, and now that he is gone, it is my responsibility to carry on for the BOTH of us. Most of the time, I don’t believe this, but sometimes I do. Most of the time I know that it is my job to live my life rather than the life he did not get to have.
The question, “What does Mike think?” is tiring because there is no answer that can satisfy. There are only guesses. I can only guess and hope that he is happy with me and with the life I have created.
But there is another question, and a much more important question. It is this: If Mike could want something for me, if Mike does want something for me, what is it?
I know the answer to this question because I knew my husband’s heart.
Mike would want me to be joyously happy. He would want me to understand and forgive the mistakes I made before and after he died. And the mistakes I keep on making. My growing pains mistakes. He would want me to give myself credit for trying to do the right thing. Mike would want me, if I had to pay too much money for low-rise jeans, to have fun with them. He would want me, if I had to date a biker, to have a heck of a time.
Mike would want me to stop worrying about what he thinks.
Above all, Mike would want for me what I want. Mike would want me to honor my burning need to grow, to experience and to love. He would want me to celebrate myself every time I get on the stage to speak, and to celebrate every article I write. He might be proud; but more than that, he would want me to be proud. Proud not only of how our daughter has grown up, but of how I have grown up. For I have grown up.
We have a second chance, those of us who are widowed. A second chance to grow and develop those parts of ourselves that did not grow and develop in our marriages. It will be scary, and we may wonder what he thinks. But in the end, what really matters is what we think.
Mie Elmhirst is a coach for widows, and can be reached through her website, www.widowsbreathe.com.Tags: grief, hope