We put all kinds of things inside of closets. There are things you expect to find inside this storage space: sweaters, dresses, and shoes. Then there are the other things that you can’t find a place for somewhere else in the house: old yearbooks, memory boxes, or last year’s tax returns. Perhaps there are mothballs, spider webs, or the odd price tag dropped from a purchased item.

Closets are useful partly because you can shut the doors to conceal any messiness that might be found inside. I suppose that is why we use the concept of closets when describing emotional things we either don’t want to discuss openly or would rather not examine too closely ourselves. No need to look at those fears we place behind shuttered doors or to share them with the world or to force ourselves to delve into painful realities.

At least that is how my emotional closet works. I have shoved a variety of things I would rather not think about into the recesses of my mental closet in the years since my husband died. Trouble is, whenever I need a sweater (aka some emotional stamina) I have to peek inside and try to stick my arm between the doors without allowing any of the hidden feelings, fears, or insecurities burst from their hiding spot .

One thing I have stored way back behind the formal dresses, and the ridiculous high heels that kill my feet but look perfect with my dress, is my need to be in a loving partnership again. This need took me almost two years to look in the face, nearly three years to admit publicly, and close to four years to stop worrying about how loving another man would reflect on my devotion to Phil.

So let’s free a few more of the stowaways from my emotional closet. Am I betraying Phil by loving someone else? Does finding a new man give the world the false impression that I am, God forbid, “over it?” Will I ever stop feeling like the other shoe is going to drop any moment and my new partner will die too?

How do I handle the fact that I was happy in my marriage and never wanted to see it end…but here I am without a partner? Why do some people think that grief ends when a new relationship begins? Will my widow community understand that loving someone else does not make me less of a widow? Because as much as I hated that word the first time I had to own it, I have come to realize that being Phil’s widow is the only way I can still be his wife. And how in the world do I explain THAT to another man?!

Last week I told another widow that I have a boyfriend, a serious boyfriend actually. And I was shocked by her reply…..”What a relief, finally, someone to talk to about this!” While reading her response I realized that my fear of being judged for moving into a new phase of widowhood has kept me from sharing information that could be helpful to our widow community. I happily share my widow self, my mother self, my sister/daughter/friend self…but I for fear of hurting or shocking newly widowed women who aren’t ready to think about life four years from now, I have not shared my whole self.

I am a widow, I will love Phil forever, I have learned to accept that life will not be what he and I planned, and I have found a man who understands that my past, my loss, and especially my grief have made me the woman I am today…and he loves the woman I have become. As I have learned to love again I have held on with both hands to the reality that true love never dies—and that I don’t have a limited supply of love to give.

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Michele Neff Hernandez

Michele Neff Hernandez is the founder and executive director of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. SSLF is a non-profit organization committed to providing resources and support to people grieving the loss of a loved one. In addition to her work with the foundation, Michele inspires people as a motivational speaker and freelance writer. Through speaking to service groups, faith communities, Universities and hosting community seminars she has shared her thoughts on loss and hope with a variety of audiences. She is the creator of the Widow Match program. Since the death of her husband in 2005, she has made reaching out to other widows her personal mission. Ms. Hernandez’s various projects have been featured in the Ventura County Star, the Simi Valley Acorn, and the Riverside County Record. She is a contributing author to several websites and is chronicling the interviews she has done with widows across the country in a book called, The Healing Power of the Widow’s Bond. Currently, she is planning a national widowhood conference scheduled for the summer of 2009. Ms. Hernandez is a resident of Simi Valley, California where she lives and laughs with her three amazing children. An avid runner and outdoor enthusiast, she actively encourages others to embrace the life we are given.

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