“Do you cook for yourself?”  a new acquaintance asks me.

I smile to myself. She has no idea. She has opened the door wide.

I begin: “No, I do not cook. My husband did everything with joy and skill for the entire time of our marriage.”

I have one subject that fills my soul: the loss of my husband two-plus years ago. But I have to be careful to make sure I catch the opening. If the listener zones out or judges me as bragging or fabricating, I cannot begin the story. The telling requires a soft landing, a space where my broken heart can be acknowledged with tenderness.

Trust me, it is not easy to find the right connection, the right landing.  Most people do not want to hear the tragic story of death, lost love.  It is awkward, uncomfortable; they don’t know what to say. And two years plus is a long time in our world of the now. Widows need to learn to move on.

John would want you to be happy. A common statement from friends and family.  Of course, he would, and he did everything he could to make me happy. But John is dead. And I am not happy. What he would want does not matter.

Your memories will comfort you, others say.  Yes and no. Memories not shared become flat, a story remembered, a story told. Precious memories are like shells on the beach, beautiful in many ways, sharp and painful if you step on them the wrong way.

There have been comrades on the crazy, dark journey of grief.  My young grandsons have given me jewels to carry.

Wyatt at age 8: “Grandma, do you think you will get married again?”

“No, Wyatt, I don’t think so.”

“Grandma, try, please try, try really hard.”  He puts his hand on mine.

“Why do you want me to try?”

“Because I don’t want you to be sad and lonely.”

Drew at age 5: “I can’t remember how Grandpa’s voice sounded.”

I reply, “Let’s listen to this voice mail on my phone.”

Drew, “Oh yeah… he was the best at tickle monster.”

Two-and-a-half years have passed and the boys have moved on, as they should. Only I still walk through a shattered life.

My shoes are  inanimate comrades that cannot move on.  My husband loved to buy me shoes, shoes of many colors, shoes of delight and mystery.

Women frequently comment on my shoes. Then then the door is open, and I can begin.  If it is someone who knows I am widowed, I simply say, “My husband loved to buy me shoes.”  Or if it someone I do not know, I can keep him alive: “My husband loves to buy me shoes.”

Recently a new friend asked me a question aboutJohn that no one, not once in 2 years and five months and eleven days, had asked me.

“What was he like?”

I told  her the story of how he became in mid-life, after his own long complicated journey, a lover.  When I met John, he was recently retired and seeking to smell the roses, to find a cause, and to wildly, madly in love. And I came complete with everything, even a small rose garden.

Ali, another friend who was listening, joined the conversation. “You looked so happy talking about your husband. I am so sorry you have lost this wonderful man.”

As am I.

Vivian Clecak

Vivian Clecak is the founding executive director of Human Options: Alternatives for Abused Women and their Families for over 34 years in Orange County, California. She led the agency from classic grassroots beginnings through successive stages of growth, including a capital campaign which modeled a unique collaboration with the public and private sectors. As a CEO, Vivian has always been on the cutting edge of learning and leading. She was a Hesselbein Fellow of the Peter Drucker Leadership Institute in 1998 and received a scholarship to the first Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders sponsored by Stanford University Business School in 2001. Vivian was a coach in the Fieldstone Foundation Coaching Network for Nonprofit Executives for four years. She was certified as an organizational transition consultant through the William Bridges Institute and is a past member of the Vistage Leadership Network (formerly TEC). Vivian is an honors graduate of Stanford University and received her MSW at UCLA. She is also a licensed clinical social worker and marriage family therapist with 30 years experience working with individuals and groups. Vivian has merged her clinical and organizational leadership skills in her current coaching practice and leads workshops on Nurturing the Nurturer, Transition Management, Capacity Building, Board Development, and Revitalizing the Leader. She has developed a leadership network for nonprofit executives and two leadership groups. Her workshops, on such key topics as organizational change and executive succession have assisted organizations to thrive and approach their business from an innovative perspective.

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