The calendar rolled over to today’s date, May 19, and my mind flashed to where I was thirty-six years ago. I can’t believe as I celebrate this day, I do so as a widow.
A starry-eyed new college graduate, today was the day I walked down the aisle and said those momentous words, “I do,” to the love of my life. Today I became Brad’s wife.
It’s been almost five years since cancer took his life. Grief still surprises me.
During a college summer break, the two of us met at a resort town where we both worked; he as a short-order cook and me as a waitress.
I still remember how his cobalt-blue eyes flashed brightly through the kitchen’s small cook’s window as he grabbed my chicken-scratched food orders. Then I’d hear the sound of his booming voice as he turned to face the room’s dark interior and barked the orders to his crew. If I delayed picking up the finished dish from where it sat cooling under the infrared lights, he’d let me know — along with the rest of the restaurant’s guests.
Two years later, we married and began a great adventure together. We had our fair share of good times and also of lean years.
This week, as I listened to a continuing education course on chronic pain management, the educator said he thought getting over a divorce was harder than suffering the loss of a partner.
He went on to explain that when widowed there’s a comfort in knowing that your spouse is gone. This person is no longer present to wreak havoc or to interfere with one’s life. There’s no one to battle over the raising of the kids.
“Not so easy when it comes to divorce,” he said.
My whole body recoiled in response.
As a psychologist, I’ve been involved with my fair share of nasty divorces. I recall the challenges that came with supporting clients who were dealing with difficult spouses. Sure, the speaker had a point.
But easier? There’s where I’m afraid I have to disagree.
As a veteran of both, widowhood has its unique pain. Quite honestly? I’d take getting divorced any day over being widowed.
Brad and I made a great team. Often it was the two of us against the world. He had my back, just as I had his.
We traveled across the United States twice, each time to start a new life. I knew I could count on him to face whatever was thrown at us head-on. I trusted him implicitly with our resources, his time, and, most importantly, with my heart.
A few years before his death, we opened a rental business. Our prior years as a couple had taught us how to depend on one another’s strengths, how to lean into one another. When things inevitably went wrong, he’d call me in a tizzy, knowing I’d help him see reason. He’d do the same for me.
His mom marveled at our similiarites. We liked the same foods, leisure activities, books, movies, and TV shows. We camped, took walks, and worked out together. He was my best friend.
And when he died, I lost someone irreplaceable.
I still catch myself thinking of something he’d find funny and wishing I could share it with him. I miss the feel of his arms around me, how he’d comfort me when I was scared or sad. Or, how we’d lounge in bed most Saturday mornings and chat, catching each other up on the week. Those would be the moments when we’d discuss an issue with one of the kids. He’d often offer a different perspective — something I couldn’t see.
With Brad’s death, I lost an instrumental member of the family — my partner, my extended family’s brother-in-law and son-in-law, and my children’s father. My sons may find other male mentors. But, they will never enjoy that special kind of father-son bond with a person who will cheer them up or chew them out. The head-of-the-family chair sits empty at our table.
Brad’s absence has left a gaping hole in all of our lives. No one else will be able to fill his spot. We are carrying on without him, but with a limp.
No, I’m sorry to disagree with the continuing education professor, but he’s wrong. Divorce is not a more painful loss. It’s just different.
David Kessler, author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, said in an Unlocking Us podcast,
“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed.”
None of us will escape the sting of death. All of us will experience loss, just in different ways.
Today, I’m missing my dear friend and husband, Brad.
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Dr. Kerry McAvoy is a psychologist, writer, author, and analyzer of life. She’s published three devotionals and has a memoir, which explores deceit and betrayal, is due out next year.
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