Five years ago tonight, by a quiet fireplace he looked deep into my eyes and asked me to be his wife. He was well aware of my journey thus far, my pain, my heartache, my young children, his children, my PTSD, the walls I’d built around my heart and my willingness, to this point, to open myself up to him. He knew it all, and yet here he was, opening a small box with a beautiful ring, to offer to share the path forward with me forever.
I glared at the ring and then at him, and I was, for a moment, rendered speechless. Words escaped me, which for me is a rarity, and in the silence, I could feel a massive part of my heart pulling to say, “Yes!” and another large part of my heart screaming, “No!”. The no wasn’t about him or the relationship we’d built over the three years before; it was the part of me that didn’t want to experience any more loss, couldn’t stomach any more pain. I couldn’t help but somehow think that by allowing myself to be his wife, I was somehow rejecting the wife I had been to my late husband. It felt like I was closing a door forever and opening another, and while the new door was one I wanted to walk through, the finality of it all seemed like more than I could stomach.
Could saying yes to him, mean I was saying no to my late husband, Mitch? As silly as that seems to me now, it was something I struggled with for many years as I created a life with someone new.
I looked into his beautiful blue eyes, and I listened to the part of my heart that wanted to be his wife, in the most certain of ways, and I said yes. As he slide the ring on my finger, I felt immense joy, and at the same time, that old familiar friend, duality, appeared alongside my happiness, and I realized the last time that finger was covered with a ring, it was by the ring my late husband had similarly given me, fifteen years earlier.
Duality becomes one of your most familiar emotions after a loss. It visits often and relentlessly accompanies the happiest of moments and stabs you repeatedly during the difficult times. As much as you’d like it to go away, leave you alone forever, and give you a break it can’t leave, it’s part of all you are and all you will become.
In a way, duality is a gift.
It reminds you why you can’t take anything for granted, how fleeting time is, and how much love is life experiencing in this life. It also reminds you pain is guaranteed and life is short…it helps you live in the boldest and most beautiful of ways.
For months after he proposed I wrestled with feelings that took a long time for me to bring to terms. Love after any loss is never easy and without complication. I’ve hinted at my feelings in social media posts, articles, and interviews and without fail, some person slams me for my honesty. I get told how I should have been feeling and why my honest emotions weren’t right…for them.
As I’ve sat with people’s reactions for the past several years, I’ve come to realize that what others, the people who aren’t in my daily life think, it simply does not matter. Maybe it’s not right for them, and that’s okay, but it is my reality, my real emotions and my path forward, it’s not for them to judge, criticize or even care. It’s not for them, period. It’s for me, for Keith, for our children, our combined life and our future. It’s easy to spread hate from the cheap seats, but unless you step into the ring with me and put on your gloves to help me fight my way forward, your opinion is useless.
What I did honestly feel when he proposed was every emotion under the sun.
And so much more…
What made these feelings so challenging is that I felt them all at once, the depth of my emotional tsunami overwhelming, threatening to take me under a thousand times each day. One thing I’ve learned post-loss is that emotional intelligence is something that is gifted to the bereaved. Death teaches you to feel life like never before and emboldens you to live freely because you have learned each moment is fleeting.
We’ve now been married for over four years, and it’s not easy, but marriage never is and has never promised to be. Marriage takes work, choices, and the desire to stay on the good days and the bad days. The truth is, we all bring our past self to each relationship we build and our friendships, marriages, and even our parenting is only as healthy as the relationship we have with ourselves.
What I can tell you is this, when you begin again after a loss from death, divorce, or whatever other life-altering circumstances you’ve experienced, you can expect to feel many things. Pretending we aren’t complicated creatures isn’t reality and it’s not the truth of our nature as humans. It’s not cut and dried; you can expect to experiences a full range of emotions as you navigate your path forward. My best advice is to take it slow, one step at a time, be honest about where you are at and where you hope to go. The most important part is that you keep taking those small steps every single day.
Loving again doesn’t close the door on what you had before, in fact, in many ways, it reveals it. It shows that you believed in love enough to sacrifice the pain of loss all over again. That’s a testament to something beautiful that will forever endure.
Life won’t ever be perfect.
Love won’t ever be what you expected.
Happiness and joy come from within one’s self.
Emotions will be messy.
Embrace it all, don’t listen to the opinions of others and most of all live this life as entirely as possible; however that looks for you.
You are still here for a reason – you should live, and maybe even love.
I’m so glad I did…
Happy engagement anniversary handsome…thank you for always meeting me where I am.
Read more from Michelle in her best selling book, Healthy Healing http://www.healthyhealingbook.com