It was quicker than anticipated. After lamenting the loss of my wife and pondering the chances of meeting someone else, it happened. A friend told me about a widow I might like to meet. Why not? I figured; it’s better than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.
I called and as luck would have it, she agreed to go out to dinner, my first blind date in almost 60 years. I was as nervous as was she. She told me later that she kept my number to call in case she chickened out. Fortunately she didn’t, and the date went very well. I brought flowers (I may be out of practice, but I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck).
It turned out that we have much in common and she has many of the qualities I admired in my late wife.
We are both Democrats, although she claimed she was a liberal independent, which to me was the same as being a Democrat. She is ecumenical; a summer Catholic and winter Episcopalian. She is a nurse, a mother, and a grandmother. I like her independence. Between family, a wide array of friends and homes in Massachusetts and Florida, I doubted she’d have time to fit me into her schedule.
Early on we established that neither of us wanted to re-marry. Having both had very good marriages, we were looking for a connection, a special friendship that would enable us to be close without interfering with the lives we had already established. A comfortable relationship, that is, more like a summer romance in the autumn of our lives.
At times I felt a little awkward, but I was having so much fun after many lonely months that there was no way I would return to the gloom. Having finally got off the cancer train, I enthusiastically boarded the merry-go-round. It has been a long time since I had a girl friend and I had forgotten how enjoyable it could be. “Get a life!’ was a favorite expression of my wife when people started to complain about their situations. I take that as a form of approval since that’s what I’m doing.
I introduced her to my entire family at our annual reunion and, as expected, she was a hit. Her easy manner permits her to fit comfortably into almost any situation. That she obviously makes me happy helps. There may be some unspoken misgivings, but my children and grandchildren profess to be happy at my good fortune.
These are uncharted waters for both of us. After long and successful marriages, it isn’t easy to turn to someone else without hesitation. The death of a spouse does not end the relationship. The love, the shared experiences, the joys and sorrows remain. They are to be cherished and preserved in memory. But the capacity to love is never exhausted; the heart remains open, ever willing to expand. The love of one child is not reduced by the birth of another. In a similar way, the love of a deceased spouse is not replaced or reduced by loving a new friend.
That’s not to say that all love is the same. In this most complex of emotions, there are different depths, feelings, and variations. Love can be shallow and selfish or deep and generous. True love is unconditional; you want to make the objects of your affection happy and do whatever you can, even at great sacrifice, to assure their well-being.
Love is intimidating; it involves exposing vulnerabilities. In so doing there is the risk of rejection, disappointment, or exploitation. It is trusting another person to a degree that can be uncomfortable. We are reluctant to love unless we know we are loved in return and even then, we often find it hard to express. “Shower the people you love with love” is a grand sentiment, but too few are willing to openly embrace it.
So here I am with a special friend in what I feared would be the last gloomy chapters of my life. The plot has brightened considerably. The end of this book may just turn out to be as interesting as the earlier chapters. Who knows? But for all those who have lost a spouse on the cancer train, be patient: There may be better days ahead.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.