Husband loves stories. I love stories. I think that’s one of the many reasons we are good together. We love to listen and tell stories. And we love to challenge ourselves to live a better story.
One of the reasons we got to walking long before we were a somethin’-somethin’ was I liked to walk outside. Husband (who wasn’t even Boyfriend then) offered to walk with me…which, in the fall nights with early darkness, meant my walking could be extended longer into the evening. It was lovely…and when we walked, we also talked.
Husband loved these walks because of the stories he heard himself tell about his late wife, Car. It was almost like he needed to talk about her…about the good times on vacations and birthday parties, about her illness and how hard it was her and for each member of the family in different ways, about the strengths of their marriage, and the ways the marriage hadn’t been everything it could (because whose marriage is perfect?). He told stories about ways in which he felt he failed her–his regrets. And how empowering it was to help her in the last months when her health failed.
It’s a helpless thing to watch your wife gradually die right in front of you.
Even being able to put on her socks or drive her to an appointment felt like a little something, when that was all he could do.
Lots and lots of stories.
He told me that it was only a few weeks after her death that all conversation about her with others stopped.
People still clearly cared, and would ask him how he was doing. But the opportunities to talk about the woman who he had spent a quarter of a century dried up.
It was like they didn’t want him to feel sad by saying her name or talking about her. Nobody wants to make someone cry. So they took such gentle care of him that they didn’t mention her.
Newsflash: If a person cries when you ask them about a loss, they are releasing the tears that have been waiting deep inside for an opportunity to be expressed. You are not making them cry, you are merely with them in the place of sadness…which gives space where tears can be safely released. Know that you have been given the honour of being trusted with tears.
But he had those story telling opportunities with me on our walks. I knew he wanted to, no, needed to talk about her.
Listening to people’s pain in the therapy office, inspires me to be bold to ask permission into people’s sadness in the rest of my life: Can I ask about it? Would you feel comfortable telling me?
And gosh, such a privilege to listen to the stories of loss and longing in people’s lives.
Car was such an essential part of the fabric of Husband’s life for so long…and now she was dead. He could no longer spend time with her, but listening to people’s stories of her gave him a sense of her that he just loved.
Except people weren’t talking about her.
And I think it got even harder when he and I started being a couple. I was around, and I wonder if people thought it was dismissive or disrespectful to me as his current wife to talk about his late wife. I wonder if they thought maybe he was over missing Car when he was so enjoying his new love, and they didn’t want to dredge up old loss when he was looking happy.
I can appreciate people’s desire to be sensitive to him, to me and about me. Absolutely good intentions.
But here’s the thing: I’m in love with Husband which makes me absolutely fierce about giving him the best life I can. He still needs to remember his late wife, Car, by hearing and telling stories about her. And I want him to do what’s good for him. We are great together, but she remains an important memory in his life. The stories make her memory come alive. He wants to know that she mattered to other people
I remember after my Former Husband left. I quickly realized that when I was with a group of people and we were sharing stories about something…for example, how our kids toilet trained…if I shared a story and it included my husband, conversation fell silent. It got really quiet, really quickly.
I soon learned that to keep others comfortable, I was not supposed to mention any stories in my life that included F.H. Which meant that most of my adult life was off limits for conversations with others. And frankly, for most of the years F.H. and I were married, we had a great life raising great kids. We were living great stories…and I felt obligated to bite my tongue and stay silent.
There were great years and great memories. The ending of the marriage was hard, but there were many good times that didn’t get tainted by the end. It felt like those had to be my own private store of memories to be shared, because it was awkward for others.
That was hard. And lonely.
So…help me help Husband.
Sometimes, when it’s her birthday, or around the time of her death, or Mother’s Day…tell him stories about Car? Remember common memories with him? Ask him stories about her? If it bubbles up inside to mention her in the conversation as part of remembering a basketball game, or a funny memory…have the courage to say it out loud?
She still matters to him…because he’s a good man who loves deeply. Love doesn’t turn off like a light switch when someone dies…even when they find new love.
You would do me a kindness to specifically mention her to Husband, on occasion. You can do it when I’m not around…he’ll probably tell me about it later, because he’ll be so pleased that someone spontaneously acknowledged her.
And if I’m around, so much the better. See…it’s part of my job as bonus parent to her children to honour her memory and keep it alive. When I hear stories, that helps me do that.
To those of you who know Husband, and read this, and do it: simply, thank you.