One of my readers asked:
I know you are still examining the loss of Evelyn. I also know you are remarried. How did you get from grieving for Evelyn to being able to open yourself and commit to another relationship? Somehow you make the transition. How?
Many thanks, Ellen
Losing a spouse is so traumatic and heartbreaking that we’re tempted to close the doors on ever getting this close to anyone again. What we want is for our spouses to not be dead and to have our old lives back, but these are not options.
Losing Evelyn devastated me. We were young when she died, and I didn’t know how to grieve. Because my friends were also young, they didn’t know how to help, although several tried, and for their compassion I am forever grateful.
Grieving is an enormous undertaking that will take months to get through the worst of it. When the rampage and battering of emotions for our spouse finally slow, we have time to take stock of our situation and add up what we have left. We will think about marriage—what we liked best, and what we didn’t care for. We will think about what we’d like to do with the rest of our lives, and how we want other people to be involved. And we will try to imagine a new dream.
If we’re older in life, we may discover that we like living on our own, moving to our own schedule, and socializing now and then with our group of friends. If we’re in our 40s, as I was when Evelyn died, we realize that we probably have another 40 years of life left, and do we want to spend them by ourselves?
I was okay living alone, although the lack of physical intimacy was hard, but I liked being married better. I liked having someone who was always around to love, learn from, and do things with. I liked taking care of someone, and someone taking care of me. I liked the mystery of marriage. I figured at some point that I would remarry, although I had no timetable for this happening. I knew that men tended to start dating sooner than women, for various reasons, including not having a support system that was willing to sit and listen to what was going on.
The first year after Ev died, I had no interest in dating. The shock of death and the residual numbness and lack of energy had much to do with this. In the second year, while I was open to the possibility of someone interesting showing up and asking me out, no one did. I did spend more time talking to women I found attractive because I needed to relearn how to flirt without feeling guilty that I was betraying Evelyn.
I wasn’t in a hurry to date because I didn’t want to burden anyone with my struggles with grief. I figured that when I could talk to my friends about something else at least half of the time, and when I didn’t expect anyone to be the new Evelyn, then I was ready.
In the third year after, there was more back and forth with people of interest, but nothing serious developed, until a friend mentioned that he thought his sister Marcia and I would like each other. We did, and a year later we married.
After his wife Iris Murdoch died, John Bayley entertained two women who were interested in dating him. At first, he didn’t know what kind of person he was looking for and didn’t commit to either one. When he figured out that he wanted companionship, he looked for a woman who wanted the same thing, and married her.
I will always grieve Ev because my love and gratitude for her will never end. We don’t forget the people who swept up our hearts and made life special. Yet, life is bigger than grief, and we are capable of loving more than one person. I think we need to love others in order to develop our full awareness of what it means to be human. No matter what age you are, open the door to love when it shows up on your doorstep.