Thursday, October 15, 2015

Love makes space for everyone’s happiness.

This is a piece I wrote during my #lentinseptember days.

I have struggled immensely over the years to come to terms with my mother’s decision not to marry again after my dad died. She not only didn’t remarry, but also didn’t date anyone. For years when I was a child, I thought this was because she loved my father so much that she couldn’t bring herself to be with someone else, that this was the essence of true and abiding love, a love that I should search for as an adult. As I grew older, I began to understand how complex having your partner die can be. I think my mother was afraid to extend herself again, afraid of losing someone again (as her mother had), afraid of rejection, afraid of what life like might be like on the other side of this immense fear. And, in addition to this incapacitating fear (and this has been true for my two friends who have been widowed), some people would not let my father die. People shared their condolences on an annual basis, remembered the anniversary of his death, sent her cards on his birthday. She was, in their minds, married to my father forever and therefore, in some small way, in her mind she was beholden to that narrative. My best friend brought this home for me when she told me about her own experience of having to leave friendships because all her friends ever wanted to talk about was her husband and how much they missed him and wished he were there. She had ceased to be a young and vibrant spirit in their eyes and was, instead, the memory of husband she’d lost. I think this, in some ways, is because people want to believe in endless love, true love, love that lasts a lifetime and beyond. That they themselves are worthy of that undying love, that they themselves may be loved in that way.
And, in reality, that love may exist and it may never die, but that does not mean that life does not move forward into different narratives. Nothing replaces that love, but beauty and vibrancy and life get added in the form of new love. It is impossible to unlearn anything in our brain, we only add new learning and experiences to it. And so goes our heart.
I remember when my friend and I sat at the coffee shop in those fragile days after her husband’s funeral, discussing what life was like now and what her future may hold. “What if I wanted to be buried with him and I get married to someone else?” she said, her tiny, grief-wasted frame leaning across the table. “What if he was my one true love? How will that next person feel?” I remember telling her that I thought this was a normal part of grief, and that her life and the end of her story were hers to write, and that story included resting with whomever she wanted to rest with, that the next man in her life would understand. People who love you have a wide berth of forgiveness of emotion, nostalgia. They understand love and loss, or they do if you’ve attracted the right human. They take what has happened as part of your living story and love all parts of you. 
From my own experience, I know there is a tremendous weight on a child whose parent does not move forward in her/his life. It creates unrealistic expectations of love and commitment that likely will be unmatched with her/his future partners. It also makes that child feel guilty at the sacrifice that the parent offered, should that child feel less compelled to be so completely self-sacrificing as a parent his or herself. In some ways, it’s a perpetuation of guilt and shame. My mom sacrificed so much by doing X, I should be able to... It’s always felt hard and raw and not reciprocal to me. It feels like too much that’s been given, a sacrifice too great. It’s fear and avoidance and nakedness cloaked in love, but it’s not love alone. Love makes space for everyone’s happiness.

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