Avoiding depression during the holidays is the biggest challenge for a widow or widower. Even eight years after my husband died, I still struggle with the whole Thanksgiving/Christmas season. It’s not so much because of the memories I have of our few Thanksgivings and Christmases together, as it was in those first tender years; rather, the desire to have a partner increases during the holidays. It’s a family time. Time to remind yourself of all the important people in your life. There are a lot of great people in my life and I focus on them intensely during this time. But I can’t ignore the big gaping hole in my heart where a life mate should be. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad had I never been in love like that, if I’d never known what it was like to share the holidays—and my life—with someone else. But I do know. And that’s what makes it so hard.
Lately I’ve found myself entertaining some thoughts I consider rather dangerous. I’m fantasizing like a stupid teenager about Mr. Right. Most embarrassingly, I am thinking about the future wedding with this faceless perfect man I’ve invented in my head. In the glow of Christmas lights on a walk around my neighborhood a few nights ago, I imagined the whole scenario of marrying Mr. Right at the stroke of midnight on the morning of January 1, 2011.
New Year’s has always been my favorite holiday. As a teenager, I used to stay up until midnight—even if alone in my bedroom—and dream of all the exciting things I’d do as an adult on New Year’s when I had the ability to go somewhere. I always wanted to be a part of the party. Which makes sense for me since I was the unpopular kid at school who was never invited to any parties; I was never asked to be anyone’s date to Homecoming or Prom (though I did attend Homecoming my sophomore year with the brother of a friend). Being excluded from parties—whether the kind sanctioned by parents or the kind teenage kids try to have and get away with—probably made me long for the chance to be at them all the more.
As an adult, I thrive at parties. I like being in large crowds and enjoy being where all the action is going on. I thrive on the energy of companionship, camaraderie, togetherness. I probably overdo it quite a lot. But I’m more comfortable in a large group of people than a small one. In a large group, I can just sit back and watch, enjoy the energy generated around me; in a small group, I have to work a lot, think of things to say, try to be witty, entertain. New Year’s is the time to party and be at parties. It’s my time to shine.
I also like the whole idea of “starting anew” that is associated with New Year’s. It’s like you can put the mistakes of the last year behind you and attempt to start over. I like the concept of starting over. Even though it feels like I’ve been stuck in a restart at the beginning of every year for the last eight years. But for one night a year, I can see ahead of me all the possibilities and instead of daunting me, every possibility excites me. Sure, people make a lot of false resolutions. I do it myself. But for one night, I am filled with a great energy of possibility right before heading into the dull heart of winter.
So it just seems logical to me that I would get married on New Year’s the next time through. I think the party atmosphere of New Year’s is great for a wedding and the idea of “starting anew” for a couple beginning the adventure of their new lives together just seems very romantic to me. This message is especially poignant for me as a widow because making a serious commitment to someone else, once again, is a huge leap of faith. It’s saying that I am ready to open my heart again to every possibility. And that I’m ready to deal with the consequences of loving someone that much. Even if I end up with the losing hand again. I have struggled with this concept in every relationship I’ve been in since Mike died. If I am ever to open myself up that way again, then New Year’s seems the most fitting moment to make the commitment.
In my fantasy, I see myself in a royal purple gown that reaches all the way to the floor—something simple that makes me look elegant and smooths out my line-backer German features. The setting would be a winery—either some place in Ohio (like the beautiful Debonne or South River wineries) for a nice winter-themed wedding or some place in California. My friend JenBo, who is a humanist “minister,” would officiate. It would be an intimate group of my closest friends—maybe 20-25 people—and we would party from 8pm until about ten minutes until midnight when the ceremony would begin, timed hopefully to officially pronounce me and Mr. Right as wife and husband at the stroke of midnight (or near to it).
I thought January 1, 2011 would be a cool anniversary date (01-01-11). It looks very binary. And I’m geeky that way. Being that I haven’t met this guy yet, though, I’m running out of time for a proper courtship to actually use this date. I’m not serious, though. Love doesn’t fit into a time line. I am not out husband-hunting and I want a good relationship more than a wedding anniversary date that looks cool. I am not that shallow. I’m just a girl—lonely and stupid—fantasizing.
I ‘m embarrassed with myself for thinking these things. It really ruins an experience with a bunch of childish expectations. And I haven’t even taken into account what the groom’s desires are. In planning my first wedding, Mike contributed an equal amount. He was not one of those grooms who said, “Well, this wedding is really for the woman.” No, Mike felt the wedding was for us and he wanted to put his touch into it. When I look at our wedding, I realize that it was uniquely Mike and Heidi (or, rather, Misha and Fritzy). As Mike said often in the days after our wedding, “We throw a good party, babe!”
And indeed we did. I got the wedding I dreamed of since I really was a teenager (as opposed to acting like one now): I was married in the outdoors in a huge off-white, shoulderless dress to a groom in a matching off-white tux with tails. The white (off-white) tux with tails was a fantasy I entertained since I saw Davy Jones from the Monkees–who was my heart-throb at thirteen years old–dance in one in the movie Head. The ceremony was slightly non-traditional in that it was officiated by a humanist “minister,” we wrote our own vows (mine included an oath to “go where no other couple has gone before”), and the recessional was the Star Wars theme played on a harp by a music professor from Hiram. Mike added the extra details to the reception. He was also the one who found the “perfect” place for both our wedding and our reception–the 356th Fighter Group Restaurant in North Canton, Ohio. We shared the responsibility of the planning with an equal level of excitement about the event of our lives. It was a big event–much bigger than I would want now–with 130 guests. It had a lot of style that I don’t feel from a lot of the cookie-cutter weddings I have attended since. Some weddings stand out whereas others just blend in with the rest. I know it was my day, but I’d like to think that my day stood out as something out-of-the-ordinary but still stylish and sophisticated and fun to all my friends.
Our wedding exemplified another way in which Mike and I were in such sync with each other: we both relished being at parties. We loved being amidst the action in much the same way. We liked to people watch and we liked to participate just as much. We loved to host. I think we valued friendships and people above all else in the world. I can’t imagine being with someone who didn’t share this constant need to get out into the world and socialize. Mike and I always did something fun and interesting for New Year’s. It was our way. I would want to be with someone who is just as excited about planning our wedding as I am, or else I’d question whether or not he sincerely wanted to marry me at all.
Over the last several years when pondering the possibility of ever marrying again, my initial knee jerk reaction used to be that I wanted completely the opposite sort of wedding than the one I’d had with Mike. I thought of eloping and getting married on the Enterprise bridge at the Hilton in Vegas, of not involving my friends or family, of making it so small and private that it was hardly a day to stand above the rest. I was so afraid of out-doing the wedding I had with Mike that I was willing to sacrifice the sacredness of the event for my future spouse. It felt that somehow eclipsing it would take something away from my marriage to Mike and that hurt my heart to contemplate. I went out of my way to think about the complete opposite, believing that having a little nothing party would totally satisfy me and keep Mike’s memory alive. And I wanted, angrily, my future husband to feel the weight of my overbearing love for my first husband and live with it. This was my grief talking.
I guess I should take it as a good sign that a new clarity has snapped in my mind, moving me further away from that grief to a place where I can even contemplate that I could have a wedding just as nice—though smaller for practicality reasons—than the one that I shared with Mike. I have finally started to allow myself to be okay the idea. I’ve even allowed myself to think that I could love someone else enough to let him into my heart, even if he is not Mike. I’ve reached a point where I’m no longer bothered by the words I’ve heard so many other widows on my various computer resources say–“I want to be with someone who my [late] husband would approve of.” I’ve actually said this to myself in the last twenty-four hours without even realizing that I was reforming the same words I heard over and over again from others in my situation. This time, for once, the words didn’t make me angry. I understood them. A piece of my heart unlocked and I meant those words. For the first time ever, they sounded beautiful.
Does this mean that I am ready to love someone else just as much as I loved Mike (though in a different way that respects the individuality of this new person)? Have I moved to next level of post-grief life? Is my heart finally willing to share space with someone else? And, given that great opportunity to love someone else, am I ready to proclaim my love for someone else without shame and embarrassment, as I have felt in the past with post-Mike boyfriends, and have a ceremony that could possibly be just as grand as my first (in different ways)?