I am going to both vent some frustration and ask for your advice this week. My hope is actually twofold: that you’ll have some insight that I can either absorb or perhaps a philosophical answer or two I can dwell on; and I hope to educate you a little so that the next time you deal with someone like me – someone who hasn’t just suffered a loss but suffered the loss of their partner – the person who matters most and is truly half of a whole.
You see, even just a couple weeks after my wife, Andrea, passed away, there was a contingent of people – let’s call them the “Sleepless in Seattlers” – who were insistent, nay, obsessed with telling me that I will date again, find someone else and find happiness and love again. Two phrases are consistently uttered by the “Seattlers”: “Those who have loved and lost are twice as likely to find love again,” and my personal favorite, just mere weeks after saying goodbye to my wife: “Andrea would want you to!”
(First, if you ever met Andrea and knew her, really knew her, I’m not sure the “she’d want you to” idea is a good one. Prepare to be haunted, severely, snowy TV, head twisting around haunted. Just saying.)
The problem with all this is the fact that they’re not trying to make me feel better, they’re trying to make themselves feel better by making me fit into a box. It’s funny, because some of the best lines in that movie really do speak, in utter perfection, the way I felt then and still feel now (though not quite as brutally). In one of the opening scenes, a colleague tries to get Tom Hanks to go visit his therapist and Hanks picks up his jacket and pulls out a literal stack of cards: love again, partners without partners, love yourself, hug yourself . . . he ends the scene with the line “don’t mind him, he’s just the guy who lost his wife!” While this may feel a bit harsh to you, you have no idea how absolutely true the statement is. It became very clear to me that people were obsessed with trying to get me to move on, mere weeks after losing the love of my life.
Because THEY’RE uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to act and as a result they try to get you back to being what you were, to get you to be what they say is normal. Again, though, to quote the movie, “it’s OK, I’ll just grow a new heart . . . I’m sorry, but lightning just doesn’t strike twice.”
Do I believe that? Do I think that? I really don’t know. I mean it, I don’t know. You see, as much as the movie gets SO much of the experience right, it still tells the world that Tom Hanks has to get “back in the saddle” and move on with his life. His son thinks he needs a new wife, the world tells him he has to move on, so he does. He meets Meg Ryan on top of the Empire State Building, they hold hands, it’s magic . . . and the story ends. It doesn’t address what happens next, it’s left to your imagination. They don’t think about what happens after they leave that building. Does Meg Ryan leave her job at the freaking Baltimore Sun to move to Seattle? What if the Post Intelligencer didn’t have an opening? What about all those pictures on the wall of the Jonah and his mother? What about the fact that Meg Ryan’s character doesn’t have any kids of her own? Maybe she wants them, how do they handle that?
Don’t take this as a hate-fest of Norah Ephron. This movie, of all things, was Andrea’s absolute favorite. She loved the whole love-at-first sight thing, and while on first look we didn’t fall in love with each other, we started dating and were engaged a mere couple months later. I was amazed by her at first sight just not confident enough to ask her out. When I finally go over the fear, we were made for each other immediately. My litmus test, you see, and I used this line when I asked Andrea to marry me, was the fact that I looked at my life and asked myself, truly, whether I could see it without her.
My life, my personality, my whole existence was different. I had to imagine my life without her and even after just dating her for a few short months, I couldn’t imagine going back. I had become a far better man, a far better person for knowing her. Only a damn fool would have let that go and I decided, then and there, that I couldn’t. Imagine my horror, then, when on March 26th, the 18th anniversary of our marriage, at 8:30 in the morning, I didn’t have to imagine it. She was gone and I watched her go in violent, horrible reality.
Now I struggle, daily, with what it should be like. We make those wedding vows and I honestly don’t think most people even think about them, don’t listen very intently to what is being said. Divorce is too prevalent, life too short. In a world where a woman can make a sex tape, get married then divorced before most people leave the honeymoon phase makes us take those words as so much script-writing, so little reality. But I took them seriously.
I know this goes into a deep philosophy, the question of faith and spirituality, but what happens if you DO move on? Andrea has passed away, and as much as the “Seattlers” want me to find love again, there are just as many who want to comfort me by telling me that I will see her again, that we’ll be together when this is all over for me. The idea that you are soul mates, that there’s a magic that happens and bonds you together is something I really do believe in. But what happens if I do find someone else? I am not asking for the answer to the problems of the heart, I want the discussion. I want you all to think, long and hard, not just the bar game of “OK, your wife dies, do you marry again?” but an actual, thoughtful, tear-jerking soul-searching discussion.
Andrea truly was part of me; she was attached to my soul. I felt it tear and rip away when she left me, I can tell you with absolute clarity. It was a pain I have never felt and hope none of you ever feel in your lifetime.
I don’t just miss her laugh, her smile, the warm fuzzy feeling I got pulling into the driveway every day. I miss that companion, the person who gets all the good news, who you call first when you hear things like “I’m writing for Rene Syler’s Website!” or “I got our music on the radio!” I miss the lift in my spirit when that person calls you and says they won an award or even simply wanted to tell me what amazing bargain she found at Target today. The part of me with the short fuse gets good news and reaches for the phone and realizes that Andrea’s not there to tell and it makes me mad. And that I’m alone, mad that she left me, and mad that I can’t figure it all out. But I’m so happy that she’s no longer struggling in pain, struggling with depression or struggling with her family issues that I can’t stay mad. I hope she’s OK.
It’s a philosophical struggle I face nearly daily. So how do I face it? How do I deal with the fact that, by the vow and covenant that held for nearly two decades – from age 23 to 41, is over? Sure, the paperwork says it’s now a broken union, but I can feel the tear in my soul. I can see the hole left where she used to be. If she’s up there, happy, heavenly, angelic, but waiting, what happens when I find someone else? What happens when it IS all over and we’re together again and I’ve shared my heart with someone else?
There, you know my struggle. Now discuss. Give me ideas, give me philosophy. Just don’t give me absolutes, and DON’T, for the love of God, say Andrea would want me to unless you’re prepared to have Steven Spielberg write a movie about you.
Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.