I was talking to a close and incredibly smart friend over the holidays about memories, grief and loved ones.
I told him how happy I am with my new wife, Candace, and how happy she seems to be. As the conversation meandered I mentioned that Candace was a little down because the four year anniversary of her husband’s death was New Year’s Eve.
My smart friend expressed confusion. He could not understand how one minute I could say Candace was incredibly happy and then tell him that she was melancholy over her late husband’s death.
I was briefly surprised before I realized again that people who have not experienced the loss of a spouse just can’t understand how conflicting emotions exist with you all the time.
I gently told my friend he was thinking about emotions as a zero sum game and they are not that at all. I told him melancholy and happiness co-exist. One does not replace the other.
I completely understand how difficult that is for someone who has never lost a spouse to comprehend. Intellectually it probably does not compute, but for someone who has lost a spouse the feelings are genuine. To explain to my friend, I put out my left arm in a straight line. Then I did the same with my right arm.
I said the straight line represented by my the left arm is my late wife Jean. I miss her. I loved her and I loved our life together. I regret that our wonderful nuclear family no longer exists. I am deeply saddened that my kids lost their beloved mother. I think about her and what she would have thought about scores of events and people each week.
Then I moved to my right arm and told my friend that was my life with Candace. We laugh uproariously practically all the time. We learn and come to enjoy eccentricities like my sneezes and my constant aches and pains, and her obsession with Christmas decorating and her cats. We cultivate a new love with all sorts of tender moments each day.
The two lines are wonderful in their own right. They do not subtract from each other. One of those lines is a memory. It cannot be lived again, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be treasured and remembered fondly without detracting at all from the other line. That other line is now. It is real and it can be savored, felt and hugged.
So when Candace was melancholy about David’s death I never felt a single pang of jealousy. Because I experience the same emotion all the time, I knew that she could remember, honor and miss David at the same time she loves me with all her heart.
One of those straight lines represents yesterday. The other line represents today. The two separate lines just are. They are distinct worlds and they are as real to me as my right foot.
Candace holds both of her lines in her heart at the same time and so do I. We treasure yesterday and our late spouses. We savor and live today with our new spouses with everything we have to give.