Moving forward is not as easy as one might suspect.
Moving forward means leaving something behind.
I found out something last week that I’d been trying to uncover for years. Michael and I were never sure the exact date of our first date. We both knew it was in May. I vaguely remember because it was close to the birthday of a college friend of mine at the time.
And I remember it was before Memorial Day. I have a vivid memory of searching for a payphone near Battery Park City to call him while having a picnic with the family for which I used to be a nanny. The only clue I had as to the day was that it was the same as my best friend’s graduation from F.I.T. Over the years I’ve asked her if she remembered the date, but it was lost on her, too.
It’s been nagging at me rather strongly the last couple of months. This May is no ordinary one. Next month would’ve been our 20th anniversary. Twenty years. I was so young back then. Life seemed full of potential. Time moved, sometimes slow, but more often too fast. I packed my bags many a times, ready to put it all behind me. Ours was a love hard won, and not always fought fair.
When he died, I found myself 37, and a single mother of two. I remember sitting at my old dining table with a few friends, just days after it happened. Amy told me “you’re not a single mother, you’re a widow, there’s a difference,” she said. The title struck me harshly, not in a mean-spirited way. More like a bucket of icy water had just fallen on me.
Never did I imagine five letters could make one feel so lonely. I didn’t realize it’s a title one grows into. Time passes, and you realize it doesn’t have to be title of sorrow. Widow still carries a sense of belonging. By definition it means “a woman who has lost her husband by death, and usually has not remarried”.
I had to fill out some paperwork today, and the only options for marital status were single, married, or divorced. I stared at the box, not feeling comfortable with my options. Of course, divorced was easy to rule out, but single? That didn’t feel right either.
We wrote our own wedding vows, but exchanged the formalities before placing our rings on each other’s fingers. Who thought to include the words ’til death do we part? Did they mean it to be literal from a physical perspective? Had they never experienced love, to understand that the warmth of it never leaves your heart, even when a swift breeze of reality decides it’s time to go?
I checked single, even though I didn’t believe it to be true. He will always be with me, a part of me. I grew from a girl into a woman. It wasn’t always an easy love, but it was an honest one that grew from trust.
I’ve been trying to figure out who I am now. My story is changing, and I struggle to understand what that means, or perhaps accept what it means. How much do I have to let go to give this new love room to grow? I worry my down days will scare him off. He’s quite a patient soul, and so kind and loving, but everyone has their limits.
I wrote this poem in the wee hours of the morning three years ago. I’d often wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and write poetry. So, here I am. Not quite daybreak, but still awake when I should be asleep. I’ll surely drag my tired feet tomorrow as payback. But the promise of another new day gives me hope that I’ll get one step closer to shedding the protective shield of widowhood, and fully opening my mind to the possibilities that lie ahead.
It was May 11th. Our first date back in 1995.
Eight years later, our first daughter would be born on that same date, in 2003.
And five years after that, our second daughter would come into the world, just before dawn on May 11th, 2008.
Music Pairing: The Eye by Brandi Carlile
Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself.
Travel a road you never expected.
As the sun rises and sets—
Will I ever find my way?
One day you wake,
and the sun’s glare doesn’t seem so blinding.
Starting anew seems a reality.
Setbacks steer you off course.
filled with memories of what could’ve been,
But you keep going,
you continue to open your eyes as day breaks,
signaling there is still life left to be lived.
April 8, 2012
That is a beautiful poem. Hadn’t been by your blog for awhile and I sure am glad I checked in today –
Lovely poem… Our first date anniversary always stuck in my head, and one of our girls was due 3 days before, but wasn’t born until well after. I think it is so neat that May 11 is such a special day in your house. It might be that the girls want their own birthday but when you look at the significance of what first happened on that day, it seems fitting. Always drawn in by your deep thought posts…
I think about you every time I open your cookbook and make pizza…you still have so much of life to live.I don’t think you have to let go of the past to embrace the present and enjoy what your future has in store for you. Spring brings on new life but our story doesn’t get erased it just continues to unfold. xo
That is such a lovely thought “Spring brings on new life but our story doesn’t get erased it just continues to unfold”. Thanks for sharing it with me Lorette.
Thanks for visiting again, Vera.
As always, you have touched my heart. Thank you for sharing your life with the world. ♥
Although we have never met, I feel I know you. Every time I open your cookbook and make something, or browse for some new inspiration I am always drawn to your baking/cooking and for that I thank you. Although not a widow, but divorcee myself, our life is always changing and we learn to move on and never forget. We learn from those things. As someone already said Spring is a new life, not erasing our past, just allowing you to unfold the next chapter. Thank you for sharing these moments. Makes us all realize we have so much in common…and so much to share with our friends and family.
Best wishes to you always, Jennie!
Your story that you continue to write, one page at a time, is an incredible one. Keep on writting those pages!!!! Just don’t forget to re-read if you are feeling a bit lost 🙂
ps- your blog gives me so much inspiration as a mother and wife. Thank you so much! When things get really complicated, for some reason, your writing….your recipes…. They give my heart some comfort.
Whew. May 11. How easy to forget that first exploration when two blessings entered your life that same date. Yes. Widow is different. I came for your cooking, and have stayed for your illuminating life. Thank you for this post.
You are truly special. The way you convey your thoughts is really beautiful. Wish everyone could communicate so beautifully. Thank you for sharing the good, bad and in between.
ooof. you got me right in the gut. You’re a pretty tough cookie. Thank you for sharing your life.
“Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself”. That resonates. Thank you. Much love to you always.
Thanks for sharing your life. Beautiful poem! I hope this new love is everything you want! Best to you on this new journey! May 8th when hubby proposed. May 8th 5 yrs later our daughter was born. June 3rd when hubby joined the military. June 3rd 5 yrs later our son was born. Crazy how dates mean so much. Oh the memories!
Jennie, this is truly touching both the story and the poem. You are truly an inspiration, and have grown so much. I often say that our experiences, good or bad, mold us into a better person each day. You my friend, are simply elegant , witty and beautiful inside and out. Keep growing, and keep being strong as well as weak. It is okay.
Jennie, The word “widow” fills me with sadness. My mother became a widow at 32 when my father died. I was two years old when he died and growing up without him left a huge hole in our family. My son was born 29 years later on the same day that my dad had died. His birth date felt like a personal gift from my dad to me. Having your daughter’s birthdates coincide with your first date seems predestined.
Mikey helped shape who you are today. He is deeply woven into your heart and life. You have shown such resilience in rebuilding your life and creating new traditions with your daughters since he died. I believe you will find a way to treasure your past life with Mikey and move forward with your new relationship with a renewed sense of love in your heart. Finding love again is a gift that needs to be embraced and accepted with gratitude.
Thank you for sharing your deeply personal journey.
I have been reading your blogs of life, loves, sadness and food for the last few years. I have been emotionally caught up with you, feeling an empathy that I shouldn’t have with a stranger many thousands of miles away. I have read your comments about your husband over the last few years with sadness because my wife had cancer and I could see how much his passing has hurt you and I knew that this was all to come. In February she also passed away, thankfully in her sleep, on my daughters birthday.
Everything hurts… Life has gone on and routine has been changed but is in place and working. I go to work and my two kids go to school. But Everything Hurts…
I have tried to reread some of your postings again but everything is too fresh in my heart to do this. Even your poem here is hurting so much because the first lines are how I feel and I cannot see how I will ever get to the next lines.
I will read your blog again, at the right time, keep posting – Your food is delicious and your life and your outlook will be supportive even if I cannot see that now.
i heart you. Your words are always so moving. xoxo
I certainly couldn’t see the light at the end of this journey, and really the journey never ends. Some days I think I can do it and truly find peace. Other days, well, it’s all I can do to lift my head from the pillow, even almost four years later. Just know that you are not alone in all the things you’re feeling along the way. And please use this place as safe space, where you can always come to say hello, or send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) when you just need to share something, or feel less alone.
Thanks so much for sharing your heart. We both are on separate journey’s with pain, healing, memories, and more but your poem really touched me and was just what I needed to hear.
I hope I didn’t cause you any extra pain that day. I just meant that this was something that had happened TO you, not something that you had chosen. Not that you were a victim (I could NEVER think of you that way), but that “single mom” had connotations, rightly or wrongly, that just didn’t apply to you.
You didn’t cause me any harm. You gave me a perspective that I wasn’t able to fully understand until years later.
It gets better but never the same. You continue to grieve the life you thought you’d have. After the first year, I decided to be happy and I am. Do I miss my dear Bill? Every day but I feel so blessed that he was a part of my life as long as he was.
I’m lying in bed next to my new husband. Photos of my late husband adorn our walls. I follow along on Instagram where I get snippets, and eventually come around here to read all your stories and recipes. The terms were difficult for me to grasp. I pushed away “widow” for a long time before I finally accepted my new life. I got married in April and calling a new man husband has brought with it even more confusion and emotion. Thank you for continuing to write and share your life with us. Ours sometimes feels like a tiny community. It’s nice to have people to share it with.