First of all, this is a chapter in my life I do not expect everyone to understand and accept. It is, as I have said, my life. I’ve realized that, at this age, there is no magic timeline, no perfect things to say or do that can make everyone agree with you.
I think I’ve done what I could to be the conformist at some point in my life, but I’ve realized it does not matter in the end. What matters is that your life has meaning—that it leads to happiness, fulfillment and joy. It is worth it to find that tinge of clarity when you have spent most of your life looking for it.
At the naive age of 19 (I really was then), I decided to love someone so unassumingly wonderful. I could have loved someone who could have broken my heart or could have eventually lost interest in me, but Mike never did any of those things.
His devotion to me was a blessing during those years. There was this tough, outspoken person who fought for me on any battlefield, gave me 100-percent of his attention, gave me affection even when I thought I didn’t deserve it. We never had reasons to break up or leave the relationship because we were always so content and happy.
To this day, I am grateful for this man who gave me his heart. Marrying him and vowing to spend the rest of my life with him was the least I could do, which we did eight years after.
After our wedding day, we went on to have a healthy marriage, raised two lovely children, and immigrated to another country. What some people didn’t know was that even before we were married, Mike had a congenital condition that would never improve despite all our efforts.
Going to the hospital every year was a normal thing for us. Seeing him in pain meant I had to be the strong one and yell at every nurse for the strongest painkiller they had. To this day, I do not know how I held myself together, how I managed to live for the moment and not live in fear. Every year he didn’t go to the hospital was a reason to be grateful.
I pushed all negative thoughts so far back into my head. I didn’t listen to doctors who gave me clear timelines and accurate expectations for the future. All their words just seemed like useless noise to me, as long as I saw Mike smiling and spending each day with me.
Then, one horrible day, time just ran out for him, and there was nothing I could do about it. We had been married for nine years and eight months. I had known him since March 1987. He had been part of my life for 20 years, 4 months, and 22 days. Mike left our world 12 days after his 38th birthday.
My heart was broken.
Whenever I woke up, I’d wonder if he was in the bathroom, or making breakfast. Then I’d remember, and I would feel this agonizing pain all over me. It astonished me that the pain felt so physical, just as much as it was emotional. It felt so unfair that, despite my pain, I also had children who were also suffering.
Whenever someone asked me what my grief experience was like, I’d say it was like I was covered with a gray veil, where I saw little color around me. Everyone else seemed like stark characters of a play, and I did not belong in it. I faced each day with fear, afraid that I’d fall apart if I took the train and remembered him, afraid that I couldn’t do the groceries alone.
Each day I wept, and it didn’t matter if I was working at my desk or doing chores at home. Each day was painful, and for a while, life lost its meaning for me.
I waited patiently for a time it would be easier. Each day, I woke up and hoped it would be that particular day. I had accepted that I will always miss him, but I didn’t want the pain. There was a part of me that struggled with the process of healing, knowing that I needed to be better so I could help my kids cope better. It was a long wait. Time stretched like a vast empty road.
When I was in the early stages of my grief, I promised myself I’d grieve openly, if that was what it took to lead myself to healing. I would mourn his passing and feel all the pain I needed to feel, but also honor Mike’s memory by taking steps forward. I loved him most when he reminded me there was so much to do in my life, how he prodded me to do things outside of my comfort zone.
This great man would be most proud of me if I continued our lives the way he would have wanted. He would be the first person to tell me to “quit it” if I kept mourning and expressed my regrets on the days leading up to his passing on that day.
Six months after, I just felt lighter. I could not explain it, but I found reasons to smile and found reasons to think about my future. I knew Mike was helping me, and it emboldened me to be the responsible parent for my kids. I learned how to be in charge, make decisions for us, accept my situation with some serenity. It almost felt miraculous. The cliché “never doubt the human spirit” was true, after all. I continued to surprise myself as each year progressed.
At the right time, I realized my heart was still capable of loving. Mike was the only man I had known since I was 19, and he always reminded me how sad it was that I never was with anyone else but him. Of course, I thought he was being ridiculous to think of such things. I was happy at that time, so I didn’t care whenever he repeated those statements.
Once again, I longed for another kindred spirit in my life. At my age, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Suddenly, I was saddled with the oddities of online dating and men my age who preferred 20-somethings. It all seemed bizarre and daunting. So I prayed for it, and deep inside I felt it would all fall into place at the right time and with the right person.
After several interesting dates with men I’d met in my city, I started to develop the typical cynical mindset about dating. I expected little, tried not to wait by the phone, and not get too emotionally involved. It is the strangest thing to do for someone who has never been let down by any man, but I eventually figured it out. I’m a little late in learning these things, but I had to survive in this complex world of dating.
My son once asked me, “Mom, are you dating?” when he saw me getting ready for a date. I replied, “Yes, is that okay?” He nodded, then asked, “Are you finding someone to replace Dad?” Immediately, I clarified, “No, you already had a Dad, but I just need to find someone to care about, and maybe someone who could be your friend someday.” He was content with my answer, and decided to trust me.
When one had a father who was as “larger than life” as Mike was, it is not fair for any man to take his place. This new person wouldn’t have to, which I explained to my son. If he is special enough to be in our lives, he will be a new addition to our family. There are no roles or labels needed. At the very least, he will be another person for us to love.
Then, Shaun came into my life. We agreed to meet at a coffee shop, just for coffee. I took note of our age gap (11 years), admitted to myself that it might just be one date, and I was fine with all that. A cup of coffee progressed into dinner, then a long talk that almost made me lose track of time. He was intelligent, attractive, considerate, surprisingly not too into himself as some men tend to be. Given my new life and hectic schedule, I appreciated that he was a no-frills kind of guy.
As our date was coming to an end, he asked me the one question no man ever asked me since I started dating again: “So, when will I see you again?” It took me by surprise that I suddenly had to start thinking of another available day! I went home without the typical anxieties after my dates and slept well. I knew we were seeing each other again.
I always felt that the men I’d dated were quite put off by my past. It’s not easy to be the next man in a widow’s life. The man not only had to live with my divided attention and busy life, but he also had to accept that part of me will always love Mike. The next man had to be very comfortable with all that.
Shaun accepted all these things with such ease, it was amazing. When I brought him to my house for dinner with the kids, I warned him, “I know it’s weird, but you will see Mike’s pictures everywhere. They will remain there as long as the kids want them there.” He replied, “Of course,” and it was a sincere response. It really didn’t bother him. It gave me comfort to know I didn’t have to avoid this sensitive topic with him.
Shaun was so different from Mike, and I appreciated that. It was a healthy thing that I sought out someone who had other qualities to bring into a relationship. Shaun was never married and was an only child in his family. He has this quiet confidence and this ability to think things through sensibly. Because he was used to being alone, he was never demanding of my time, but hoped we could meet a few times a week.
He was a good man, and I knew on the fourth date or so that he was in this for the long haul. I’ve known other single women who took years before they found the right man, and it just took me four months after I started dating again. In many ways, I think Shaun was sent to me.
This new man in my life propels me forward, motivates me to make changes in my life, gives sound advice when I have issues with my children. He loves me unconditionally and never gives me a reason to worry about anything. When prompted by my friends, he doesn’t hesitate to talk about his retirement years, always using the word “we.” He makes me feel alive again.
We’re reaching three years into our relationship. When we talk about the future, we know it’s headed towards marriage, but we both agree, “not yet.” We simply choose to live for the moment, achieve a balance in favor of my hectic schedule, and just be together.
Shaun never asked anyone to marry him, and he deserves to do this in his own time. It was enough that I dropped hints that if he ever gets to that point, that he makes it special and that it will be something that will make him happy. I’ve learned all these years that marriage is a partnership, that it only works if both want it badly enough. If we do marry, it will be for the right reasons and at the right time.
Soon, I’ll be on the fifth year of my journey since I lost the first person I loved. In this journey, I always felt Mike was with me. If he never left my side since I was 19, then it makes perfect sense that he is still with me. He helped me find Shaun and helped me see how right he was for me, strange as that seems.
And here I am, loving again, taking in more contented breaths, seeing the world in an entirely different light, and holding another man’s hand.
Despite the painful years I had to go through, I am glad I have a reason to be happy again, even if I still miss him. It’s hard to explain, but that is exactly how I feel. I don’t expect everyone to understand my journey and what it took for me to get to this point. For the first time in years, I am excited to stay along for the ride.
Yvette Aguado Denoga, 41, was widowed at the age of 37. She has lived in Singapore with her two children for the past seven years. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature from De La Salle University. She is now the publication manager of a leading IT firm in Singapore.