A Rite of Passage

One of the first big milestones of life without Suzanne has come to pass. Our youngest daughter has finished college and has basically graduated (she has fulfilled all of her requirements, but because of CoVID-19 the ceremony will now not take place until December). She arrives back at my home from England today after finishing last month.

Last night, I sat in the kitchen with my new partner, Kristi, and we created a couple of posters for Emily. We created one that simply said congrats and another with inspirational messages and quotes on.

When searching for what to write for Emily, we found some amazing quotes. We laughed at some of the silly ones, chose ones that were meaningful, and wrote our own words to encourage her to reach for her dreams. It was fun to do this together, and I enjoyed myself, as she and I tried to create a welcome home for Emily that, hopefully, she will appreciate.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been some struggle around Emily’s finishing college, what it means, and how it is impacting us and our grief. With others in our lives (Emily’s boyfriend, my girlfriend, my other daughter’s boyfriend, etc.) it makes these times even more complicated for grieving, as the whirlwind of emotions can make for a challenge to understand what we are truly feeling.

Right now, as I write this, I feel like I’m taking time from my new relationship to focus on the old. The timing of this momentous rite of passage for Emily coincided with a personal milestone for Kristi, too.

Because of the limited time we have together and I am compelled to write and meet deadlines, I am taking time away from Kristi to write this; but I know she respects the feelings I have for Suzanne and for my girls. I also know that can be a challenge.

She is a widow herself, so in many ways understands the world I now inhabit. But in others, I am a completely alien being, caught sometimes in the past while trying to create a future with someone new and am unsure what that future will look like.

There’s a couple of things I have learned since becoming widowed. One is that most widows never remarry. They are far less likely to want another serious relationship than widowers. Many more widowers will not only remarry, but will do so within 18-months of losing their spouse.

Why is this important? Because I’m now nearer the two-year mark than 18-months, and I’ve learned a lot, not just about myself, but about what it means to try to bring someone new into an existing family unit.

In the first few months I was dating, which was way too soon after Suzi died, I think I was looking for someone to fill that Suzanne sized gap in my life. Now, I know that’s not what I need, nor is it what I want.

The challenge I face as a dad of three, and man seeking partnership, is the ability to truly create something new with someone who will not only be a best friend and companion, but also a surrogate parent to my girls—without actually being their mom. What a huge challenge for a person.

In my life, there are many people who are motherly types for my girls. Yet, they no longer have their mama to guide them, to advise them, and to celebrate them when they achieve their ambitions.

Instead, I have had to find a person not only willing to take a step aside to make a space for a ghost, but also be there in the same space while understanding and honoring the feelings my girls and I have around these rites of passage. It’s complex, it’s difficult to navigate, and it’s sometimes going to be frustrating and maddening.

Yet for one who has experienced such profound loss herself, Kristi is handling the space as well as anyone could. Not their mama or my wife, but as a new best friend, and a mothering, nurturing, type of woman who is accepting and kind hearted.

As we reach more of these milestones and rites of passage, I feel as though I have been given a great gift—the honor of holding Suzanne’s memory and legacy close to my heart, while my girls are standing proud with a woman who loves and cares for them in a way that would also make their mama proud.