“I didn’t ever think I would want or need him. And now I can’t live without him. I vowed to love and be faithful to Marcus when I was 20 years old. I was still a child myself. We grew up together, figured out how to be adults together, built a life together. The odds were against us.
At 20, plenty of people told me to wait or judged our choice to get married. I should experience more of my single years, party it up at college, live more life on my own to figure out who I was. Figure out who I am before I enter a relationship with someone else, never mind marry them.
I didn’t want that. I wanted Marcus. I wanted a life with him, even if it meant putting gas on credit cards and trying to figure out how to survive our first year of marriage.
But, we grew up. And we grew up together. And it was really hard. We learned how to be married, what it took to build a life with someone, and became stronger people together because of it. We moved across the country, bought our first home, and popped out a few babies.
Then another big move, climbing the ladder at work, and marital bliss. And then he went on a work trip and never came home. He wasn’t supposed to die. Our children were young, three under 5. We were exhausted and happy.
I never wanted to do life without him. I was proud that we were the couple beating the odds. We were married for 9 years before I turned 30. Going from blissfully happy in a thriving marriage, raising three children together, chasing our ‘dream’ but being content with what we had… to having all of it ripped from me in an instant. Losing someone I never wanted to be apart from. I was forced to live this life we built together, on my own. The life we worked so hard for, our future, burst into flames.
How could life go on? How could I possibly love again when I was loved so well? Especially after losing the love I had which hurt more than words can describe? How could I just move on with my life?
It meant I needed the perfect man for me, one capable of understanding me, my story, my children, and Marcus. All of it. And embrace it. It didn’t mean moving on from Marcus or getting over him, but moving forward with my life. Continuing to live joyfully and rebuilding a life for my family. And then came Dustin.
Dustin didn’t heal me, but he quenched the ache in my heart. He is the partner in life I was craving. The pain of losing Marcus will never go away, but the love I have with Dustin gives me happiness again. I get the privilege of sharing my life with someone again. Someone to support me in the hard times, and be by my side in the boring and mundane.
I don’t have survivor’s guilt, I have lover’s guilt. Sometimes I feel like it is unfair I have loved two incredible men, when many don’t even get to experience one.
The paradox of joy and grief coexisting is beyond comprehension. It is being so happy where I am, but remembering what I had to lose to get here. It is knowing so deep in your bones how precious life is, and living life accordingly. It is context. Perspective. Appreciation.
As I sit here writing thank-you cards for mine and Dustin’s wedding, my mind rushes back to a few months after Marcus died. I was writing thank-you cards for the gifts given to me and my family, scribing through tears, a headache from the heaviness. And now I write through tears of joy, just utter thankfulness for my life and the journey. Gratefulness for how God held us and provided for us, sustaining us through our harrowing loss.
Because Dustin exists doesn’t lessen what I had with Marcus. By loving someone new it actually has reminded me of the gift it was to be married to Marcus, and to appreciate my new love even more. Love is forever. Healing is forever. Grief and love can coexist.
And love doesn’t go away. When I reflect on that stage in my life after Marcus and before Dustin, it feels like I am walking through a museum. Most of the time when I think back to this time period, it is met with such extreme and difficult emotions. It was HARD. Walking through losing a spouse is one thing, but raising small children and helping them grieve their dad while trying to juggle the daily life on your own is just absurdly difficult. And even though I had a brave face on most of the time, I will admit it was exhausting.
Only now that I am entering into this next stage where I have a partner by my side can I truly see how stressed I was. My baseline was tension, fearing I wasn’t doing life well enough even though I had been dealt a tough hand. The emotional weight to carry all of this is grueling. And even with help and support from others, there is no cure. While Dustin being part of my life relieves a lot of stresses, it does not fix the loss of Marcus. It will always break my heart when my children ask to go to heaven to see their daddy because they miss him. There will always be a part of me hurting because he is gone.
My relationship with Dustin is completely different than my relationship with Marcus. They are different people, and they can’t be compared. It’s messy, it doesn’t always make sense; there is no point where the healing will be ‘finished,’ but it is beautiful. And being in a relationship where you can be totally transparent and talk about your sadness, about the love you lost, is magic.
I am so glad I took the leap to love again. Dustin gives me grace. He understands my heartache as much as he can. He talks about my children’s father to them, and my heart explodes with thankfulness. There are so many layers, and it is hard. Really hard. But he is incredible and exactly what we needed.
I think of Marcus all the time. Every day. But it doesn’t take away from my new relationship and how I feel about Dustin. It is a part of who I am, and made me the woman I am today.
A word of advice for onlookers to those experiencing a relationship after loss: support them. The choice to be vulnerable and to embrace love again is huge. Life is meant to be shared, and the journey after losing a spouse is difficult beyond words. Offer support and encouragement in their new journey. Remove any judgements because unless you’ve walked in their shoes, you have no idea.
It is amazing what our hearts are capable of. When someone can’t comprehend loving again, or loving another, I offer the illustration of children. For those that have more than one child, they know the love for each child is completely different. Having another child doesn’t take away from the love of the others. The love you have for each child is completely different and unique. Your heart expands and grows and you don’t even have to think about it.
And the same with loving after loss. The love is sweeter, even more appreciated. It is an absolute gift. They were both meant for me, for different stages of my life. I can’t have one without the other. I wouldn’t choose one over the other. And I am just so thankful I have been able to experience as much love in my life as I have.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Fergesen of West Des Moines, IA. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more about Nicole’s story:
‘I came downstairs to 3 missed calls from my dad. The hotel staff found my husband unconscious. He was 32. No warning. My love was there one second, and gone the next.’: Wife suddenly loses husband to heart disease after collapsing on treadmill
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