So I was asked if I'd mind telling my story and answering some questions for an article being done on young widowers and their journey back to dating. Obviously I said yes and jumped at the chance to talk about myself, after all it is one of my favorite pastimes.
This is the narrative that I sent off to the writer, I thought I'd share it here:
So, my story, well it begins with losing my wife I suppose, not that I lost her, I know exactly where she is, buried in the ground, in a cement vault, I'll always know where to find her, so she isn't lost, just dead. Let's go back to how she got that way though. Our daughter was about 4 months old when Claire developed constant neck pain. She went to see her doctor and was told that she needed to see a chiropractor. The PA thought maybe it was strain from holding and nursing the baby. After being treated by the chiropractor for 2 weeks with no change she was referred back to her primary care doctor. Labs were drawn and antibiotics prescribed as they now thought that the cause was an infection. When she returned for a follow up visit a week later and they looked at her white blood cell count her doctor told her she should go find a hematologist, that it looks like she has leukemia. That Friday morning on March 7, 2008. By 4pm I had left work and her mother had gotten an emergency appointment at the hospital where she works with one of their hematologist oncologists. At around 4:30pm life changed forever when the bone marrow biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of AML. She was admitted to the ED immediately to start oral chemotherapy, and by the morning was in a room to begin one of the first of many hospital stays.
I was going to rewrite this part about hope and such over the course of her illness but I'll cut and paste this blog post:
I know that early on when Claire was first diagnosed with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) on March 7, 2008, around 4:34pm in the Hematologist's office in Stony Brook, some things we don't forget, the news was devastating. However being told that Leukemia is not a death sentence, that it isn't just manageable but curable gave us, and particularly me a lot of hope. Especially after the first round of induction chemotherapy put it into remission and even the doctors were shocked by the rapid success. And then against the odds they found a National Bone Marrow Registry donor, willing to donate, that was about as good a match as you're going to get from a non-relative. While the treatment certainly changed everything we were still able to be a relatively normal functioning family during those early months when Claire was not in the hospital. I had total faith that while there was a long hard road ahead, that she was going to make a full recovery. I believed that this was indeed God's plan, that the entire ordeal was to make us closer as a family, to teach us the value of spending time together, to teach us how precious life is. I honestly had no doubts about what the outcome would be. This faith held on for a while, through the leukemia coming back, through an inability to achieve a total remission, through the bone marrow transplant. That bring us to the leukemia coming back after the transplant, to the day we went from thinking that we were on the road to eventually returning to a normal life, to being told that some of the best doctors in the world have no tricks left up their sleeves and that they'll try to buy Claire as many weeks or months as they can. That day was actually when my mourning began, mourning our hopes and dreams, our future children, that day was probably the worst, definitely worse than her actual passing, because by the time she died she was really suffering and not herself. We made the best of those 8 months, did a lot of things, but she kept getting weaker, and things kept getting harder.
So getting back to my wife's death. She died 2 days before our daughter's second birthday. We had moved in with my in-laws when she was diagnosed, and this is where she was when she died. She was home on Hospice for less than 2 weeks when she took her last shallow breaths. Her death certificate says she died around 4am, but that was when the hospice nurse arrived to pronounce. She actually died around 12:15am, which is when my MIL called to me that she doesn't think she's breathing anymore and I grabbed my stethoscope to confirm. That was an early October Sunday morning at that point, the day after my daughter's 2nd birthday party on Saturday. The party that we had with Claire lying comatose on the couch while we ate pizza and cake. While she'll be at each of our daughter's birthday's in spirit, I have no doubt that she hung on those last few days so she'd be at that one in body as well.
The days after were the wake and the funeral, she was buried and I went back to work a few days later. Things returned back to normal in some ways, except without the trips into the city for clinic visits and the commuting back and forth day and night, sleeping in a chair at the hospital and then heading to work before my parking spot became illegal. I spent a lot of time driving around looking for parking on the UES of Manhattan in those days. As time went by though the void became more and more, a night in the hospital by her bed was better than a night in my bed alone. I threw myself into a project at the house that I had been planning to do for years, finishing part of the basement as a playroom space for my daughter and a place for my desk. I put all of myself into this project, let it consume all of this time I now had. I put off other things, like dealing with going through her stuff, old mail, anything that didn't need to be done. When spring came I switched gears and built a memorial garden against a new fence I built, also built a garden at the cemetery at the base of the upright monument I had hustled to get put in before the ground froze.
At some point in there my daughter and I hung out with one of my late wife's friends a few times. I never wanted to go somewhere without a woman along, mainly because I don't like the idea of bringing my daughter into the men's room. This was about 6 months after Claire had passed. She had just ended a long term but dead end relationship, we were both lonely, so we started hanging out a few times. It didn't work out. I needed space, I was still processing things, she wanted my undivided attention, and above all else I had a daughter to raise, my undivided attention will never be something I can offer anyone. It was good in some ways though, the idea of having a relationship with someone else acted as a catalyst for me. It got me thinking about things, it got me looking to talk to other widows and widowers about their experiences and their journeys. Before that I had only met a few through Facebook.
One of the things I did find on FB was a Widow(er) Walk locally here on LI. I went with my daughter that first year, I met a few people, but didn't really stay in touch. We also started doing the LLS Light the Night walk, and continued doing the ACS Relay for Life event which I had been involved with for years. At the beginning of last year though I heard about a new web community for the young and widowed. I was able to join as a beta user and was very active there in the early days of the community. The community, Widowed Village, run by SSLF still exists, but I'm not as active as I once was. Through this community I became aware of another SSLF event though, Camp Widow.
By this time I had been talking to one particular widow a few states away on FB for a few months. Our circumstances were different, but she was even younger than I and now a sole parent as well. We had become friends and had even discussed that given the right circumstances me might be able to be more. When registration for camp came along we actually decided that we would go together, it would be a good opportunity to meet. We were both on the east coast and camp was on the west, so we could connect through a common airport and fly across the country together. We'd share a room too to keep costs down as the trip was already going to be quite expensive. Unfortunately this whole plan didn't pan out, she had some major health issue in the period of time leading up to camp and was unable to make it. Unfortunately our friendship isn't what it once was, but I've found that seems to happen when you are online friends awaiting that big moment when you meet in real life, and then it doesn't happen. The entire dynamic changes after that point.
I did start talking intensely with another widow, from across the country, who was down on her luck, didn't have children, who was going to camp. We did meet at camp, but it turned out we weren't quite as compatible as we had hoped. Things just weren't quite what they appeared. Factor in the cross country thing, and well, that was probably never really a good idea in the first place. While it was another learning experience, it was also a mistake. I'd have gotten more out of the Camp Widow experience if I had just gone to network and spend time with online friends, with no romantic interest.
After that I met a divorcee online, or she found me actually. She was interesting, her daughter was adorable, but she turned out to be a little nuts. My daughter and I went on a few outings with them, and we went out just us twice, but that was more than enough to know that there was no future there. Plus I'm not so into dating a divorcee to begin with, there is enough potential for drama with the family of a deceased parent when dating someone with children, I don't even want to imagine dealing with a living other parent.
This brings me to another widowed friend, also has 2 children, that was a chance meeting also on FB. She was only one state away, we hit it off great chatting, texting, talking. We both saw great potential for a future together. We were both pretty firmly planted where we are though, but as time went by, I found myself actually debating moving if we hit it off. Things got to that point where we needed to meet, see if there was really something there when we met in person, and the meeting didn't pan out, which I guess is just as well because we never got to reschedule it, things fell apart after that. For me this experience though really renewed my belief that not only can I be happy and in a relationship again, but I will.
Up to this point I had a pretty rigid set of criteria in my mind as to what I was looking for in a person. This was partly what I'd always been drawn to, but was in large part due to my experience with the incompatible person at camp. I had broken a few of those rules though with this last online experience, and that didn't seem to be a big deal. Now while all this was going on I had also gotten roped into attending a bereavement group. Remember that Widow(er) walk? Well we did it again last year, and we even met two other families on the playground, I even retrieved a cute little boy from the playset before we left. Well the same woman who does the walk runs this group. She had also roped the mother of that cute little boy into it. We were both much further out from our loss than the other group members, and we were told we were there almost as success stories. She herself (the one who runs the group) is 11 years out and got remarried to a widower after 5 years.
Well this mother and I had chatted on FB from time to time. I had a sort of image of her as someone that I would not get along with very well outside of the occasional conversation online or at a group meeting. Well it turns out that while this group is going on, and this whole online "relationship" is falling apart we did do some talking. I got to know her better and came to find out that some of my assumptions were in fact inaccurate. That brings us to the current. Her and I have been dating for about a month. Our children get along like siblings, and we really do seem to complement one another very well. Only time will tell what the future holds, but there is a good chance that I was just looking too hard. It is a definite possibility that my second wife is a widow with two kids that I barely gave the time of day too on a playground not even a year ago.
That brings me to another debate though, first, it is completely different for a widower vs. a widowed father to get back into the dating world and have a new relationship. The second is the two schools of thought on dating with children. I firmly believe that you are dating me and my child, we're an inseparable unit. So my child must like her and vice-versa or it isn't worth the time and effort involved. Many other say you should keep the children separate, that they shouldn't meet until at least 6 months when you know there is really something there. Well what a waste of 6 months that would be if they don't hit it off and never will. Not to mention that if both people have children that is a lot of expense or other people's time watching your children for those 6 months, not to mention all the time you spend away from your own children. I understand that the children can get attached, and that it can be hard on them if it doesn't work out, but personally, I'm not going to spend any time on someone if I don't at least think they've got long term potential, so chances are that we'd get to 6 months and they'd meet the children anyway. My way not only do we get to spend time together, but we get to do things with the children. In the last month we went on a trip to Sesame Place, The Bronx Zoo, Ice Skating, and a number of other outings. I likely wouldn't have done half of those things with my daughter if we hadn't been all doing them together because it would have been just us with nobody to go with us, and we get right back to that whole men's room issue. I think one reason I care so much about my daughter getting along with anyone who could potentially be my new wife, feeling that it should be natural and not forced, is because anything else I would feel like I was doing Claire a disservice forcing an unwanted person upon her child for my own benefit. I mean for the sake of my daughter's happiness I wouldn't want to do that either.