“You sit in front,” Liz offers.
“No, you sit with David,” I say. She belongs next to David, not me.
My son David, his bride Liz, and I head for Watkins Glen State Park on this glorious late September afternoon. Yesterday was David’s birthday. We want to celebrate.
We leave the sunny parking lot and enter the moist shady caverns of the gorge. Liz tucks their five pound Chihuahua Lil’Bit into her jacket. David and Liz keep track of each other on the trail in a coupled dance—step together, then one step ahead, then together and three steps behind, pause, wait for the other to catch up, walk together again. A smile, a touch, a hug, a whisper. I watch and remember this dance with my husband Vic.
Not long ago, when my sons visited, Vic and I held the family center, but now I’m a widow and my sons have lost their dad. I love being with David and Liz as we warm our bodies in the sun and cool off beneath dripping rocks and splashing waterfalls, but I don’t know quite where to stand.
For 42 years, I was half of a third thing. There was me, there was Vic, and there was our marriage, the sturdy union and family backbone. Now I gratefully watch David and Liz build that third together. Still, when I’m with them, I feel Vic’s absence next to me.
Vic’s death left a jagged wound that seeped and bled. Over many years, I grieved, adjusted, and healed, but his death wounded our whole family. After five years, my sons and I stand solidly in our new lives but, as a family, we’re still adjusting.
When I’m alone, I’m used to Vic’s absence. I dream of him and write about him, but no longer expect to see him come down the path toward me or walk up from the barn in his work boots and tan overalls. My cells accept that he won’t return to fill my life with those brown eyes, that teasing smile, and those strong safe arms.
I enjoy my own company with my sweet dog Willow nearby. I love being outside, spending time with friends, and seeing family. But no matter how loved I feel, family visits awaken all I’ve lost.
After David and Liz leave for home, I’ll return to my quiet writing life, grateful for our time together, but keenly aware of Vic’s absence. I’ve learned that the intensity of my longing fades in time. Soon, I’ll only remember the love, hugs, and beauty of our walk through Watkins Glen, and I’ll be grateful for both my coupled and uncoupled life.
How did your family reconfigure after a death? Did you find a new structure in time? For another article about family after loss, see Small Goodbyes: Opening the Heart to Loss and Love.