As I have continued moving forward on my long and twisting path since losing Dana, I have finally let much of the negativity go. The most damaging, long-lasting side-effect from the trauma came from the cruelty of judgment. As I described in “My Story”, much of my remaining anger, rage and resentment departed as we were unexpectedly battling my wife’s life-changing brain injury. Her amazing courage and positivity gave me a life-changing wake-up call. I was finally able to take down the hardened barrier that I had built up around me.
Shelly needed me, and she needed the best possible version of me. I was instantly fueled by her strength and optimism. Up until then, the rage, anger and negativity weighed me down and affected those I came in contact with. The angry bitter man I had become was directly correlated to the harsh and painful judgment Shelly and I had received when we became a couple.
In the initial years of grief, I couldn’t win in many people’s eyes. To me it was pretty simple; I had lost my world and my future. Dana and I had a storybook existence that was suddenly gone without warning. I would never “get over” that. People didn’t really want to deal with me, as my grief was too raw and uncomfortable for them. They just wanted me to move along. But move along on their terms. It’s an impossible balance. On one hand, they want you to get over it. But on the other hand; “don’t you dare find new happiness, especially with anybody we know”.
It was a complete surprise to me that a little over three years into my journey I fell in love with Shelly. Three years earlier, I hardly knew Shelly when she became roommates with one of Dana’s best friends. I spent quite a bit time at their new apartment, still in shock and spewing so much about my despair. Most people would grow uncomfortable with me during that point in time. I was grateful that Shelly would listen without answering back in the platitudes that were so commonly given to me.
By time our relationship changed we had become the closest of friends. We had it backwards. Typically it goes where we fall for someone, get to know them through this initial attraction stage and then become best friends. Our relationship instantly had strength and depth, due to the unique bond we had developed over the previous three years.
That made the judgment we received from some of those in our inner circle devastating. Their thoughts and insecurities were so off base to how things truly were. I knew I would always love Dana as much as I did the day she died. Shelly was simply joining Dana inside my heart.
I knew that I had nothing to feel guilty about, as Dana would wholeheartedly approve. Dana knew that Shelly was an amazing person. She would be pleased that I had Shelly to get me through my remaining life. I knew there was nothing about this that was disrespectful or tarnishing to Dana’s memory. But we were being accused of doing such. It was a blessing that Shelly knew Dana and a blessing that we could talk about her with such ease. Those closest to us should have been the happiest for us. Many were, but it was the cruel comments and actions of a small few that created such lasting damage.
Fast forward almost a quarter of a century later. Shelly and I have a stronger relationship than ever. But I still think about Dana everyday. Society seems to think that you can’t have both. But I am here to say that you can. You can have tremendous love for two people at once.
A purpose of mine has become teaching empathy to those that are dealing with somebody close to them who is grieving. Simply listen, acknowledge what has happened is horrific (don’t downplay it) and allow them to be. As time continues to pass, continue to let them be. Let their new life begin to take shape without negativity. Always remember that there is no playbook as to how long any of this takes. You may think it is happening too quickly, or you may think it is taking too long. Just understand that this is not for you to have an opinion on.
As the one grieving eventually moves forward; be there with love and support. Always remember that they are not replacing the one that has died. They are finding the ability to move forward. To move forward to make the best of the life that they need to continue to live.
Let them move forward without judgment…..