On Finding Love Again

I treated love as a trivial thing before I met you, John.

I always believed people could will themselves into thinking they loved one another. And that loving someone, just like anything subjected to the trials of time, eventually turned into habitual duty. 

Before we met, I had a pattern:

I would spend a few months going out with friends, meeting new people, and eventually, I would find someone I figured I could will myself to love.  After careful assessment of the person and an attempt to weigh the pros and cons of being with them, I would declare to myself that, yes…I can love this person. 

And I’d tell them I loved them. And when they told me they loved me, I’d say it right back to them.

And when we would break up, I would call up a friend and cry into the phone and say, “…but I loved him.” 

And then a few months later, I would start going out with friends, meeting new people…and the cycle would repeat. 

That’s the pattern I lived out for most of my life.

That was love to me for most of my life: a lukewarm melodrama I could manifest after acting out a recycled pattern of choices that seemed to always work. And I never understood how, if this was love, anyone could will themselves into loving someone enough that something like marriage or long term partnership would ever actually work.  

But then, John… I met you.

And for the first time, love wasn’t a decision that I needed to will myself to make. 

Loving you wasn’t a choice…it was more a reality that I was asked to accept. A reality that something outside of myself was urging and willing me towards: I was simply going to love you deeply whether I wanted to or not.

But I wanted to love you. And I did, John. I absolutely loved you.

I loved you so much, in fact, that I was angry that I had ever used the word before with anyone else.  

I could see it for the first time: how the alchemy between two people could have such a charge to it, that an actual lifetime together wasn’t merely an option as much as a foregone conclusion. Something you’d be crazy not to want to try.

For the first time, my fear of the future was muted.

You would always tease me about that fear and the misguided vanity that it flowered from. You always thought it was silly that I feared how time would change the shape of my body, my face, and ultimately, would change the way you saw me.  I was always so scared of that.

And I don’t think I ever told you this when you were alive, but right before you died, I realized that I was wrong.  Not about time changing the way I looked, but about thinking that time could actually change the way you saw me.  

John, I know now, that in your eyes…I was never going to age.   

I loved you. More than my own desire to be happy. 

And something about what you did to my heart, whatever you were able to pour into it, felt like the whispers of something eternal.  

John, after spending so much of my time on this Earth searching for life and clinging to anyone or anything I met along the way that might have an idea where to find it: I met you.  I was willed to do so.

And there was nowhere else to go after that.  So I stayed where I was, and we got two years together.  And then God took you back.   

We got two years, John. 

It’s almost a laughably short amount of time to most people down here on Earth, but I don’t think most people know what two years with you can do to a person’s heart.  

And what did that time do to it? 

Did it break it?  Absolutely. 

Teach it?  Yes. 

But most importantly: That time showed my heart that it was something worth cherishing.  That it was something good. 

And then when you died, I was left with it.  

That heart you’d spent the last years of your life speaking goodness into tried as hard as it could to keep beating.  

And right around that time you’d been dead for two years, I found myself wondering how, on this Earth, I was supposed to give this heart you left me with to anyone else. 

But I tried.  

I tried my old patterns: to will myself into finding someone to love with this heart that you shaped.

I went on dates, John.  I even allowed myself to get swept up in new romances a few times.  And I’d find myself doing the same things I’d done with you, and having inside jokes, and waking up genuinely excited to have someone to talk to.  

But the love inside still had nowhere real to go.  

And I kept thinking to myself, “he would want me to love again…” And people would tell me that in order to honor you, “I should find someone to love again,” until finally it occurred to me that maybe I should just  ask you where you wanted what you left in my heart to go.  

And (through the grace of God) I heard you say: 

Babe, of course I want you to find love again.  

In fact, I want you to find it everywhere.  And in everyone.  (Even in the people you don’t like)   And even more so in the people who have hurt you. And if you find a person or a place where there is very little goodness…pour my goodness there. 

And love? Find it. Find it everywhere that I’m not.

So I’ve been doing that, John.  I’ve been wringing my heart out like a sponge on other people’s hurt, especially hurt I’ve caused.   And in the lives of our friends.  And in the lives of my students.

And, at times, I worry there will be nothing left in it.  

But in those memories I have with you, and in the words you spoke to me, and in the hands of the God you led me to, I find all the places that I can go to fill it back up with what is good.  

And with this heart you left in me, I go out into this world you left me in, and I find love again, and again, and again.  

And I’ll keep doing so.

****

(Until our hearts beat together once more, John, I will keep following that will that got me to you)

A Year in the Life of a Pilot’s Widow

I want to start off by addressing that I don’t really know why I am writing this right now, other than the fact that I have something to say to anyone who has or will ever mourn a pilot. I’m going to keep this short, and I’m going to keep it concise…

Before I get into that, I want to talk about what it means to love a pilot. Not a person who flies. But a pilot. Someone who was born to take to the skies.

I have heard so many military spouses talk about how they simply pretend the jobs our husbands and boyfriends have are “normal.” They pretend that they are bankers or lawyers. I get that this is done to protect themselves, but ultimately, they aren’t bankers. They are pilots.

Their jobs are epic. They have legendary stories to tell.

If you love a pilot, you love someone who literally tames and rides dragons all day. And then comes home and does laundry. And eats dinner with you. And asks about your day.

If you love a pilot this means weekly if not daily conversations about the dangers of the job. The dangers of ejection. The possibility of severed limbs. Third degree burns. Broken backs. And death.

Not just one conversation, but many conversations.

If you love a pilot, you love someone who spends their whole life fighting gravity, and bending it. And to love a pilot means that one day, you very realistically may have to mourn that pilot, because even the greatest pilots can die doing what they love.

It’s the gig. To truly love a pilot is to be ready and willing and able to try your best to survive their death.

And when and if, one day, your pilot falls from the sky, we, their widows, are left to mourn heroes.

We are also left with a community who says they want to support your grief but also really hopes you stay quiet about it.

When you mourn a pilot, everyone mourns with you for a while. You get a lot of calls from people who didn’t know your pilot but want to express their condolences.

You also get messages from pilots you don’t know. Their wives in the next room. These pilots are panicked, they have so much fear of death, but their wife simply can’t understand and so they can’t talk to her. (Maybe because she is trying to convince herself that he has a normal job and he doesn’t want to upset her).

So these pilots talk to you. Because you’re already destroyed.

And though you are broken and grieving, these are your person’s brothers, so you stay up til all hours of the night trying to console broken men while you yourself are broken.

When you mourn a pilot, you know conversations are going on about you in the spouse groups. Are you still a spouse? Most think yes. But there’s always one or two who consider you less of a spouse, and after a few months of trying to figure out how to deal with their passive aggressive dismissals of your suggestions, you decide that maybe, ultimately, you may need to leave that group completely. And leave those friendships.

A lot of people tell you that they’re going to do really amazing things to honor your dead pilot. Getting necklaces made. Bracelets. They’re going to send them to you when the designs are finished…but the designs never get finished, and ultimately you just forget about it.

When you mourn a pilot, you listen to other spouses with living husbands complain about the amount of time their guy is flying. They don’t complain in group chats…they, for some reason, complain to you.

You get called by investigators over and over and over again. Every time, they need a little more information. A few more details for the report. And then the report of the accident comes out, and you read “pilot error,” listed across the top. And your soul screams. And you feel like your guy has died twice.

And on top of that, people keep saying over and over and over again, “I’m sure his last thoughts were of you,” and you want to scream at them, “do you even get it? Do you even understand what they do up there? He better not have been thinking of me, he better have been trying to get out of the god damn airplane so he could get back to me.”

When you mourn a pilot, you show up to their final funeral service, and you see people with their cell phones out.

You collapse by their coffin afterwards when everyone is trickling away and you sob. And you clutch the name tag hanging from the handle of the casket and you look at your dead pilot’s name. And you feel your heart shatter again.

And while that’s happening, someone walks up behind you and taps you on the shoulder and asks if you can move for a second…because they want a picture of the casket (it’s their first time at Arlington Cemetery after all, and they don’t know if they’ll ever be back).

So you move. And they get their picture.

And at the services, you run into one of the pilots who called you months earlier. And later on after the funeral, he calls you again when it is a little too late. He’s alone in his hotel room. He asks if you want to meet up. And you hang up the phone and delete his number. And you mourn your dead pilot even more because he was truly a good person. And you feel like you’ve been left to the wolves.

When you mourn a pilot you consider the idea that maybe you don’t want to live anymore. You make the mistake of telling one of the wives. And she takes the screenshots of those messages and shows them to other wives. And ultimately one of them finally calls you and goes, “I just think you should know she is saying these things about you,” and you stare blankly off into space and ask her, “did you stand up for me?” To which she responds, “well, it’s not really my place to do so, but I thought you should know.”

And so you think about it.

And you make a list of every single person from your pilot’s squadron, and you delete them from social media. And you write really angry posts about things they never let you say. And you’re talking for the first time, honestly, about how you feel. And you let it all out. You use your anger to scorch the Earth around you. And it feels good.

People start calling you and telling you you’re causing too much pain to others. And you laugh to yourself that anyone is trying to talk to you about what “too much pain,” is. And it feels good.

The fact that people can see, for the first time, how little they mean to you in the face of what you lost, feels good. It feels so good, because you finally, after almost a year, feel like people hear you.

And the first year ends. And you’re finally breathing again after spending so much time suffering a death by a thousand cuts.

And you take your first few steps into the second year of being a dead pilot’s widow.

And then another pilot dies. And you see his widow in the news articles and you hear the talks and lofty speeches about how the community is going to pull together to support her.

And you just hope it goes differently this time.

****

There are truly so many great and supportive people within the military communities, please know I acknowledge that.

This post is a culmination of things that happened to me and other widows after their losses. So obviously…there is some room for improvement.