“I just lost the most precious thing in the world,” the lost, broken husband sobbed as he addressed the friends and family gathered for the memorial service of his wife of so many years.
I reached over and touched my own husband’s leg. He took hold of my hand and squeezed—tight.
Just a month before, I had accompanied him to the Benedictine Chapel on the anniversary of the death of his first wife—the person who, when he lost her, was the most precious thing in the world to him. He has gone to the chapel on this anniversary every year since she died three-and-a-half years ago, ten days before I met him.
Sitting in our friend’s memorial service I saw the pain, the grief and the shock on the crumpled face of her sobbing husband. I saw his terrible need and his terrible wonderment at just how he was going to go on from this point forward.
I saw it and I knew it because I have known it in my own husband, though certainly not in the same way. My husband is a quiet, down-deep-inside-himself type of Englishman. But still and all, I know him and I have known his silent, shuddering version of pain. I have seen it and known it from the beginning of our marriage.
A marriage in which I have been challenged by the fact of his grieving for another while being married to me.
But then, marriage is in itself an interesting/terrible/wonderful challenge. It stretches us while it holds us together and comforts us while pulling us beyond our comfort zones, all at the same time. It doesn’t need to be complicated by the kinds of thoughts I have about having married a man who lost his most precious thing before I ever came along. A man who—despite his utterly full and complete love for me—will always have loved another better, if not simply because he loved her first.
I complicate things with thoughts like that.
During the memorial service, I looked at the newly grieving husband and wondered how in the world he would ever be able to gather himself together enough to put an ad on Craigslist to find another woman. I soon recognized the absurdity and the impossibility of his ever doing such a thing; yet there I sat, touching the leg of a man who had done exactly such a thing. And there he sat in the middle of that very same memorial service holding my hand as if he didn’t want to let go.
I know that I have been a great help to him. I know that I filled a hole. I also know that I can’t let myself dare to think these things about his late wife because on the heels of such thoughts is the thought that those are the only reasons he wanted me, fell in love with me, married me. Because I was there for him. A life boat. A place in the storm.
I hate my complicating thoughts. Especially the ones in which I compare myself to her—to the one, to the most precious one.
I didn’t go to college, she was just short of a Ph.D; She played concert piano, I play third grade music; She was brilliant, beautiful and independent and traveled the world on her own. I haven’t been anywhere, and if I were to go, I wouldn’t go by myself. I weigh more than she, I’m shorter than she and I don’t read voraciously. Above all, I didn’t survive breast cancer for 25 years.
My thoughts complicate things.
When we were at the Benedictine Chapel last month my husband sat in silence and, as he told me he would do, he spent this time remembering, recovering moments, reliving, reconnecting with his previous wife in the only way left to him since that moment when she left forever—that moment that he had described to me when she took her last breath and when he took her in his arms and sang to her.
And there I sat beside him, silently wondering what the hell I was doing there and getting angry with myself for allowing myself to be in someone else’s shadow and—I know better.
I know my husband doesn’t feel this way at all. I know he doesn’t compare and that it is just me, thinking and thinking and thinking—and complicating things.
A great teacher of mine introduced me a long time ago to the 15th century assertion, “Comparisons are odious.” Being one who suffers from the disease of comparisons, I have never forgotten his words and I have realized as I have grown older—at least intellectually—the futility of comparing myself to another person. Especially to another person who is dead and whom I didn’t even know.
While I have concluded that the purpose of my comparisons is to provide me with either an arrogant one-up stance or a victimized one-under stance, I have also learned that neither stance is based in reality, neither is productive and neither stance does any good whatsoever. The reality is that each person is not to be measured in comparison to another, but instead, on her own merits.
That is why there is no need for me to ever doubt my husband’s love for me. He doesn’t do the comparison thing. He takes me, just as he took his former wife, each on our own merits.
At the memorial service the family had installed a small pagoda-like tent in the backyard. There were flowers, just a few chairs, a beautiful table of food and loving, interested, concerned people. It was just right. Just exactly right.
“I wonder what he’s going to do?” my husband said to me on the way home in the car, referring to the sobbing, broken husband.
“He won’t get married again,” I said. “He’s not the type.”
“No,” my husband said. “Besides, you’re already taken.”
I had the fleeting notion that, after my husband’s words, I should wait until we crossed over a river, roll down the window and let all my complicating thoughts and comparisons fly out and down into the flowing water.
That’s exactly where they belong: Out the window, washed away in a river, never to be thought again.
Comparisons are odious.
Author: Carmenele Siani
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Donnie Nunley/Flickr