Yesterday Jordan and I celebrated seven years of marriage. It’s been a joy-filled, sanctifying, gratitude-inspiring journey so far. When I thought about potentially sitting down to write something to mark this day, Jordan suggested we answer the question we’ve probably been asked the most:
What’s it like being married to a widow(er)?
Since the beginning of our marriage, we’ve gotten this question. Not from everyone, but certainly enough to know people wonder how it all works. Some people ask in a high-level, broad kind of way, and others ask in a more direct, loaded kind of way, but generally people want to know…
Is it messy at all?
Do you wonder if he/she loves Danielle/Jarronn more than you?
And who do you love more?
And is it awkward when you bring up Danielle/Jarronn?
And to some people, the answer to all of these questions might be as surprising as the story of two people, both widowed in their twenties, meeting and falling head over heels for each other.
It’s not messy or uncertain or awkward at all.
Eight years ago, Jordan and I were making a connection on Facebook, exchanging messages about our work, our favorite Martin episodes, and the things we enjoyed with our late spouses. When we sat down in person for the first time at the bar of my favorite Mediterranean spot in Washington, D.C., we shared tapas and a lot about Danielle (Jordan’s late wife) and Jarronn (my late husband). We both shed tears, feeling bad for what the other had suffered, even wishing the past could be different. We also laughed at the out-of-touch things people say when you’re widowed and the sometimes weird things overheard in grief support groups. And we talked about how our suffering stripped away a lot of our entitlement and ideas that God owed us certain things in life.
We got married less than 10 months after that first meeting in D.C., and fast-forward seven years — Jordan and I still talk about Danielle and Jarronn multiple times a week. We share when one of them has shown up in our dreams. In our apartment, our dressers sit side by side — mine holds a photo of Jarronn. Jordan’s holds Danielle’s journal of her final thoughts, hopes, and prayers.
Isn’t that weird?
For us, the answer is no, and here’s a little from both of us to explain why:
It would be hard for me to never talk about my fantasy basketball team, let alone the woman that I married, whose hand I held as she died. The chapter with Danielle was a defining period of my life, and so much of my faith, empathy, resilience, understanding, and awareness is tied directly to her. Consequently, it’s not possible to really know me without her.
The same thing is true for Jessica. I can’t know her fully without understanding her relationship with Jarronn. His life and death shaped her in so many ways.
Including them in our lives translates to a deeper relationship for me and Jessica, not one where I’m competing with Jarronn or she’s competing with Danielle. In encouraging each other to share our thoughts freely, Jessica and I have a deeper friendship than I’ve ever experienced with anyone, and I think that’s what makes our marriage so great and really unparelled for both of us. Jessica is the best friend I’ve ever had, and I owe that to our transparency — that we try to talk about everything, with little fear of being rejected for opening up.
What this requires is a willingness to actually open up the real you, and for your spouse to accept the real you, not the person they wish you were. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.
It’s true what Jordan says about transparency and intimacy. I think one reason people have a hard time imagining how being married to a widowed person wouldn’t be hard, is because whether consciously or unconsciously, whether based on past experience or assumptions, there are rules about not discussing parts of your past with your spouse. There are rules about being “better” than the people featured in your spouse’s past.
And sure, we all have past experiences that don’t necessarily need to be re-lived. But there are some past experiences that have truly shaped us, and it would probably serve our spouses to understand those experiences better. But because of the unspoken rules, because of insecurities, because we aren’t truly safe spaces for our partners, a lot of these experiences go unmentioned.
We believe we can have meaningful intimacy with our spouse, while withholding parts of ourselves. And the opposite is true.
Jarronn and Danielle are a gift to our relationship in that regard — both of them played such a formative role in our lives, that relegating them or their families to our pasts was never an option if we hoped to bring healthy, whole versions of ourselves to our relationship. We can simultaneously feel sadness for the pain Danielle endured or sadness for the fear Jarronn felt and still be devoted to one another. Or we can just miss them, for the amazing people they were, and not fear that means a preference for the past over our present.
The greater reward in all of this, is that it causes us to be more free in sharing our true selves with each other — even the not so tidy, not so pretty, difficult to process things. Sharing those things, unlike sharing about Jarronn and Danielle, may actually be hard.
But the reward of deeper intimacy with each other is always worth it.