Coming Out…Again.

“So what made you move here?”  It’s a typical, benign question that any neighbor might ask of a newcomer like me. I moved to my new home in a different neighborhood of Boston late May and when I was first asked that question, I was rendered speechless.  “Well we used to own a house…” but I could see the perplexed look on their face. Was I referring to me and the dog on the end of my leash?  For a while when the “we” pronoun slipped out of my mouth, I’d qualify it by explaining that I was married.  To a man. No I wasn’t divorced.  He died a while ago.  Ugh.  I could feel that this was already TMI but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.  The horse was out of the gate.   I was off and running, providing a convoluted response to a simple question.

I quickly found myself dreading walking Mario through the neighborhood alone, fearful of my verbal diarrhea.  Then it dawned on me.  I’m coming out again.  This time it’s not about coming out as gay as much as it’s about coming out as a widower. And it’s every bit as painful as the first round.  As I walk Mario, I’m aware that I am now seen as the new single guy with the dog that just moved in up the street.  My new neighbors never knew Art and never will.  They do not know that I was once madly in love and madly loved by an amazing man.

So begins another stage of grief and transformation, shedding my old skin and stepping into who I’m becoming.  I’ve learned now to avoid the use of “we.”  It exists in my heart but not in my day to day reality.  I’ve set up my new home alone.  It reflects only my taste and choices.  I’ve struggled to decide how many pictures of Art should be out.  When does it start to strike people as creepy?  How much is comforting and how much saddens me?

Art and I kept a small, old chalkboard in our kitchen where we used to draw pictures and write welcome messages to our guests and love notes to each other.  About two weeks before he died he wrote “You are my Hero!” on it.  I never erased that message.  It comforted me to see it each day but somehow while my new place was being painted, the message got erased.  I feel things slipping away.

I know that these external realities do not change what remains inside of me.  I love Art every bit as much today as I did on January 10, 2017. I miss him horribly.  And while some of my old identity and reality is shifting, it’s making room for something else to emerge.

First I have to accept that I cannot go back.  Just yesterday I had to gather some old financial documents and information about Art. It forced me to dig through notes he left for me and piles of papers from when he was alive.  I began to shake, feeling on the verge of sheer panic.  I slammed the drawer shut and fell into heaving sobs.  Twenty months later and the tsunami of grief is as powerful as ever, though perhaps shorter lived.  No.  I can’t go back, so now I come out again, stepping into the new truth.

There’s always some relief in coming out or speaking our truth to the world.  The heaviness of our secret is lightened.  The chains around our ankles are released and we move more freely.  Yet there is also sadness to it.  Here’s the thing about my current truth that is most awkward to say — I’ve begun dating again.  There. I said it.  Now you know.  I haven’t wanted to tell you or anyone.  The main reason is that I do not want the world to stop seeing me as Art’s husband. I forever want to be “Art and John.” The experience of being married to Art deeply changed me.  That will always be true.  I haven’t yet figured out how to hang on to this part of my identity while letting myself fall in love again.  My heart is so full of Art that I struggle to make room for another.  I don’t want to be seen with anyone else.

One night I met someone at a community event and as we both left he asked me if I wanted to stop for a drink.  Without thinking I said yes and a few minutes later found myself sitting on a barstool next to him.  Slowly it started to dawn on me that I was on a sort of date!  Just then an old friend walked in with her husband.  I wanted to duck under the bar and hide.  Did it look like I was on a date?  What if they come over?  How do I introduce him?  I barely know his name!  What if he isn’t very sociable and acts like a jerk?  I felt like I was cheating on Art.

It has been months since that first date.  I no longer have that same panic.  I do still have the sadness though.  Even after a nice night out I have sadness about needing to date again.  I was never a big fan of the cruel ritual in the first place!  I want to tell Art about the people I meet.  I want to introduce people to him and vice versa.

Sometimes people say to me, “You’ve done so much since Art died!  You’re doing great!”  I appreciate the encouragement yet I fear that dating will be interpreted as my having “moved on.”  I fear that people will talk about him less, as if that part of my life has been closed off. Then I worry that men I date will be uncomfortable hearing about Art.  This is how it is with coming out.  At some point the pain of staying stuck is greater than our fear.

The reason many people don’t come out is due to fear.  I realize that the antidote to fear is becoming more open-hearted and loving. It means pushing myself beyond my old boundaries inch by inch, opening my heart more and more.  It’s not about love in the mushy, gushy sense of the word. For me it’s about more open heartedness in the places that sometimes challenge me.  It’s about being more welcoming, empathic and compassionate with people where…let’s just say…it doesn’t come naturally!  I have to look honestly at myself and see where I am closed-hearted with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and my community.

One of the earlier lessons of grief has reappeared:  I have to learn how to hold two opposing truths at the same time.  How can I be heartbroken with grief and yet love with reckless abandon?  How can I maintain my identity as Art’s husband while also moving through the world as a single person or in another romantic relationship? The answer always remains the same – open my heart more and more.  I cannot replace the piece of my heart that loves Art with a part that loves someone new.  Some of Art’s final words come to mind – “may your grief transform you and may your heart open more and more…”  I discover that I do not have to choose between Art or a new relationship. If I can be more expansive in my ability to love more, I don’t have to choose.  It has become possible to embrace grief and welcome the exhilaration of new love. I can (and do!) fear navigating all the details of life alone, often overwhelmed and anxiety-stricken having to balance so many priorities.  Yet at the same time I can jump in with both feet to the great unknown if my heart can make more room.

I’m not proud that I don’t have to look far to find people and places where my heart is not fully open. There’s poor Alba at the bank, for example.  She is the unsuspecting staff member assigned to help me sort out Art’s accounts.  She regularly had me jump through bureaucratic hoops too many to mention.  I held her in contempt for months, speaking to her in either flat, angry tones or in shaky screams.  She did her best in an impossible system.  I think it’ll take a long time before I can love Alba, but it took no time to stop in her office during my last visit to the bank to say hello and wish her a nice weekend.  She looked at me with great suspicion, as if I might pull out a gun any second.  It was a step in the right direction that shifted my own perspective and mood.  An ounce of compassion left me more open hearted.

For me it’s about releasing myself from the places where I’ve been stuck.  It’s pushing the envelope in the direction of openness, especially when my first instinct is to be defensive, angry or dismissive.  And so with openheartedness, awareness and gratitude I step out into the world as the person I am today – a widower with his dog, a man still longing for love, a person trying and often failing to embrace more of the world around me, little by little.

 

 

~ by Art on September 17, 2018.

20 Responses to “Coming Out…Again.”

  1. John
    Be real and genuine when you are meeting people on dating sites. You are a sweet and adorable person but if you are not ready to date and hook up be honest. It hurts the other person because they can see how special you are and how in morning you still are.

  2. John– this is one of the most vulnerable, heartfelt and real blogposts I have ever experienced. I cannot stop crying. And add in your amazing writing ability, and this is artwork. And I don’t take that word lightly- I dare say it is Art-Work, which you are now co-creating with his essence in the most inspiring way. I am daring to know that Art is on fire with your REAL inner work here– that is his mission–always has been and always will be. So much love- Rick T. PS–
    May I share this post in my world ?

    • My dear Rick…I love what you write here about artwork and ArtWork. I often said to Art that part of the irony of his death is that I never could have made it through it without him. He is, in fact, the greatest loss and the reason I can endure it. I am deeply deeply grateful for your love and tenderness on this journey. And YES – please feel free to share this with whoever, however works! XO

  3. John,
    Thanks for writing. You are such a good writer. And everything you mentioned makes so much sense. Holding both ends. That’s a tough and healing prescription. Opening a healing heart. It goes against the pull of a fetal position. Do both. Get mad and don’t be sorry for it. Put compassion right on that spot later if you want. If you want. You. Walk down the street one day wearing sunglasses to hide the tears. The next day, take them off, walk down that same street and snap. “Bitches! I am here!”

    • Ooh your description going against the fetal position really fits. And I know you understand it well. And I will only walk down the street that way with you!

  4. John, this is such a lovely post, a wonderful tribute to Art and also a tribute to the current journey that you are walking and how holding two opposing truths, while difficult, can be done with open-hearted grace. What a gift you are. Thank you for writing and for sharing.

    • Well Carly you are an example to me of what open heartedness can yield…respect for all, equality, greater dignity…I appreciate you and your kind words here!

  5. Keep writing John…. sending hugs, thoughts abd prayers your way.

  6. Hi John, thank you so much for posting such an honest and open hearted post. I notice I’m looking within myself to see where I can be more open hearted and find more of myself to be able to love! It is a great place that you point us, in your own journey of self discovery. Thank you for the courage it took to write this post. You are always in my heart as is Art.
    Sending love from London!
    Rx

    • Love you my dear…think of you every day when I look through that beautiful glass heart hanging over my kitchen sink…a daily reminder of you & the need for more open heartedness. XO

  7. Hi John! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you in person, and I’m sad that I never met Art. But I love your courage and the beauty of your expression. 🙂 Chris B.

    • Your comment means so much! Though we haven’t seen each other, I do love seeing what is happening in your life too. Love to you & Mark

  8. Thanks for sharing John. Love reading you. Such a great way to embrace the world and wishing you MORE !

  9. Bless you dear friend. your writing is exquisite and I can feel what you are feeling because of it. Bless you as you open your heart wider and wider, in trust and with courage.

    • You are a role model of open heartedness and loving. I’m so grateful to have you in my life and on this journey of emerging!

  10. John,
    I really enjoyed your post. Art was my coach, and I was his last client, and Mario looks a lot like our Labradoodle Crosby. Anyway, my key take away from your writing is “AND”, and the ability to hold the paradoxes of life with love and compassion. Thank you for sharing this, and you know Art would be saying “Yes, Yes, and more Yes!”.
    Brad

    • Brad – thanks for your kind comment. It is greatly appreciated. I love knowing that he was working with you as he neared the end. Thanks for your understanding. John

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