In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork. One year ago, Rachel Brougham’s husband Colin died in a cycling accident at just 39. Here, she talks about life, love — and dating — as a young widow.
As I walk down the sidewalk, the sound repeats itself behind me. There’s a stomp, a crunch and then laughter. Sometimes I hear, “Ooh, that was a good one,” or “That’s a big one right there!” Then it starts all over again.
It’s March in Minneapolis, Minnesota — the time of year when all that snow melts during the day then refreezes at night, creating chunks of ice and giant puddles on city sidewalks and streets.
The stomp is my 10-year-old son Thom, and my boyfriend Matt, slamming their feet on chunks of ice. When it crunches and breaks apart, they laugh. I’m walking ahead of them and smiling — not just because the two of them sound like a couple little kids having fun — but because it’s the same thing Thom and my husband Colin would be doing if Colin were still alive. I’m smiling because despite what has happened to Thom and I over the last year, we can still feel happiness. I’m smiling because I know everything is going to be OK, even though there are moments it feels like the grief is overwhelming.
I’m the luckiest unlucky person.
In April 2018, just hours after Colin was killed in a cycling accident on his way home from work, Thom asked me if I was going to get married again. Colin had been dead less than two hours, and out of all the things Thom could ask, he wanted to know when I was going to shack up with some other dude.
I mean, what the heck?
In retrospect, Thom was just grasping for something to make life seem a bit normal in what was now uncertain. Of course any new guy wasn’t going to be a replacement for Colin, but it would offer some sense of normalcy. So, Thom and I started talking about me dating again very early on after our loss. I made it clear to him that I wasn’t going to bring any guy into our lives that didn’t deserve to be there. I knew I was going to be very protective and nobody was going to meet my son unless I knew it was super-duper serious.
A month after Colin died, I felt restless. I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, but I did want to go out and have a meal and conversation with a male who wasn’t my son or one of our friends. So I did what every other normal widowed person would do — I consulted Google. When is it too early to date after losing a partner, I typed in the search bar.
“Widowland and dating is great because if you start dating too soon, people will certainly tell you about it.”
Widowland and dating is great because if you start dating too soon, people will certainly tell you about it. It’s also great because if you don’t start dating within a certain timeframe, people will certainly tell you about it. There’s no winning when it comes to dating in Widowland, because people who have no clue what they are talking about like to put you on this magical timeline for grief.
There is no magical timeline.
I went out on a date a month after Colin died. I was still dead inside, but I enjoyed the conversation. He walked me to my car and tried to kiss me and I turned my face and his wet mouth ended up on my cheek.
I had been out of the dating scene for nearly 17 years and this is what dating is like these days? Gross!
Over the next couple months, I went on a handful of dates with other guys I met through mutual friends or found on a dating app. Dating as a widowed, 40-year-old mom felt like too much work. It was hard to coordinate schedules, find a babysitter, pay for a babysitter. It didn’t help that my responses to these guys were basically, Nope, No way, Next, and Nice, but no thank you.
I did go out a couple of times with a father of three who was going through a nasty divorce. We bonded over music, have the same sense of dark, sarcastic humor and enjoyed telling each other stories about our kids. While I knew he wasn’t the one for me in the long term, the month we were together was exactly what I needed to show me things were going to be OK and that I could feel happiness with someone else.
And that’s when something clicked — I stopped comparing everyone to Colin.
Matt and I began dating four months after Colin died, but the truth is that we’ve known each other for years. We worked together, ate lunches together, traded text messages late at night when we just needed to talk to someone. I got him and he got me. It feels like we’ve been together for years.
One night, several years ago, Colin and I were talking about who we would date if one of us died. Colin would date 90s rocker Liz Phair. I said I’d date John Cusack or Paul Rudd (line Colin, Matt, John and Paul up and you’ll see I clearly have a type). Colin looked at me, and without hesitation said, “What about Matt?”
I’m not saying Matt and I were supposed to end up together, but I’m not not saying that. Life is just really weird sometimes. Nobody knows how the universe works.
“Your heart doesn’t close up when your person dies, it just makes room for someone else. Your love for your dead person isn’t diminished by loving someone else.”
Matt knows he’s not a replacement. Matt knows it’s not a competition. Matt knows he isn’t a consolation prize and he isn’t jealous of the love I still feel for Colin. After all, Colin is dead and Matt is living. I could choose to be with anyone, or no one, and I choose to spend this second chapter with Matt.
A couple months into us dating, Matt said one night, “You know, I love you. I love Thom. And I love Colin.” That’s when I knew Matt was the one — the one I told Thom I would make sure deserved to be in our lives.
Your heart doesn’t close up when your person dies, it just makes room for someone else. Your love for your dead person isn’t diminished by loving someone else. There is no limit on how much love we can have. You can love two people at once. Heck, I have a button on my jacket that says, “I love Colin” and I don’t give a frick if it makes people uncomfortable.
Loving someone else should be a testament to your dead person. It should say that you loved your dead person so much, you want to experience that again. Whether that’s one month out or 10 years out.
Love is not a finite resource. And while I’m extremely unlucky, I’m lucky to get another chance.
Rachel Brougham is a writer and editor who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She enjoys awkward conversations, crying during long walks and tacos. You can find her on Instagram @rachbrougham and Twitter @RachelBrougham.