Unaccountably, almost all the shops, movie theaters and neighborhood restaurants we enjoyed together are still there, as if nothing had changed. Some dear one dies and life goes on for the rest of the world. Think of putting your arm deep into a bucket of water. See how it takes up space? Now, imagine taking out the arm and look at the water. It’s as if your arm was never there. Yes, life goes on. That is the beauty and heartbreak of the human condition.
One local eatery, Peter’s, on Columbus Avenue, is now an upscale clothing boutique. We would go there at least once a week, and I can’t pass the new storefront without thinking of Dr. Katz, a gentle soul, the best husband ever. We had 12 magical years together. The end was bad, very bad. I could have been kinder, more tolerant of his failing body and wandering mind. Regrets, for sure, but sadly we can only move forward.
He loved me so completely. His was a romantic soul. He would write beautiful poetry to me every Valentine’s Day. He took great care of my teeth, being a prosthodontist. He made me laugh — all the time. His sense of humor and caring heart were legendary. To him I was the sun, moon and stars. He told me every day, there was no more beautiful woman — I could have on no makeup and be wearing a “schmatta,” but in his eyes I was a rare prize. I did not fully appreciate that kind of selfless devotion until after he was gone, and I began online dating. Then I awakened to what I had lost, as so many of us do, of both genders.
He was 86 when he died. He had survived as a sergeant in the army in World War II, though he came back, as all of them did, with more than his share of PTSD, which he eventually, with great effort, did overcome — or as much as one can overcome the hideous traumas of war. He was a mere boy when he went in — age 19 — and came out a man — a man who needed to stop the commotion in his brain. He went to NYU Dental School. He married and had two wonderful children, now highly successful professionals with spouses and families of their own. Some 30 years later, long divorced and lonely, he met me. He was 69 and I was 55. Two years later we married. He called me his “child bride.” We had a great ride. Our love story ended sadly, as it must, when one party dies.
When someone sees you through rose-colored glasses, when someone loves you that much, well, that’s also how you see yourself. If you don’t understand how this works, rent The Enchanted Cottage, or just look it up on Wikipedia. As opposed to that couple, a homely maid and a scarred ex-GI (played by Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire) we were not homely nor scarred — just growing older with all the normal changes that we could overlook in each other and in ourselves thanks to the reflection we saw in each other’s eyes and hearts as opposed to the mirrors.
So many of the men I meet on Match — the ones who are widowers, not those who are divorced — are still mourning the love of their life. She, their late wife, the mother of their children and grandmother of their children’s children, laughed at his jokes, travelled the world with him, comforted and warmed his bed at night. Now she is gone, never to return. After a while he feels the pull of the body’s biology and the heart’s longing, as do we all. “She” is not coming back, one must move on, so who else might there be, out there, he wonders, in the world-at-large?
Then, confronted with the need to write a profile, which is in many ways a “wish list,” he asks for responses from women considerably younger. So a 75 year old, for example, will write in his profile that he is “seeking women 45 to 60.” This discourages women closer to his own age from responding. As a direct result, he is now missing out on a wonderful opportunity to perhaps find a lovely woman a lot like his late wife — who was close to his own age. This woman, who he will never meet, could have provided the kind of intelligent and loving partnership he really wants. Her spirit and vibrancy would just not come in a 25-years-younger body.
If he is realistic, he will have a greater chance of attracting someone real, who will love him for himself, not, perhaps, for what he can do for her financially and socially. (Please note that I added “perhaps” to not seem cynical, but frankly I don’t think that word belongs in that sentence.)
So how does one move on, when the love of your life is gone, be it your husband or wife or another soul mate with whom you shared a life for many years or for several decades? In truth, you don’t move on; the beloved is still inside you. You just make room in your life for a new relationship, internally and externally, grateful to have had what you had, and grateful as well for the opportunity to care romantically for another human being before you “shuffle off this mortal coil.”
Then you try hard to not compare people.
There will never be another Howard Elliot Katz, DDS. I am grateful for what we had. On another note, I am grateful these days that there is such a thing as Match.com and other online dating sites for one main reason: they connect people to a vast network. From all those thousands, will there be someone special for you, or for me? And if you, or I, do find someone we want to walk down the road with for the rest of our days, will the fire burn as brightly as it once did, when we were younger and with our mate, building a family, a business, a life?
Maybe not. But what, after all, is the alternative? To give up — yes there is that, and many do. Or to walk the familiar streets, and keep remembering when you were not alone, when someone you adored and who adored you held your hand — and took that for granted, not realizing all you had lost until it was too late?
I would like to think that more of us can “pair up” if we are more realistic about who we are and who is out there for us at this stage of our lives. My mantra is, “Be kind. We are all we’ve got.”
We. Are. All. We’ve. Got. If only the world operated that way, there would be no racism, no violence, no wars, no poverty, no hunger, just kindness among human beings sharing a planet, knowing — knowing — that we are all we’ve got.