Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Hardest Dance

I'm a terrible dancer, I always have been. I'm ridiculously uncoordinated. I always want to go left when I should be going right; right when I should be going left. Usually, I just give up and do my own thing. It's easier that way.

Moving forward with your life after your spouse dies is like learning an intricate new dance, without an instructor (or a YouTube video) to teach you the steps.

But with an audience to judge your every move.

Forward and backward between your past and your future. Side to side between your old life and your new one. 

I worked really hard to learn this dance.

Forward forward.

I practiced the steps over and over again until I made myself dizzy. 

Back back

Sometimes I messed the steps up.

Forward forward

But I kept practicing until I had the dance figured out.

Then I went to the Regimental Ball last year. And I discovered that the dance was actually a lot more complicated than I realized.

I hadn't learned the side step at all.

It's not a step you can learn in an evening (gin doesn't help with that).

Although I did try. Unsuccessfully. 

I'd been back to the Regiment a couple of times over the previous two years.

Still, I hesitated when I got the invitation. It would be the first Regimental social function I went to by myself, and that was a little bit daunting. I'd been invited the year before but my heart wasn't ready. But this year was different. I was in a really good spot emotionally and mentally. I was moving forward with my life; I was becoming more comfortable with who I was. And I was excited to see some of my closest friends who were going. 

I knew there might be a few awkward moments, I'd come to expect those. But surely it wouldn't be that bad. After all, it had been two years. 

It was that bad. And then some.

The awkwardness became apparent early on. There were several people who just didn't know what to say to me. Do they ask how I am or not? Do they mention The Elephant in the room or not? There were some who couldn't even look me in the eye (widowhood actually isn't catching).

And then there were those (casual acquaintances and some I'd never met before) who felt compelled to offer me unsolicited advice.

The evening turned into a complicated foxtrot, one that I hadn't practiced for. 

"Have you started dating yet?"

Side to the left.

"No one in uniform will ever date you with that last name."

Side to the right.

"I'll never forget the day Dan died." 

Back back.

"Online dating is the only way you will ever get a date."

Side to the left.

I wasn't fast enough to keep up with the steps. I didn't even know the steps. 

Quick quick

The dance was making me dizzy (or maybe that was the gin?)

I tried desperately to regain my equilibrium but it was too late.

Before I knew it, I'd danced right into the elephant. 

Actually, it was an elderly gentleman wearing a kilt. He looked remarkably like Santa; his face round, his kind eyes glistening with tears.

"I'm so sorry for your loss. Dan was a fine, fine man." As he hugged me, he started to cry. And then his wife hugged me, and she started to cry. 

And I'm trying desperately not to cry as I'm consoling them. 

Not here, not tonight.

In an instant, two years were gone. I was catapulted back. I'd stood in that exact same spot accepting condolences two years earlier after the funeral and memorial. 

I could feel my composure start to crack. I choked back tears as I made my way to the bathroom, hoping to keep it together, hoping that no one would notice. 

Of course, I didn't. And they did. 

I tried (unsuccessfully) to ignore the stares and pitying glances, the whispered comments.

I knew they didn't quite understand what I was feeling. And how could they really? They'd never had to dance in little silver shoes.

I was just so tired. Tired of talking about Dan's death, tired of consoling people, so tired of being the one people looked at with pity and sadness.

In that moment, I wanted to be anyone but me. And I wanted to be anywhere but there.

But you can't run away from yourself.

I knew I couldn't run away. It wouldn't fix anything. 

No matter where I went, I was still going to be Widow Of.

I only had one choice. I had to stay and finish the dance. 

I tried to salvage what was left of my dignity and pride- which wasn't much, and returned to the dance floor. Well, actually I went to the bar, which in hindsight wasn't my best move. 

It actually ended up being the strangest move of the night.

As I was ordering my drink, an old gaffer sidled up beside me.

I'd spent enough time around old gaffers to know this one was no Santa, and he reeked of whiskey.

A widower, he informed me, clearly still struggling with his loneliness. He'd had a girlfriend but it hadn't worked out. "You could be my girlfriend. You'd probably kill me though." He followed that up by assuring me he could still "perform" just in case I was wondering (oddly enough, I wasn't). And how exactly does one respond to that? Good for you?

I honestly didn't know if I should laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Or cry at the utter sadness of it all.

I cried.

I didn't even bother to try to hide the tears this time. What was the point?

I cried for me and I cried for the drunk old gaffer at the bar.

I cried because sometimes life after loss really just sucks.

And starting a new chapter in your life is hard. It might just be the hardest dance of them all.

I had been so excited to spend the evening with my friends. Instead, I spent half of the night talking about my husband's death (uplifting) and the other half hearing how bleak my future romantic prospects are (equally uplifting).

I cried because for just one night I didn't want to think about all that I had lost or how hard it is to move forward.

I was devastated for days afterwards. I felt so defeated.

I felt like I would never have an identity other than as Lieutenant Colonel Bobbitt's widow. That I would never get to be Monica again; that no one would ever look at me and see me for myself, but rather just my last name.

Always Widow Of

Someone (who is not a widow) even went so far to suggest that maybe it would best if I reverted back to my maiden name- perhaps that would make it easier. As if that would somehow make me not Dan's widow anymore? Or make me not me?

I was so disappointed in myself. Because I was supposed to have the dance all figured out.

I'm the strong kick-ass motivational speaker. I'm not supposed to have emotional breakdowns in the middle of the Officer's Mess.

We are always hardest on ourselves.

Of course it's understandable I broke down. I was at a social function (my very first one). And I'd had a couple of drinks (maybe more than a couple). I naively never expected that people would speak to me about the actual day Dan died. Dan yes, but the day he died no. I wasn't emotionally prepared for that one.

The truth is, I very rarely speak about that day. When I do, I've had time to prepare myself; I have my defences in place and I'm definitely not drinking gin.

There is a time and a place.

And the Regimental Ball is definitely not it.

Moving forward with your life is hard, it doesn't come with a rule book. Sometimes it is two steps forward and three steps backwards. And the truth is, I don't know all of the steps. And you know what? Neither does anyone else.

I've worked really hard on establishing my own identity since the Ball last year. I will always be Dan's widow, but that is not I am.

I'm off to the Regimental Ball again tonight.

I'm better prepared than I was last year. I've gotten a lot better at the side-step over the last year. I've had more practice. And I've learned that sometimes gin is not my friend (as sad as that is to say).

And I'm dancing in different shoes tonight. The old ones lost some of their silver sparkle last year (and they hurt my feet). I bought some pretty new ones. Gold this time. Hopefully that damn elephant doesn't scuff these ones up too.

It's a new night, so the dance won't be the same. It never is.

I know I won't know all the steps to tonight's dance. I might even trip over my own two feet again.

And that's okay.

I know I
will never master the dance.  No one ever does. All we can do is lean into the music and make up our own steps as we go along.



  1. You've got this girlfriend. I hope you were able to find a good dance partner this year (the dance is always easier and more fun with a good dance partner :) )


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