If a scene could sum up some of my first thoughts after my husband died last year at age 28, it would be the scene in the hit BET series “Being Mary Jane,” when Robinne Lee’s character, Avery, lifts up her shirt exposing her stomach full of stretch marks. “Who’s going to want me with all of this?” she says.
Avery had just found out her husband had cheated, and was wrestling with the decision whether to leave or stay. She had two kids and the body to prove it, and reentering the dating scene seemed too much to handle. This is where I stand, as I consider dating once again. Except my husband didn’t cheat.
Gabriel developed epilepsy from a traumatic brain injury he sustained after being hit by a drunk driver 10 years prior, and he died from something known as Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). It was two days after our third wedding anniversary. I was 7-months pregnant with our second child.
Gabe and I met at church in 2008. He was a minister of music, a gifted singer, drummer and pianist; I am a Christian minister, and was the guest preacher. He told me he knew I was the one after he heard me preach. Immediately, I was attracted to him. I will never forget the way he smiled at me from behind the church organ. We envisioned starting our own church together one day.
My faith and the support I received from my church family helped sustain me after my husband’s death; they cried with me, laughed with me, cooked for me and prayed for me. And as a result, I have arrived at a place where I’m comfortable acknowledging that I again need male companionship, that I’m ready for some conversation that doesn’t involve the characters on “Sesame Street.”
Having been raised by a single mother, I’m familiar with some of the cardinal dating rules. Meet him at the restaurant. Don’t introduce him to the children until it is serious. Don’t immediately treat him like a husband. Blah, blah, blah. Knowing the rules may make me more prudent, but it hasn’t allayed my fears. Will I find a man who loves me — stretch marks and all — and who loves my children? This time around, I’m a package deal.
It’s going to take someone strong. After all, I want my kids to grow up knowing who their father was and what he meant to me. There will be pictures of him in our home. My in-laws and my husband’s friends will be around. I have no plans to put our wedding album or video into storage. I worry about whether another man will be able to handle that.
Most of all, I worry about the impact dating will have on my young children. Sometimes I wonder if dating is worth jeopardizing my children’s peace and stability. The older women at my church love to tell me the stories of how they or their mothers didn’t remarry until their children graduated from high school. Is that what’s expected of me? I’m 34 years old. My children are 3 and 7 months. Would a life of loneliness and sexual frustration make me a more honorable widow?
All of this ambivalence could make a person batty. But as I look back on the joy I shared with my husband during our three short years of marriage — the late-night talks, dinner dates in Georgetown, trips to the John F. Kennedy Center, family vacations to the Grand Canyon and Hawaii, long walks on the beach, holding hands, making love on a rainy day, raising children, love — I know it’s a worth the risk. Besides, I know how serious marriage is and what it takes to keep it together, especially during the tough times.
“Who’s going to want me with all of this?” As I reflect on the woman I’ve become after surviving such a devastating blow, what man wouldn’t want me with all of this? I’m a survivor. I haven’t lost my faith. I can still find joy and laughter in life. I gave birth to two beautiful children and am modeling to them hope in the face of adversity. This is where my true beauty lies. I’m a package deal, but a good package. My son is too young to remember his father, and my daughter has never known what it’s like to have a daddy. Some lucky man will have the privilege of shaping these young lives. And the right man — a mature man — will be able to look past the stretch marks on my stomach and the wounds on this widow’s heart and see something worth taking a risk for, too.
Lauren Jones is an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and serves in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. She blogs at throwupandtheology.com about her adventures as a mother and minister.