Who doesn’t love the Second Act? The Second Act is where the magic happens. It’s the place of resolution, it’s the place of new beginnings, it’s the place where all is revealed, or will be. It is a place of conflicts and overcoming them. It is a place of change, friction, and sometimes peace.
I became a widow at 54 and that meant I had one or two ways of looking at my situation. I could either drag through life looking miserable and causing misery to all who loved me and wanted me to be happy, or I could dust myself off, grab some waterproof mascara and start making plans.
Hence my second act–this is the act that may be shorter than the first one, but will be rich with new opportunities. In this second act, I prove to my four children that true love is resilient and that the legacy of a life well-loved is the continuation of the life left behind. I honor the life my husband left, by continuing to be the parent that my children need and count on. Even though I thought we would be the perpetual duo, left to my own devices I no longer rule by consensus, I’m definitive, I no longer procrastinate. I’m the captain now, which leads me to my next finding.
Finding My Old Self
This Second Act has provided a distraction-free look at who I was before I was a “We.” The person who sailed and rowed, who would read rather than watch TV, who loved concerts and the outdoors. Who would so much rather be “out” than in. A successful marriage is filled with compromises–sometimes small, sometimes large. Little by little our unit becomes defined by two entities that have turned towards each other, and in doing so have shed a little of themselves in the process. When my husband died, I was temporarily cast adrift, and like a castaway, I used bits of historical debris to carry me to the next phase.
Part of finding yourself again involves facing some hard truths–when you love someone and they love you, faults are first tolerated, then accepted, and later, if you are lucky, affectionately embraced. Stripped of the person who said I was gorgeous EVERY day, who said “I love you” EVERY day, who had my back whether he agreed with me or not, who was part bodyguard, confessor, critic, and greatest fan–is the reality of who I am in my own eyes. That reality can be a little jarring. (Wait, you mean I’m not the funniest, most adorable person who ever walked the face of the earth?)
Finding My Old Friends
Part of the self-discovery is reconnecting with friends who represented times of your life that made you who you are. For me, that has happened with childhood friends, college friends, and first job friends.
Seeing them and spending time with them opens up something that has been dormant for a long time. To laugh at antics from 30 years ago, is to laugh with the unabandoned joy of someone whose whole life was ahead of them. Who, but some of my oldest friends. know that I creatively used duct tape to fashion a “strapless bra” when the fabulous dress I brought to the convention had an open back? As you can imagine, it was easy enough getting on, but required the anesthetic properties of vodka to remove it at night’s end.
Or my college teammates who used to allow me to give them “makeovers” on the arduous bus rides back to campus from away regattas. My three-tier make-up case would be precariously balanced on the back seat of the bus, while my teammates would take turns getting “made up” for whatever social activity awaited us on campus. The quality of my work was predicated by two things–the quality of the road AND the speed in which we were traveling. Suffice it to say, some of the results were not necessarily improvements.
Those friendships now are a gift of immeasurable worth. I have been so fortunate to reconnect with people I can say I honestly missed. I can’t lament that time slipped by without seeing or speaking to them, because the here and now is the gift. That is what I will protect going forward. The ebbs and flows of life, to this point, have made these reconnections so much more precious.
Keeping My Friends
When you lose part of the couple, you and your friends have to adjust to you being “single.” Whether that means you are the fifth wheel, or you have “girls’ nights” with your married friends when their husbands are busy, your social dynamic shifts.
It was this group who held my hand, who cried with me, who visited, who made food, who made sure my kids were OK while I was in the hospital with my husband, who mourned, and who always kept in touch. I consider myself fortunate that my friends continue to include me–I know that this is rare, and I am very thankful.
Dead Woman Walking
I recently went to a local graduation party. I knew I would know a ton of people. I wasn’t at all concerned about walking in alone, however as I waded through the throng of high-top tables, I met the eye of an acquaintance. Our children were the same age and we’ve previously been able to be social, if not just party social. She met my eye and turned away. I quickly dropped the hand that had been raised in a wave and continued to walk. That scenario happened another two times before my very good friend came over, and I was saved. This is not an isolated incident. You become “Dead Woman Walking” and I’m not sure why. Is it because people don’t want to be dragged down by your reality? Are they afraid that if they say “Hi” I will open up with all my tales of woe? I’ve got a message for all of you girls–if you say “Hi”, I’ll say “Hi”, and that will be the end of it. I have no desire to relive the last days of my husband’s life, any more than you want to hear the gory details. Go back to your “Frose” secure in the knowledge that beyond “hello”, we probably don’t have much to say anymore.
When my husband died, I was very collected. It was explained to me by a grief counselor that it was because I had grieved for the entirety of his two- year illness. When he died, I was kind of spent. Afraid that I would be hit with some watershed of hysteria, I joined a bereavement group for deceased spouses. In that group, I found my consciousness. As a collective, we were like a bunch of people walking through a pitch-black cave. None of us had a clue, but we navigated by picking up the worst one of us and inching forward. Today, we have been together for over a year–we give each other relationship advice, very helpful since the group is half men and half women. We laugh at our foibles, we instruct when we know something, we socialize, we delight in each other’s accomplishments and we grow, always moving forward together.
And Then There is Family….
How lucky am I that my second act will have the same players of my childhood? Siblings who are involved, nieces and nephews who care–in this stability, I am very lucky and know it. Although I like to refer to myself as the “Widow Lucey” on occasion, the fact is, I’m never alone. I can reach out and literally call a sibling, or jump in the car and drive out to Long Island and hit the houses of all three of my brothers in short order. My sister, who has supported me physically and emotionally, is five minutes away, and accessible day or night. My mother-in-law puts her grief on the back burner to listen to my latest complaints, or dating news. A widow herself, she knows the value of just being present for me and her family. She is a role model for me.
And then there are my children. With two working and two in college, I am fortunate enough to have adult-like beings who I can enjoy with the lightest of hearts. These children represent my future. They are everything their father thought they would be, and more.
In the Second Act, I have left the bullshit at the stage door. I speak plainly (I can still be diplomatic), and I speak from the heart. I frequently hear myself say “I love you” to a friend, and I mean it.
Going through the long illness and subsequent death of my husband, I realize that there is no time for half-truths, or half loyalties. I love with my whole heart–which may make some uncomfortable if they are not used to it, and most are not.
Living honestly doesn’t actually jive with the current dating scene. I’ll frequently text someone after a date and say, “Thank you I had a really good time.” I don’t play it cool, I don’t wait, I say what I want, when I want, and if that scares you off, I give you the following advice. There is a slow agony in watching someone die whom you have loved for decades. There are words that you say, and words that you don’t say. In having a long love, there is nothing that I fear from any guy. I was well-loved (and, I believe, continue to be) for all of my adult life. I am courageous because of that. There is nothing you can say, or do, that will take that confidence away. That is a powerful antidote for the crazy social situations that prevail in the “Over 50” dating scene.
So I will take chances, I will make missteps, I will zig when I should have zagged and I will say: “I had butterflies when I was driving here to meet you,” when what I really should have said was: “Hey dude, thanks for the drinks”. I’m confident that there is someone out there who is up to the job, but I’m in no rush. This time of discovery needs to be savored, at least for a little while.
So this is it–in the creepiest hours of the night this Second Act can seem like a terribly lonely journey, but with the morning comes the nervousness and yes, sometimes a little excitement about the next phase. Like a tight-rope walker, I’m ok as long as I don’t look down. So eyes on the horizon, here I come.
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.