Dave Aldridge died unexpectedly just four days before Christmas in 2012. The happy husband and father of three was a strong believer who loved the Lord and poured himself into everything he did, from being a husband and father to going the extra mile for anyone who had a need. The Colorado Springs resident collapsed while running, the victim of a congenital heart defect. He was just 39 years of age.
The obituaries are full of stories of people like Dave, men and women whose lives on earth seem all too brief. In reality, of course, we’re all living on the edge. “What is your life?” asked the biblical writer James. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
But what about the loved ones left behind?
Holly Aldridge is Dave’s widow and a friend of one of my colleagues here at Focus. For the past few years, Holly’s been walking the long road of sorrow that follows the death of a spouse. A woman of deep faith, her family and friends have been helping her establish new routines and traditions. She’s also been chronicling some of her journey in a blog that’s co-authored with two girlfriends. “Writing in Pencil” is a candid, creative and gritty snapshot of their lives as wives, mothers and a widow.
I’d like to share a poignant reflection from Holly in the space below. It deals with the subject of Holly dating again, a very real, wonderful and sometimes challenging step in the grief recovery process.
Falling In Love While Grieving a Loss
A little over a year ago, I exchanged emails with one Richard Antonio Walls, via match.com, for crying out loud.
In retrospect, I probably had no business putting up a profile, even as vague and guarded as it was, with its three, very stand-off-ish sentences.
But what can I say? I really like guys!
I knew I wasn’t even close to being through the brunt of the grief process, but I still dipped my toe in the water. Most replies came with a brutish, “Hey beautiful, whatcha doin’ tonight,” which made my skin crawl, but Tony’s email was different. Much different. It was witty, it was thoughtful and it was intelligent. So, I replied and he replied and off this relationship went.
In the initial stages, it was still a given that I wasn’t “done” grieving and I felt pretty free to express all of that to Tony. As our relationship became more serious, it became harder for me to express my feelings of missing Dave. Simultaneously, it became harder for Tony to receive those same feelings of me missing Dave. So, without communicating about any of this in any meaningful, beneficial way, I began to tuck that part of my world away from him. I knowingly thought that I would save that part of my life for my friends and those who knew Dave and knew Dave and me together. This worked for a while, but I didn’t really like it. I wanted to be able to bare it all, whenever I felt the need, but I did exactly the opposite.
When I was with Tony and would tell stories of my last ten years, I would use “I” and “me” instead of “we” and “us.” Every word about Dave was measured. I would downplay stories of Dave and even decide if it was too soon between the last story I mentioned his name. Every quiver of sadness was wrapped up for alone time or time with my other friends.
I increasingly became pretty good at compartmentalizing my life with Dave and my life with Tony.
In the first days of December, all of this became apparent that our method of operating as it pertained to grief and Dave, was not working very well. There was a certain barrier between us, and what we each wanted was at odds. I simply didn’t feel free to let Tony into the depths of my pain, knowing that it caused him pain, too. And I don’t blame the guy. I think his position is a decent amount trickier than mine. I mean, I know that I am the one who lost someone that I deeply loved, but he is the one feeling out his place in all of this.
There is so much I don’t know about this category of life, grieving a love and falling in love, all at the same time. Who could know how to do this well?
So, to Jesus we went, to offer our frail attempts and prayers at doing this right. We asked Jesus to change our hearts. We asked Him to please help us figure this out.
So, with hearts open to change, (at least Tony’s), we weathered Dave’s 2nd anniversary of his death and Christmas, together. Before Christmas, I was just overwhelmed with gratefulness that Jesus came to earth to save us and make all the difficult temporary.
After Christmas, though, I was just agitated. Nothing seemed right. I couldn’t make a decision and I just wanted to get back into the rhythm of school days and schedules.
Then, on New Year’s Day, I went to a friend’s birthday party. This same party, two years prior, was the last social event Dave and I ever attended together. This year, I was quite teary at the party and deeply sad when I returned home. So, I did what any healthy grieving spouse would do and worked furiously on a puzzle.
Then Tony called, and the floodgates opened.
He began to ask me for every ounce of what I was thinking, probing into places I was unwilling to even admit. I claimed that I would do pretty much anything for Dave to walk through that door at this very moment to return life to simple and to bring happiness to all who knew him. I couldn’t stop crying.
The strange thing is, I would have never surrendered to this wave of grief without Tony drawing it out of me. The person who I had been sheltering from the splash, was the very one encouraging me to drag him under with me for a bit. I’m not exactly sure why he needed to feel the waters, but it was important to him and to me.
After that New Year’s wave of grief, the tide began to turn. Thankfully, God’s grace is not limited and the grace we can offer each other is not limited, either. As we step off into the future together, it’s going to take a lot of grace and a lot of Jesus. But that’s exactly where we need to be. Because as the Lord said to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Thank you, Holly, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. Holly and Tony are scheduled to marry on May 28 and would, I know, appreciate your prayers. Have any of you, my readers, experienced a similar situation?