Widowing and Intimacy by Cheryl Barnes
Patrolling Facebook like I normally do, I found a post in a widow group I belong to - Black Women Widows Empowered - that struck me so deeply I had to post a comment from the heart: What is Intimacy to you? This question gave me pause. I don’t always feel compelled to respond to such loaded questions but in this case, I had to. My response was this: If it was part of my life, it would mean cuddling and kissing and hand holding. But it would also mean finishing each other's sentences, laughing at private jokes, watching tv together, loving on our kids together. It’s the spirit of knowing someone better than they know themselves. And now...there is no one like that anymore. I am starved for intimacy and some days it feels like the lack of it is killing my soul. After I wrote that, I read it again like this: I AM STARVED FOR INTIMACY AND SOME DAYS IT FEELS LIKE THE LACK OF IT IS KILLING MY SOUL. As if the very physical loss of my husband wasn’t enough, I considered our life of intimacy. Our sex life was energetic, even after several years of marriage. Plain and simple, he was a horn dog and I loved it. But our intimate life was more than sex. It also was: Sitting across from each other in the college library with my foot in his lap while we studied. Daily hugs and kisses. DAILY. Arguing about baby names. Arguing period. Cuddling and snuggling anywhere we could. Him sitting on the toilet talking to me while I shower. Him toweling off my back because “You never do this.” Holding his free hand while he drives. Him rubbing his hands on my swollen pregnant belly. Knowing how he would answer a question before you even ask it. Staring into each others’ eyes….and then cracking up because it’s so silly. Contentedly watching the other interact with our boys. Doing what I wanted to do even if he didn’t want to - and not letting on how bored he was. Me doing the same and admitting he was right, I would learn to love football. (I hated when he was right!) Even when we were no longer intimate sexually due to his illness, the intimacy part of our relationship was still alive and kicking: When he couldn’t talk, I stare deeply into his eyes and know how frustrated he was at the current situation. When I fed him his meals, it was like every single romantic meal we had before...just us. When I gave him sponge baths, I would give his man pieces a little tweak and snicker. He in turn would reach up a finger, pull my top down a little and peek in, snickering too. If I had to bend over and pick up something next to his hospital bed, he would reach over and give me a smack on the butt. When I whipped around to give him “the look”, he’d wag his eyebrows at me and flash that beautiful smile, like, “What?” As I used the lift to get him into his chair, he’d bury his face in my hair and sniff deeply. I would at the same time pat him on the butt as he swung in the sling. Never had to say a word. We knew what we meant. I was his and he was mine. That’s it. We didn’t need words for that. The last moments of his life were the most intimate of our relationship, in spite of the surroundings and atmosphere. We looked deeply into each other’s eyes and after he had told me what he needed to with those eyes and his heart, I did the same. I said a few actual words, things he needed to hear(and I needed to say), then looked into his eyes again. He looked back at me long enough for me to see when the life left his body. This is what intimacy is to me. Speaking without words. Understanding without needing to consider. Getting it without having to explain.
Intimacy with him fed me heart and soul. Now my heart and soul have been set adrift, searching and seeking it again. I think the lack of intimacy pushes widows into relationships they would never have pursued before, myself included. It’s that starvation, that intense need, that makes us seek out what we used to have with our husbands from people we would never go near on a good day. The solution, if you can call it that, is not to seek it from strangers. Seek it from yourself and your surroundings. Be intimate with your spirit. Get to know your first love, God, better. Talk to Him. Read His Book. Sit quietly and wait for His love to wash over you. Listen for His Wisdom. Let Him comfort you. Let Him help you make sense of everything. After all, He knows you best. Take a walk on the beach, with no headphones and listen to the roar of the ocean and the calls of the seabirds. Really feel how it makes you feel. Find a book you have always wanted to read and immerse yourself in the story, the descriptions of the scenes and the characters. Put yourself in the story. Decide if you would handle things like they do. Sit on the floor with your children (or grandchildren) and play with them. Speak to them gently. Laugh with them. Make funny sounds they like with their toys and revel in their giggles. Get a notebook and write things that are important to you down. Then read it over and consider what you’ve written. Pour yourself a glass of wine and stare into it quietly. Absorb the smell, watch the bubbles dissolve. Swirl the wine in the glass and slowly sip it. Let the coolness slowly wash down your throat. Get a massage and enjoy the relaxed feeling it gives you. Close your eyes and really let the massage work the tension from your muscles. Drift off to sleep if it strikes you. Before you get to know someone else intimately, get to know yourself again. It’s probably an intimate relationship you’ve completely forgotten.