For much of my life, love songs seemed silly — overly sappy and sentimental. But after my husband’s sudden death, these songs began to make sense to me in a new way. I noticed that many love songs viscerally arouse the pain of disconnection. The sad, stricken lyrics describe an intense, unmet longing. Someone we yearn for is gone – still, we long to touch them, to feel them, to hold them close. The slow, steady rhythms of the music vibrate like the thrum of a beating heart.
When I had been a widow for about eight months, a friend and I attended a live one-woman musical review. One part of the show included a gentle, distinctly feminized cover of “Heart of the Matter.” This classic Don Henley love song about the aftermath of a breakup strikes universal chords. Who hasn’t felt rejection or regret after the end of a relationship? And regardless of how or why a relationship ends, we grieve.
The poignant lyrics spoke directly to my bereavement. “I’m learning to live without you now” created a surge and swell of pressure under my collarbone. My chest tightened further with: “all the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again.” By the final line, my tears flowed freely: “even if, even if, you don’t love me anymore.”
This statement suggested a terrible new idea. I still loved him, intensely, with my entire heart. And he had loved me, too. But could he love me still, now in death, now that he no longer exists? No. He would. But he can’t.
Deep grief reflects deep love. I had been incredibly lucky to marry an extraordinary man, someone emotionally mature and responsive. My husband generously invested in meaningful relationships. He was sometimes silly, sometimes serious, but always caring, even when he made mistakes. He valued closeness, without crossing boundaries, without demanding sacrifice.
For a long time, my husband’s loving nature seemed foreign and unfamiliar. As a child, I often felt disconnected from other members of my dysfunctional, discordant family. Dad was rarely home. When he was present, he lavished affection on me, which separated me from everyone else. In turn, Mom punished me for my “favored” status, sometimes severely. Possibly, she was trying to restore a system wide balance. Also, possibly, we just resented one another. Regardless, in different ways, each parent taught me that intimacy could be dangerous — distance was safer.
The effects of these lessons lasted for years. Although I loved my husband, early on, I also mistrusted his loving nature. Irrationally, unfairly, I caught myself wondering: Was he using me? Would he take advantage of, manipulate, or trick me? At times, I viewed his sweetness with a cynical eye: Why was he was being so sappy, so sentimental? But because he loved me completely and consistently, in ways that were unconditional and unselfish, over time, I began to release my misplaced suspicions, my irrational fears. By the end of almost two decades together, I had opened to the beautiful rhythms of a harmonious love.
Three years after my beloved’s death, love songs still pierce my heart. I suspect that they always will. Although my late husband doesn’t love me anymore, once he did. His love changed my life. Our years of harmony healed my heart. His soft voice of love vibrates in my memory, an unending melody.