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Was She Ready to Say ‘I Do’ Again?

She lost her husband to cancer and wasn’t sure if she’ll be able to marry again, until she got this message of support.

A mature couple exchanges rings during their wedding ceremony

I can do this, I told myself for about the hundredth time. I was standing in front of the mirror in my bedroom, preparing for the small backyard wedding ceremony. I reminded myself how much I loved Steve, my fiancé. How we deserved each other. I heard people taking their seats. It was time. I should’ve been excited. Instead, I was frozen. Nagging questions plagued my mind: Would Rick approve? Was I ready for this?

Rick and I had been high school sweethearts. We’d been married for 23 years. We had two sons, Danny and Ben. He loved being their dad. Rick worked as a ranger for the National Park Service, and our family had lived in different parks throughout the country. Rick had a passion for life that made every day feel like an adventure. He was my partner in all that we did—until he passed away from prostate cancer at the age of 44. The loss was devastating. The kids were teenagers and still very much in need of their dad. I had always thought we would have decades more time with him.

Except it seemed that, in a way, he was still with us. I kept getting little clues. It started with the coins. I would find nickels—just like our last name, Nichols—all over the house in strange places: on the edge of the bathroom sink, in the kitchen cupboard, on the floor after vacuuming. Always heads up. Rick used to call heads-up nickels “our” good luck sign.

Then there were the dreams—if you could call them that. They were so vivid that I came to view them as visits. The first one happened a few months after Rick had passed. I’m a teacher, and one particular morning during the school year, I woke abruptly and checked my watch. 5:45 a.m.Good, I thought. I still had some time to sleep. Getting up felt impossible right now. At least while I was sleeping, I wouldn’t have to think about facing another weekday without Rick. I drifted off.

Then I felt something. A presence. I turned to my right. Lying next to me, on his side of the bed, was Rick. I could see every detail of his face, even his laugh lines. I felt the warmth of his breath. I wasn’t frightened. It just felt natural that he’d be there for me.

“I can’t do it,” I told him. “I can’t keep going on without you.”

“I promise you it will be all right,” he said.

Suddenly, I was awake. I checked my watch. It still read 5:45 a.m., but the clock on my dresser said 7:15 a.m. Had my watch stopped? No, the second hand was still moving. Somehow, the watch had just stayed at 5:45 a.m. for an hour and a half. As if time itself had stopped in the area around my bed. These encounters continued for years. One night, I dreamed Rick and I were sitting outside a café near our house. I was in a quandary over whether or not to move. “It’ll be all right. You’ll figure it out,” he assured me, taking my hand.

Another night I dreamed we were sitting at the dining room table, going over a part of his will. I was having difficulty figuring out which of his possessions should go to our sons. “Lynne, those are things,” he said. “I’m not in them. Don’t worry so much about them.” I wanted to preserve his legacy. A friend sewed a memory quilt sewn for my sons, made out of Rick’s old National Parks shirts and uniforms. These visits from Rick were part of the reason why I committed to being single for 12 years after he died. Though I went on some dates, I was never able to take any relationship very far. As soon as I started having feelings for someone, I’d shut down. It just didn’t feel fair to Rick.

Finally my son Danny recommended a dating site for people over 50. Definitely not my cup of tea. “Just try it, Mom,” he insisted. I begrudgingly signed up. I scrolled through the profiles and stopped on one that looked interesting. Steve. He asked me to lunch. I accepted. To my surprise, I had a deep connection with Steve right away. I wasn’t afraid to show my feelings with him. He too had lost a spouse, so he knew exactly what I was going through. On top of that, our kids and grandkids were all similar ages and enjoyed spending time together. We were slowly becoming a blended family.

As things got more serious with Steve, I dreamed about Rick less and less. I felt that Rick was doing the gentlemanly thing and giving us our privacy. It’s time for me to move on, I thought. Steve proposed to me on Valentine’s Day. I said yes. I was sure.

But the morning of the ceremony, I woke up in a state of panic. All my doubts came crashing down on me. What if I couldn’t love Steve as deeply as I’d loved Rick? Rick had always been there to help me make tough decisions. Why wasn’t he here now, telling me it would be okay? A knock at the door jolted me from my thoughts. “Come in,” I said. Maya, my close friend and the officiant of the wedding, stuck her head inside. “Are you ready?” she asked.

I burst into tears. Maya came into the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. “I just keep thinking about Rick,” I said. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Maya was silent for a beat, then took my hand. “This is going to sound strange,” she said, “but I had a dream about Rick last night.” I blinked. “You did?” How was that possible? They had never met. Maya and I became friends only after Rick had died. “You know that memory quilt you had made for your sons? The one with Rick’s old National Parks shirts and uniforms?” I nodded. The quilt had torn, and I’d given it to Maya’s mom, a skilled seamstress, to patch up. Maya knew the quilt well.

“In my dream, I was in my living room,” Maya said. “I looked down on the ground and the quilt was lying there, spread out. I was looking at all the patches. And then Rick walked in and stood beside me. He looked just like he did in your photos of him. We stared at the quilt together, and then he turned to me and said, ‘Tell Lynne that everything is all right.’” I looked at my friend in shock. Rick had given me a message of support after all—through the person who would be marrying me to my new husband. He wanted me to be happy. I took a deep breath. The tension drained from my body. I wiped away my tears and stood up. 

Outside I heard the music start. Butterflies swarmed in my stomach. It was a good feeling. “Are you ready?” Maya asked again. I checked myself in the mirror one last time and held up my bouquet. “Yes,” I said. “I’m ready.”

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