The Mirror says “You’re All Dressed Up:” Now That Means I’m Not Wearing Widow’s Weeds

I never told Dan how much I would miss him during the six weeks he was in Hospice, confined first to bed and later to the couch in our apartment. I didn’t want it to be about me. I tried to balance being relentlessly even-tempered with being empathetic, sharing in his sorrow at his life ending too soon.

I didn’t talk with him about my own sadness, my own fears, my own regrets. I just listened to his, and when he couldn’t speak any more, I read the notes he penned to me and held his hand, telling him over and over how much I loved him, how much his life had mattered to so many people.

We didn’t have the conversation about what would happen to me after he was gone beyond making sure that I had all of the necessary website passwords and legal documents. I didn’t want him to feel guilty, and in all honesty I didn’t want to break down in front of him. He had enough to suffer through.

I had read all there was to read about the kinds of thoughts and emotions that people who are dying experience, and I understood that Dan was slowly retreating from this world, from me, into something beyond. The process of coming to terms with impending death — not to mention assessing one’s legacy, the meaning of one’s life — is in the end, a solitary one.

And now I wonder. Should I have shared more my own feelings with him?

Three months later, I long for the consolation that his words so often gave me when I doubted myself, or when I just needed to feel stronger, or prettier or more loved. One of the peculiarities of grief is the way in which it sneaks up on one when least expected. It’s in the little things, the everyday moments when one’s person is just so visibly, achingly, maddeningly absent.

“You’re all dressed up,” Dan would say to me whenever I put on an outfit fancier than workout clothes. It became code for “I see you, and I love to look at you, you make me so proud to be with you.” I would chuckle and say, “No, I’m not.” Sometimes he would follow up with, “I’ve never seen that before.” And of course I would protest, because of course he had. It was just his way of saying “Looking at you never gets old.” It was so very sweet, so very much just a little verbal tango of love between us.

Photo by Max Vakhtbovych on

Now when I stand in front of the mirror after getting dressed, checking to make sure that nothing is amiss, Dan’s words come back to me. “You’re all dressed up,” says my reflection. “No I’m not” I think. And just like that, I feel Dan. Often I tear up, sometimes I have to stifle sobs, but always I end up smiling. I won’t ever be able to look in the mirror on the back of our bedroom door without knowing that his love for me still exists, no matter what has happened to his body.

Empowered, I can go out into the world, not in widow’s weeds, but “all dressed up,” strong enough to face what needs to be faced, alone but not lonely, no regrets.

20 thoughts on “The Mirror says “You’re All Dressed Up:” Now That Means I’m Not Wearing Widow’s Weeds”

  1. I relate so much to your experience. Because Richard was not only retreating from the world but had brain tumors that left him increasingly befuddled and unable to comprehend the world around him, I also did not share my inner journey with him. We cried together only once when he woke up one morning sobbing. One of our closest friends had died suddenly and in his dream he couldn’t figure out whether he had died or she had. It was also the only time when we could actually say that he was, in fact, dying. Consciously he always said to all medical folks when they asked- yes, do whatever it takes so I can live, which was not at all his deep conviction based on our long intimate discussions about death, dying, and experimental drugs previously. He was not able to access that portion of his mind anymore. Given that we shared our lives with husbands who appreciated our bodies and femininity, I also often think of Richard as I dress. “…his love for me still exists, no matter what happened to his body.” Yes, we were so fortunate to have known such human love even as we long to know unconditional love which abounds.

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    1. Dan surprised me with the lengths he was willing to go to live, contrary to what we had discussed when things were more abstract. He had such a strong will to live. Heartbreakingly, he told me I was the reason. On the one hand that was such a testament to our relationship, but on the other, it made me feel so sad to be the reason for his suffering being prolonged. Such a journey.


  2. It would be unusual not to wonder or even second guess actions while immersed in life changing events. But you did what you thought was best in each moment. And you have good judgment, especially in the relationship you describe where you are the expert. Almost beside the point, your post was so well written.


  3. The most beautiful, heartfelt, truthful piece that you have written and I have read. Love is eternal, death is not the ending and it continues through our precious offspring, if, we are blessed with them in this, our earthly existence. Thank you so much for opening your heart to us.


  4. I often wonder if my beliefs of afterlife will/would hold up if I face a terminal illness. You feel Dan’s love still around you. That’s an awesome way to feel. I like to think I’ll meet my loved ones again in my next life, maybe as a family member, maybe a spouse, but still a loved one, still close. It’s a soothing belief. Probably Dan avoided that topic too because he didn’t want to upset you. Somethings don’t need to be said. Just felt.


    1. I have always believed that what constitutes an afterlife is not a Heaven or a Hell but the ways in which we remain in the hearts and minds of those still earthbound. Feeling Dan’s presence in this life is in a way keeping him alive. What happens in the beyond, I have no idea, but I hope that you will find what you wish there.

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  5. Beautiful again. There are always regrets, I think it’s human nature. To acknowledge ways you might have done different, said things unsaid, not have said things that were said, and then let them go with the wind, is a gift we owe ourselves. And one our loved ones would want to give us. Letting regrets go is self-love. Thank you for this.


  6. It’s said “a wave is a disturbance that moves energy from one place to another” and so it is with grief as well. And while I can’t truly know yours, I am grateful for the ways you share both crest and trough. Thank you. 

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  7. This is so heartfelt and, yes, I know what you mean…grief does sneak up on you when you least expect it and perhaps it is a legacy in a way. A smell or a song…and I am filled with a presence of long lost & deeply missed relatives and friends.
    I have a friend of more than 50 years who often calls me up quite distraught just thinking about death. She is so afraid. Thank you for sharing your feelings here.

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  8. Yesterday was our anniversary. We would have been married twenty-five years if he had lived long enough. (I had trouble with the math because we lived together in sin for four years before I would agree to marry him. So, I tend to count the years and not the piece of paper.) It’s been 16 years he’s been gone, and, while sadness still strikes me hard sometimes there is joy in remembering. And yes, the love is still there. I still smile at the jokes he would have made. The places we knew together. The son we shared and marveled at producing.

    That he only had one year as a parent was my biggest regret. That his son got only one year with such a marvelous man is the grief I will hold in my heart forever. And yet, life goes on in its interminable way. And we have sunsets like the one yesterday where we watched ballet at an open air amphitheater and my son tolerated watching it as long as he had snacks to keep him happy. Everyone says it gets easier with time. I think, instead, grief becomes a familiar pain that scabs and scars over. It is always there, but does not hurt as much any more. And it is a reminder of the beautiful pain of loving and lettering go.


    1. The world goes on, doesn’t it, even when our personal microcosm feels like it won’t. And if the love never fades, why would the grief? Just as love changes over time in a relationship, perhaps becoming cozier rather than white hot, maybe my grief will as well. However, I too do not believe that mourning “ends.” It will, I hope, find its rightful, long term place in my being. And, I expect, it will always sneak up on me at moments when I least expect it, even as I am becoming accustomed to the wash of sadness that comes as you describe, when doing the things we did together and so on. And yes, grief and joy can coexist. What a wonder.

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