I have someone on my mind, as today marks 12 years since she left the world. Her name was Shane. I didn’t know her, but I mourn her – and celebrate her – all the same.
Shane was my husband’s first wife. She slipped away just days after they lost their first and only child, a son born sleeping.
I don’t talk about her all that much, because her tragedy doesn’t feel like it’s my story to tell. I didn’t lose her; she wasn’t my friend, sister, daughter, or wife. But our lives are inextricably bound. We married the same person, and chose him to be the father of our children. My husband loves me, but he also still loves her, and always will. As her memory recedes further into time, her loss will always be one of the biggest things that has happened to him. And as uncomfortable as it is to say out loud, if she were still here, my own two children would probably not exist. In the parallel universe that never got to play itself out, they’d be happy and healthy together, squabbling over his dishwasher-loading OCD and online solitaire addiction, and I’d be married to some other guy and have some other kids.
But for whatever reason – fate, God’s will, terrible luck, all three?– she is gone, and here we are.
Shane has been present in the blurred edges of my life for a decade now, and her memory has taken different shapes over time. When I first started dating my husband, I felt threatened by Shane. I wondered if he was comparing us, and whether he would idealize her and find me lacking. “Was she a good cook,” I would ask myself, as I sheepishly spooned overcooked scrambled eggs onto a plate. (She was, I learned.) But as our own relationship has strengthened and taken root, and after we welcomed our own two children, a boy and then a girl, I don’t feel that way anymore. Instead of a rival, I began to view Shane as more of, I don’t know, an otherworldly sister-wife, or something. Her name doesn’t come up that often anymore, and at this point my husband and I have been together for far longer than they were. She is in the recesses of my mind, though, especially in those prime, irreplaceable moments of parenthood: the sticky kisses, the incorrectly pronounced words that we adopt as part of our secret family language, the surges of love and pride that she never got to experience. I feel guilty, in a way, as if I stole something from her. I know she would have wanted my husband to find happiness again, though, and as I sit in my office and listen through the walls to the muffled sounds of him singing and playing guitar while our kids dance and squeal, I know he has. That gives me a lot of peace.
When we met, my husband had pictures of Shane all over his house. It made me feel like I was intruding, but I knew I could not say anything. He needed to put them away on his own time, and he did. We gradually replaced them with pictures of us as we built a life together, and moved into one house, then another, but we agreed to always display a picture of Shane in our home. I asked if I could select the picture, and I chose this one. Her smile makes me smile.
Our children are three and five now, and one day soon they will ask about the woman in the picture. “That’s Shane,” I will tell them. “Daddy loved her, and we do too.”