Carl’s First Date- Adventures in Life Amidst Grief

This ornament has such meaning for me. It holds all the dreams we had for the future, that I now encapsulate in my heart

Fall was our favorite season. Not only did Ben and I love the colorful foliage, but we loved to go to Walt Disney World for Halloween, which was also around my birthday. This season remains my favorite- sweater weather, pumpkins, and beautiful colors- yet it is also bittersweet, and sometimes even melancholy. Eight years after losing Ben, I acknowledge the darkness, but I firmly put one foot in front of the other to live in the present, while carrying in my heart the love and memories of the past and envisioning and shaping my future.

It stands to reason that I was very moved by the recent Pixar episode of Dug’s Days, called Carl’s Date. Dug’s Days is a series (on Disney+) that follows the lovable dog from UP and his human, Carl, the widower who grieves his wife, Ellie. In this episode, a woman calls Carl and asks him out on a date. Carl accepts the invitation, but after he hangs up the phone, he is hit with the revelation that this is going to be a date. His reaction is, “This is very, very bad.”  He goes to Ellie’s photo and apologizes. I totally get that. I freely admit that I talk to Ben all the time. His photo is my laptop wallpaper, and I often speak to him there, and say goodnight each night.

Two years after Ben passed away, I tried my hand at online dating and had that same feeling that this was very bad. The first date I went on felt completely wrong. Truth be told, I never enjoyed or was  especially good at dating. Ben often teased me that I did not know how to flirt and did not seem to recognize when someone was flirting with me. I left online dating and have not pursued meeting anyone, despite saying that I would like to. So, here I am.

I am pleased with the interesting, loving, and exciting things I have done as I have reshaped my life. I have created many new memories. I have found a stronger voice, for myself and as an advocate for caregivers, even on behalf of my students. Lately, I am also giving a lot of thought about how and where to spend my life in retirement. I have been actively writing and studying writing, with manuscripts of a caregiving memoir and picture books that I plan to have published. I also like to envision my future being spent with someone special. However, I am reluctant to delve into that territory. I completely relate to Carl’s lack of comfort and feeling like I would have to apologize to, or reason it through, with Ben.

As Carl says, “I don’t know how to date. What do I do?” Dug, in his adorable and compassionate way, suggests things like, “Bring her a toy.” I had to laugh, because for me, this is perfect advice! To survey my home is to see a record of Ben’s and my relationship, which was punctuated with oh so many plush and other Disney toys. Bringing me a toy went very far for Ben in our courtship, as our first dates always included a visit to a Disney Store.

Along those lines, Carl tries to look younger, even dying his hair, and Dug does not recognize him. Dug asks, “Why are you not you?” It is daunting to put myself out there again, and to be judged for my age, my looks, my experiences. I suppose I must keep reminding myself that everyone has their assets, liabilities, and baggage.

When I think about bringing new romantic love into my life, I sometimes get caught up in the grief, remembering how Ben would often point out elderly couples holding hands and say that it would be us one day. We were cheated of that. Does it betray Ben to think that indeed, it would be lovely to age while holding hands with a new and lasting love? Most people would say it does not. Intellect tells me they are correct. Alas, the heart does not always agree with the mind.

Before Carl finally departs for his first date, he talks again to Ellie and says, “I guess this is a new kind of adventure for both of us. Just know you’ll always be my girl.” I think that I am ready to have that conversation with Ben. I am still unclear about how to propel that adventure. I loved that Dug joined Carl on his date. I imagine that Ben will be with me, too. He used to joke that he would haunt me if I ever met someone. In truth, I am hoping he’ll come along as a grim, grinning ghost.

We loved to stand here, on Main Street, and look at all the Halloween decorations.