I found myself on the kind of emotional roller coaster I hadn’t experienced in over thirty years. Most of the time, I had a smile on my face and felt like I had been given a therapeutic dose of oxygen. I was smitten; Derek was smitten. Together we could probably light up the Denver metropolitan area just from the raw energy of it. During what at first appeared to be random moments, my heart would well up with affection for Derek, and it was as if I could feel his affection for me too. Not infrequently, he texted or called soon after one of those moments. But at other times, my confidence about his feelings for me plummeted, for no apparent reason. At those times, I almost felt panicked. Surely I was deluding myself. This couldn’t last.
It took a while before it began to dawn on me that I was empathically picking up on what Derek was feeling. When I felt that surge of heart energy, he was having loving thoughts about me. When I felt panicked, he was questioning whether he should be in relationship with me or anyone else, for that matter.
My empathic abilities were well known to me, and I had developed an empath’s survival skill of being able to limit them. At times, though, they slipped through the internal screening mechanism, usually when something tragic was about to happen or in the process of happening somewhere in the world. Fortunately, I did not pick up on every tragedy empathically, but it had taken years to develop the facility to sort out my own feelings from my empathic ones.
What was new was that I was having such unfiltered empathic sensations in relation to a love interest. It wasn’t unprecedented, but I had good boundaries, so it did not happen all that often. Considering how otherwise unfiltered I was with him, I might have realized it sooner, but once I did realize what was going on, it helped to explain the roller-coaster ride I was on.
I did not want to inadvertently trigger unnecessary concern in Derek about being with me, so I was careful to show interest in his kids and step-kids without pushing to meet any of them or become known by them. It seemed to me that it might be too soon for any of them to embrace the idea of Derek moving forward and being in relationship with a woman other than his late wife, Jacqueline. I cared about him and I cared about his children’s and step-children’s feelings. I would eventually meet them if the relationship continued. I could be patient, and I did not want to give him reason to be concerned that I would push for any kind of interaction with them before he and they were ready for it.
I knew that I was not the first woman Derek had dated since his wife’s death. In fact, that I was not the first woman he had dated gave me a bit of false confidence about his readiness to move forward with his life. I honored his feelings about Jacqueline, did not discourage talking about her, and even asked a fair number of questions about her. He felt that the woman he’d dated six months after Jacqueline’s death was somehow jealous of Jacqueline, in part because she had not been happy about his working on a book about his and Jacqueline’s experience with cancer. But I had lost a spouse too. I had a perspective that would not have been possible if I had not also traveled with a partner on the road to death. I felt no jealousy, just curiosity.
I also knew about his push-pull experience with another woman he had dated, the woman he had felt good about when he was with her and bad about seeing when he was alone. Derek was so present with me when we were together that it took some time for me to suspect he was equivocal. I wondered if he was having feelings about me similar to those he’d had with that woman and was just not expressing them.
To make the roller-coaster ride even wilder, I had been in communication with his dead wife. It had begun sometime after I had called him on his cell phone and heard his late wife’s voice in the recording that asked the caller to leave a message. She had a lovely voice, and somehow, just hearing it made me feel a connection with her. I checked in to see if she was able and willing to talk to me from the other side, and she was. Jacqueline was supportive of my connection with Derek, and when I finally began to tap in to his equivocality, she gave him some subtle nudges in my direction.
It didn’t occur to me that the very fact she was still engaging with him might be a problem, but it eventually would. For the time being, there was something comforting about having her with me on the roller-coaster ride.
Note: The names Derek and Jacqueline are fictitious and have been used out of respect for the people involved.
Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall