“Don’t worry, you’ll find another dad for your kids, you’re young,” an older widow told me a week after my 34-year-old husband died. Those words didn’t even register because I didn’t want another dad for my kids, I just wanted the original one not to be dead.

“Please God, find another husband for Nicole,” the church’s counselor prayed with me the first time I met him when I was desperate for someone, anyone, to listen to my pain as a I grappled with the confusion and heartache of death and my new role as a widow. The prayer fell on deaf ears because I didn’t want another husband, I just wanted the one I had not to be dead.

“You need to get back out there . . . ” “You need to start dating . . . ” “You just need a one-night stand . . . a friend with benefits . . . ” The advice from friends who just wanted their friend’s pain to go away swirled around me like a tornado, while I was stuck in the eye of the storm just trying to figure out when and how I was going to get up the courage to open the little black box in my closet and spread the ashes of the father of my children, the flesh of my flesh.

It was tempting, I’m not going to lie. To just find a “replacement”. It wouldn’t have been that hard, after all there are plenty of fish in the sea; there’s even an online dating app with that name. It’s not hard to find a “friend with benefits” at the bar. It’s not hard to find someone as lonely as yourself. It wouldn’t be hard, but I knew it wouldn’t fix anything, and in fact, it’d be harder in the long run. The reality is no one can out-sex, out-date, out-drink, out-drug grief. No one. Until it’s faced head on and the hard work has begun, it’ll nip at your heels and beg for your attention. Attempting to out-smart grief and just “find someone else” won’t work. It’s not fair to the “someone else” and it’s not fair to you.

Grief work is hard; it’s scary and it’s lonely because no one can do the work for you. The loneliness is unbearable at times, I know. You’d give anything to feel something other than this pain. I know. But through the work, through the time I devoted to the process, I realized something: I can mourn my husband, but it’s OK to pray for my future husband too. My future husband, NOT a future husband. The ONE who God has set aside for me and only me, not just anyone.

One night, we were sitting on the couch and my head was in his lap. We were joking around about how hard marriage was—after all, we were still newlyweds facing three children and a terminal cancer diagnosis.

“If something happened to you, I’d never remarry,” I said. “Marriage is WAY too hard.” I teased. He laughed, but then his face got serious.

“You can’t be alone . . . if something happened to me,” he said. “You’re too beautiful to be alone . . . ” I just looked at him and smiled a small smile, trying to burn his face into my memory so I’d never forget it.

It’s been four years since he took his last breath, and my prayers every night to see his face in my dreams are followed up by prayers for the faceless man who won’t take my late husband’s place, but rather, who is the one hand-picked by God to stand by my children’s’ and my side. And I don’t have to feel guilty about it, and neither do you, because I realized my late husband, while he was dying, probably prayed for my future husband, too.

Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a certified Grief Recovery Specialist who lives in Denver and is a widowed mom to three children under seven. With a background in journalism and a sudden need to “figure out what to do,” she turned to writing about her experience with a husband with cancer, caregiving and widowed parenting and overcoming the aloneness of all of the above. She believes the art of storytelling brings people out of the dark into the light together to share in joy, humor, suffering and pain in life. She hopes that by sharing her story with transparency and heart will bring others hope and empower them to share their own stories.