Top: David and me (1992-2016) Bottom: Wayne and me (2018-present)

When David, my husband, passed away in 2016, after an 11-month battle with pancreatic cancer, my world fell apart. In that first year especially, there were many days I had trouble even getting out of bed, I was so severely depressed. My mental and physical health were precarious. I didn’t know this but there is a well-documented, increased risk of suicide in the first year after losing a spouse, the ‘widowhood effect.’ I forgot to eat and was sleeping, if at all, in 2-hour stretches so I was increasingly exhausted. I didn’t realize how much I counted on him to love me, believe in me and have my back. I desperately missed his warmth at my back in bed, laughing at silly inside jokes, talking about our schedules, even fighting. I had a spotty memory for engagements, unreliable energy and no patience for drama or difficult people. It took time to get back to my consulting business and to reconnect with family and friends. I was tough to be around, grieving hard. People I relied on either stepped up or faded away. It is very difficult to watch a person you love suffer and not be able to DO something to help.

As a widow, losing my husband meant loss of a future we were co-creating together and the possibility of being alone for the rest of my life, without love or intimacy. My ‘new normal’ was lonely and terrifying. Yet looking for a new love felt like the deepest betrayal of all, even though David was gone. The last time I had been with any man except David was 1992, 26 years ago. Dating apps barely existed back then. I was older, lacked confidence in my appeal and couldn’t imagine being attracted to anyone who wasn’t David. I signed up for Bumble and started swiping left and right. My aim was to figure out who I was as an individual alone, what I liked to do and who I enjoyed being with. My primary goal was to make distinctions, have fun and go slowly because I had trouble being touched and kisses caused panic attacks. But I knew I wanted to date again and was willing to push myself through the fear and grief to do so.

On July 1, 2018, my second Bumble date, I met Wayne. When I messaged him, I said I was going to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom or Hearts Beat Loud and maybe we could meet up someday. Wayne proposed we go to Jurassic World and have ‘someday’ be today. And he listened to a few of my Bad Widow guest podcast interviews on the way to meeting me. His first notable quality was how closely he listened. We always seemed to be on the same track, with close timing on next steps. Our dates were about learning more about each other, from picnics to graffiti walks to museum dates to science rap. I was still a hot mess, cringing away from being touched, especially on anniversaries and birthdays, weepy and moody. Wayne was infinitely patient, even when I barked, “Don’t touch me!” and had to explain that it was David’s birthday. He did not take my freak outs personally. I did my best to be responsible for my own feelings. Once, I had been crying all day and we had a date. I called Wayne, let him know what was going on and gave him the choice of opting out of our date. He didn’t. I also told him specifically how to treat me, not to ‘manage’ me or I would get mad. We developed a remarkable clarity of communication over the first six months we dated.

At Christmas, I went to see his home for the first time. We were both wanting to live closer together and shift from a platonic with pecks on the lips friendship, to an intimate relationship. I was still having real challenges being touched but we agreed that we would go away for the weekend together to Tarrytown. Our only promise was one room, one bed together and we would try to press through. I brought pajamas and a negligee to sleep in. Wayne made it into a beautiful experience with flowers and chocolates and deep appreciation. I expected to cry as I heard all widows cry the first time afterwards. Neither of us was looking forward to that. I changed into my red-and-white spotted pajamas in the bathroom, feeling totally unsure of myself, came out and said, “Is this OK?” He said I was brave. We kissed and touched to the point where I hit overwhelm, panic, fear, grief and said, “Stop!” Then we would take a break, go down to the pool, for a walk or a meal. And back to the room to press further into my discomfort until the next time. We discovered we delighted in each other: minds, bodies and spirits. Wayne listened deeply and spoke up about what he enjoyed about me, about us together. He didn’t see me as broken, flawed, old or fat. He just loved me as I was and where I was, even if that looked like crying.

What are the foundational elements of our strong relationship?

  • Clear Communication – listening and speaking
  • Love, Appreciation, Public Affection and Intimacy
  • Commitment to Growth – individually and as a couple

Life has its ups and downs. Our promise to each other is that we will face and get through our challenges together. One of my favorite quotes is, “Leap and the net will appear.” Wayne is my net. He sees and is inspired by me even when I am feeling small. And I do the same for him. Our strengths and interests don’t have to be the same to be respected by the other person. We see each other truly. We take time to plan special dates or meals or walks. We delight in each other’s company and, so far, like each other’s families and friends. We love each other and say so often. He is my Random Guy and I’m his Random Lady. LOL

Finding Wayne and loving again was not easy. It’s very scary to lose the love of your life to death and risk loving again but it’s worth it. Who do you have in your life who stands for you?


  • Alison BW Pena

    Bad Widow Consultant and Speaker

    Alison Pena aka Bad Widow lives in NYC with her boyfriend, Wayne. She met and married David Beynon Pena, an incredible artist, in October 1996 and was widowed in September 2016. She is a consultant, speaker and author. For fun, Alison loves hanging with friends and family, music, travel, Maine, doing open mics, writing, exploring and learning new stuff. Alison started to offer resources about how to reclaim resilience and resourcefulness after a loss or transition, including work, relationships, health, money and love. She supports clients to 1) re-engage with life fully, 2) reinvent yourself and 3) rebuild networks after loss or transition.