Dating While Widowed: Yours and Mine and Adult Kids


The latest post at Abel Keogh’s Running Forward Widower Wednesday talks about pre-nups, wills and adult kids who can’t wrap their minds around the idea that their parents’ “wealth” belongs to their parents and not them.

I ran across this a lot at Ye Olde Widow board. People who were fine with idea of remarriage but adamant that their late spouse’s hard-earned this or that would never, ever, ever benefit in any way, shape or form the next spouse or, goddess in heaven forbid, his/her worthless children. A whole lot of assumption but basically stemming from the odd notion that what your late spouse might have left you in the form of life insurance, marital home or other valuables is somehow still his or hers.

When you die, you don’t take it with you. Not even in spirit. What happens, or is accumulated on earth, stays on earth. Furthermore, it becomes the property of someone else, who is now free to do whatever the hell they want with it. And trust me, they will. I have seldom witnessed someone inherit from a parent or grandparent and not piss the money away like trailer trash with a PowerBall jackpot.

As my late husband lay in the intensive care before being moved to hospice, his mother sent her best friend to query me about life insurance. How much? I was asked. And because I was completely stunned that anyone would ask such a question at such a time, I told her. Absolutely nothing.

It wasn’t until much later – after mother-in-law absconded with money from the memorial that was meant to help cover the expense of it – that I realized the inquiry about life insurance was about calculating her cut.

You would be amazed – or maybe not – by the people who truly believe that inheritance is a given and have their hands out sometimes way in advance of your death.

A sizable proportion of adult children are like this. They see their parents and grandparents as some sort of long-range saving plan. A way to pay off the mortgage, plump up retirement plans or just have a wad of cash to fritter away on vacations and material crap.

Second marriages make these kinds of people – nervous. They have visions of “their” inheritances being used frivolously by step-parents for outrageous things like … eating or paying the property tax and keeping a roof over their elderly heads.

So, the topic today is when you remarry, do you have a financial plan in place to make sure that in the event of your death your new spouse doesn’t end up homeless while your kids vacation in Tahiti?

Yeah, yeah. Their mommy or daddy would have wanted you to put your new spouse at the mercy of your greedy kids because after all, she or he worked themselves to death for the money that was left to you.

Except that they didn’t.

They took out that life insurance or built up the retirement plan to take care of you. You. Not your grown up kids, who you should have been taught well enough to be able to pay their own bills, save for their own retirement and goodies. You.

Money we inherit is no longer anyone’s money but ours.

Yes, we have an obligation to use it for the benefit of our minor children and to see that our very young adult children find a good footing in life, but at some point our kids get old. Really old. Sometimes as old as we were when we were widowed in the first place. They are adults who mostly ignore our advice in favor of what works best for them, and they build their own adult lives with their own spouses and their own kids. And if we did a good job raising them, they really shouldn’t be running to us with their hands out – ever.

But there are emergencies, you cry.

Yes, I would agree, but inheritance doesn’t fall into that category. Inheritance is a form of expectation based upon nothing more than the notion that because you sired or birthed them, they are entitled to some sort of monetary reward triggered by your death.

It’s wonderful when we can leave our kids, or grandkids, a little something, or even a lot of something, but we should shy far away from leading them to expect this from us. Or from giving them the impression that it is their due. It’s not owed to them because they merely exist.

Plenty of perfectly wonderful parents spend every last dime before they die. On themselves even! And sometimes they need that money because they get sick or have other pressing expenses.

Some parents and grandparents even leave their “fortunes” to charity or endowments or to people that aren’t even blood relations!

NOTHING good comes from adult children who’ve been led to believe that the money daddy left you is also theirs. Zero good. Refrain mightily from going there because even if you don’t remarry, it’s going to be a big ugly thorn in your side when you hit a certain age, and they start counting chickens they think you are overspending. You don’t ever want your 50 year old child questioning your need to take a trip or buy a new pair of boots or go out to lunch every Tuesday with your friends because it’s eating up the money you should be saving to leave him/her.

I am not exaggerating. Countless seniors live with harpy adult children who view all things mom/dad as eventually their things.

The best way to avoid tantrums from adult kids if you should decide to remarry is to not have even given your children cause to believe they have the right to question you on the subject of remarriage and to never have intimated that they are somehow entitled to an inheritance.

But if you haven’t done either, there is still hope. You can tell them now.

You should also make sure that you and your future spouse have thoroughly discussed all matters money. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you want your wills to look like in terms of what goes to whom and how you each plan to care for the other in the event of incapacitating illness and death. If there are assets or minor children that need special considerations, discuss and plan for that too.

Communication, as I have said before, is key. KEY.

Don’t be that elderly woman who is living in a house owned by her step-children who are just waiting for her to die so they can sell it.

Conversely, don’t be that old man whose late wife’s jewelry ended up in the hands of his second wife’s daughter-in-law because it wasn’t specified in the will that it should go to his granddaughter.

If it ‘s important then it is important enough to discuss and plan for IN WRITING and preferably with the assistance of a lawyer.

But just in case you can’t let go of the idea that procreation has saddled you with the task of scrimping, saving and leaving something to your grown up kids so they can enjoy a better retirement than you will, there are options like life insurance policies and trusts.

However, if you remarry, your primary concern should be your spouse. Leaving him or her to simply fend for themselves in their advancing years is so cold and harsh that it amazes me that people who would do this even find someone to marry again at all. What self-respecting person signs willingly to be accused of being a gold-digger and ends up on cat food and public assistance so their step-children can one day  indulge themselves on eBay?

Let’s sum up.

Money matters. Children do have the right to heirlooms. Second wives and husbands shouldn’t be at the financial mercy of step-kids when you are gone.

Talk, talk and talk some more about this before remarrying. Don’t include your kids! It’s not their business. Better yet, avoid raising your kids to feel entitled to enrich themselves via your death.

And finally. consult a financial planner or estate planner or lawyer or anyone who can walk you through the realities of what your new spouse will need by way of assets when you die. You might be surprised to find out that what you thought about money and second marriages and death isn’t at all what reality is.

Dating While Widowed: Erasing Your Past


Miniature of Catherine de' Medici, "a rar...

Miniature of Catherine de’ Medici, “a rare portrait of Catherine before she was widowed in 1559, when she adopted the veil and severely plain dress of a widow.” (Hearn, Karen, ed. Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630. New York: Rizzoli, 1995. ISBN 0-8478-1940-X.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not much induces the widowed to pick up pitchforks and growl in unison like the idea that they should have to tear down their shrines in order to be decent candidates for others to consider dating.

“Anyone I date or remarry is just going to have to fine with being a member of a threesome.”

Or something to that sadly creepy refrain is what is generally trotted out and translates thusly,

“Love me. Love my dead spouse. And if you don’t, well than you are just too immature and/or insecure and/or possibly jealous to be a good fit for me, and we are NOT amused!”

This is often followed by truly Hallmark heart-warming anecdotes about someone’s auntie who was tragically widowed but went on to remarry this awesome guy was totally okay with the pictures, the shared headstone and being a hankie on anniversaries. There are, apparently, a Chicken Soup for the Soul’s worth of these selfless men, and women, who don’t mind building holidays around the widowed person’s in-laws, whole walls decorated with the awesomeness of love lost and don’t mind being “just the second wife/husband”.

Even more militant are the widowed parents determined to anchor their children to perpetual mourning by making sure that the “real mom/dad” is never forgotten. As if children are in danger of forgetting that their mother or father died young and need to have it in their face daily lest they develop a healthy parent/child relationship with their step-parent.

First, can we lay the “immature/insecure/jealous” thing to rest already? Drive a stake through this trope once and for all?

When your new partner intimates in some way that he/she isn’t feeling the love, whether the cause is pictures, in-laws or daily recounting of good times past, this is not about anything other than the perfectly normal desire we all have to be number one in the heart of the person we love. Whether you feel the feelings are justified or not is secondary to the actual issue, which is, your lover isn’t feeling loved.

They are, in fact, feeling second best at best and merely a warm body stand-in at worst. Making this be about you and your need to “grieve it all out” is probably a sign that your partner is right. You are not really as ready to date or remarry as you thought.

Look no one expects a widowed person to hide all aspects of their past. No one.

That is a myth.

What you are expected to do, however, when you decide to date, have a serious relationship or remarry is live in the present tense and put your primary focus on your new partner.

Would you be okay knowing that your new love spent most of his/her time being sorry that he/she wasn’t still with their last partner? Would a shrine to this on the mantle be okay? Arranging all your holidays around the last partner’s family would be acceptable? Would you like to hear daily how SoNSo was the best (fill in the blank) ever and wonder what that made you?

And yes, I concede that a few prospective partners might on the surface appear to be okay with a new husband or wife who primarily identified as a widowed person first and foremost, but I am going to say these saint like martyrs have a lot in common with unicorns, lusted after but still mythical. Even the most understanding partner has moments of “Oh, come on. Really?”

Do you have to purge your home of all traces of your late spouse when you begin to date?

I would say no. Dating is just getting to know you, having fun, assessing possibilities. I don’t know many adults who make it a habit of bringing home “just dates” to meet the children and check out the new foam mattress you got at Costco. But if a “date” progresses to “someone I am seeing regularly, seriously considering and/or shagging”, you should probably reassess your physical surroundings and ask yourself,

“If I were X, how would I feel about pictures, urns, closets waiting for a dead guy/gal to come home?”

And think about it from the perspective of the non-widowed person you used to be because the odds of dating a fellow widowed person aren’t that great (even if you do hang around the widowed internet chat rooms, message boards and websites). Your live person dating pool is more likely to be inhabited by the never-married, the serial monagamists and the divorced, who have no valid reason to expect that as a widowed person, you should enjoy some super-special pass on doing the heavy lifting of moving on anymore than they did because they have pasts too.

Are some mementos okay?

Of course! Whoever said they weren’t?

When you hear “it’s a good idea to clean out closets and tone down the presence of your late spouse in your living space” and you translate it to “shred everything!” perhaps reassessing your relationship readiness, or asking yourself just why it’s critical to your children’s well-being that an entire wall of the family room be dedicated/dominated to your late spouse, is in order.

It’s perfectly normal to have a few things out and about if you like, but it’s not so much to keep a photo on the nightstand if you are knocking the headboard with someone else or to insist that toothbrushes or robes be left in place like they were evidence at a crime scene. At some point, a late spouse’s personal items have to be cleared out and put away and that time – if you are a decent person who values the feelings of those you might get intimately involved with – is before you get intimately involved.

Why?

Because not doing so is a way of controlling your new relationship and new love by putting him/her in a Catch-22 that can only end with your dismissing him/her as “immature, insecure and jealous”.  You get the “poor widow me” high road and he/she gets the a scornful boot toe up the bum-hole.

Anyone who gets involved with a widowed person has empathy for the situation, wants to be helpful and understanding and usually goes above and beyond in the pursuit, but every one of these folks is hoping that at some point you will come to value them as more than “the person I am with because the person I would rather be with is dead”.

That’s what constant reminders of your late spouse – in any form – is saying to those you date and re-mate.

Even when you think you are being selfless by not spending every single holiday with the in-laws or by keeping at least the bedroom dead spouse picture free, there is a fine line between occasional reminders as you move on and build a new life and set of memories/memorabilia with someone else and being that guy or gal who is still so focused on their late spouse that people silently wonder why your new spouse is still with you because they can’t believe how appallingly selfish you are.

How do I know if I am over the line?

You could ask. Really. Ask. And not in a way that is designed to catch out your new partner so you can proclaim “I would never ask you to erase your dead spouse (if you had one) from your life!” Followed by you bursting into tears and him/her feeling like an asshole.

Or you could just be honest with yourself and assess your living space as though you weren’t widowed. Think about how often you interject conversations with “we” memories when the “we” is you and the late spouse and not you and the one you are currently with.

You’ll know. You probably already do.

What if my new love is fine with everything?

They are lying to you because they love you. Didn’t you ever put up with crap from someone just because you loved them so very much in the hopes that one day he/she would just see how awesomely understanding you were and change their ways?

No one is fine living in the perpetual shade of a dead love. No one is okay with being number two (or three or four because some of you even downgrade your new partner to a status below that of your children) in someones’ heart.

Few people are all that enamoured of their own in-laws let alone a second set (or third if they happen to be divorced or widowed themselves), who take precedence or are allowed to interfere or dictate or are happy living in a house that clearly isn’t theirs because their pictures, taste in decor or perhaps even their personal stuff hasn’t any room to compete with the pictures, favorite chair and flotsam of the dead person who was there before them.

Everyone wants to be cherished and feel as though he/she matters most to the person who matters most in his/her heart.

Even if you are dating a fellow widowed person. Even then. There is a line that when it is crossed, hearts will be broken and it’s not insecurity or immaturity. It’s you who will have done that by not having a clear understanding that moving on means doing just that in deed as well as words.

There is no way to erase your past and reasonable people know this. There is a point when you are wanting to have your yummy chocolate cake past and eat it while your new love wonders how long you are going to sit there and stuff your face in front of him/her.

Choosing to date again (and it’s a choice because accidental dating just doesn’t happen) is being ready to live in the now and give yourself fully and be more concerned with the feelings and well-being of your lover than you are with the past and hanging on to it.

Dating While Widowed: Staying Present in a New Relationship


Marriage Day

Marriage Day (Photo credit: Fikra)

I read a lot about widowed in new relationships and the push/pull that goes on between the new love and the dead love. That might sound a little odd. Dead people really haven’t anything to say about the moving on business of their still live spouses.
Which is as it should be, really. But a surprising number of widowed who are just dating or newly involved in relationships of a serious nature seem to feel that they owe some sort of respect and continuing vigilance to their departed love.

I won’t say that when embarking on new relationships isn’t a trigger for occasional tugs backward on the heart-strings. It is a decidedly odd feeling to date again when you never really had an inkling that you would ever need to step back into that arena again in your lifetime.

Divorced and long time singles tend to scoff but most widowed folk I know really never contemplated a life without their deceased partner. When you are settled in a relationship, for the most part, you don’t dream of wandering among the single again in a predatory fashion. Most widowed were – faults and all – fairly content to stay with and work on their marriages, so it is a shock to their systems to be thrust back into the dating world. There is push/pull between resenting it and allowing oneself to be caught up in the excitement and pursuit of new love and new future.

Some work through this rather quickly. It helps if they don’t have extended family or friends or recalcitrant children haranguing them, but even those who do eventually find their inner back bone and assert their right to live their lives as suits them best.

However, there are some people who go back and forth and the reasons for this are as individual as the widowed themselves, but some of the bigger ones are as follows:

1) Guilt – Widowed feel guilty moving on and being happy with someone else. They just don’t see how this can be and it torments them and consequently their new partners. It’s partly a survivor thing. Why me? Why her/him? Why us? How unfair! Blah. Blah.

It’s also likely a personality thing. Some of us are just very dramatic. if late spouses could come back and chat, they’d likely have more than a few words to impart to new partners about the award-winning drama tendencies of their spouses, so my opinion is that if a widowed is someone who can’t seem to not get caught up in the melodrama of anniversaries and looking for sympathy on Facebook, it’s probably something that won’t change. It’s just who they are. They’ve bought into the idea of the ghostly threesome, aided and abetted by like-minded friends and relatives, and the new love can learn to put up with this or move on him/herself.

2) Benefits – Some widowed discover that there are benefits to the widow status that they simply don’t want to give up. If they are “fortunate”, they might have had a support network that encourages them to stay in the comfy cocoon of widowdom. Widows make new friends among their widowed peers, join groups, – real and virtual, blog, start foundations, write books (that sometimes sell, make them quasi-famous and become movies) or simply discover a new life’s calling. These are all hard, even incredibly difficult – to walk away from, even if the reward is a new relationship. And again, a new partner might have to make a choice between finding a way to live with someone who loves widowhood as much as he/she loves the new love, or walking away.

3) ambivalence – Despite the emphasis our culture (and I am talking first world here) places on the individual and the awesomeness of being independent and on our own, the truth is that we still hold coupledom as the holy grail or existence. Some widowed discover that being single is not hell on earth. They enjoy relationships and even love again, but they are not interested in co-mingling on a marriage minded level again. Signals are mixed. Feelings are hurt. Mostly because the widowed person can’t/won’t be clear about what they really want. Love and companionship but not marriage. In this case, it is important for all parties to be honest, recognize that everyone’s needs are valid but that time/patience isn’t going to change anything and that it is sometimes better for the commitment minded to move on.

So what’s with the title “staying present”?

If you are in a relationship, whether you are marriage minded or not, it’s imperative to be with your new love when you are with your new love. Not mixing sadness, backward glancing and any other griefy- ness with the rather serious business of showing your new love that they are front and center. And if they aren’t always front and center, you should be honest about it so this person can move on to someone who will value them more than you do.

But I do value and love my new boy/girlfriend, you say. Indignantly.

Not if, in my opinion, you are expecting them to be okay while you moan, groan and weep over your late spouse, or if you are constantly praising and glorifying said dead spouse right in the face of new love.

If you had to listen to your mate sing arias to their last partner, how would it make you feel? Especially if this was the norm rather than the rare, rare exception.

But I only blog, you say. Or I only volunteer for hospice, on messages boards or dead spouse only comes up when I promote the book or foundation I started in his/her name.

Think about. How would you feel if you were the one in your new love’s place. Probably not someone who’s been widowed (although even fellow widowed can lose patience with this) and who really takes to heart all the effusive praise heaped on the dead one and the previous relationship? Even the most self-actualized person is – over time – going to start to feel like warmed over shit on burnt toast. It’s human nature to want to be the most important person to the person you love. You want that yourself, right? So why aren’t you giving this to someone you say you care about and love – maybe even want (or have) a future with?

Looking back, should be, something that becomes occasional and private. If it is in the face of your new love/spouse, you need to be pretty damned sure that he/she is 100% okay with this and not merely tolerating it and seething silently. Silent sucking up always erupts at some point and the fissures never really heal over.

Despite the fact that we are living through an era in which widowhood is again romantic, glamorous and glorified, don’t buy in to the point where you are cutting off  – one by one – the facial appendages of your new relationships. If you must “widow”, don’t expect your husband/wife/boy or girlfriend to stoically support you. Widowhood and it’s side hobbies are not couple activities. Know that you are being unreasonable and even an asshole to ask that much from your new partner and relationship. Don’t make a widowhood widow out of them.