When my late husband went into the nursing home, I cleaned his things out of our closet, the dresser and off the bathroom vanity. I didn’t throw anything away, nor did I give anything away at that point, but he was dying – albeit slowly – and there was no point in pretending he was coming home again. Leaving his things as they were served me no purpose from a practical or emotional point of view.
Over the course of the next 15 months, I gradually chipped away at his physical presence in the house. Pictures, books, cd’s and such were reminders that served only to keep me from the rather tedious and unpleasant task of putting our life together into perspective so I could move on. By the time he died, you might not have known – aside from the wedding ring – that I was married at all, judging from my surroundings and the things I put on display, and the day after his wake, I took off the ring and put that away too.
Widowed people are not usually counseled to clean house physically or figuratively in the early weeks and months. In fact, society can judge those who do rather harshly. After all, it’s not in keeping with the romantic idea of the tragic young widowed. We are supposed to keep that eternal flame lit, and it’s seen as proof of our love or lack of it.
Of course that is all nonsense. Tangible memories are anchors to the past that easily pull us backward to a life that isn’t rather when what we need to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and walking forward.
If you are of the mind to date and even remarry, you can’t build a new life with someone else on top of the foundation of your previous marriage to your late spouse. For one thing, it’s a conflict of interest and for another, it’s not fair to your possible new love. If you love someone, you can’t ask them to be second choice or second best or to run a no win footrace for your heart with a dead person.
So the wedding picture and couple of photos in your living room (or the framed photo of your late spouse that sits on your night stand) tells anyone new that you are not available and though it won’t keep some people from trying to muster endless patience to wait you out, it’s not something a kind, caring person does to someone who seeks their love.
“But, I loved my late spouse,” you will protest. “Nothing can change that and if someone loves me, they will understand that I need his/her toothbrush on the vanity or dozens of pictures of him up and only a selfish, insecure person would question that.”
Did you just hear what you said? Who is really the selfish person in this scenario? You cause your new companion to doubt and feel less than and then you punish them for it by making demands that nobody can hold up under for long.
There were few pictures up when Dee and I moved in with Rob. Mick and Edie’s graduation photos and maybe one of Shelley on some holiday or other they took. But Rob’s laptop screen saver rotated an endless display of photos and though they included me too, we hadn’t been together long enough to make up for the sheer volume of those pictures that included Shelley.
Perhaps it was being widowed myself or maybe it was, at 43, being just too old that kept me from feeling second best or in some kind of competition. Whatever it was, I am not the norm to look to. Most people who date the widowed feel the weight of comparison and the more memorabilia lying around – coupled with a fierce resistance to put it away – the more slighted and second choice they feel.
I wasn’t completely immune to comparing myself to Shelley. She epitomized physically the beauty standard that I grew up with and never met and the stories I heard from Rob, Edie and Mick sometimes made me feel as though I was a much less likable person. It was nonsense but it’s proof of the power of a late spouse’s legacy to do harm to anyone who ventures into a widowed person’s emotional sphere.
I have mentioned it before but it bears repeating. If you bring a new person into your life with the intention of one day having a serious relationship and even marrying, you must be prepared to put away the physical aspects of your late spouse and your life together. It’s selfish of you to expect a new love to be anything less than “the love”. You cannot actively love the late spouse and do justice to a new partner and it’s unfair to ask of anyone that he/she sign up to be “just the second husband/wife”.
- Put away phrases like “true love” or “soul mate” when talking about your late spouse. They are fairy tale words in any case and will hurt your new partner even if he/she is too kind to tell you so.
- Don’t allow children, extended family or friends to use words, objects or memories to make your new partner feel like a runner-up. Your love is not a beauty contest.
- Strive to love someone new as deeply and without reservation as you did your late spouse.
“But,” you doth protest too much again, “my new partner assures me that they don’t mind the pictures, my bratty adult children and insensitive friends and the closet so full of late spouse’s clothing that they are living out of a suitcase and boxes.”
He/she is lying because he/she loves you that much and buys into the idiotic notion that being patient, understanding and loving you far more than you deserve at this point will one day open your eyes to how wonderful he/she is and you will let him/her fully into your affections …. and make space in the closet.
“But,” make your last stand, Gen. Custer, “my children need these things in order to remember.”
You need these things to avoid moving on. Moving on sucks because change we don’t initiate ourselves is unwelcome and we are no better than children about it with our kicking and screaming.
Your kids don’t need a wall collage or an urn on the mantle piece. They would probably be grateful if you moved the fuck on, so they could too. I am stunned by the number of widowed who use their kids as a way to cling to their grief even while they abdicate active parenting and justify their behavior by hiding behind grief.
If you are not ready to move on, you aren’t. If you are not ready to date, don’t. If you only want to date, be honest about that with those who approach you.
But, if you are seriously involved, live in the present. Honor and love that person the same way you did the one who came before him/her. That’s what a person of integrity does. That’s what a person who is ready to move on does.
- Dating While Widowed – Widow Card Fall Out (anniegirl1138.com)
- Dating While Widowed: Support for the Remarried Widowed (anniegirl1138.com)
- Dating While Widowed: Are Widows Different From Widowers Where New Love is Concerned? (anniegirl1138.com)
48 thoughts on “Dating While Widowed: That Picture Thing and Other Kobayishi Maru’s”
As a recently widowed man, I lost my wife of nearly 18 years, 3 months ago and while I would like the idea to eventually date again, I hesitate due to the complexities and realities of my life. I have not cleaned out her closet yet, but have changed some things to reduce my chances of having feelings of sorrow well up. Like most, everything in my home has some connection to our time together. I simply cannot empty the entire house, even my collections are riddled with memories. I just have to keep the memories to myself I suppose. I will be giving her clothes to relatives and donating them as she did quite frequently at some point. I gave a lot of her jewelry to her daughter(previous marriage),sister and aunt. But kept her wedding rings for myself.
I’m hoping that after all the red tape has been settled I can move on. As for the complexities, I live very close to my parents, something my wife agreed to before we built our home and my late wife had a great relationship with them. My parents are aging but in decent health, but I have a handicapped sister who I will be responsible for at some point. So the next person in my life must accept a certain amount of “baggage”. As I am very fond of my in-laws as well. I certainly had to deal with her previous relationship during our marriage.
Right now its too soon to consider any relationship other than a casual one.
It’s a process and the post is geared more towards people who don’t realize that new relationships are between equal partners and everyone’s feelings have equal weight.
As long as you are upfront about your needs/situation, willing to listen, and know the importance of compromising when necessary, you’ll be fine.
I am sorry for your loss.
I became a widow in January of 2019. My husband and I had a wonderful life together, we made many memories, and lived life to the fullest together, side by side and heart to heart. I have an entire wall in our living room dedicated to him, our children and our lives. My husband was also a Marine, a well decorated Marine. HIs Awards are also on that wall, the children and grand children love the wall. It tells of our family and our lives. I loved my Husband and he will always be in my heart and on my mind. As well as I will always love him, and forever be in love with him. He is apart of my, my children, and my grandchildren. I think some days that I to would love to have a companion in my life. Go dancing, go out eat, sit on the porch listen to the birds, and just talk, or go for a stroll with across my farm. I miss the companionship. But I on the other hand know that I still love my Husband, and He will always hold a portion of my heart, and my memories of our sweet life together. I have come to the realization that I will possibly always on my own.
As the wife of a former widower and a close friend to a recently widowed gf, this is written with love to both sides!
Thank you so much for this article. I have dated a widow for 8 1/2 years. He still has all the pictures exactly where they’ve always been and her ashes in the living room under a huge family portrait. The only picture I asked him to move was their wedding picture above the bed. He wrote me a letter to talk about our future together, but the majority of the letter was about how his wife, his bestfriend, his soulmate, love of his life, the happiest he’s ever been in his life, his nearly perfect marriage, etc. I’m done.
Wedding portrait above the bed is deal breaker in my opinion.
I am sorry he couldn’t see how he was hurting you and your relationship.
When trying to put a finger on all the chaotic turmoil felt from time to time and sort it all out….find the root to what emotion was putting me on tilt out of the blue; it finally dawned on me that I could sum it all up with one simple sentence. When it is acutely clear her absence is more profound than my presence I feel the earth shift on its very axis.
Truth is we can go days or weeks with happiness and togetherness and building the secure place in our relationship together….then bam. Something shifts. The air changes…you get up in the morning and you can just feel a difference in the air. The reserved mood, the keeping busy and not saying much demeanor, little eye contact, small talk about the weather and what to have for dinner. This is when I know my presence is not on the forefront of his thoughts. Her absence looms large and I am sequestered to the background. Sometimes it lasts a day. Sometimes a few days. It’s during these times I feel like an outsider. Like I don’t belong. I will ask him if he is ok and he says everything is fine and he loves me….but women know when things are off. I patiently wait until the dark clouds lift and I’m invited back into his world emotionally. It’s hard. It really is hard. Yesterday the sadness took me by storm and the tears just escaped and I could not stop them. He and I will talk and it will be fine for a few months. I will feel wanted and secure once again. I will see the twinkle in his eye reappear when he looks at me. He will seek me out for sweet hugs and give affection freely. My presence will be more profound than her absence….until the next time.
I wonder if the “until next time” ever completely disappears? Your words resonated with me greatly, and I have often felt this push and pull of emotions. Usually, it happens on an important former anniversary, such as the date of death, or former birthday, or mother’s day etc. Or there might be some other trigger, that is completely random, from another event or individual. That’s when I feel there are multiple people vying for different emotional spaces within my relationship; and the hardest part to accept is sharing space or thought for someone or something else, not at all relevant to my own relationship. For the most part, these days can come and go, with very little outward physical signs, but the undercurrent is always there, and it’s especially hard to ignore. Year one was okay, and year two was rather uneventful, but year three hit my household in a big way, and I found it very hurtful. I was always naively under the impression that time healed all grief; so it’s been a tough realization that some years can get far worse, before it calms down and gets better again. Or maybe I’m just assuming and somewhat hopeful it will magically get better with more time? Nevertheless, it’s difficult when you see your partner trying so hard to create a new normal for their life, and someone important from a former relationship, tries to drag them back down that rabbit hole. On some of these days, it’s two steps forward and one step backwards. It is especially hard when other people have no qualms whatsoever with using manipulation to emotionally high-jack your relationship; and also using strong arm tactics like guilt and disrespectful behavior, to attempt to undermine the success of new partnerships. I hope one day all the external game playing stops, and we get to enjoy a “normal” relationship, where the only important anniversaries we truly treasure, are ones actually relevant to our own relationship, and not that of a former union. Surely, that’s not too much to ask?
It’s not too much to ask. And sometimes, you get blindsided by the past – though in my experience that lessens with the passing of time – but people who want to use you as their emotional outlet? That doesn’t stop until you make it clear that it needs to stop and you step away from them when they don’t listen. Again, jmo and experience.
Thank you Ann, for your insightful perspective. I have decided to step away from the external “adult” who is using our relationship as some sort of “emotional outlet”, or “punching bag”, mostly because I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to accept and endure the drama and conflict this individual quite intentionally keeps bringing to the table.
My beautiful relationship is primarily devoid of dysfunction, and I’d like to keep it safe and protected. I’m very appreciative of enjoying a high-value relationship, which is based on love, respect and mutually healthy boundaries. I feel that protecting our union is paramount, especially with all the complexities which seem to come with blended family issues. It’s a fine line some days for sure.
Unfortunately, there are occasions when my W will over protect and over compensate for tragic events of the past, especially if placed between a rock and a hard place, and this is my current dilemma, because of the toxic overflow which spills into our union. I’m desperately trying to allow him “his space” for dealing with these matters, as they are not my boundaries to implement. At the end of the day, I can only instill my own protective boundaries, when other attempts continue to fail. Neither my W or I invite drama, conflict or dysfunctional behaviors into our relationship, so there are times I can feel resentment, when they are thrust upon us, and then I will feel guilty for feeling resentful. It’s not a nice place to be. To help myself, I’m trying to foster more patience and resilience in this regard. I don’t ever want to become the nagging shrew, especially regarding issues I don’t consider pertinent to my relationship. Maybe I will try increasing my mindfulness, exercise some more and take up regular meditation, as a coping mechanism. I’m hopeful, but also not overly confident, these issues will dissipate with time. Who knows?
I wish I found your blog sooner. I am divorce and married to a widower (his wife pass away 1 1/2 years). I love him very much even though friends were initially against it because of the 19yrs age gap. Before we got married we agreed to the arrangement that both of us live separately and only stayed over at my place for the weekend. I wasn’t ready to “relocate” the kids (my children from my first marriage) not until after she finish collage (2years time). His adult daughter is staying in the current house with him together with her boyfriend. Before marriage my husband wanted to sell of his current house because there were too any memories there and life has to go on. After 6 months down the road I have yet to see any actions taken. Even though he has been talking about it since dating.
I have spoken to him many many times about how uncomfortable I feel with him staying in that house. Until today all his wife procession is still there even her wardrobe untouched, all personal items literally nothing has change (she’s like still staying there) not even expired food to say the least. He kept telling me how much he love me but still. He even told me about how he has already bought a burial spot next to his late wife (I am not from western country, that’s what they practise here in my country). I was like shattered but I kept it to myself
He kept telling me that he does not know how to start and when I tried helping him out he was like….perhaps my daughter/son will like to have this and that, at the end nothing moves nor changed at all. Although I managed to throw away all the expired food!
He kept saying that he is trying to disposed the house as quickly as he can but honestly I have not seen anything. Imagine every night, he goes back to his home shared with late wife sleeping on the same bed shared with all her things intact in the room. I have never spend a night in his house, Can’t bear it. I have only been to his house not more than 5 times.
I was alone in my first marriage now alone in my second marriage and even death I will be “alone”. I still want this marriage to work for I truly do love him but if this thought and feeling keeps coming up than what am I to do from here
I have been looking at your story for a few days now and I am at a loss for a reply.
Generally, no one ends up reading my blog posts about widowed unless they are really stumped and don’t have anyone in real life to talk things through with.
Normally, I don’t give advice as much as I just provide people with things to think about and make some suggestions that they can take or leave.
But I really don’t know what to say that might help you.
There is a Facebook group called Dating a Widower where you will find women who are dating, have dated , are married to or are no longer married to widowers. They might be a better resource than I am.
All I will say is that you don’t seem to be in a marriage that is doing much for you. And unless he is willing to work on your issues, I don’t see how you can fix it by yourself.
Hi Ann, sometimes to know that someone is willing to listen with sincerity is the best advice ever. Realized that the answer is right in front of you…..its more of like, are you brave enough to take the first step and face it or just praying for the best. I am going to chose the later cos than only my prayers will be blessed. It was nice meeting you..
I know I’m coming late to the party, but thank you so much for this blog.
You are welcome.
I have tried telling the woman i am seeing that the photos of her wedding to her late husband, etc upset me, and all i get is a huuge argument in response.
“What…you dont think people can love more than one person?” Is her favorite.
Or “Anyone i am with will have to understand i love my husband …always will.”
Good for you..i actually love you NOW..and IM not dead.
Im actually about to throw in the towel because i can NOT get her to understand that she is hurting me. Instead, she tells me that “we will have to agree to disagree”. Actually, i dont HAVE to agree to shit..and ive about had enough of agreeing to being just the OTHER guy she’s in love with…even though one of us is dead.
Sorry that you have run into this memorabilia issue with your girlfriend. Judging from the quotes, she appears to be visiting some of the message boards and blogs where this attitude is held to be sacred truth in terms of widowhood and dating. But not all widowed are like this. Most understand that you can’t move on and move into a new relationship if you have a foot (or both) in the past.
Not to say that it isn’t fine to keep pics and things, but if your new partner objects to have them on display, his feelings should come first.
The only pics I have up of the late husband are in the daughter’s room. Just a couple and they are hers. Kids should be allowed to have pics of a late parent on display in their own rooms.
Anything else, however, is disrespectful and hurtful to new partners. It’s almost the same thing as making comparisons between the late spouse and the new partner – just more subtle.
You don’t have to put up with it or except it as normal (it’s not really) and the things that she is saying to you about it make it seem as though she is trying to manipulate you into going along with it. Regardless, she is clearly not hearing you and that’s a big point of concern. Your feelings should be just as important as hers. It’s your relationship too.
I am not surprised that you are ready to walk. Men put up with this sort of thing far, far less than women do.
Its not really that I object to her keeping a few pictures. It’s all the pictures labeled “Soulmates” and other such things that REALLY hurt when I see them.
since I am divorced, she insists that its different somehow…like I am not supposed to keep anything from MY marriage at all. You know, widows arent the only people who have good memories of being married at one time. My marriage was sabotaged by my exwife. I dont want to be with her anymore (its been almost 10 years) but I DO have good memories of what it felt like to be someone’s husband. But because I’m divorced, I’m supposed to completely erase MY past while she is ENCOURAGED to keep hanging on to hers because she is a widow.
I just keep asking myself: Five years ago, would SHE have tolerated someone doing this to HER?
She keeps telling me she wants things to work out, and I keep telling her that I cannot be with someone who will not give herself over to me completely…no matter HOW much I love her…which is a lot.
I just do not understand why she seems to think I’m asking her to erase part of her life when I am not. I am just asking her to put it in the past, like I have with MY former marriage. I dont have MY wedding photos anywhere to be seen, not do I have pictures of the day my son was born, which was the happiest day of my entire life….because almost all of them have my exwife in them and I can understand it making her uncomfortable.
I’m just asking for the same respect, and she seems unwilling. It’s not that I am not willing to be patient or even supportive…its that I can NOT allow myself to share her heart with anyone else, even if he’s dead and gone.
The western notion of romantic soul mates is one that many women (and some men) cling to like an emotional life raft. Its legacy is mostly misery, imo. Once you believe that you’ve had a soul mate, all other romances/loves automatically become “less than”.
So here is a question that needs to be asked. if she and her LH were soul mates, why bother with you? She’s been to the mountain top, right?
The answer is, of course, that she feels entitled to her spot on the mountain. She wants to stay there and as you point out, when marriage is good that is a hard thing to give up.
Widowed people often go looking for new partners because they know that marriage/coupledom can be a really good thing and they miss it. They miss sharing life with someone who is special and think that about them in return.
But, the late spouse can’t come along for the ride in a tangible sense. Just can’t and you are in the right to insist this and she is wrong for insisting otherwise.
However, there is one thing that you need to realize and it’s a biggie for many people, so I understand why it’s making you unhappy.
The late spouse is never, ever gone. Even if she never mentions him, takes down all his pictures and puts away any of the little leftovers from their life – he lives on in her memory and the love she had for him still exists there.
My late husband pops up a lot. I don’t mention it and I rarely ever mention him, but unlike Elvis, he hasn’t left the building. And it’s not a pining thing and it’s not an active feeling, but I married the guy, had his kid and spent three years watching him die. The mark left behind isn’t going anywhere.
Does my husband have anything to worry about? No, he is my number one concern and focus. He knows this because I show him and tell him everyday.
What’s most important are the actions not the stray thoughts.
Now, does he think about his late wife and still love her? I don’t know. I don’t ask. Because it’s not a competition and it doesn’t matter. I am here and she is not. And that’s reality. She’s not coming back. And her memory is no threat to me or my marriage because my husband makes it clear that he loves me and that I am his number one priority.
Love isn’t in the heart anyway. It’s a decision you make. To do or do not.
Most of us are not fresh out of the box. We’ve loved before, now and possibly again in the future. Everyone we’ve loved has left an imprint for good or bad. Short of a brain-wipe, I am not sure how you get rid of them or even if that is a good idea. With them comes all the things you’ve learned and some of that made you an awesome catch.
But it’s understandable that you feel you are sharing her heart b/c her words and actions are giving you cause to doubt. If she were to change her tune, I don’t think that the whole “shared heart” thing would even enter your mind. You don’t feel number one because she hasn’t made the choice – from what you are telling me – to make you number one.
I often tell women who query here about widowers that men who love you will move mountains to be with you and make relationships work. The same is true in reverse. Women in love don’t set up competitions or play new loves against old ones. They only do that when they are testing you because they haven’t made up their minds yet. Once they are sure – that stops and they throw themselves all in.
If she is as committed to you and the relationship as she is saying she is, her actions would show it.
Oh my GOD thank you for this!
well….finally! someone that speaks the truth about involvement with a widower or widow …and the frustrations, and literal hell they drag others thru at times, and the courage to tell them THEY are being self centered/selfish in shrining or martyering their late spouse..awesome advice to the widower and to us, the GOW/WOW’s …i will be reading this blog from now on….thanks for your honesty and candid advice…so refreshing …particularly this article …this article ROCKS!!
Thank you. I will add though that I think it is a smaller portion of the widowed crowd who do this. Most are receptive to “constructive” criticism when their new loves feel marginalized. And it’s not like there is a handbook for the widowed when they decided to date and remarry like there is for those who are divorced. You will find far more resources and advice for dating and remarrying if you divorce than if your spouse dies.
If you haven’t already, you should check out Abel Keogh’s Widower Wednesday. His is also a practical, realistic approach to dating and remarrying widowed.
thanks Annie! i am already aware of Abel’s excellent site…your insight and advice are much needed…precise and to the point..enjoyed reading it..speaks volumns about what its like to encounter that world and all those that promote the “widower card” being dealt to those attempting to have relationships with them…
Dating can be difficult regardless but in the end, it’s not rocket science. It’s about respect and putting the other person first. That’s what has always made relationships work. Nothing really has changed, but widowed are taught by the grief culture that something essential has changed and not all of them will come to recognize this on their own.
After my boyfirend changed his job I spend huge amount of time in his home so we could say that I have been living with him for few months. But there is some issue making me feel I do not belong there. He gave away some part of his deceased spouse belongings. Still a lot of her stuff is next to mine in the bathroom etc. One day he announced me that he promised to give the rest of her clothes to one of his friend. However, this have not happened yet. We argued about that and I was told he wishes to resolve this issue by himself and by no means want me to interfere. I’ve read that cleaning the house of the deceased sposue belongings should precede new relationship. Sometimes I feel like an intruder in that house. We agreed that he had not been ready for a new relationship at the point we started hanging out however I pointed out that II did not consider leaving at that moment. His keeping wife’s stuff rather seems unfair to me. Yet I’ve decided to wait. There are three options: one day soon he will overcome his clinging to the past and will move on (probably some professional councelling will be necessary), I will resign or I will stay with him and feel the way I feel now for the rest of my life. I perfectly understand that it was too soon and this issue makes our relationship unhealthy in certain aspects. However, I decided to try to survive the issue still keeping in my mind that this may give the least favourable result.
My husband lost his wife in August of 2006. He met me in December. We were friends about a month before he suggested exploring the possibility of more and by March of 2007, we were engaged and I was making plans to quit my job, sell my house and move me and child to Canada. So here is what I think of the “too soon” thing – bullshit.
When widowed (or recently divorced/broken up) take steps to enter a new relationship soon after the loss of their significant other, they know exactly what they are doing. You don’t end up in a romantic relationship by accident. One might catch you by surprise, but you don’t lose the ability to decide for yourself what you want and to move ahead or politely decline. Ppl who find themselves ambivalent simply don’t know if the person is right for them. That’s a harsh thing to admit to oneself and the person one is involved with. Easier to lay blame on “it’s too soon” and the fresh wounds from death, divorce, etc.
People who are sure of who they are and what they want don’t fall back on excuses. They act. And someone who loves you will move mountains to ensure that you feel number one and would correct those issues that give you doubts or make you feel unloved.
And it really is that simple, but in our society we school women in particular to believe that they should have to coax relationships out of men, which is why we stay with those who are probably just passing time with us.
You are free to try and wait him out. It’s not impossible, but the time spent runs the risk of building up hurt and resentment that can haunt, hurt and hinder the growth of a good relationship for years to come.
Keeping clothes is not unusual but stuff in the bathroom? That’s a message.
I wish you good luck. I hope this turns out as you hope. You deserve that.
First I have to disclose that I have never lost a spouse, so maybe this is speaking out of turn. But I was stunned by the self-centeredness and denial exhibited by the mother of 6 who wrote the blog post linked here. I will freely admit that I cannot imagine the pain of losing my husband, but I DO know that checking out as mother to my four children to indulge my grief would quite simply not be an option. I am actually not sure whether I am more appalled at this mother’s free admission that she was not there for her kids when they desperately needed her most, or all the replies patting her on the back and telling her it is perfectly okay and understandable. No, it is NOT okay for a child or children to become “orphans” upon the loss of a parent. It is a million miles from okay.
When I lost my dad at 23, my mother’s love and partner of 25 years, she (one might say) had every right to retreat into a grief cave and stay there, and leave me to cope on my own. After all, I was technically an adult, the nest was empty. But I also was single mom to two children under the age of two, and I was struggling in many ways that were separate from the loss of my dad, with whom I was extremely close. My mother never shut me out, was never not there for me when I needed her, and never for a moment made me feel as though her grief was greater than mine (or that there was any call for any type of comparison to begin with). She picked herself up and dusted herself off, went back to teaching, continued to be a support system for me (as I hope I was for her), and focused herself on indulging every ounce of her overwhelming emotions into love for me and her two grandbabies.
My mother and I have had our share of mother-daughter issues over the years, but one thing I absolutely admire her for is the way she handled my father’s untimely death. And now that I have read this and realized the effort it must have taken for her to continue mothering me despite her own grief, I realize that in the very near future – when I can do it face to face – I owe her a huge thank-you for taking the high road, not dissolving into a helpless mass of grief and leaving me to sort through the aftermath by myself, and for giving me such a great example to follow if (God forbid) I ever find myself in her position. I know without a doubt that the way she handled things is no less than my father would have expected and asked from her, and that wherever he is, he is proud of her for getting back on her feet and soldiering on, and I also know that it is exactly what my husband would expect of me if something were to happen to him. I would certainly hate to have to face him in the afterlife and explain how I was just too wrapped up in myself and my own feelings to fulfill my obligations as parent to our children.
I have no respect for those who wholesale abdicate their parental obligations because life got tough for them. I have less respect for those who basically consider it a badge of honor in some way and seek to justify or who blame their children for being upset in the aftermath.
And you are right. Adult children don’t have the same expectations and in some ways, grappling with disaster and death is part of learning to be an adult – an ongoing process b/c every age brings new challenges. But it is a poor parent indeed who ignores their youngsters or teens because they feel they “deserve” the emotional time-out and it’s a questionable parent who ignores the struggles of their fledgling adults fresh out in the world and encountering hurdles.
But as I have stated before, widowhood doesn’t change who you always were in terms of your basic sense of what is right/wrong and it doesn’t make strong people out of those whose natures are basically needy and/or helpless. Sometimes it is the strong spouse who dies.
There were many times when I questioned my parenting once I was doing it solo, which was long before my late husband died. I was not happy about it and the irony was palpable, given that early in my 30’s, when I was not sure if I would ever marry, I toyed with and discarded the idea of single parenthood. I knew I didn’t have the desire or the personality for it. So I worked very hard to err on the side of what was best for my daughter throughout her dad’s illness and after his death. I wasn’t always perfect. No parent can be. But I was always taking care of business b/c I knew from my experiences teaching public school that a child abandoned during parental crisis is a future troubled teen or young adult – and they are far more work then.
I too was appalled by the support of this attitude, but it’s just one of the issues I have with the new grief culture and one that I am criticized for holding and speaking up against too.
Well, you certainly won’t hear any criticism from me. I admire your courage in speaking out against things that are irresponsible, selfish and/or just plain wrong. It is a shame that the grief culture has gone the way of not only accepting but condoning this behavior.
And it is really honestly something that I do not get. Again, I have never been in the shoes of a widow, but I know that my biggest comfort and solace would be my children, and as doing for others is one of the most effective and time-proven ways to cope with emotional pain, I feel like my kids would give me a reason to get up every day, see to their needs, and move forward. I simply cannot imagine shutting them out while I shut down.
This mother may feel that she was “vomited upon” (what a crass and unkind way to describe her child’s expressions of pain and confusion) but I would be surprised if her other kids are not holding onto a great deal of pain and resentment as well, which has done damage to her relationships with them. that she has only begun to see the effects of. And the saddest part of all is that she seems singularly unconcerned about it.
Although I know widowed who would say that they found solace in their children, the unspoken truth is that children’s needs are a drain on parents even under the best of circumstances. Their additional needs when a parent dies makes it more difficult for the widowed parent to take care of themselves, which is essential b/c they are the lynchpin that holds everything together. While I love my daughter very much, having her made things more difficult for me and the “joy” of her isn’t always so joyful. Kids don’t stop be me-centric even in light of tragedy.
But I have always maintained that nervous breakdowns or just wallowing in grief is a luxury, and not one a single parent can usually afford – unless they can hire some of the heavier lifting out. (The summer after LH died, I actually contracted with a friend’s teen daughter to be a part time au pair and it was a life-saver for me. The summer before, I made use of the daycare’s summer program. Not all widowed are blessed with resources though).
And yeah, the “vomiting” thing made me cringe too. I can understand frustration but to write that in a public forum that your child can and probably does read? Seek sympathy while settling a score with your kid? Questionable and gets back to my point about the kind of behavior that is given a pass in the new grief culture and serves only to teach the wrong things about slogging through the death of a spouse to vulnerable people new widowhood. jmo, of course. And who listens to me?
Wow, I have just started reading your blogs and, from the standpoint of someone who is fresh out of a relationship with a widower, things are so much clearer. He was SO not ready to move on. The photo is still on the nightstand, the adult children are ruling his life and he has played the widow card too many times to count. I was trying so hard to be understanding and it was always backfiring. His son (lives with him) was completely disrespectful to me and his daughter (lives out of town) didn’t even know I existed after 9 months.
I wish I had done some research 9 months ago and until today I would have vowed never to date a widower again. At least now I feel better equipped to deal with the situation should it ever arise again. Thank you!
The adult children were likely ruling the roost and not all that courteous or well-behaved prior to their mother’s death. Grief doesn’t morph respectful young adults who know their boundaries into demon children. It speaks more to a lack of earlier parenting than anything else.
Items in intimate spaces speaks to readiness but hiding the person you are dating is something that all men do when they are just dating or they’ve already decided that you aren’t the one and they are killing time with you, waiting for her to show up (it’s a man thing/not a widower thing).
How can he possibly think I’m not the one when clearly, I am such an awesome person?
Obviously you are right and I need to hear it but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. Thank you for your honesty.
That’s just a possible explanation but typically men who believe they are with the right person will fall all over themselves to make the relationship work/do whatever it takes. It could be that he is just not ready to move on regardless of how awesome you are. But patience and understanding usually don’t change either scenario.
I know that we woman are schooled from a young age to believe that we can love someone into loving us back, but more often than not this leads to years of wasted time. The battering our self-confidence, pride and feelings take makes fertile ground for future relationship pitfalls as well. We are told that this is a price worth paying for a “great catch”, but shouldn’t a man be a great catch from go rather than a major renovation project? The fact that he had a successful marriage once doesn’t mean he can replicate it especially if he has to be cajoled into it in the first place.
Only you can decide the price of admission but generally, short of a lightening strike, reluctant men and selfish children are not likely to become less so no matter how much you choose to sacrifice of yourself.
Thanks Annie for posting about this. It was brave of you. I’m widowed six and a half years and, although I cleared out a lot of his stuff quite early on, it’s only in the last few months that I have felt brave enough to close the door on him and turn to the future.
When I am lucky enough to find a man who wants to date me (that could take a while!) I will bear your wise words in mind.
The truth is not particularly brave, but it is perhaps unusual when it comes to widowed blogging, but thank you.
We are ready to move on – and that means a lot of things other than just deciding to date again too – when we decide to. There is more choice to it than they tell you. I am sure though that there is someone who would take you if that is what you want. Good luck and thanks for commenting.
Amen. And thank you. You have so articulately put into words what so many of us widows who are “moving on” (or have moved on, or are somewhere in between) struggle with. My husband died almost 9 years ago and I am happily remarried. The photos are long gone. And yet, the physical reminders linger: most obviously, our daughter (whom I would never want to part with for obvious reasons : ) But you’ve reminded me that I’m surrounded by plenty of artifacts that I’ve been hanging onto for practical reasons like furniture, the car, a rental house…
It’s time for me to move away from more of it. You’ve given me inspiration to conduct a new wave of space clearing/cleansing this spring. It’ll be good for my soul as well as the ongoing health and happiness of my current marriage. I’m looking forward it!
Thanks again. Your blog is wonderful and even though I don’t comment all that often, I do read your posts on a regular basis. You are an amazing and talented writer!
Sometimes we have to hang onto some of the practical things. Cars and rooms full of furniture are a tad on the expensive side, but slowly, I think that when we are in new relationships, the surroundings should reflect it.
I am glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks for coming out of lurkerdom.
I’d suppose so many people say it because it’s a normal concern, that in order to love someone new you might have to erase your past. It’s more about integrating than “putting away the past;” integrating the past with the present. I think we’re a little more complex than that. While I wouldn’t want to date a widower who rattled on and on about his first wife, I would only think more of him if he spoke lovingly of her from time to time, especially if they shared a life and children and a rich history which contributed to him becoming a person I could fall in love with. I would hope to find someone I could speak freely with- not every uncensored thought, but to share my deepest feelings, which will always include some sadness over Joe not being here, if not me then for our kids.
I agree you shouldn’t let your family or friends treat your new partner disrespectfully. Nobody should put up with that.
I’m 53. It’s been eighteen months since my husband died suddenly. I’m getting to the point where I would like to date.. but I can’t and won’t pretend the last 31 years didn’t happen. I have photos of my family, and Joe will always be a part of my family, whether he’s physically here or not. I would hope that someday I could find someone who would respect my past, as I would respect his. Not to dwell there, but to know that’s a huge part of who we are today. I can see the “no photos in the bedroom,” but you can’t expect someone to erase their past.
Why do so many of us trot out the “can’t expect us to erase our pasts” chestnut? Anyone would suspect we are handed a playbook of worn out cliches at the funeral home as often as I’ve read those words. No one expects that but neither do they expect to share the billing w/someone whose turn and time is over. It’s about priority. Loving again means making the new person the priority over the late spouse and that includes putting away the past in an emotional and physical respect.
When I bring this up, I am not talking about a family photo here or there but walls and mantles covered. Urns decked out like church icons and adult children/friends/family who are actively disdainful of your new partner. You would not believe the number of widows who think a new partner has to prove his/her love by putting up with what amounts to disrespect and borders on emotional abuse.
Thank you, Annie. Very well said.
You are welcome. There are plenty of places on the net that will tell widowed what they want to hear in terms of dating but I think they need the truth and to understand that dating means actively moving forward, not just thinking about it or working on thinking about it or anything other than action.
I think it depends on the couple, and the individual people in the relationship. We both have photos out, and we both have keepsakes. Some are tucked away, and a couple out in the open. I have not seen it mess up our marital relationship at all. We did agree that such items did not belong in our bedroom, however.
I think our situations are a bit different. When both couples are coming from the widowed perspective, we tend to not overthink or worry or compare b/c we have a basic understanding of the dynamics. But let’s face it, most young widowed will not be dating other widowed ppl. It’s too small a demographic. When the pond is mostly stocked with ppl whose relationship loss experience is not based on a person dying, the expectations are going to be that you move on in word and deed. It’s the exceptionally confident person who can live in a shrine and be pummeled on every conceivable side with the awesomeness of the late spouse, and it’s those situations where a person is usually quite clearly expected to be just fine and dandy with runner up status. You read the posts on the board as well as I did. Widowed farther out telling newbies that only a person who is totally cool with an emotional threesome should be considered good dating material and everyone else is jealous, insecure, or trying to control you.
And you two also did it by mutual agreement, coming from an equal footing. That’s not always the case. In fact, from what I’ve read, it’s seldom the case.
No one ever tells young widowed to suck it up because suggesting that they are being unreasonable and maybe even selfish flies in the face of the worn out idea that ppl should be able to grieve all over everyone in their lives from their new partners to their children without reproach. Grief shouldn’t excuse you when you use and hurt ppl and there are widowed out there doing just that and thinking it’s okay b/c of the misinformation that many books and web havens are giving them.