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)