being happily remarried after being widowed


A local radio station has a Facebook page where they post a daily topic and invite listeners to post their two cents. Today’s topic was a tired old retreading of the false divorce stats that conservatives and ultra religious types love to trot out to support their somewhat punitive ideas about relationships and marriage.

The gist of their query was soliciting relationship advice from the listeners.

What Do You Do To Keep Your Marriage From Ending Up a Divorce Statistic?

From the predictable to the not funny came the replies, but the red herring stats fired me up enough to go and google up something resembling actual numbers and here is what I found:

  • The percentage of marriages in a given year that will end in divorce before their 30th wedding anniversary has increased slightly from 36.1 per cent in 1998 to 37.9 per cent in 2004. [3]

 

  • In 2003, the risk of divorce decreased slowly the longer a couple stayed married beyond three years. [4]

 

  • The divorce rate for first marriages is likely lower; “first marriages have a 67% chance of lasting a lifetime.” [5]

 

So while Canadians marry at fairly low rates per capita (with Alberta’s number being the highest, which is a reflection of the economy here more than anything), getting hitched is not a death knell for a relationship. In fact, statistically, you have a greater chance of splitting up if you just live together than you do if you marry the object of your affection.

Rob and I have been discussing the “living together” versus “marriage” thing recently. Apparently one of his sisters-in-law suggested to him – a month before we married – that he and I simply try living together first to “make sure it will work out”.

The worst advice you can offer a young couple is “live together for a while” because “trial marriages” actually have the worst statistical survival rates. The only non-legal arrangements that fare worse are those of couples who move in together to “save money” on rent or other bills. The only really good reason to live with someone before marrying them is love. Going into a co-habitation without love, and a commitment to a future together, is just asking for the privilege to someday argue furiously over who gets the cat or the flat screen tv.

But marriage advice. I don’t know that I’ve spent enough of my adult life married to qualify as an expert but here goes:

Shower together.

Yes, that’s it. Shower. Together. Every night if at all possible.

Okay, sure, open communication. Putting the other’s needs at the top of your to do list daily. Common interests, value systems and goals. And being able to have discussions on a wider range than simply the grocery list and the children. All important. As is, according to new studies, just being consistently kind to each other.

Showering together? Key.

Why?

Good question because I certainly didn’t shower with the late husband. But with Rob, we discovered very early that the most surefire way to touch base, in a manner of speaking, every day without fail was to take our nightly shower together. You can’t avoid conversation, eye contact and a certainly amount of physicality in a shower – just ask anyone in prison, if you don’t believe me.

With a small child, the shower became the logical “get away” when we were on holiday and cramped together in a single hotel room, and it has always been a good way to reconnect at the end of long days when other contact was limited.

I’d like to add that it’s a good way to conserve water and soap, but that just hasn’t been a side benefit.

 

 


My own work. Created using "Inkscape"...

Image via Wikipedia

The limit is 500 but I received a dispensation for another 50. So how many words have I written?

843.

A first draft should just flow freely. Even when you know there are word count constraints, the first rule is just get it down and done. Worry about length in the edit.

If I’d had a thousand, the mandate would have been relatively easy.

Explain how you and Rob made your relationship work.

Which begs the question of why our both having been widowed set the odds against us in a way that other relationships aren’t as challenged, but the book is advice based and geared towards women who find themselves dating and/or in serious relationships with widowers.

A widower once showed up in the forum who took issue with the idea that dating him would be more difficult than dating someone with a different set of variables. He argued that divorced or never married men presented women with similar issues. He ranted and raved quite a bit – which left the question of why he would need special handling not all that much in doubt – but he made a good point. One I don’t disagree with really. Dating is dating. Baggage is baggage to be unpacked and then put away in a drawer, donated to a charity or tossed in the trash.

And everyone comes to dating with a unique to him/her set of details for someone else to parse.

So what did we do?

In 550 words or less?

We wanted it enough to do all of the things that the experts tell you are critical in establishing and maintaining a good relationship but that most people are too lazy, caught up in life or simply resist because it wrecks the whole sexy romance aura of it to bother doing.

  • Did you know your partner’s complete medical history before you signed on the dotted line? Or debt obligations? Credit problems? Portfolio? Retirement plans? I did. And Rob had my info too.
  • And did you talk about your fears? Plans for the future? How to raise the kids – discipline and Santa Clause issues alike?
  • When things came up – as they do – did you speak up or stuff it until it exploded in a Technicolor montage of every little thing that drives you crazy, being sure to include all miscues and imagined slights?

There was not a lot of doubt where Rob and I were headed. Even in the very beginning, our emails read like two people mining for a potential relationship. We weren’t youngsters and we don’t come from the school of drifting until something is so obviously a relationship we are forced to make it an action item.* Though Rob thought we could perhaps live together for a bit, the immigration issues, compounded by insurance and employment and child concerns and my rather immovable point of view on the stupidity/just asking for trouble problem with the whole free-form co-habitation thing, made that a less desirable alternative. Rob gallantly refrained from pointing out that we were engaged and planning to be married in September anyway, which was really a sweet thing for him to do.

Both of us did the cohabitating thing with the late spouses. Rob and Shelley at the behest of her grandmother, who believed couples needed at least two years to practice before tying a knot**. I went along with cohabitating with Will but I laid my cards on the table first and put a time limit on it, and he was invited to agree or move along.  He found my conditions completely reasonable and actually proposed well before his time was up – as he had planned to all along I later learned. Living together is a rather pointless exercise for those who’ve decided that marriage is what they want anyway. But it mollified others and provides the illusion of having put time and thought into your decision.

When I share the odd story here and there about our courtship and the early part of our marriage, I leave out the work part. Partly because it’s not romantic and partly because I – incorrectly no doubt – assume that everyone knows that good relationships don’t bubble up from the sea-foam like Aphrodite.

Things came up.

We had three children in varying stages of not being terribly pleased with us. There were in-laws who felt trampled upon and friends who weren’t sure how to react. Our mothers were supportive but not all that secretly worried. My dad was about the only one who wasn’t too concerned.

Logistics. Moving and merging households. Immigration. And the emotional residue from care-taking and grief still wanting central stage from time to time, having been in the spotlight for so long how could it be otherwise?

550 words. I almost need a book.

*For the record – again – I am personally opposed to living together in a mindless manner. Nothing good is the usual result. As an off-shoot, I don’t think it’s wise to know what you want but keep it from the other person because they either a) don’t want the same thing really or b) you think they might meander into line with your way of thinking if you just stay casual about it. To varying degrees, they are all recipes for personal misery times two (or more if you are foolish enough to impose this on children either by dragging them along for the ride or creating one from scratch).

**At least that is what Rob told me she told them. My theory? No one was crazy about the idea of Rob and Shelley marrying. I suspect that Shelley’s grandmother used her considerable influence to simply slow the two of the them down a bit, and they went along because they were incredibly young and marriage  – at least in the days of our teenage yore – seemed pretty permanent. But that’s just my theory.


Today is the second anniversary of Shelley’s death. Two weeks ago MidKid was quizzing Rob about plans for the day and if I felt uncomfortable marking the anniversary. Like most people who haven’t lived this, she is curious about the effect that  “living in another woman’s shadow” has on me. After all I live in Shelley’s house. Sleep in her bed with her husband.

A more introspective person might have trouble with that.

It is a curious thing. I have spent more time in the past year and a half participating in the remembrances of Shelley and her departed loved ones than I have remembering my own late husband. In fact, as I thought more about it I realized I have devoted more time recently to memorializing people I don’t know than I have ever spent acknowledging the death anniversaries of members of my own family. Aside from having masses said, of course, we just didn’t count birthdays anymore or visit graves other than over the Memorial Day weekend. In fact aside from Will, I can’t even remember the specific dates anyone died, even those whose death had a great impact on me and my family.

What probably causes me the most discomfort is that fact that I don’t feel a ton of need to mark dates of death or anniversaries of birth, and so I am at a loss when others do feel the need.

Rob has spent the last several days telling Shelley’s story because he felt it was something he could do to mark the day.

Sometimes it seems very important to mark the day(s) but how to do it is not always as obvious.

Other widowed we know tell their stories. Some about the end. Some about the beginning.

I wonder what Shelley would think about it all. I sometimes think I know more about her than I do my own sisters but I haven’t any idea when it comes to this.

Will would be appalled.

Although I have written about his death, and I did that very early on, I plan to revisit it again only when I write my memoir this fall – and then never again from a specific detail point of view. Most of what I write/have written where grief and widowhood are concerned is about me and the experiences I had. And about moving on*.

Will’s story is his.

I don’t feel right about exposing him more than I already do to the world. He was a very private person. This blog for example would have made him very uncomfortable.

Sometimes – okay, all the time – I feel that the observations of other widowed and the omnipresent role that their deceased spouses take in their current lives is just proof of what a terrible person I am because Will has no role or place now. Often I don’t think about him or our life at all.

My last post about our wedding anniversary almost didn’t happen. The first version was a very angry diatribe about why I can’t romanticize the past and am much happier where I am than I have ever been in my whole life – thank you very much. I still feel defensive about being happy when so many people would go back in a heartbeat. But it’s ridiculous. My life is not open for debate, and I don’t need to feel bad for being where I want to be and happy about it.

The compromise post was just memories. Not great ones but they went with the soundtrack, and the song seemed appropriate to the event and how I feel about it. And most important, they are mine.

But I don’t know that I want to continue marking days**. In fact, I know I don’t. It feels like obligation*** rather than true sentiment.

Shelley died two years ago today.

I owe my happiness to her.

It’s not a comfortable thing to know, and I don’t know at all what it says about life or the universe or God or me.

*I hate the term “moving forward” but I adopted it when I was at the YWBB and posting because it was less incendiary, but what we do really is move on.

** I had already broached Rob with the idea that just he and the girls get together. I am not uncomfortable with gatherings but I am keenly aware that they hold back because BabyD is there and that I am not their mom.

*** Obligation is probably not the best word. I feel I need to be around for Rob. The girls are adults but we are all still children to our parents. I know in my twenties the fall back position when I was around my folks was effortless, and the girls need to be able to lean on Rob and express their grief. They are not as far in their journey as he is because kids of all ages grieve in spurts and in between the experiences that are transforming them.


As we were getting ready for bed last night, Rob remarked, “You know, I think you have a pretty wonderful husband.” And I agreed. And I should have been the one to say so in fact. So I will do it today.

All week Rob has been the rock in this lice business. He took over the laundry duty. He was there for both rounds of delousing shampoo. He nit-picked non-stop and with the patience of Job. In between he went to work, got our personal directive stuff written, took care of the car insurance issues for Jordan, and made time for us to have tea in the city before the lawyer’s appointment. He also generously went solo one evening so I could go to my writer’s group. He is more than wonderful. In my whole life I haven’t been able to lean on someone the way he lets me lean on him. It’s a sometimes frightening thing for someone like me who was so used to having to do everything for myself and not really having anyone I could count on in all manner of situations or crises.

Last year around this time, Rob was sitting up late into the night with me as I battled some pretty awful insomnia leading up to the first anniversary of Will’s death. We talked on the phone a bit but the bulk of our conversations were carried on IM. Hours at a time. He astounded me with his selfless concern for me and what I was feeling even when I knew that he was dealing with his own grief. He would send me funnies by email everyday to take me mind off things and make sure I smiled a bit in each 24-hr period. He is still the one who cares most if the corners of my mouth inch upward every day.

Although I am sure it seems as though I do nothing but talk about Rob, there are volumes more things that I kept to myself about him and our relationship. Things that are too TMI – even for me – and things that belong to us alone or memories that are just mine to have and hold. In the absence of these details, I hope I am still able to convey the depth of my love for him and the love that we share.

I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else or with anyone else other than here and with Rob. I can’t picture a future, near or far, without him in it. My favorite place to be is wherever he is and my chief project is our life together.


Wedding Dress For Happy Couple in Love

Image by epSos.de via Flickr

On the morning of June 27th at just about this time in the morning, I will have been married for just a bit more than half a day. Rob and I remind ourselves often that time is too precious to wish away, but as I gear up for another week of separation I wish I owned a Toynbee Convector.

 

There is an old Ray Bradbury short story that I used to teach to my seventh graders back in the day. It is about a man who fakes a trip to the future in order to give the world hope of a better world to come. The faked proof he presents inspires people to go out and actually create the world he only imagined for them. I remind myself when I am feeling impatient and missing my love’s physical reassurance that what we are doing in our time apart is giving substance to our dreams.

 

You can’t build a future if you aren’t able to envision it in your mind’s eye.

 

 


Gravestones, Koyoto, Japan

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Everything happens for a reason.

 

Without a doubt that is one of the more irritating platitudes you will hear during the first year or so of widowhood. Because even if it is true, it’s the last thing you want to try and force your shattered heart to accept. That the love you had, the life you lived, was in some ways never meant to be. At least not in the Hallmark card version of marriage most of us view as the rule rather than the exception. Two white-haired octogenarians sitting on a porch in the twilight, holding hands and rocking slowly in a swing.

 

My husband got sick just about five years ago when I was pregnant with our only child. He died a long slow degrading death. It was a genetic disease, and he passed the marker for it along to our daughter who will someday run the risk of passing it on to a son, who will die the same way his grandfather did. Meant to be?

 

We live in a cause/effect world, so yes, probably there is a reason for everything that happens. That doesn’t mean that the reason was something profound or wonderful or even good for all parties involved. And it doesn’t have anything to do with people being good or bad. People will come into and exit our lives for our whole life. That is just the way life is. Does knowing this make it easier to accept? Hurt less?

 

Was I meant to be a widow? Raise a child on my own? Maybe. For a short time this has been my destiny. Even if there is a “plan” mapped out for us all, what difference does that make? Would knowing make Will’s death, the way he died even, hurt less? Make being a widowed mother easier? Meeting Rob the way I did and coming to love and trust and depend on him as I do. Destiny? Sometimes there are no answers. We just do the best we can. Get up every day and put one foot in front of the other. Be grateful for the wonderful things that once were and in awe of that which is.

 

A family came through the house last evening with yet another realtor. Very nice. Very polite. The husband was more interested than the wife which makes me think they will not be the eventual buyers. When it comes to buying a home, it is usually about what mom wants. Three very well-behaved children. I want the house to go to a family. It would make me feel better to know that someone will live out those dreams here that Will and I were never meant to.