married to a widower

The Damsel of the Sanct Grael, by Dante Gabrie...

The Damsel of the Sanct Grael, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti: medieval romance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stumbled upon a post at HuffPo today. Written by a woman who is married to a widower, it touched upon the taboo subject of being “the love his life”. Clearly, for many widowed and those who date or marry them, this is a sticky issue fraught with multi-leveled angsty-ness and worlds of guilt.

One of the conversations that comes up often in the widow forums and blogs is the idea that dead spouses can’t be replaced and that similarities between the departed and new loves smack of replacement ick factor. It may even be a sign that one isn’t ready to date.

As my husband Rob is fond of pointing out, “We replace people all the time and falling in love and marrying again is part of that.”

And he is correct.

Life is a series of stages. We travel through them picking up and discarding friends, lovers, spouses and co-workers along the way. We even replace family with people we’d rather have been genetically tied to in some cases. So, although it’s a noble idea – this theory that late husbands and wives can’t be replaced – the fact is that some of us do replace them because when holes open up in our emotional safety nets, most of us feel compelled to repair the net. It’s a human being thing. It’s not a failing or flaw to want to experience love and connectedness again.

We also, being human, have preferences in terms of type and so it’s little wonder that new loves have some or many qualities of old loves. Unless cloning is involved or we go to some Hitchcock inspired Vertigo extreme – it’s nothing to get all twisted up about.

But, where emotions are concerned, nothing is simple. Women especially are socially programmed to need to be number one and only in the eye, heart and mind of the man they love. Even the most self-actualized woman is going to question and compare herself with the late wife and her relationship with him and with his relationship with her.

Though one may get past the need to be prettier, smarter, better in bed*, nicer, and the fact that one didn’t get here first, most still harbor a secret – usually never spoken – need to be THE love. The one that can’t be topped or surpassed by anyone EVER.

So I cornered him the bedroom one day while he was putting away his socks. His back was to me as I casually asked him, “Isn’t it odd that if we end up staying together that you’ll go down in history as the love of my life?” He stopped putting his socks away and turned around and stared at me with what looked like sadness in his eyes and said “Awwww. That’s so nice”. He had said it to me like he pitied me. Like he’d turned around and found a little baby bird with hearing aids lying on his bed. At that moment I realized that he couldn’t say it back to me and I was devastated. It took me months to stop telling every friend and taxi driver how I was with a man who would never be able to tell me that I’m the love of his life.

That was over five years ago and now I can see how complicated and unfair that question was. I don’t want or need to be NUMBER ONE wife. Unless I’m in a polygamous marriage, and even then the whole ranking thing would stress me.

How did I end up marrying a man that I knew would never be able to tell me that I’m the love of his life?

The thing is that even if Ms. Weedman, who wrote this for the HuffPo, was the love of her husband’s life, it’s pretty doubtful that he will feel okay sharing this with her. The guilt factor is high. After all we swear a “forever-ish” kind of vow to those whom we love enough to commit marriage with. And even if those vows don’t say “til death do we part”,  and even if they do, the forever is implied by simply marrying in the first place. At least in our society as it stands today.

Couple that with children, extended family and mutual friends who, while they may not get all judgey about it, will probably only pretend politely to understand how a widowed’s allegiance can be shifted by the lightning strike luck of being able to love and marry again.

In a world where people shun marriage for the perpetual uncertainty of living together or engage in a string of serial marriages, marriage that ends with someone dying is seen as something of a Holy Grail and those who are left behind are saddled with an expectation of faithfulness that no one expects of anyone else  – or so it seems.

Has Rob ever told me I am the love of his life?


And I have never asked. Not a day goes by without him telling me that he loves me. Often more than once. We are not neglectful of each other’s emotional needs. Even coming up quickly to our fifth anniversary, we regularly sicken people with our displays of mutual admiration and affection. My brother-in-law has been known to roll his eyes and demand of my sister to “Make them stop.”

I admit that in the beginning it was hard to live in their house and not compare myself with her. I am a woman and I was raised to be critical of myself and view love as a competition. In that I am no different from my peers. But it was largely my problem to deal with and I did. Rob never gave me any reason to feel that I was living in a shadow, a replacement for someone he loved more but simply couldn’t be with – because of that being dead thing.

Do I feel that Rob is the love of my life? Yes. And this, in my mind, doesn’t downgrade my love for my late husband or our marriage. But a large part of this is due to retrospect because I have come to believe that my marriage to Will wasn’t meant to be a lifetime. We intersected at a point that was crucial for us both and were destined only to travel along that line for a finite time. The best of my life was still ahead of me. I vaguely knew that then and I am convinced of it now.

I have told Rob that he is the love of my life, and I did it without expectations. His life is his. I am fortunate enough to share this leg of his journey. The fact that I was not first and may not be the love of his life isn’t the point. Now is the point. The past can’t be undone and the future hasn’t happened.

Even so, the “love of my life” thing is subjective and in its own way, make-believe. Born out of romance novels and Disney princess movies. If life and love were meant to be a romantic comedy, more of us would have a sense of humour. And we’d take better still photos. And we wouldn’t need Oprah’s Lifeclasses. Because it would all be scripted and blocked.

Every single one of us has replaced someone at some point in our lives and every single one of us has or will be replaced someday. In my mind, there isn’t really time enough to waste in situations where we don’t feel loved and there is less time to second-guess ourselves out of situations where we are loved simply because it doesn’t fit our teenage notions of romance.

*This one I have to admit I don’t get nor do I understand women – or men – who needle partners about their sex lives with dead spouses. The ick factor is through the roof on this one for me. Needing intimate details so you can “out porn” a dead person speaks to a deep insecurity that even I (and I have known insecurity) don’t fathom. It’s only slightly more distasteful than second wives who take gleeful delight in “out house-wifing” the dead wife. I told Rob, “If I die and you decide to date again, run away from anyone who cackles over the fact that she loves to iron and I never willingly touched an iron in my life. There is something very wrong with a woman like that.”


A couple of wonderful women I know via my traveling Twitter are going through some tough times. They are both writers. One recently suffered a Lupus related TIA and the other has sadly suffered another setback with cancer. Despite the difficulties, they write on. The latter, a NASA physicist, has a book in progress. Her latest scans show more cancer. It’s in the bone now. I, unfortunately, know what that means for her, and she made the comment in her last blog entry that it was time for her to quit procrastinating and finish her book.

Procrastination and writing are almost synonyms. I know some folks who write to the exclusion of all but breathing, but I have never been blessed with such nose-grinding attributes. However, I have been thinking. A lot. About going back to book writing full-time.

With the yoga studio closing at the end of June and my growing disaffection for cause and current event blogging making it difficult for me to muster interest in my paying gig, thoughts turned back toward the memoir and writing “that book”. Or rather, finishing it.

I am still stymied by theme. You don’t just write a book about a section of your life for no reason even if it seems like that is precisely what memoirists do. As more than one literary agent, author and indie publisher has pointed out – an author should have a point.

What’s my point?

A happy ending is not good enough.

Well, okay, it’s pretty darn good from the personal perspective but why should anyone other than my children or Rob really care about what got he and I from A to B?

More than once, it’s been observed that ours is a compelling story and that I have, on occasion, represented it well in words.

That I can write isn’t at issue, nor is the fact that people love a good happily ever after love story. What I am still searching for is an angle. The hook. What’s my hook?

Widowers, let’s face it, are hot these days. Can’t throw a stone without hitting one in film, books, or television. There is something more compelling about a man who’s lost his spouse than there is about a woman in the same predicament. Probably because  a single woman/mom is considered so dime a dozen in North America that they practically wallpaper daily life.

And men make tragic figures whereas women are just victims. Who loves a victim?

No one.

But, getting back to my pondering. I have been. I even have the makings of a plan. The universe knows I have a book.

I don’t want to look back and wonder what it would have been like had I just gone ahead and done it. Published. I don’t want to regret it from a standpoint of having run out of time. The image of poor old Ulysses S. Grant banging out his memories in the last cancer ravaged months of his life to save his family from poverty has always struck me as the saddest way to leave life, desperate and down-trodden and in despair.

I’ve spent the last four years learning to write. Well. It’s time to do something with all the free words I’ve given away in the pursuit of my voice.

Chevrolet Avalanche Z71 Plus cool exotic car

Image by airgap via Flickr

Rob will tell you that he always seems to end up married to women who stake their claim to the best vehicle, leaving him with the non-comfy and decidedly not cool in an unmanly way ride, and that, ironically in light of this, they are poor drivers in the bargain.

Last night, he related to me that a co-worker inquired about our sun-burst orange metallic (I love the name of the colour more than the colour sometimes) Chevy Avalanche.

“Did you sell your truck?” he asked after noting that Rob drives the very blue and most definitely mom-like Equinox these days.

“No,” and I imagine he sighs a bit and lets his shoulder droop just slightly, “a couple of winters ago, the Equinox had some problems, so I swapped the wife. When spring came, she just wouldn’t give up the truck.”

At this point there are knowing head nods and grimaced smiles which allow them to bond over the shared ritual of “manning up” for the significant other at great personal inconvenience. Every time his co-worker sees Rob climbing in or out of the Equinox now, he will rise just a bit more in the man’s esteem. A true working class hero tooling along in a feminine mobile for his woman.

If he’d really been interested in scoring points, he could have added, “The first wife did the same thing to me with the last Avalanche.”

As it stands, I hear that story. Often. Because we have been married long enough for stories to have made more than one conversation loop.

So this morning, the Avalanche needed to go into the shop for a tune-up in anticipation of holiday travel. Rob drove the Equinox and I followed him in the truck. I would essentially be without wheels for the day but we have a Silverado that technically is for hauling the holiday trailer which I could use if I needed to go into town.

Yes, we have two trucks and an SUV. This is Alberta. It’s like Texas minus the warmth and the religious right.

He pulled in and walked over to the service bay garage doors and motioned me to park alongside other waiting vehicles. The only space was tight and once in, I needed to reverse and back out or I was never going to be able to open the door enough to squeeze out.

In the rearview, I could see Rob – directly behind me, pensive and clearly wishing that he was behind the wheel in my place. Carefully I cranked the wheel – too tightly and I knew that but I was also hyper aware of the fear for his truck being shot at the back of my head like laser-vision in a bad Japanese monster flick – and backed up, bringing the truck too close to the vehicle to my left.

Panic! Danger! There might as well have been little speaker bubbles dancing above Rob’s head as he raced towards the left and attempted to get my attention, but despite his distracting me, I righted the truck and parked. He had the door open in an instance and asked me tersely to turn the engine key so he could get the mileage. I noted the tone but stopped mid-bristle and complied. I had committed the sin of not being him in a driving situation, so his tone was nothing personal. Part Virgo with man DNA. Familiar territory.

As we were heading back to the Equinox and home – this was after his Gitmo like interrogation of the service technician, who could only be grateful that waterboarding is not legal in Canada – I remarked on the “backing up” incident.

“You were a bit grumpily with me,” I said.

“What? I was?” he hadn’t noticed, hence the not taking it personally earlier.

“Oh but you were,” I countered.

“Well, maybe a little, ” he admitted.

We were hip to hip with arms circling as we discussed this and he squeezed me closer.

“You nearly hit that parked truck.”

“I knew exactly where I was and perhaps if you hadn’t been standing right behind the truck as I was backing up, I wouldn’t have come so close. I had to watch you as well as my position.”

He couldn’t fault my logical explanation because it really is a bad idea to stand directly behind a vehicle while it’s reversing course unless you have no choice or are actually being helpful in some manner. I was adjusting myself in a parking lot. Not a lot of tech assistance is needed.

“Okay,” he conceded, “but I was having flashbacks to the first wife backing the last Avalanche into the Astrovan.”

“Perhaps she knew you were glaring driving mojo at her and it distracted her. In which case, I know exactly how she felt.”

Long, long ago in our front drive, Shelley, Rob’s late wife, backed their black Avalanche into the old white Astrovan they’d purchased a decade earlier when they lived in Kansas. The black truck, just for those keeping track, is the one she appropriated from Rob, forcing him into the much more mommish van. It’s a testament to his strong Y gene that this didn’t debilitate him like kryptonite.

“So,” I said, changing the subject, “don’t forget to leave the keys to the white truck on the counter in case I need it.”

“Oh, I am leaving you the Equinox and taking the white truck,” he said.

“Because of the parking thing?”

“Yes, you’d have no sense of where you were in the white truck,” he said. “It would be like having you drive a parade float around all day.”

“And you would be calling me every hour all day wondering how the truck was,” I added.

At this point I am laughing at his sheepish expression. His concern for me, and the truck, was not nearly as close to the top of his agenda as his peace of mind and need to focus on his job today.

“You are so predictable, ” I said.

“You’re going to blog about this, aren’t you?”

“Ya think?”

“You are predictable too, Sweetie,” he said.

And so I am.

*In case you wondered about the title, the whole “second best car” thing reminded me that William Shakespeare left his wife the second best bed in the house in his will. Scholars debate this tidbit with zeal.