The response to last week's piece, "Forget-Me-Never: The Reality of Remarriage After Widowhood," was both overwhelming and wonderful. I wish to thank those who commented on The Huffington Post and on Facebook; as well as those who sent hundreds of emails and were among the more than 4,000 "likes" that the article received. This amazing response merely reinforces what we all know to be true -- life can and should continue after loss and that if you choose it, your post-loss life can include dating, companionship and new love.
Two comments in particular were so representative of the many that we received, I felt it necessary to share them both and reply accordingly; in the hopes that it will further benefit your continued Healing Journey:
Pam writes via the Huffington Post:
"Your article almost made me cry because I had given up hope on finding new love, simply because I've read over and over again that the only way to find another love is to forget the first. This is the constant theme [of two other websites]. [One website states that] due to his new love he won't even go to the cemetery anymore to visit his first wife's grave, and he has disposed of all photos and mementos of her to make room for the second wife. [Another writer] just looks down on any widow who chooses to remember her late husband if she is in a relationship with a new man. How in the world did you find a husband who was OK with you remembering Mike? I wish someone would address how wrong [the other websites] are, and how they have probably given countless others, like me, no hope of ever finding a new love unless we throw away and forget the late one. I think YOUR husband needs to write a book."
I did smile at the thought of Dave writing a book (as did he), but I think we both agree that one author in the family is enough (and on some days, more than enough).
Any time that I hear a widowed say that they have given up on finding new love -- for whatever reason -- it hurts my heart; mostly because what I hear them saying is that they are dishonoring something that they really want to do and have instead chosen to give up on the life that they wish to design. However, when I hear that this sentiment is coming from either a guilt-based place or from seriously poor advice (or both), I really want to hit something with a hammer. Hopefully, you have now garnered renewed hope for the future (and will also stop reading that which is detrimental to your healing journey and contradictory to what your own heart is telling you to do).
There are those who supposedly fall in love with a widowed and thereafter expect (or demand) that the widowed eradicate the past that they lived with their late spouse with the apparent ease of erasing a white board. More often than not, the reason for this attitude can be boiled down to one thing:
The widowed who are being compelled to put their past on a metaphorical shelf have had the misfortune of involving themselves with those who refuse to accept the widowed for who and what they are, past and all. People who are threatened by someone else's past (whatever that past entails) are insecure, jealous, immature and woefully insensitive. These are the same people who don't believe that men and women can be friends. These are the same people who demand to be joined at the hip with their significant others at all times. These are people who likely share email accounts and go through one another's cell phones. It is insecurity of the highest order...
...and it is not OK.
Are there men and women out there who simply don't want to deal with a widowed (or divorced) past? Of course there are. Our dear reader correctly acknowledged how fortunate I am to have found someone who has no problem with my widowhood (and in fact, works right alongside me in the widowed community -- and he is not a widower!). However, what you may not realize is that between the time I began dating (which was two years after Mike's death) and the time that I met Dave I endured five "fun-filled" years of dating a number of different men; very few of whom cared to deal with the fact that I was (a) widowed and (b) writing for and working within the widowed and bereaved communities
Now, is there some culpability on the behalf of the widowed? Absolutely. Examine your own behaviors honestly. If you are building shrines in your home to your late beloved (and I have seen those shrines); if you are constantly talking about your previous life -- or worse, if you are making comparisons (out-loud or silently) between a new love and your late beloved, this is completely and totally unfair to any new person in your life. You cannot use your late beloved or the life you lived with them as a yardstick against which you are measuring everyone else. You cannot begin sentences with, "Joe always used to...." or "Jane would have never...", because absolutely no one "always" did something right or "never" did anything wrong. Everyone deserves to be judged on their own merits and should not be compared to anyone in your past.
However, to be expected to essentially "dispose" of your past; be it disposal of photographs, mementos and the like or disposal of traditions or comfort measures (paying a visit to a gravesite, remembrances at the holidays or on angel-versaries, etc.), is at best, unreasonable and at worst, unconscionable. Further, let us not forget one other very important component of widowhood as well -- children. Are our children also "expected" to forget their absent parent in favor of a stepparent because the stepparent feels somehow "threatened"? Are you kidding? How do we teach our children that the heart expands infinitely to embrace any love we wish to include in our lives if they are being taught that by loving someone new, we must immediately eliminate the "late"? This is not a closet cleanout to make room for new clothes and to treat a late spouse and / or parent in this fashion is not just morally wrong, it can be extremely damaging in terms of grief recovery.
The key to moving forward in the ways that you wish to move forward is availing yourself of the tools that will propel you in a positive, forward-focused direction. Anyone who is "looking down" on widowed" because of how a widowed chooses to remember, love and honor the past without living in it is not taking you in the direction that you wish to go. Anyone who is modeling behavior that is striking a negative undertone (ridding themselves of mementos and photographs; dispensing with visits that were obviously of consolation) is not taking you in the direction that you wish to go. Anyone who is providing what you perceive to be negative and counterintuitive advice is not taking you in the direction that you wish to go. It is imperative that you surround yourself with both the practical and emotional tools that are going to reinforce your life design -- and that life design comes from inside of you.
I close with an absolutely wonderful observation made by Kevin Stover via Facebook. His outlook and attitude are both an inspiration and contagious (and if it isn't literally contagious, it certainly ought to be):
"I became a widower 21 years ago, when I lost my wife and nearly lost my four young children in an auto accident. I remarried years later to an incredibly wonderful woman. But there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of my first wife, miss her terribly and still love her unconditionally. Thank God for my second wife to understand and not be threatened by my love for my first wife. Anyone who doesn't understand and gives you grief about that isn't worth a tinker's damn!"
To Kevin, to Pam and to everyone, I simply say:
And thank you.
**Comments have been edited in the interest of space, spelling correction and privacy protection only.
Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." has won the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com
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