Love lost, read and found
As a widowed father who was once happily married, being touched with a barge pole was always the furthest thing from ever being on my mind.The worse part of being bereaved you would’ve think is getting over the loss of a loved one and finding out how to adjust and move forward in building a new life. That is the immediate reality of course but there is a far more long term issue that compares just as equally and that is having to deal with the expectations and reservations of people and the labels they are so readily willing to give you. Sometime long after my darling wife in dying, had left me, I wondered what the future might hold for me, and if I saw myself as something different to how others maybe now saw me, and maybe even if the saying ‘I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole!’ might be something that actually now would apply to me.
I never ever pictured my life without my wife Katherine and even long after her passing it was not something I planned for, but life dealt me a hand and it’s what I got to play with. In the immediate vacuum that was left in my life by my wife’s passing, I can now say I went through many confusing and conflicting emotions but during none of that time was I really looking to date. However I was engulfed in such grief and it felt like I was spiralling and feeling like I would never hit the ground sometime soon, I found myself thinking about where was my life taking me and if where I would end up was someone far removed from where I had pictured myself. Of this time my memory is now vague but I remember my mind was still functioning well and in fact conscientiously I was constantly weighing up much in each situation. In the bleak prospect of finding myself all of a sudden so very alone, I reached out more than I was used to doing and spent time connecting with long standing friends. This was only ever platonic in all intentions, but in my isolated new existence, I found myself thinking about what if I had read some friendships wrong over the years and what if maybe one of my many single friends was someone I was going to one day end up with and to tell the truth, this added a burden to the weight that I carried already in the fear that maybe I was in danger of losing everything that had once made me ‘me’.
When you are bereaved from your husband or wife at an age where you still have so much living before you, dealing with the loss is more than you can bear and no-one else around you can help you. Instead of seeking advice from the company you keep because you don’t believe their experiences qualify them to advise you, it is easier to join a support group or to read things online in the hope of connecting with others who are experiencing similar situations. It doesn’t matter whether you talk things out or just listen to others or perhaps read that some are facing the same, as long as you don’t feel like in life you are the only one going through such an ordeal, you can take a measure of comfort from similar company. In my case though, this only moderately helped me.
I went once to a bereavement support group and after one session I found I could not go back. The people attending had all their own grief to process but none felt really traumatic and only I in that group found myself a widowed parent with a very young family and their issues though of course very valid, I would have swapped for my own in a heart beat. I did however find a lot of comfort in one to one sessions I was having with the resident Priest at the hospice immediately after my wife died, he was seeing me in the role of a counsellor but then one day as the third or fourth session was starting, he was suddenly called away to an ill patient in an emergency and he apologised and asked me to call him tomorrow to rearrange, and though I agreed I would do so, I never did because I was not one who was easily able to reach out and ask for help when it was not automatically offered. Perhaps it was pride on my behalf, but stripped of all the things I felt having my wife in my life gave me, clinging on to my dignity felt like it was all I had left, and in that bereft state of mind, I tried to persevere without asking for help in any way. This I think, is what many men do, and I would call on professionals out there in their roles of support to take this on board when they offer help, they must realise those who need it most won’t always ask for it, but want it just the same. Having made this decision not to call and rearrange my session, I was suddenly out of the loop and left all alone to find my own way. I don’t want to be critical of the good work that is done by so many out there, but I realise how easy it is for men to fall out of the system and as I came close to doing myself, to derail in the downward spiralling doom of bereavement, and though I managed to come through, my young daughters had a measure of luck that I did so. Here, just as easily, I could have lost my way completely and my daughters who depended now so much on me for everything including their own morale support, could have been the most affected.
Where I had never thought of anyone else who would understand or be able to help me, I started to look at blogs and websites on newly made single parents who had become recently bereaved and I read much of their own experiences and often the comments of those who chose to offer advice or their own opinions, and in most cases it just made me mad. Too many people feel like they are entitled to an opinion without having first walked in someone else’s shoes. Some of the comments on these blogs were simply disgusting and worse still, treated the widow with disdain because of their struggle to come to terms with knowing how best to move forward and get on with the rest of their lives.
As I said, I was not looking to move in or to even start dating, but in my online search for support from others in a similar set of circumstances as myself, I did stumble across a well meaning site offering advice to women who were thinking of dating a widow and it caught my attention. As I read the advice point by point it made me feel even more like a labelled victim and I kind of rebelled with some of the content even though it was fair enough I guess and had the woman’s best interest at heart, but I hated what it seemed to imply generically about widows and it felt like just another blow I had to face, as if losing your partner in life is not enough, we have to also now live with the suspicions of others and the baggage they label us with. I know the advice here is well meaning but let me turn it on its head for a moment and let me apply all of the advice directly to me.
The following hyphenated points below is a taste of some of the advice that the site was offering to such woman who might be thinking of dating a widow, and below each of the points I list my widowed thoughts in reply marked with an ‘R’ =, but as you are reading them I ask you to consider, does it really differ so much from what you would advise or want from anyone else?
– When dating someone who has been married before and has created a life with someone else before you, is not easy and there are many struggles and challenges that you will face.
‘R’ = I have been married before but is that really more daunting than dating someone say who has been in many relationships without ever committing before? Is that baggage because he has loved someone enough and whole heartedly that he has wanted to dedicate and make a whole future with? Would a woman really prefer someone who has no intention of putting down roots over a man who has demonstrated his capability to love this way before?
-Thinking very carefully before entering into this relationship is of vital importance, especially if you have not been married before, or if you have had no children of your own, as you might not get the chance to be married or he might not want to have any more children.
‘R’ = why must you be frightened or worried to see if you compare to a previous relationship? If you are scared about being second best, you make yourself second best. Marriage and children are things you identify and establish in any relationship based on each others desires and this does not differ because you may have done it before. The same rules apply in courting another and learning about each others hopes and fears and whether you are compatible and moving forward together. A widow who was blissfully married might be the person who appreciates all that love can be and probably think it foolish to rule out knowing such happiness again. When you invest a lot in something you want advice from an expert or someone qualified, is someone who was happily wedded less qualified to know and feel true love?
-A widower has made a life with someone else and he has been through a wedding, in-laws and has created a family already, so before you start to get serious you need to discuss a future and what you would like before you or he can fully commit.
‘R’ = discussing a future before getting serious too serious is true of any relationship. Someone who has been through a wedding and who has in-laws or a family often finds that with them he often feels incomplete. More to the point, those people sense the incompleteness since seeing their loved one become widowed and want to see them made whole. It is only the absence of true love that leaves someone feeling incomplete, and it should only be true love you are searching for in your relationship. Committing to any relationship is about believing you have found true love, not fearing you can’t be someone’s true love.
-A widower is even more of a challenge as with everything in life, time is the only thing that can heel wounds.
‘R’ = time can heal wounds but a truly broken heart is not looking for love or for anything. You will know easy enough if you feel love when you find it, and the heart of a widow is no different or less capable of loving than any other heart, in fact it has a proven track record.
-You need to be sure that he is in love with you and that he is over his wife or ex.
‘R’ = true enough but think if it this way; would you really prefer a heart that heals over ever so quickly, or that can move on in a heart beat? How long would you hope your true love would mourn you for for, and then would you hold it against someone for loving someone as much as you would hope for? The grieving heart mourns the loss of knowing he had true love, but does not turn his back on finding it again or resent those he believes truly offer it.
-It is also important to understand that there is an external family that will want to share experiences with the children. Grandparents and siblings of your boyfriends late wife will want to stay in contact and there is no option here but to accept it.
‘R’ = yes there is an extended group of people in a widow’s life but if they hang around it is out of love that they feel and not out of malice.
-Memories of their mother will be important to them and your boyfriend or husband will want to share these with his children so that they will always remember who bore them. This is also something that you will have to accept.
‘R’ = remember how important your own mother was in your life? Think if you died would you really not want your children or loved ones keeping your memory alive or love always cherished? If someone does this, it is what you can expect they will also do for you.
-For a widower that was almost divorced before, there might be no hidden feelings but for a man that has just lost his wife, you can be certain that it will take time for him to move on and dating as soon as it has happened will ensure that he is not over his late wife. Should you date him soon after his has lost his wife, your life will not be a happy one as he will always be thinking of his late wife and will want to spend as much time as he can soaking in all the memories, his children will be constant reminders of his late wife and he might still be in mourning, with depressive behaviour and will not show much interest in you or your life.
‘R’ = I can’t argue with much of the above but I can add this; don’t be afraid of some ups and downs or lingering grief being present in your partner, share it and help lift the burden. Your love is meant to heal not to fester and you can’t reap love where you did not first sow any seeds.
An open and honest relationship should allow the soaking of memories and celebrating of the past and you should embrace it not run from it. Would you really ask a widow to shut out all that has been in his life up until now, so as not to threaten you, when he is opening up everything that he has of his life and welcoming you into it? You would be more foolhardy to trust a person who was more precious of such memories and kept them all hoarded. Someone’s ability to love should be cherished if you are to benefit from it.
You would though, be mad to get into any relationship where the other did not show any interest in your life, but that does not apply to just widows.
So the above was advice on the dangers of dating a widow but shouldn’t you judge things on their day to day individual merit anyway and not solely on words?
If you are looking to warm your hands you stand closer to the fire, but if you are looking for a flame to ignite in your life should you really worry so much about being burnt?
I can tell you this, there are a lot of people with a lot of different opinions but it doesn’t mean you have to listen or that anything that’s said even applies. There are situations in life you happen to find yourself in and each one is personally individual to you and only you can really figure it out, whether you find help to do so or not. Don’t worry about those who can’t see you or those who don’t trust you or anyone that might think you won’t be enough as you are, it is those people who truly make you the widow. Those people are looking for something different and are not really looking at you but what they suspect is missing in you, and people like that really fear you can’t fill what is truly missing in them.
When you’ve been touched by love, why would you miss being touched by a barge pole?