When a mother who has lost a child has another baby, no one dares question if she’s capable of loving another child. No one wonders if her heart is big enough to love her “angel” baby while simultaneously loving the smiling toddler at her side. When she shares photos on social media of their special time together, there aren’t comments saying she must be “over” the death of her first child.

That’s the way it should be. And, widows everywhere deserve that same level of respect when it comes to our spouses and our decisions to date post-loss.

If you can love more than one child, two parents, five aunts, nine nieces, etc., why is it so hard to fathom that we can love or be in love with two men?

My husband died. The thought of ever having known him was not erased from my memory. His death was sudden and shocking. One night he was here and the next morning he wasn’t. What was I to do with all that love? Bury it in his casket?

What about the wife who stood by her husband’s side…through the diagnosis, through the treatment, through the end? Does she just press a button and forget the love she has for her man?

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To imply that we should not date again until we no longer love our spouses means going to the grave never having felt the warmth of another kiss, the strong embrace of a hug or the loving words of a new partner. You don’t get to dictate how or when we take the band-aid off our hearts. There’s an expression that says, broken crayons still color. Our hearts, despite being broken, are still capable of love.

In fact, when we’re ready to love – truly ready to not let our fears, insecurities, and guilt hold us back – the world had better take notice. We love hard because we know firsthand the importance of letting our partners know how much they are cared for, while they are still here with us. We know to cherish the small things we once took for granted. We get that those silly squabbles don’t matter in the end. We know it’s always the right time to live boldly and passionately.

A boyfriend, fiancé or even a husband NEVER means we’re over our loss. Our happy, vacationing, hand-holding pictures aren’t a slap in the face to our late spouses. They are a testament to their love. We aren’t jaded by having such a horrific experience in our marriages that we run from the thought of ever loving again. We know the beauty in being loved and loving in return.

Then there are family, friends, co-workers, and in-laws who wonder if we’ve replaced our spouses. Does a mother replace a child by simply having another one? Of course not! How could she? How could we?

Our spouses are irreplaceable! Even if a new partner has the same build, same mannerisms, and same facial features, he can never be expected to fit perfectly into the groove in our hearts left by our spouses. A replacement would need to have encountered all that defined our marriages – the good and bad times. He would have to experience every moment we shared with our late spouses to even begin to be a fill-in.

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The truth is, we’ve changed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Our new guy is perfect for who we currently are and might not have been the right match for us pre-loss. Many widows, for example, have become fiercely independent. This may be the trait that initially attracted their new partner and without it, there is no chemistry.

It’s truly an insult to refer to the man we’ve chosen for this phase of our life as a replacement. It dishonors our late spouses as well. Our new guy – who some lovingly refer to as “Chapter 2”– comes with his own set of unique qualifications. He is in no way a carbon copy of our spouses and neither is he a cheap imitation.

Please know it’s possible for us to be happy in our new relationships while missing our husbands. We can post about the joys of having a new partner today and tomorrow dedicate a post to our husbands’ memories, captured in beautiful images of their children. We can excitedly tell you that we’ve met the person we want to marry and in the same conversation become overwhelmed by the thought of our late spouses. We can have the most amazing date on Wednesday night and cry at our husbands’ graves on Saturday.

So, yes. We can date, despite loving our husbands and we can fall in love and still love our late spouses. It comes with the widowed territory and we shouldn’t be judged for it. Until you lose a spouse and experience every aspect of this madness called widowhood, you’re in no position to offer your two-cents.

Mom to a feisty preschooler, Kerry Phillips became widowed at age 32. She runs an online support group for young widows and widowers venturing back into the world of dating and is a blogger for The Huffington Post.

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