I read once that it takes someone with super human qualities to love a woman who is widowed. He needed to have the patience of Job and the strength of Superman to understand that our hearts are big enough to love him and our late spouses at the same time plus deal with all the other emotions that come with losing a husband.
I agree. It does take a special person to not feel threatened by a love that will forever remain with us. He has to get that anniversaries still trigger our tears and our children’s milestones – big or small – can feel like a bandaid being ripped off a wound.
Early on in my widowed journey, someone reached out to me to complain about how her widowed boyfriend did things she considered hurtful as it pertained to his late wife. Of course, I jumped to the defense of the widower. His wife was dead for crying out loud! Doesn’t he get a pass for holding back, dragging his feet a little too long or being all over the place emotionally?
I’ve since come to realize that although the widowed community is capable of loving and being loved, we have to remember that our new partners are human too, despite how “super” we think they are. They have feelings and despite our need to give ourselves a pass for enduring one of the worst things that can happen in life, it doesn’t give us the right to be dismissive of the feelings of those we invite into our lives post-loss.
I’m certainly not without blame. I’ve played the “…but I’m widowed” card a few times and assumed that my slighting my partner should just be chalked up to widowhood. But the truth is, when I chose to start dating, I accepted that I was ready and capable of doing right by someone else.
Sometimes we forget that being widowed doesn’t give us a free pass in a relationship. We don’t get to be hurtful simply because we have a dead spouse. We shouldn’t forget that WE opened our hearts and with that, it means being mindful of how our grief affects our partners.
Here’s an example of a time my grief was hurtful and I didn’t even know it until after the fact. I’m sure a widow/widower will come to my defense but honestly, I’d be hurt if the roles had been reversed, no matter how understanding of a person I am.
I was preparing for a storm and organizing some important documents/items for safekeeping. As I thumbed through my safe, my late spouse’s wedding band caught my eye. I’d not seen it since it was returned to me after his death overseas. Without batting an eye, I rubbed my finger over the ring and slipped it onto my finger – with my new guy a mere arm’s length in front of me.
Of course, he didn’t know it was my hubby’s ring.
He said, “Nice ring”. I replied, “Yes, it’s my late hubby’s wedding band”.
He didn’t say anything for a while then said, “How’d you feel if I put on my wedding ring – especially in your presence”.
He’s divorced. I’m widowed. It’s not the same.
But, the bottom line is that I would have been upset – regardless – if he had done this. Often in our grief, we hurt so much for what was taken from us that we take the person standing in front of us for granted. Yes, they chose to love us as someone who is grieving but we can still grieve without making our partners feel like second-class citizens.
Just as our new guy/girl needs to be respectful of our grief, I’ve learned that my grief needs to be understanding of my new partner.
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.