People have been dying from time immemorial, so you would think that at some point society would have concluded that it’s not okay to judge a widow for opening her heart to love again.

No one goes through as much agony, guilt, pain, sadness and uncertainty quite like a widow preparing to date post-loss. Will he treat my children as his own? Will he understand I will always love my husband? Will he be accepted by my family and friends who simply adored my late spouse? What will my in-laws think?

No one is there with us as we flirt with the idea of dating, only to have that thought morph into fear and gut-wrenching sadness that the one man we want and need isn’t here. No one besides a fellow widow understands what it’s like to meet a nice guy and wrestle with ending the budding relationship simply because he’s not our beloved. Unless you’ve loved and lost, you don’t get how having a new relationship end can rip the bandage off the grief wound we thought was healing.

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You would have to know the kind of pain that lurks behind every happy moment. The kind of pain that causes your eyes to fill with tears even on the most perfect of days. The kind of pain that stops you in your track and takes your breath away.

Dating post-loss takes courage and boldness. It takes an indomitable spirit and a resilient heart. Our dating is a testament to our marriage. We know the beauty that radiates from a couple in love and what companionship and commitment looks and feels like. Even if our marriage was toxic when we lost a spouse, dating again says we believe we are worthy of having a happily ever after with someone who will value the things our husband may have taken for granted.

Do you know what it’s like to watch your partner die? Have you ever had to face the reality of “until death do us part”? Dating after you lose a spouse takes balls. It means opening your already wounded heart to love with the ever-present fear that your new partner may die too. It’s being terrified that all the work you’ve done to rebuild your life can be wiped away with another cancer diagnosis…another accident…another suicide.

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Dating post-loss is anxiety-inducing. It’s calming the voices in your head. It’s ignoring the need to run. It’s fighting the guilt. It’s pushing through the comparison. It’s hiding your happiness. It’s preserving a spouse’s memory while wanting to create a new life. It’s wanting a father-figure for our children but not a replacement father.

As a wise pastor once said, “People see your cup but not its content”. You don’t see all the emotions we had to unravel to even entertain the thought of dating post-loss. You weren’t there for the rejection, the lies, the games, the tears or the heartbreak. You see us dating but fail to understand what it took (and still takes) for us to embrace this new chapter.

I want you to know that despite our dating, engagement and/or subsequent marriage, it doesn’t mean:

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  • We’re “over” our spouse – How do you get over the fact that your future as you knew it was snatched away…sometimes with no warning. How can you make peace with every aspect of your life changing almost overnight?
  • We don’t love our husband anymoreWe are capable of loving more than one man. The heart can expand and love each man  individually. Without malice. Without envy. Love never dies.
  • We’re going to replace our child’s daddy – We work tirelessly to preserve the memories of our husband for our children. A new man in our child’s life in no way means their father is forgotten.
  • We’ve “moved” on – What are we moving on to? We can only try to move forward despite a piece of our heart missing. There is no such thing as “moving” on.
  • We’re no longer grievingOur grief walks with us every. single. day. There is no day off from it. Sure, we may not cry as much but some days – even 10 years post-loss – can feel like Day 1.
  • We’re “okay” – Someone once said that when you lose a part of your heart, you’re never truly “okay” again. You just learn to carry on.

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Whether we choose to date 6 months or 6 years post-loss, please know you have no right to judge us. You haven’t walked in our shoes. We know you love your spouse and can’t fathom the thought of being with another man – even if he passed away. We were there too. The sad reality is that until it happens to you, you just don’t know what you’d do.

Instead of judging, praise our resiliency.

Instead of gossiping, praise our ability to rise from the ashes.

Instead of criticism, praise our newfound happiness.

We’ve earned the right to embrace life – including dating after the loss of a 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.

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