Saturday, December 5, 2009

Deck The Halls....With LW Memories??

As the holidays approach, many GOWs and WOWs will deal with a W who is determined to incorporate LW's memory into the season. He may wish to do this in many different ways: candlelight memorials, grave visits, and/or dinners with LW's family. He may also wish to hang LW's or "their" ornaments on the GOW/W or WOW/W Christmas tree.

So how sensitive should a GOW/WOW be to W's need to memorialize his LW at Christmastime?

The following is my reply to a sensitive yet infuriated WOW from The Official WOW/GOW Message Board , who wrote that her W/husband has decorated an "LW Tree" every year since her death, and continues to do so into their marriage:

"I believe there is a HUGE difference between a W who considers LW items as just "things" and their meaning is insignificant, and Ws who attach meaning and memorials to every item their LWs ever owned. The former has let go of the past, and the latter hasn't. There is a HUGE difference between "moving on" and "letting go". Every W moves on - it is the act of returning to some kind of daily routine post-LW. But not every W has let go, which is the acceptance of LW's passing and an embracing of the present and future.

I hate to say this, but your W's behaviour concerns me. He continues to memorialize his LW in a very significant way, which means he has not yet let go, nor has he completed his bereavement recovery since the last stage of grief is "acceptance". Had this year been the first time he wanted to decorate a memorial tree, I would say it was a clear case of latent grief....but you said he has done this every year that LW has been gone, which leads me to believe he did this tree even before you met and then just carried on the tradition into your marriage. And by remaining supportive of this, you have subconsciously enabled him to remain stuck in the final and most critical grief stage.

When you say that you have been "sensitive" to this yet also infuriated, it sounds to me that you have never adequately communicated your feelings, and therefore, resentment has set in. I think it's time for you to speak up. Believe me, you are not doing him any favours by being the sacrificial martyr of your feelings, as I am sure your resentment is putting up a wall between you and him, and is also robbing you (and by proxy, him too) of the joy of the holiday.

You have a right to be heard on this issue. Don't go through another holiday without telling your W how his LW Tree makes you feel. In using The Three C's - communication, cooperation, and compromise - you can begin a line of communication based on honesty and trust. (I refer you to my blog at for more about The Three C's and other articles pertaining to the difference between moving on and letting go).

The marriage of WOW and W signifies a release of the past and an embracing of the present and future. Every holiday shared together shoul dbe a reflection of ONLY you and he and the life you two share. Honestly, I don't think there is any room for LW in a WOW/W holiday, unless the WOW is 100% certain her husband has let go, and is only asking for memorial ornaments to be hung for the sake of the children he and LW had together."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does Your Widower Say "I Love You"...or Not?

Men do not give their hearts away easily, do they?!grrr....! Yet when they do, it is like the BEST gift of all. How long do you suppose it takes to determine if you love someone? Seems like we ladies fall in love rather easily. We say "I love you" to our best friends, our parents, and even minor players in our lives like soccer coaches and! It's so easy for us! On the other hand, men tend to take their time. I suppose the difference is that women FEEL their way, hearts first, while men tend to work out their emotions with their brains first. They don't want to risk anything until they are sure they can handle what comes after the "I love you". Feelings can be uncomfortable for some men, even embarrassing. I guess it's how some of them are raised to be tough and strong, and NOT to show emotion. But Lord love a man who finally gets in touch with his feminine side!

So who's right? Is it better to wait until you are 100% sure you love someone before blurting out the words, or is it better to just let your heart do the talking? Hmmm....'tis a quandry the world may never know. One thing's for sure: those who are waiting for their men to take the "I Love You" leap of faith must first determine if the man is worth the wait. Those whose impatience gets the best of them risk pushing their men into an ultimatum they may not be ready to face.

It's so hard to wait for something we really want. (Just ask my 9 yr. old, whose Christmas list just keeps getting longer. lol) Things that come too easily are not as deeply appreciated. Remember, if a man said "I love you" TOO easily, we would be suspisious of that, too! I confes that I said the words first, too. But in my case, I got the same back in return, so I can't relate to those who pine for the day when they hear those precious words. I'm not sure I could be as patient as some of you who wait. You have my admiration!

I truly believe that a mature man (not only in age but life experience, as well as inner maturity) doesn't say ILY unless or until he can back up his mouth with actions. Saying ILY is not something a mature man takes lightly. He knows the significance not only of the words themselves, but everything behind them, i.e., commitment. Commitment is a BIG thing for most men. They know it is life-changing, as it changes the dynamics of a relationship from casual to deeply involved. It means planning a future, respecting his love's needs and views, and sharing his heart and soul, faults and all. It means accepting what he cannot change, and having the courage to face whatever may come. It is risky because most mature men enjoy control, yet since they cannot see the future, it's like a leap off a bridge for them....a leap of faith.

Most mature men will not say ILY just because they know their love wants to hear those words. Being that commitment is attached to uttering those words, he thinks looong and hard before saying them, for all the reasons heretofore mentioned.Now...add the fact that said man is a widower, and saying ILY takes on a whole different realm of significance: It means setting the past in its proper place, once and for all. It is a casting-off of all things formerly familiar, and accepting that something new (yet still wonderful!) is about to happen. It means overcoming all the guilt feelings that normally and usually accompany loving again after loss. It means overcoming any fear of losing someone else (you!) to death once again. It means working out the delicate dance of loving the LW AND a new love at the same time. It means giving up his comfort zone of post-grief that he has worked so hard to achieve for himself by making room for new love and the new life that comes with her. It means juggling the emotions and attitudes of friends and family who knew and loved the LW. But most of all, saying ILY means he is commit, to live again, and to love again with his whole, healed heart.

Some men are reluctant to say the words until they are confident that they will hear them in return. Women are like that, too! But because men are not really good at expressing themselves emotionally BEFORE those three little words are uttered, women tend to have the harder job of saying it first because they don't have much "prior knowledge" to feed their confidence about hearing it back. In that respect, men would be wise to at least allude to the fact that they are in love, that the women he love sis #1 in his heart and the center of his universe - barring all others - and that the he sees a future with her.

I think we women can learn a lot from mature men in this respect. We ladies tend to burst forth with ILYs based on sheer emotion, sometimes without really thinking it through. Sometimes, women manipulate men with those words by going on a fishing expedition, hoping to hear the same in return, and are disappointed when they aren't. Some women I know can make a go out of loving ANY ol' man who comes along and gives them a wink, because it is easy for them to live with (or overlook) the man's major faults, or because they are afraid of being alone.

Don't get me wrong. For MOST women, saying ILY is just as significant, but I truly believe there is a vast difference between the sexes in one main respect: when a woman says ILY, she is, first and foremost, expressing emotion/feelings. When a man says it, he has done a great deal of soul-searching prior to saying it, and when he does finally say it, he is expressing not only emotion, but also his depth of commitment to the woman AND to the future. Knowing this, hearing ILY from the man you love is truly a gift unlike no other.

I find it interesting that we women need to hear those words so badly when we KNOW in our heart of hearts that the men we love DO love us, even if they don't say it. We know the sun will rise tomorrow, but do we constantly need to hear from the weatherman that this is true? Sure, an inexperienvced child needs to be verbally reminded that the stove is HOT and may hurt her, but grown-ups know from experience and maturity that the stove is hot. I never heard my father utter the words "I love you" to my mother in the 50+ years they were married, but there was and is nooo doubt in my mind that they love/loved each other deeply. How can we, as grown women, need soooo much verbal affirmation, when instead, we should be relying on our wisdom and life experience to affirm to OURSELVES that these men love us, instead of constantly seeking approval from said men?!

Faith is believing in things unseen, yet felt. Where is your faith in your self, your relationship, and your men? Is the verbal affirmation of his love MORE important that his ACTS of love? The constant need for verbal affirmation of love sometimes masks a deeper need to feel worthy of that love. To feel worthy of love, you only need to look in the mirror, ladies. You ARE worthy. You ARE loved!

I think it's fine if a woman can live without hearing ILY, so long as she is SHOWN love. That it works for both you and your W means your relationship is cemented by equitable agreement, i.e., neither one of you feels either is missing out on anything by not hearing those words. However, many women - myself included - DO have a need to not only be shown love but also HEAR those three little words from the men we love. "Actions speak louder than words" is long as both people embrace this as a life motto. However, when one person from the couple feels slighted because their need to hear ILY is so strong, a problem arises that needs addressing.

There IS no "right or wrong" regarding our personal needs when it comes to relationships. Needs are needs - personal and unique to each individual person. Some people need affection, while others are uncomfortable with it. Some people need sappy greeting cards to commemorate every holiday, birthday, and anniversary, while others are fine with less materialistic acknowledgements of loving feelings. The point is, none of us should have to feel guilty about having needs, and no one should have to explain why they do or do not have them. I respect other people's needs, even though I may not understand them, and especially if they differ greatly from my own. Doesn't that essentially define the word "tolerance"...something this world could use a lot more of?

Thus, those who may judge, laugh at, or otherwise minimize my personal need to hear those three little words from my husband aren't even worthy of consideration in my book since they're not me and couldn't possibly understand my intimately personal choices....just as I could not possibly understand theirs. Whatever works for a relationship in the "ILY" department may be fine for one particular couple, but may not be for another. Relationships work best when both people MUTUALLY agree on any issue as it pertains to their relationship. C'est la vie!! :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Communicating WOW/GOW Issues Using The Three Cs

Many GOWs/WOWs are hesitant to discuss their needs and issues with their Ws for a variety of reasons. Some feel their Ws already have enough to worry/think/grieve about, so why add to his burdens? Others dare not upset the delicate balance of peace they have worked so hard to achieve within their relationships, so why risk "fixing something that ain't broken"? Still others are just so used to walking on eggshells around their Ws' grief needs - while putting their own needs on the back burner - that they cannot even fathom asking their Ws to talk about the thousands of LW pictures around the house, her clothes still hanging in their closet, or her toxic relatives. To these GOWs/WOWs, discussing such things would appear selfish, demanding, or otherwise insensitive to their poor Ws and the grief journey itself.


Quieting a need and burying it deep inside does nothing to fix it. In fact, the very act of pushing your needs and issues aside for whatever reason breeds resentment against the one person whom you want to understand you. Exposing a negative need or issue to the light by airing it out is the only way to turn it into a positive.

Mood is important, so I advise against airing issues in the heat of anger, or at at time of a W's grief episode/trigger. To have a truly productive discussion, timing is everything. Having a chat right before bedtime, especially when a man is exhausted from a hard day's work, is not going to be very productive. Location is also key: I wouldn't recommend having a discussion in a public place or someone else's home. Once you have the right mood, atmosphere, place, and time, you have to express your message in such a way that it will be received with the same sensitivity as you deliver it, so that it will be heard and understood.

The keys to the successful delivery of your message lie within what I call The Three Cs: communication, cooperation, and compromise.

The first "C" - Communication - is about the shared experience of discussing one topic. It is not about one person hopping on their personal soapbox and giving an oration. Communication requires equality. It is about both parties participating in a give-and-take form of discussion. Communicating your GOW/WOW need or issue to your W is not about declaring what upsets you and then leaving it up to him to figure out a solution. It is about opening the doors of opportunity - the opportunity to grow your relationship through mutual understanding. It is about making yourself clear enough to be understood. This is no time to be vague. You have to summon all the courage you can, and state your feelings, not the issue itself. Instead of stating, "You still wear your LW's wedding ring and that's just wrong!" you want to address how it makes you FEEL by using "I" statements, such as "I feel sad when I see you wearing your LW's wedding ring, and it makes me feel second best in your heart." Using "you" statements, such as "You make me feel like second best by wearing your LW's wedding ring!" is not productive and will only put your W on the defensive. It's amazing how the DELIVERY of a message makes all the difference!

The second "C" - Cooperation - is about entering into a discussion with the intent to work together towards a solution. You MUST decide, prior to a discussion, that your sole purpose for communicating your needs and issues is mutual understanding for the health of your relationship. Thus, using ultimatums is no way to earn your partner's cooperation. Saying "Take that wedding ring off right now or else I'm outta here!" may be what you truly feel when you are hurt, but maturity dictates that you instead go to your partner with a positive attitude and agree to work WITH him, not against him. Cooperation is also about listening as well as talking. When you communicate, it's not all about you, but it's not all about him, either. You each have an equal opportunity to express yourselves. In an ideal discussion, one person has the "floor", while the other listens without interruption. When that person is done, then the other person can have the floor...and so on.

Once you have communicated your issue, and you each have cooperated by patiently listening to each other without interruption, knowing the purpose of your discussion is a positive, productive way to get to a solution, the next step is the last "C" - Compromise.

Compromise is also a give-and-take action. In fact, it is THE ULTIMATE give-and-take, because you EACH have to give a little to get a little. Compromise means you aren't going to get everything you hoped for, but you'll get something you can live with. For example, using the same issue illustration of a W wearing his LW's wedding ring, you might arrive at a compromise wherein the W gets to keep it, but agrees to put it in a place where you do not have to see it constantly on his finger, perhaps in a special jewelry box or a safe deposit box at your local bank. He has to give up wearing it, but gets to keep it. YOU get the satisfaction of not having to see it on his finger all the time, but you have to give him the choice about what to do with it after it comes off his finger. I believe this compromise is one both parties can live with.

By using The Three Cs, the couple in the illustration arrive at a solution that is satisfactory to both. But best of all, they do so with their relationship intact, without resentment, and with a deeper respect for the other's ability to speak up, listen sensitively, and work positively in a healthy atmosphere of loving kindness.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The GOW Filter

Some people believe that any woman who would date or fall in love with a Widower (W) must have low self esteem. It's not that GOWs (Girlfriends Of Widowwers) who choose to continue relationships with a still-grieving Ws don't possess self-preservation skills, or that they are somehow "lacking" important character traits. On the contrary, these GOWs are to be applauded for their extraordinary tenacity, perseverence, patience, compassion, and strength!

Alas, society doesn't take kindly to the GOW - it already views her as "less than": she is simply a pale substitute for the LW...a interloper...someone riding on the coattails of the dearly departed...who doesn't have a lick of self-esteem or she wouldn't be persuing and enduring what society views as a hopeless cause. ignorant! And therein lies the amazing difference between a GOW and those less educated about grief: The GOW makes it her mission to really understand grief, as she knows early on in the relationship that grief will be a part of it to some extent. In doing her grief homework, she learns coping/communication/compromise/survival skills. She brings into the relationship with a W her own previously-defined set of personal boundaries, and coupled with her wisdom gained from life experience and past relationships, plus her growing knowledge of grief, she utilizes all this information to become the woman of excellence in the W's life.

Naturally, all women have what they define for themselves as "dealbreakers". But most of those are based on actions or behaviours she can or cannot tolerate in a MAN, not a widower. For example, I would never tolerate cheating. That is MY dealbreaker. But the behaviour of infidelity is more closely based on a human character flaw and not a W disposition. What I am trying to say is that when it comes to "dealbreakers", GOWs need to be sure that the character flaw or behaviour in question is more related to W being human and not based on a natural byproduct of his grief. To do this, she needs to call upon her grief knowledge to discern the difference between a behaviour that is either grief-motivated or man-defined....or a combination of both...W cheats on GOW? Dealbreaker! W abuses GOW? Dealbreaker! W hides GOW from his friends becasue he is afraid of what they might think of him dating so soon after LW's death? Hmm....that's a combination or man-defined (human character flaw) and grief-motivated, and may or may not be a dealbreaker, depending on other circumstances and information. One isolated incident of boyfriend idiocy should not, in my opinion, be grounds for dismissal. It'd be easy for society to scream "Dump the W!" for one incident because, as previously mentioned, society is ignorant about grief..and when a GOW does NOT react the way a grief-ignorant society expects, she is unfairly labeled a doormat and judged as an idiot herself!

Those of us on the "inside" of grief, whether via personal experience, research, or intimate relationship, are less apt to react in kneejerk fashion when a W exhibits confusing behaviour. After filtering his behaviours through the grief filter a GOW has carefully developed, then and only then can she determine if said behaviour is a dealbreaker or, instead, a time for patience and communication. This filter helps steer a GOW towards better decisions regarding both her relationship with a W AND her sense of self-preservation.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Is A Widower "A Good Catch"?

As the wife of a former widower, I feel very blessed to be married to a man who knows how to make a marriage work. After all, he has a proven record of commitment. Wives of widowers (or WOWs, as I call them) are also fortunate in another respect: they are married to men who can love with all their hearts because these men know, from experience, that there IS a beautiful rainbow after every dark storm.

A widower is a man who has learned the hard way to embrace life, appreciate all it offers, and live it to the fullest, since he knows life can be short and time is fleeting. In his mind, he had the best marriage once, and he won’t settle for anything less the second time around, either! WOWs should consider themselves complimented!

I am often asked if part of my romantic interest in or attraction to my husband was related to his marital status. Perhaps it did—indirectly. It caused me to be more empathetic early in our relationship, which encouraged our budding friendship to blossom into love. But more often than not, the hidden meaning behind the question is, did I feel that I had something to gain, emotionally speaking, from his being a widower? Yes, and here’s why: My husband’s late wife died of cancer a year after her diagnosis. For a good part of the year prior to her eventual and inevitable death, he was her caretaker. Hollywood enjoys romanticizing this supreme sacrifice by portraying the selfless widower-to-be in movies as his dying spouse’s hero. His nurturing her until her last breath in his arms is both moving and touching, epic in its surrealism and in the emotional payoff at the box office. In reality, my husband did what he felt was appropriate and right as his wife’s husband. He took his “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” marriage vows very seriously. In short, he did what needed to be done, one day at a time, out of love and not to be a hero.

A widower who was his late wife’s caretaker is more often than not a man who has seen the ugly side of life, and still finds life beautiful. He knows what inner strength is all about, has had his resolved tested, and has passed with flying colors. He stands as a true symbol of commitment, for he is honorable in having respected the meaning of the word. He knows there is no obstacle that love and faith cannot overcome, as he makes his way through the valley of the shadow of death and into the light of bereavement recovery.

I believe because my husband lost a wife prior to marrying me, he was changed by the whole experience in many distinct ways. He has learned to be more sacrificing, more appreciative of what he has, and definitely more caring and less selfish. He is also more acutely sensitive to his family’s needs, and has a more profound sense of what “family” is really all about. The experience of loss has taught him that life cannot be taken for granted.

Had he not endured this great loss, perhaps he would be much less introspective, less empathic, less tender, and much more limited in every direction of his emotional spectrum. But now, he has this unbelievably mature perspective that life is all about change, and change equals growth. It’s an ironic truth in life that growth and love come from great pain and tragedy. In other words, how do we define “sweet” if we have never tasted “sour”? Who better than a widower to model this?

Perhaps I would not have been attracted to my husband as the person he was before his late wife passed away, considering how much he HAS grown and changed because of the loss. Those changes are beneficial to both the widower and his second wife because they are what build character traits that help us evolve into two people who are perfect for each other. If the old adage “All things, good and bad, happen for a reason” is true, then perhaps in order for him to be the perfect match for me, he first had to evolve into the man I fell in love with. To do that, he had to go through all the life experiences - the good, the bad, and the ugly - that made him who he is today.

People sometimes ask me, “Would you date a widower again, knowing what you know now about being a WOW?” I always respond positively. Our marriage is not defined by his loss and occasional bouts of sadness relating to grief any more than it is defined by my occasional bouts of feeling that second wife equals second best. We are simply a married couple, comprised of two individuals with unique life experiences. A widower is a good catch for any woman who understands that life is about enjoying the reality of the present and the dreams of the future while not allowing the past to interfere with either.

~~Copyright 2009 Julie Donner Andersen. All rights reserved. Reprints and excerpts only with prior written permission of author.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Three Types Of GOWs: Which One Are YOU?

In my 12 years of dealing with GOW/W relationships, I have come to the conclusion that there are three types of GOWs:

1.) The first type of GOW I like to call "The Spy". She sniffs around for every detail of LW's life: who she was, what she was like, what W's marriage to her was like, what did she looked like, what her personality like, what shoe size LW wore, how she was in bed, nauseum. This kind of GOW is fishing for info in order to "size up the competition". She doesn't really want to "know" LW in order to embarce her; rather, she wants to know that she (the GOW) is somehow BETTER than LW, and is looking for comparisons where she can "best" LW. This type of GOW has probably always had trust issues, and comes across as insecure, needing to be constantly reassured of her W's love. She whines and moans constantly about feeling "second best" in W's heart because she is not secure and confident about the woman SHE is, so how can she believe W when he tries to tell her - over and over again - that he indeed loves her? This type of GOW claims W as her territory and becomes very territorial in her behaviour - and God help anyone who trespasses, including old friends and family of LW. This GOW will not and does not tolerate ANY discussion of the past. She CLAIMS it's because "the past no longer matters - we live in the present", but in reality, she is scared to death that any reminder of the past might result in her losing the man she loves, or that she just might pale in comparison.

2.) The second type of GOW is what I call "The Grief Therapist". She is waaay too understanding about W's grief episodes (AKA: "fits and starts" - where he's happily committed one day, breaking up with her the next, and back again). She can't tell the difference between normal "guy behaviour" and what constitutes normal grief behaviour, so to play it safe, she blames all his nonsense on his being a widower, thus excusing him every time he hurts her feelings. This type of GOW puts her own needs on the back burner in order to serve his grief needs, yet resents doing so very much.

There are two divisions of Grief Therapist:

~One is benevolent and truly feels that sacrificing her own needs, and not communicating them, serves "the greater good" of the relationship. She is happy to serve, and gets a great deal of self-esteem out of being the eternal martyr.

~The other will never complain, and will often stretch the truth of her relationship, sugar-coating it because she enjoys "keeping up appearances" of happiness since she rather likes being viewed as the heroine in the story of W's life. I feel for this type because she is spinning her wheels and getting nowhere fast. Her relationship is at a standstill. It can't move froward without communication of her needs, yet she's stuck and doesn't know how to get out of this pretty little grave she's dug herself into. What is pathetic about this type of GOW is that her relationship with W - and W himself - often suffers from all her selfess "grief therapy". Her benevolence often feeds W's ever-present guilt to the point of being burdensome, and when he breaks up with her because of it, she is at a loss to explain why.

3.) The third type of GOW is what I call "The Combo". She is a bit of Numbers 1 and 2, but more often than not, she is more of a realist. This type of GOW has the benefit of life experience. She is older, wiser, and has had a lifetime of perfecting other relatinships, so she brings to the table a great guidebook of life lessons she can use to navigate the waters with W.

Combo GOW wants to be patient and tries very hard to be, but she tires easily of holding onto hope when there are no guarantees that her patience will pay off for her. She is fairly good at communicating her needs, but she is easily frustrated when HIS seem so insurmountable. She trusts W's declarations of love, but sometimes, when the chips are down, she worries a bit that she'll never be good enough - or as good as LW.

The Combo GOW makes room for everyone in W's life: his children, his LWs family, and his own family. In her mind, the more people in their relationship to love, the better. She is tireless when she works to blend her family with his. She is present-grounded and future-sighted, juggling the needs and wants of all involved, yet allowing for her own needs to be met. She understands that W's children and/or former in-laws may not accept her at first beucase she truly understaands the grief process and does not blame them. In fact, she has a great deal of compassion for their grief, and lovingly steps aside to allow it to run its course, just being confident in herself until such time as they come to accept her.

The Combo GOW has an uncanny ability to anticipate W's moods, often beating him to the punch before he even has a chance to explain his grief triggers. She allows for dischord, yet believes in the power of herSELF, as well as the strength of her love for W, to get through the tough times. She is confident yet not demanding, and she is careful not to get too big-headed about her relationship because she has done the research and knows that a perfect relationship with a W is often defined as a one-day-at-a-time, "as good as it gets" kind of relationship. She is open-minded about latent grief, and is willing to go with the flow through the changes that happen to her W and the relationship.

The Combo GOW is not threatened by LW or her memory. She acknowledges W's love for LW, and is grateful to LW for helping to make W the man she loves, yet she is wise enough not to allow the past to invade the present. She knows how to draw a fair boundary line between what about the past is OK to bring into the present, and how much of it can be allowed into the future without taking anything away from herself or her relationship. She is fearlessly unafraid of talking about her needs with W, and expects his compassion and his listening ear as much as she gives the same to him.

Keep in mind that, for ALL 3 types of GOWs, there is a type of W to go along with each:

1.) The Spy GOW often has a W who wallows in self-pity, is immobile about his own grief healing, is often in denial about his grief, and, more often than not, is using the GOW to avoid doing the necessary grief work. Grief NEEDS to be selfish in order to work through it, yet the W who dates The Spy GOW's W is TOO selfish to address HER needs. He is too self-centered to see how her digging for information about LW is not a good thing. He then willingly gives her all the information she needs because he is soo happy to be able to talk about LW, yet he does so to his own disadvantage. The individuals in this couple are both users, and they eventually suck the life out of each other until the relationship dies on the vine. If they do manage to hang onto each other somehow, there is always an undercurrent of resentment on one or both of their parts. Since they suck at REAL communication, and are too selfish for cooperation and compromise, they take whatever they need from each other and feel like they've settled for less than they deserve.

2.) The Grief Enabler's widower is happy to wear the GOW's rose-coloured glasses and play along with her charade because doing so distracts him from his pain as well as his grief work. The Grief Therapist's widower takes full advantage of her selflessness. However, sooner or later, the grief he has been denying comes back with a vengeance, and instead of being honest with her and risk hurting this amazingly patient and caring woman, he either stays stuck in a grief stage until it consumes him to the point of breaking, or he simply stays with her out of pity, need, or fear, and remains grief-stricken and guilt-ridden while the relationship stands still and suffers from lack of growth.

3.) The Combo GOW's widower knows he has a good thing, but is careful not to let his own needs overshadow his GOW's needs. He is CONSTANTLY aware of his GOW's feelings and is a willing participant in honest communication about touchy subjects. If she says she is uncomfortable with LW discussions, LW pictures, or LW stuff, he is mindful to be respectful of her needs, knowing that she isn't being unreasonable. He is open-minded about her gentle suggestions for moving forward. If he disagress with her, he trusts her enough to communicate with her, knowing she will be receptive to his thoughts and willing to compromise. There isn't much they can't tackle together, and with their maturity, ease of communication, cooperative selflessness, and committment to compromise, they are the most successful pairing of GOW and W.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

When the GOW/WOW Compares Herself to the Sainted LW

I believe it's absolutely normal for a GOW/WOW to fine some kind of satisfaction, even comfort, in discovering LW's faults and flaws.

When it's W himself who offers these tidbits of truth, he is, in effect, completing a grief stage: acceptance. Where once he held LW on a pedestal of perfection, time has healed his heart to the point where he can now put LW's memory in perspective. In most cases, admitting openly that LW had flaws doesn't mean he regrets his marriage, or that LW went from angel to total b*tch overnight. It simply means that he has come to a point along his grief journey where he has processed her loss rationally instead of irrationally.

Should Ws be aware that GOWs/WOWs are bothered by hearing that W/LW marriages were happy? Not unless the GOW/WOW tells him so! And until that time, I believe Ws will tell the unvarnished truth because they consider their happy marriages to be a sign of good character. Thus, does sharing information about the happy state of his marriage to LW make him an insensitve clod? I don't believe so. Instead, it makes him an honest person with a great resume of marriage experience.

Ws who only have nice things to say about their LWs aren't always stuck in grief. They may just be the kind, gentlemen-ly type who never say a bad word about ANYone, and they prefer not to speak ill of the dead. Hubs has never said a bad thing about LW to me, except that she wasn't perfect. Fine by me, because I KNOW she wasn't perfect, and that's not based on anything negative anyone has told me. It's just that I know human beings are imperfect and there is no such thing as a Super Woman.

The danger in a GOW taking LW's admitted flaws/faults and judging LW as "bad" - just to make herself feel better - is that doing so can come back to bite her. When W has heard enough LW-knocking (even if he agress with what is being said about her faults - and even if HE was the one who confessed them), he will resent having shared such intimate secrets about her flaws in the first place - or start to feel guilty about doing so - when he knows deep inside she wasn't ALL bad, and that their marriages indeed had moments to cherish. Divorcees are often dealt this kind of judgement when others ask them, "How could you have stayed with such a monster for so long?" First of all, it makes the divorcee feel stupid, and everyone can relate to resenting a person who judges us as foolish. Secondly, every divorcee will tell you that there WERE some marital highlights, happy times, and positive affirmations within the marriage's duration (and enough good things within their exes) they will always treasure...and grieve the loss of.Thus, while it's true that some Ws had unhealthy marriages to their LWs, be forewarned that even those marriages (and the less-than-stellar LWs) will still be grieved as a loss. This kind of grief is jammed-packed full of guilt and resentment, leaving these kinds of Ws very trepidacious about committment, much less remarrying. More often than not, it is these kinds of Ws who take longer to come full circle in their recovery....and can be "the toughest nut to crack" for a GOW.

I think it's easier to make those LW comparisons when the Ws in question are being dunderheaded about letting go and moving on. It leaves a GOW wondering, "What's wrong with ME? Why am I not good enough? What makes HER rate a higher seat on his priority list than ME?" and blame her for him dragging his feet, when the important question should be, "What's wrong with HIM?!" It's easy to have ill feelings for someone who you feel is stealing your thunder. But it's not her fault that he loved her.

Ws need to be able to come to a point at the end of their bereavement recovery when they can finally let go. It is the last, and hardest, step to healing. At this final stage, the W learns to manage his grief, put the past where it belongs, and embrace the present and future. This is not to say that he stops loving LW. He won't. Most never will. There will always be a place in his heart for her. But in putting the past where it belongs, a W releases its hold on him for good.

Normal as it is to do "the superiority dance" (a la "Church Lady" from old Saturday Night Live when LW's faults/flaws are laid bare, as I have stated many times, normal does not always equal productive. LW's faults/flaws are only part and parcel of the human being W loved (or once loved). She wasn't perfect, but she wasn't a total write-off, either. There was SOMEthing good about her or SOME payoff of their marriage that kept W hanging in there. It is always disasterous when human beings take an "either/or" stance on their acceptance of other human beings. No one is absolutely, 100% bad or good. We ALL have good, and we ALL have flaws.

Needing a yardstick (the LW) against which you measure your own self worth in W's heart is a true sign of a dangerously low self-esteem. Working on THAT is how you can overcome feeling like "second best".

Trying to find ways to feel superior to the LW, while initially normal for GOWs/WOWs, is unproductive to say the least. No matter how you add it up, these small victories never end up being the real reasons why W loves you for who YOU are. We need to embrace the fact that who and what we are, however similar or different from the LWs, is what truly matters.

The sad reality is, many women with insecurity issues will battle them even harder when they start dating a W.

You have to start believing that what you offer to W is what he wants and needs, to hell with what anyone else thinks, and remember that itis BECAUSE he lost a LW that he is the man for you. He has evolved, grown, and matured. The experience of losing a spouse changes a person, and he is much so that he has become the perfect fit for YOU!

Obsessing over LW, either positively or negatively, takes up waaay too much time and energy that would be better spent embracing the present and choosing to be happy despite the past. She was his perfect match back then. *I* am his perfect match now, because he is no longer the man from the past - he has changed, evolved, grown, matured, and learned that life is fragile so you gotta embrace it with GUSTO and CHOOSE to be happy in the "here and now."

The simple truth is this: He loved her. Loved = past tense. He can love the MEMORY of her, but she's not here anymore for him to love with a passion reserved for the living. He loves you. Loves = present tense. YOU are the real, living, breathing embodiment of his present feelings. He will contine to love you. Will love = future tense. One cannot build a future on memories.

So, too, must a GOW come to a final stage of acceptance. in order for the relationship to thrive, she must embrace her own autonomous significance in the W's life, and stop allowing the past to interfere with the present.....and that means: stop allowing LW, her memory, and her perceived yet illusional perfection interfere with your choice to be happy!!

Whether W and LW were blissfully happy or miserably connected, it matters little in the here and now. It is the present and future we as GOWs/WOWs need to be focussed on and concerned with, not the past. Start today to uplift your self esteem. Embrace who you are and what you mean to your W. It's real, it's permanent, and it's packed with hope for everywaking moment. Don't waste any more precious time you COULD be spending in a peaceful, fulfilling relationship by allowing the past to suffocate your self worth. If you weren't worthy, he wouldn't have chosen you. But you ARE worthy! He could have spent the remainder of his years alone with his memories, but God bless him, he had the strength, the fortitude, and the will to push himself beyond his grief to appreciate the gift of love you bring. He's awesome..YOU'RE awesome...LIFE is awesome! Enjoy it! Embrace it! Happiness is a BE happy!!

First of all, stop feeling guilty about feeling happy that LW was not perfect. It's human, and very common and normal for GOWs and WOWs to feel relieved when they hear bad things about LW. It makes HER appear more human - not the perfect angel we have been lead to believe by W, her family, their friends, or all three.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: what you are feeling in regard to LW comparisons is NORMAL for a GOW! Thus, I validate your normalness. However, when all is said and done, it matters NOT what other people think - it matters what W thinks, and if he perceives LW as perfect, then the bad stuff other people say isn't going to make much difference.

We cannot be satisfied to remain validated when we know deep inside that it is unproductive and gets us nowhere. DEALING with negative, non-productive, kneejerk reactions - however normal they may be - is what matures us and helps us grow as individuals, which can only help our relationships thrive. Acknowledging WHERE the insecurity that leads to the comparisons comes from is an important first step....but it's not the last.

I have battled the demons of low self-esteem my whole life. But I had a choice: I could either be satisfied with the validation of my stinky past and thus, be condemned to wallow in it unproductively.....OR....I could rise above it, learn to like myself and project that likeability onto others, and deal with my trust issues so that I wouldn't miss out on the joys of life. And missing out on those joys is exactly what I fear may happen to you if you don't start today to move beyond validation and start taking the leaps of faith - in yourself and others - so you can lead a full and happy life, free from comparisons.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Those "Other" WOW/GOW Sites and So-Called "Experts"

Recently, I received an e-mail from a GOW who was totally disturbed by the lack of support and encouragement she received when she posted her GOW issue on a different kind of WOW/GOW site (not my site). In her words: "One blog owner advised that if my W were really over his LW and ready to move on with life, then he should have no problem with my issue. Another one told me to just get over it as I had him now and she was dead."

How truly sad, misinformed, and misguided these other so-called "experts" are.

There is a reason why I call my forum “The Official WOW/GOW Message Board” (and yes, it’s copyrighted!): because there is not another one like it in cyberspace! No other board is run by a GOW/WOW who has not only had a book published on the subject, but has had over a decade of grief counselling and bereavement recovery experience. Not to boast, but I bring to my board both personal AND professional experience. That being said, the “other” boards/blogs/forums really irritate me because they tend to be non-productive, non-supportive, and definitely short sighted and lacking in real expertise.

One such forum that really burns me up is run by a widower who thinks he can counsel GOWs and WOWs just because he remarried and wrote a book about it! Puh-lease…give me strength! Most of the time, when a GOW or WOW posts her issues to his blog, he minimizes her feelings and just tells her to shove off, get away from W, dump him, and move on. But when a GOW or WOW has invested much of herself, her love, her hopes, her dreams, and yes, her life to the relationship, these harsh words do mor eharm than good...and it's time to set the record straight.

Lest anyone think I am posting this blog because I am competitive, jealous, or feel threatened by the aforementioned "other" forums, let me state for the record the following: I have NEVER tried to steer my board members away from something besides me and/or my book if I thought it'd be helpful to them. In fact, I would search (and have searched) heaven and earth for ANY good literature for them IF I thought it would help them. And if I thought for one minute that these other forums were truly beneficial, I would post the web address for all to see and visit.

However, I am of the opinion that those who have never walked in GOW or WOW shoes have no business advising those who do. It'd be like a man advising a woman about childbirth: sure, he might know the mechancics, the medical facts, and process from start to finish. But he would NEVER be able to advise her as to how it FEELS, emotionally speaking, to birth a child and/or be a mother because, simply put, he is not a woman, and thus, has never personally experienced birth!

Therefore, ladies, be careful "out there" in cyberspace. Thanks to POD publishing technology, ANYONE can write a book....but that doesn't always mean they have the experience or expertise to back it up. Do yourselves a favour and think twice before "nodding and smiling" for any cyberspace "expert" who lacks the credentials and experience necessary to validate you as you journey along as a GOW/WOW. Anyone can throw together a website these days and claim to be an "expert", so don;t be intimidated! Do your research and ask questions before baring your soul to someone who has never worn your moccasins, lest you find yourselves mislead or, worse, discouraged.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The "Perfect" Late Wife (LW)?

I believe it's absolutely normal for a GOW/WOW to fine some kind of satisfaction, even comfort, in discovering LW's faults and flaws. When it's W himself who offers these tidbits of truth, he is, in effect, completing a grief stage: acceptance. Where once he held LW on a pedestal of perfection, time has healed his heart to the point where he can now put LW's memory in perspective. In most cases, admitting openly that LW had flaws doesn't mean he regrets his marriage, or that LW went from angel to total b*tch overnight. It simply means that he has come to a point along his grief journey where he has processed her loss rationally instead of irrationally.

Normal as it is to do "the superiority dance" (a la "Church Lady" from old Saturday Night Live when LW's faults/flaws are laid bare, remember that normal does not always equal productive. LW's faults/flaws are only part and parcel of the human being W loved (or once loved). She wasn't perfect, but she wasn't a total write-off, either. There was SOMEthing good about her or SOME payoff of their marriage that kept W hanging in there.

It is always disasterous when human beings take an "either/or" stance on their acceptance of other human beings. No one is absolutely, 100% bad or good. We ALL have good, and we ALL have flaws. The danger in a GOW taking LW's admitted flaws/faults and judging LW as "bad" just to make herself feel better is that doing so can come back to bite her. When W has heard enough LW-knocking (even if he agress with what is being said about her faults - and even if HE was the one who confessed them), he will resent having shared such intimate secrets about her flaws in the first place - or start to feel guilty about doing so - when he knows deep inside she wasn't ALL bad, and that their marriages indeed had moments to cherish. Divorcees are often dealt this kind of judgement when others ask them, "How could you have stayed with such a monster for so long?" First of all, it makes the divorcee feel stupid, and everyone can relate to resenting a person who judges us as foolish. Secondly, every divorcee will tell you that there WERE some marital highlights, happy times, and positive affirmations within the marriage's duration (and enough good things within their exes) they will always treasure...and grieve the loss of.

Thus, while it's true that some Ws had unhealthy marriages to their LWs, be forewarned that even those marriages (and the less-than-stellar LWs) will still be grieved as a loss. This kind of grief is jammed-packed full of guilt and resentment, leaving these kinds of Ws very trepidacious about committment, much less remarrying. More often than not, it is these kinds of Ws who take longer to come full circle in their recovery....and can be "the toughest nut to crack" for a GOW.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dating a "Virgin" Widower

I always feel bad for the first GOW to come into a W's life. She becomes the proving ground; the waters that W tests before he jumps into the proverbial relationship-after-LW pool; the one on whom the W cuts his relationship teeth. For many Ws, it has been years if not decades since they've been with any woman besides their LWs. These Ws have spent those years honing their marriages, getting to know ONE woman's personality, fine-tuning their responses and sensitivities to suit only HER. Then they try out the very same stuff on a new woman, and are befuddled as to why the stuff that worked when it came to LW isn't making any headway with the new GOW! These "virgin" Ws must think all women are alike, and that using their one-size-fits-all relationship tactics will work on all women since they worked with their LWs. Wrong! Since all people are different, why would their LW experiences even come close to working with the new GOW? Sure, some things SHOULD remain the same: men should alweays treat women with resect and be gentlemen. But I'm talking about those virgin Ws who, in their first real relationships since their LWs died, tend to stumble along like clods...until they realize they cannot and should not treat the new GOW exactly as they did the LW.

A poor newbie GOW has an unenviable position with a virgin W. As his "first" since LW, the new GOW wears many hats: she is a teacher; the one who, as described above, patiently instructs him in proper post-LW relationship behaviour. She is a mother; the one who gently soothes his aching heart with her love. She is a nurse; the one who tends his inner wounds, all the while trying not to become too personally involved (but failing) so his pain will not become her own. She is a therapist; the one who listens sympathetically and patiently as he works through his grief. She is an engineer; the one who systematically works out a plan for their future together, using every conceivable force in nature to move him gently onward and forward. She is overworked, underpaid, and hardly appreciated. Is it any wonder she is exhausted and constantly worrying about her "job security" - where she personally fits into virgin W's heart?

Ah, but then she remembers her "benefits package"! Virgin W is hard work, to be sure, but there ARE perks. Were it not for these perks, new GOW just might start looking for another job. Instead, she remains steadast and devoted, hoping the pay-off for her efforts will be the, diamond....ring: that wonderful pre-retirement bonus of having helped to invent a new man from a formerly hopeless one; a man who has learned that the past is indeed the past and that the present and future CAN be more wonderful, thanks to the GOW.

And yet, so many GOWs bail out before they reach the pay-off, and I can't blame them. It's only human to think, "There must be an easier job than this!" and worrying she'll never reach retirement age and that golden handshake!! However, their efforts never die in vain. The next GOW to come along enjoys the benefits of the first GOW's hard work. Thus, the first GOWs last hat must be that of a writer: one who scribes onto virgin W's heart those words that make him think, motivate him to change, and inspire him to do so. It's all any writer can ask. ;)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Are You A "Grief Enabler"?

Recently, I received an e-mail from a GOW (Girlfriend Of a Widower) who wondered if being “the patient grief therapist” was only enabling her widowed boyfriend’s grief or perhaps retarding his bereavement recovery in some way. “Am I an unwitting enabler?” she asked.

Many medical dictionaries define an enabler as follows:

“Family member or significant person in an alcoholic's or drug addict's life that contributes to the afflicted person's continued use and abuse of the substance. Examples of enabling include making excuses for the afflicted person and/or supplying the person with the alcohol or drug.”

With a few word substitutions, the aforementioned quotes could be describing a GOW or a WOW (Wife Of a Widower) who is either actively or passively, out of the goodness of her heart and with good intentions, enabling her widower’s grief by being compassionate, patient, or simply unquestioning about his bereavement journey:

“Family member or significant person in a widower’s life that contributes to the widower’s continued grief. Examples of enabling include making excuses for the widower and/or supplying the person with so much understanding and patience that he develops more reasons to grieve.”

Famous drug and alcohol rehabilitation therapist, psychotherapist, clinical hypnotherapist, group therapy facilitator, and life, business & spiritual coach Dr. Jannette Robert Murray of Spokane, Washington concludes:

“Any time you assist/allow another person to continue in their unproductive/unhealthy/addictive behavior, whether actively or passively, you are enabling! So even when you say nothing (such as ‘minding your own business’), you are enabling the behavior to continue. Sometimes you say nothing out of fear — fear of reprisal, fear of the other person hating/hurting/not liking you; or fear of butting in where you don’t think you belong.”

In a love relationship with a widower, YOU are an integral part of the coupling. His feelings are important, and as such, become your business as well. Alas, fear of his negative reaction to their questions is the major reason why some GOWs/WOWs have shied away from discussing their widowers’ grief with their men.

The therapist continues: “Sometimes enabling takes the form of doing something for another that they should do for themselves. Rather than recognizing there is a problem, the addict assumes a fighting mode – a “fight or flight” reaction - rather than taking responsibility for correcting the situation in a healthy way.”

This is true of a widower who, after initially proclaiming his feelings for his new love, inexplicably backs out of the relationship.

Most if not all WOWs/GOWs want to assist their widowed men in their bereavement recovery. It is a natural, human reaction to want to aid the hurting person you love. But where does a GOW/WOW draw the line between being a healthy helpmate and a grief enabler? And how does one distinguish between the two?

To gauge whether or not you are a grief enabler, you must first answer the following questions:

~Are you afraid to discuss your widower’s grief with him?
~Has your widower ever angrily dismissed your questions about his grief feelings and refused to discuss them with you?
~Are you an insecure person whose recent relationship with a widower has lowered your sense of self-esteem even further?
~Do you feel secure in this relationship, or does his grief threaten your sense of relationship security?
~Do you resent having allowed your widower to discuss his late wife/previous marriage/grief feelings to the extent that you have concluded he may never have a healthy relationship with you?
~Do you feel that you have been too understanding; that your compassionate response to his grief may be hindering his recovery?
~ Have you made excuses to others – or yourself - about your widower’s grief?
~Do you get satisfaction from being the compassionate martyr in this relationship?
~ Can you imagine a relationship with your widower that does not include grief?
~Do you have a need for power/control in your relationship that you feel will give you power/control over your fear?

As you will see, some of these questions address the GOW’s or WOW’s sense of self-esteem prior to the relationship with the widower. The reason for this is because most enablers react out of their own low self-esteem. Their past life experiences have not gained for them the ability to say no, draw boundary lines, or assert themselves without fear of losing the love or caring of that other person. People who learn ‘tough love’ have to learn that their former behaviors have been enabling, and that to continue in them would constitute allowing the other person’s pattern of behavior to continue... and to worsen! Thus, recognising your own issues regarding self-esteem is the first step toward recognising, and thus healing, your enabling issues.

Dr. Murray continues:

“Enabling comes from codependency. The term codependency refers to a relationship where one or both parties enable the other to act in certain maladaptive ways. Codependent personalities evolve from attempts to keep some type of order in a hurtful relationship. Many times, the act of enabling satisfies a need for the codependent person because his or her actions foster a dependency from the other person or persons in the relationship.”

Are you attempting to keep order in your relationship with your widower by enabling his grief? In some unhealthy GOW/WOW/widower relationships, the widower continues to NEED to grieve because he cannot imagine NOT grieving. To him, moving beyond bereavement is akin to a betrayal in forgetting his late wife/past marriage, something that is unfathomable to him because he equates forgetting with forever ceasing to love his late wife.

The WOW/GOW in this kind of relationship continues to NEED to be needed for her sympathy, kindness, and patience while loving him. She gets some kind of thrill from playing the martyr, bypassing her own needs and issues in order to “rescue” her widower from his grief pain. The two people feed off of each other’s neediness and, while doing so, unwittingly stall their own love relationship from progressing in a healthy way. In return, they each resent – and start to lose respect for – the other.

Dr. Murray claims: "Codependency is reinforced by a person's need to be needed. The grief enabler thinks irrationally, believing she can maintain a healthy relationship with her widower through manipulation and control. She believes she can do this by avoiding conflict and fostering dependency."

"Another way a codependent person can continue to foster this dependency from her widower is by controlling situations and people around her.
As a child, you may have been reinforced to comply with actions and decisions of a parent instead of being afforded opportunities to challenge those actions that you found to be wrong. Can you see how these types of messages could foster the development of irrational thinking? The ongoing themes in a codependent home are to avoid conflicts and problems and to make excuses for destructive or hurtful behavior."

"You may ask: What is the harm with trying to keep the peace? The power afforded to the codependent person in a relationship reinforces her need for control even if she uses inappropriate means to fulfill her need to be in control."

In a relationship with a widower, for example, instead of allowing her man to lead the way through grief-related situations such as his late wife’s death anniversary, the grief enabler controls the day. She announces that she will accompany her widower to the cemetery. She invites family and friends, both past and present, to a memorial in the late wife’s honour. And by doing so, she feeds her need to be viewed as the wonderfully understanding partner by her widowers and others, which in turn satisfies her sense of self-esteem and powerlessness. Sadly, by doing so, her widower now has another reason to stall his grief recovery in that by allowing the GOW/WOW to control the day, he can avoid the necessary walk through “anniversary grief” required in order to grow and heal from it.

Another example of controlling the WOW/GOW/widower relationship though the widower’s grief feelings would be how many GOWs/WOWs are afraid of discussing their widower’s grief with him. They are afraid of any mention of the late wife. These women are too competitive with her memory, and as such, fear that allowing the widower to discuss her equates allowing him to “hang onto” her memory. The WOW/GOW feels that by hanging onto his memory of his late wife, the widower’s grief will never end. In the WOW/GOW’s irrational mind, allowing the widower to hang onto his memories and love for his late wife means she herself will forever be “second best” and may never “measure up to” the late wife in his eyes. Without concrete knowledge of grief recovery and how discussing grief feelings is important to a widower’s healing, the WOW/GOW will continue to be the silent enabler.

Finally, an important but often overlooked aspect of enabling centers on the inconsistent messages and unclear expectations presented by someone who is codependent. Dr. Murray says, “These characteristics contribute to a relationship filled with irrational thoughts and behavior. This kind of relationship has no clear rules to right and wrong behavior.”

For example, some GOWs/WOWs refuse to draw boundary lines within their relationships with their widowers. These women expect respect and sensitivity, but without first expressing their GOW/WOW-related issues coherently, they often find themselves in heated arguments with their confused men.

To illustrate, imagine a GOW who silently hurts whenever she views pictures of the late wife in her widowed boyfriend’s home. She fears mentioning her issue for fear that her widower will find her petty, competitive, and insecure. By staying silent, she begins to harbour resentment for her widower, which may manifest in angry, derogatory comments about the late wife in conversations with him or others. The widower, who is clueless as to the origin of the GOW’s pain, finds her behaviour confusing if not insensitive, and begins to question the stability of the relationship. The GOW feels him pulling away, but irrationally excuses his actions by concluding that he loves his late wife MORE than he will ever love her. When the relationship finally ends, the GOW finds comfort in her belief that it was his fault, not hers.

Noted television psychiatrist Dr. Phil McGraw claims, “We teach others how to treat us.” Exactly right! We cannot expect anyone, much less our widowers, to treat us how we want to be treated unless or until we define for them our issues, fears, and boundaries. Doing so illuminates “right and wrong” within the relationship, and gives our significant others clear insight into our expectations of treatment.

Is it difficult to stop enabling? Dr. Murray says yes, but there is hope! "It’s difficult if you’re trying to do it with will power. And it’s not easy until you know you deserve to stop; till you know that you are lovable regardless of what the person you’ve enabled says to the contrary…until you raise your own self-esteem enough to be that strong. Interestingly, you may think it’s the other person who needs all the help. In truth, you both do! It becomes easier and easier to release the bonds of codependency as you, yourself, become stronger, healthier, and more whole."

Loving yourself, raising your self-esteem, learning all about the patterns of codependence/enabling/over-giving and how to be more assertive in saying what you mean are all VITAL steps to take in order to be a healthy helpmate in a relationship with a widower.

When you become your own highest priority, regardless of the widower’s priorities, you will learn to make it happen. Remember, no one will ever care as much about you as much as you should care about yourself, including your widower.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Valley Of The Shadow of Hope

As the wife of a former widower, many people assume that it is my job to help my husband forget his late wife, to erase her memory from his mind, and to eliminate the love he has had for her from his heart. After all, how could he possibly move beyond bereavement with hope for his future if he still clung to the past? How could he love two women at the same time? Worst yet, how could I, as his new wife, ever feel hopeful about a marriage of two souls while a part of this unique triangle of three?

My best explanation would be this: I have learned to embrace my husband’s late wife. She, like all wives, has played a very large part in creating the wonderful man I married. While he is probably much different than the man she knew, my husband’s late wife has left her legacy of love to me within him. I have much for which to be grateful to her. Why would I ever wish her memory to be dishonoured if I stand to gain so much more by embracing this unusual triangle: my husband, myself, and the late wife?

Being rapturously in love with my husband, I was recently reminded of our own beautiful wedding when we were in attendance together at another.
But while dabbing my tears as I sat in the church pew, something suddenly struck me as strange. If I promise to love, honor, and cherish my husband until death parts us, then is it my duty – my solemn vow before God – to stop loving, honoring, and cherishing him when he does die? Certainly God never intended for us to put the brakes on our deepest emotions just because our partner in life has been taken from us physically…or does He?

Newlyweds don’t think twice about repeating these sacred vows. They are certain that their love with stand the test of time and that their loving feelings will overcome all future obstacles. It is this hope – not the fragrant flowers or pretty bridesmaids - that makes weddings intimately grand. Hope is the reason wedding guests bring tissues and handkerchiefs. Hope is a beautiful thing.

But when a spouse loses his or her life partner to death, hope may be doomed to the wayside temporarily. It is difficult to be hopeful when your soul mate has been ripped from your life, leaving you alone, afraid, and sad beyond words. But love does not cease to exist, and neither does the desire to honor and cherish your mate simply because he or she is now just a memory – an honoured, cherished memory.

When the worst happens, hope is suspended in limbo. When we grieve, we forget that hope is an option. Insightful people know intrinsically that without hope, a widow or widower will not survive emotionally for very long. This is why their friends and family become protective and concerned, flocking to the bereaved’s side to remind their loved one that hope is still in sight and will be a beacon through the darkest of days ahead.

But where does one so deep in grief tap into this source of hope when life now feels like a barren wasteland of useless energy?

The answer is love.

With love, all things are possible. And from that realm of possibility, hope springs eternal. To love is to keep hope alive, and to hope is to keep love alive. It takes courage to love, lose a loved one, and love again. It takes hope to make it happen.

God never meant for us to stop loving our spouses when they die. Rather, He created love to be unconditional, eternal, and renewable. He knew that through love, we could find the hope that He so generously gifts us – love that stands the tests of time, even through the valley of the shadow of death. And in His wisdom, He created love and hope to be inseparable parts of the human spirit.

I believe that churches worldwide should change the marriage vows to reflect the two universal truths that all widows and widowers have come to know: Love never dies - even after loss, and the desire to honor and cherish the memory of a lost love is not buried along with the deceased, either.

My husband’s undying love for his late wife, and the hope that it inspired in him, have benefited me as his new wife in many ways. But the most important is being enveloped in a circle of love that will never end and a hope that will never die. To erase or eliminate that from my husband’s heart would be marital suicide. But to embrace his love for his late wife only perpetuates the wondrous cycle of endless love and strengthens our own union forever.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Getting A Widower To Open Up

WOWs and GOWs write to me all the time, asking me, "When you were first dating how did you get your widower to talk about his loss and his grief feelings?" I assume this question comes from women who are having a hard time getting their men to open up and share. How does a woman get ANY man, widower or not, to spill his guts? Men can be quite emotionally-constipated creatures, so bringing them to a woman's level of chatty communication is never an easy task. Difficult, yes...but not impossible.

I suppose the answer to this question for me, personally, is based on the kind of person I am:

I have diarrhea mouth. The only time I ever shut up is when I'm chewing my food. Heck, I even talk in my sleep! I have chronic bronchitis, so losing my voice is a twice-a-year thing for me. That doesn't stop me. Post-It Notes and dry-erase boards are my best friends during speechless illness.

I am also fearlessly opinionated but tactful. I am one of those strange people who could care less what others think of what I have to say, and I don't let other people's subjective opinions hurt me one bit (which came in handy when I worked as a lobbyist!).

I also love honesty, regardless of how it's wrapped: I don't care if it's delivered brutally or gently, just give me the truth!

Thus, getting Hubs to talk about his feelings was a matter of asking the right questions, constantly and without fear, with the goal of honest feedback, even if his answers weren't what I had hoped to hear.

You see, it's MUCH easier to deal with the truth than to sit and worry about assumptions. Quiet men unnerve me. Left to their own devices, most womens' assumptions about a man's unexpressed thoughts can provoke insecurities. They rarely assume positive things, only negative. I hate negativity and insecurity. So, to combat them, I have to be forthright, direct, and inquisitive just for my own peace of mind. And I won't rest until every stone has been turned.

It's no picnic asking "the tough questions" from a widower you love. But before you begin to do that, you have to ask a tough question of yourself first: Would I rather allow my fears to control my destiny, lead me to negative assumptions, and constantly worry and wonder about what my widower thinks and feels.......or would I rather face my fears, ask the questions I need answered, and deal with whatever truth he gives me? The choice, my friends, is up to you.

When you make decisions about what truth you can live with and which you can't, it's easy to find the strength to do what it takes to put your mind at ease. When your mind is at peace, you feel more confident about who you are. And when you feel confident, asking a widower to share his innermost thoughts with you is not as hard as it seems.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Enough Already! (When The Widower Talks Endlessly About His LW)

Is it normal for a widower to talk about his late wife? Of course! She was a huge part of his life. They shared a history together. Although she is a part of his past, her memory is very much a part of his present and future. I don’t believe the widowed should be forced in any way by anyone to box up their memories altogether and never again speak another word about their lost loves. It would be an inhumane and selfish request to ask of the bereaved, and would lack the compassion needed have a successful relationship with a widower.

In my book “PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman’s Journey as the Wife of a Widower”, I urge my WOW (Wives Of Widowers) and GOW (Girlfriends Of Widowers) readers to embrace the late wife, and to remember that a relationship with a widower will be a marriage of three hearts, not just two. However, some people have misunderstood my meaning, erroneously assuming that this author believes a woman involved with a widower must willingly and dutifully step aside into the shadow of a sainted woman’s memory.

On the contrary, I believe a widower must treat his new love as the center of his universe, barring all others, including his late wife. However, to have a successful relationship with a widower, his new love must accept his past, including his late wife, and remember that she was, as most wives are, instrumental in making him the man he is today. I truly believe that outward jealousy of and disdain towards the late wife only serves to create an atmosphere of bitterness and resentment – emotions that build walls between a couple. Sharing a widower’s heart with his late wife does not mean his new love must take a back seat and quietly allow the late wife’s memory to stand between the couple. Sharing his heart simply means that the new woman in his life understands and accepts that the love he had for his late spouse did not die with her, and will always occupy a space in his heart.

But does a late spouse have to be a huge part of your present relationship with a widowed man, if at all?

Many girlfriends and wives of widowers (GOWs and WOWs) have written to me, asking when they might expect their widowers to stop droning on and on about his late wife. Hearing about another woman in your man’s past is difficult to handle. We certainly don’t expect a divorced man to talk about the good times he and his ex shared, and we feel righteous indignation when any man discusses, ad nauseum, within listening distance of his present love, the wonderful attributes of the ex-lovers who broke his heart. Doing so would be the ultimate in insensitivity. Yet society expects a woman involved with a widower to sit silently and put her personal feelings on the back burner while her widower lovingly recalls each and every personal detail about his late wife and their marriage.

A friend of mine once chastised my own angst about my widower’s tendency to memorialize his late wife by asking, “Why does it bother you so much? It’s not like she’s a threat or anything…she’s dead!” Clearly, those who have no stake in a relationship with a widower have no clue about - and no patience for - how hurtful and confusing this issue can be to the new woman in his life. Bottom line: the constant stirring and recalling of the memories of a deceased spouse CAN be harmful if it impedes the growth of a new relationship.

Some widowers with whom I have spoken regarding this issue have justified it by claiming they freely converse with their present loves about their late wives so that the former will “get to know” the latter. These widowers feel a need to bond their late spouses with their present loves. I have to wonder why they feel it is necessary, in their minds, for the late wife and present love to be friends. To what end do these means serve? Why would a man expect his new love to gleefully embrace this odd emotional “ménage a trios”, and what women of self-worth and esteem would settle for it without argument?

Sometimes, a widower who purposefully shares intimate information about his late wife and their marriage with their present love is subconsciously looking for permission of sorts to fall in love again. To wit, he is hoping to be exonerated from the guilt he carries about moving on and leaving his memories – and his late wife - permanently in the past. He not only hopes his new love will accept that a part of his heart will always belong to another, but that his late wife will forgive him his imagined betrayal of her. However, doing so only delays his grief recovery as he perpetually memorializes his late wife. (Note: Ws don't [usually] look skyward and ask for LW's permission, lest any supposed "journalist" take my words out of context. I am talking about the W's subconscious here.)

Some widowers feel that in order for his new love to fully and completely understand and accept him for the person he is, it is paramount that she understands the depth of his love for his late wife. In my opinion, if a man thinks his late wife defines who he is and is the main source of his character, then he has not yet matured enough to grasp a very important understanding: the measure of a man is not who shaped him, but how he has used his life experiences to become the man he is. An appreciation for those in our lives who have contributed to our successes is vital, yes…but to claim these selfless mentors possess our personhood is the antithesis of personal growth.

Often times, discussing memories of a late spouse gives strength to the survivor. A widower cannot completely let go of the past unless and until every stone is unturned. He cannot move beyond bereavement until he embraces the past pain as well as its pleasures. Grief is not just an emotion but also a process. I once asked my previously widowed husband when he knew he had successfully let go of the past. He answered, “When I could smile instead of cry when remembering her.” Processing memories is an important step toward grief recovery. Therefore, it would appear logical that a widower who yearns to discuss his late wife and their shared past is thirsty to move on with his life. Thus, the act of verbally skipping down Memory Lane isn’t so insensitive after all.

Or is it?

When a partner in any kind of relationship disregards the feelings of his or her mate, this is insensitivity. Widowers I have spoken to about this issue ask me, “But I don’t understand WHY she (GOW or WOW) gets so upset when I talk about my late wife!” I reply that it would behove these men to ask the new mates personally so that they may acquire a deeper understanding of how it feels to love a man whose heart is apparently, as the old song says, “torn between two lovers.” I then counsel widowers to consider how they would feel if their new loves talked endlessly about their former lovers. Walking around in another person’s moccasins certainly sheds light on the issue. If a partner repeatedly asks his/her mate to cease and desist, that request should be respected, regardless of whether or not the reasoning behind the request is understood.

In conclusion, WOWs and GOWs must be sensitive to the fact that the widowers in their lives may have a need to discuss their late wives and marriages for a variety of reasons: to purge guilt, to complete the final stage of bereavement recovery, or to gain validation of his grief’s normalcy in sharing his intimate grief feelings with his new love. As such, a GOW/WOW would be wise to be sensitive to his feelings and learn to embrace the fact that his late wife will always be a treasured past memory, but not a present threat.

However, widowers must also be sensitive to the assumed threat the new love feels when there is more talk of the past and not enough reassurance and validation that the GOW/WOW in his life is Number One in his heart. When she pleads “Enough is enough!” the intelligent widower will respect her wishes as he attempts to gain insight, using honest communication, about the complex emotional and often misunderstood heart of a GOW/WOW.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Long-Distance and/or Online Romance: Nice, But At What Cost?

There is something very romantic about a long-distance relationship, especially for those who are prone to romanticism, i.e., the poets and writers among us. Ahem ;) :)

Oh yes, we loooove to write pages and pages about our deepest feelings, oftentimes peppering our love letters with "one-liners of love" that we might not have the guts to utter in person. The early months of dating long-distance can be quite infatuating for the romantics among us. It is a time when our heart's pencil is most sharp. With one well-written line, the romantic becomes the hero of their own creation; at times, becoming a larger-than-life character in their own plays.

At once charming and seemingly sincere, always penning just the right words to capture a new lover's heart, romantics start to feel as swept away as the objects of their affection do. In this way, two needs are filled: the poet's, because they need to pour out their hearts in written form...and the new love's, because they need to be flattered and romanced. It is a sweet, perfect world they share...a place where neither is flawed and life is always good.

Sadly, romantics ALWAYS (and I mean, ALWAYS!) fall hard when reality sets in. So do their paramours. Reality's harsh light, like overhead lighting in department store dressing rooms, can be quite revealing, showing every major flaw otherwise overlooked or disguised. That space of time between the charm of romanticism and the reality of real life can be quite a large pothole in the road of the poet's & paramour's relationship, out from which many cannot dig themselves. Those who do manage to climb out discover that they are no longer as infatuated with their new love as they were when the lighting was dimmer and the world was a dreamy self-created fantasy. Those couples who DO climb out and work together to meld the romantic with the realistic have the best chance of making it, but they may always feel that something was lost along the way.

Case in point:

Hubs and I met online in a widows & widowers chat room (at the time, I was researching chat rooms for an article I, as a freelancer, was commissioned to write about them). His posts to other survivors melted my heart. On the back-and-forth letters/e-mails we two hungry romantics sent to each other were written words like those of gothic novels, dripping with sweet sentimentality and love so divine, they would have made Satan himself swoon. It had been many, many years since I had been so hunted and chased, so flattered and infatuated. Hubs' words spun gold in my heart and wove a tapestry so intricate that I floated instead of walked, laughed instead of cried, and reeled with delight from the power of his silky threads of lovingly written words.

In my mind, he had become perfect, infallible, and pleasantly unreal, so unlike anything I had ever experienced. In my mind, I had created my own personal knight in shining armor who had come to save me from my painful post-divorce misery. With each in-person meeting/date, Hubs' armor became more and more dented as the reality of his normal human imperfections was revealed. Where, oh where was my white knight...and who was this clumsy-talking shy clown taking his place? (LOL!) I can't explain WHY I was so shocked....perhaps because I had built him up so much in my mind (with his help, of course!) as this mythical creature that ANY tiny imperfection reality revealed about him to me would messed with my sense of need. Whatever its reason, the transition was indeed painful.

However, long story short....Although the heady feeling that accompanies being romanced diminished, with time, the acceptance of each other for who we really were took hold as we began the slow process of climbing out from the pothole of long-distance romantic infatuation into a new reality - one that still included romantic overtures, but one that became solidly based in the daily give-and-take required for relationships to grow.

Reality is no picnic, and the knight gave me respite from the harshness of my daily living at a time when I needed the rest so badly. But with a LOT of perseverance and a willingness to create a new kind of love, we both tempered the poets inside of us with the imperfect people we were, and thus forged a more realistic yet still sentimental bond.

I must admit with great sadness that I miss the fantasy of the white knight...
Gone are the long, drippingly sweet pages and pages of uninhibited written confessions of his heart. Thankfully, in their place, my W has written in indelible ink upon my heart an unspoken love that I can count on to always be there.
Gone are the "all-nighters" when we would lovingly express until dawn's early light our deepest dreams and desires for our future, in whispered tones and with giddy anticipation. Thankfully, in their place, my W has worked hard in the real world to make a future for us that is mortgage-free and retirement-ready, thus securing my heart to his.
Gone are the days of revelling in each other’s romantically-eschewed perfection. Thankfully, in their place, we have faced the harsh lighting of reality, revealing all of our worst human imperfections, and yet loving each other in spite of them all.

Has it been easy? Lord, no! The transition from romantic fantasy to reality would have been MUCH simpler if only we had done the mature thing and revealed to each other in bits and pieces our human flaws. In short, while reality may be harsh, you cannot make a life with a fantasy.

Thankfully, once in awhile, when I least expect it, the white knight returns for a visit (usually carrying flowers!), if only to remind me that he still exists but in a different form. This new knight - a blend of the romantic and the realistic - is a better person in whom I can place my trust instead of putting my future in the hands of a created persona who was better at sweeping me off my feet than helping me sweep the floors of our family home.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The "Fits and Starts" Of Dating A WIdower

Although my book “PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman’s Journey As The Wife Of A Widower” primarily addresses women married to widowers, I do occasionally receive e-mails from women who are in serious committed premarital relationships with widowers as well. These brave souls seem to share one issue in common: struggling to overcome the “fits and starts” initiated by their previously widowed boyfriends who emotionally withdraw from the relationship when grief is triggered.

The following is an example of “fits and starts” from a recent letter I received:

“I have been dating a widower for the past two years. His wife died five years ago. He says they were very happy and everyone I meet tells me how wonderful she was. Initially, he dove right into the relationship and we seemed to be the perfect match. After six months of dating, he withdrew and said he had to work out in his mind issues that were about him and his wife, and he wasn't ready to discuss them with me. He is very close to his late wife’s family and they celebrate her birthday and death every year. It was during the time of this anniversary that he retreated. We got back together a few months later for another eight months, but now the same thing has happened at the same time of the year.”

“Do you think these are issues about his wife and that even after such a long time he is still not ready to move on or perhaps his problems stem from other issues? He is a lovely man...kind, generous, thoughtful, and I love him dearly. How can I gently communicate more with him about this? I did have a fear of bringing “her” up initially, but tried to do it once in awhile. I have not visited her grave with him but really do want to. Is there hope?”

Typically, a widower who has re-entered the dating scene does so with much trepidation. This is “virgin territory” to him, yet he chooses to take each step one at a time and deal with the issues as they arise. One of the issues he may face is “guilt by betrayal”. If I had to venture a guess based on what I have researched about widowers (since I don’t know each one personally), I would say that this writer’s widower is exhibiting classic "guilt by betrayal" issues since he typically backs away from her during his late wife's death anniversary.

This pattern usually affects widowed men who were faithful and happy in their marriages, shared a child with their late spouse, and/or were married for a decade or longer. At this time, he feels guilty for a variety of reasons, such as the simple acts of:

1.) Living ("Why do *I* deserve to live when “she” (late spouse/girlfriend/fiancée) didn't? There's something WRONG with that!")
2.) Being happy ("How can I be - or how do I deserve to be - happy when "she" is gone? It feels so WRONG!")
3.) Moving on ("Shouldn't life just STOP because “she” is gone? Wouldn't it be more of a memorial in her honor for me to remain celibate/single/miserable? What's WRONG with me?")

Widowers such as this typically:

1.) Have no one to talk to about their confusing feelings, so they stuff these emotions deep inside until an event (such as another funeral he attends, or the death/wedding/birthday anniversary of his late significant other) brings these feelings to the surface).
2.) Have no idea how or where to find someone to validate their feelings and discover that they are a perfectly normal (but temporary) part of the emotional grief cycle.
3.) Have family/friends holding them back and prodding their guilt.

I truly believe that it is NOT healthy for a widower to be commemorating his late wife's birthday/anniversary with his late wife’s parents each year. They may be the sweetest people on earth and have no intentions of making the widower feel guilty, but they are!

The former in-laws are a sore subject among WOWs/GOWs. Some are very accepting and kind, some are not. Those who are not have a hard time accepting that their daughter's beloved husband has chosen to move on with his life. Their rationale is:

1.) Sadness: ("I guess he didn't love her as much as he says he did since he has now chosen to betray her by loving again and moving on.")
2.) Confusion: ("How could he "replace" our perfect daughter with a cheap imitation?")
3.) Anger: ("How DARE he dance in her ashes and dishonor her memory like that?!")

In-laws like these often subconsciously PULL the widower into their own grief cycles to "wise him up" and try to make him realize that his behavior is wrong (even though it's NOT!). They do this by bringing him along to the cemetery or making him the guest of honor at their late daughter's birthday parties. Their motivation is FEAR. They are afraid that their beloved child will be forgotten if they stop celebrating her life, and they feel that the widower's steps beyond bereavement are a sure sign that he, too, has negated the late wife's existence. They use guilt tactics by preying on the widower's obligatory feelings.

Some in-laws feel that by including the widower in their celebrations, they are doing "the right thing": helping him with his grief - "We don't want Bill to be alone today. He needs us. We need him. We should all be together." What they don't realize is that everyone who has lost a loved one (including "Bill") deals with grief in their own way and needs to be able to work it out WITHOUT outside interference. It should be "Bill's" choice about how to handle those special grief occasions when they occur, not theirs.

In-laws such as these may also be motivated by their concern for their grandchild(ren). They are afraid that the widower, in his loneliness, will latch onto anyone in a skirt and forget about his child(ren)'s feelings, thereby putting the child(ren) at risk for yet another roller coaster of emotional upheaval. They may also fear that the new woman in the widower's life has ulterior motives: "She wants to make our grandchild (or the widower) forget our daughter!" or "She's USING him as a paycheck or to support her own child(ren)! They are typically - and NORMALLY - skeptical about her.

If you are a GOW who struggles with the issue of “fits and starts” with your widowed boyfriend, there are some things you can do to alleviate this cycle of guilt and grief (but be forewarned - these tidbits of advice first require you to be a tower of strength and push your insecurities aside):

1.) TALK, TALK, TALK! TALK to him about his late wife! Urge him to tell you about her. Doing so makes her REAL and not the saint he would rather put on some unattainable (by YOU!) pedestal.
2.) TALK, TALK, TALK,! TALK about your issues, how they make you feel, and how the two of you can work on them together as a team. You are a part of his life and, by default, of his grief. As such, you deserve to be heard.
3.) HONOR his late wife by allowing his children their feelings. Let them discuss their mother openly. DO NOT talk negatively about their mother in their presence.
4.) DO NOT question your boyfriend’s love for you or compare it to his love for his late wife. You can "own" your insecurities without allowing them to become a wedge between you.
5.) TALK TO your boyfriend's former in-laws. Ignoring them just fuels their fire and validates their negative feelings about you. Don't be afraid to discuss their daughter with them, since avoidance of the subject only perpetuates the saintly icon they have formulated in their minds. Discussing her shows that you are willing to accept the role she played in your boyfriend’s heart and in defining his character.
6.) Speak lovingly, without judgement and with great empathy, to everyone who knew the late wife and/or loved her. This shows great understanding and strength of character on your part.

When your widower boyfriend starts to withdraw into “fits and starts” mode, gently redirect him with your understanding. If he typically withdraws on “anniversaries” associated with his late wife, be bold and offer a shoulder for him to lean on. Encourage him to discuss his feelings with you while reminding him that although you may never understand the complexity and depth of his grief emotions, you care enough about him to listen with an open mind and an open heart. Be patient and understanding, and you will be rewarded with new hope. Time, the great healer, is on your side.

(Copyright 2003-2009 Julie Donner Andersen. All rights reserved. Reprints only by written permission of author.)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Moving On" and "Letting Go" - Are They The Same?

I am often asked by women interested in a relationship with a widower how they can tell if their men are truly beyond bereavement and ready to date (or fall in love) again. Since I don’t know their widowers personally, and because grief is different for everyone in terms of time, I cannot answer this question with absolute certainty.

But of one thing I am certain: “Moving on” and “letting go” are not one in the same.

After the funeral is over, friends and family go back to their homes and lives, and the widower is left to pick up the pieces of his recently shattered life. At that point, “moving on” seems like an eternity to him; an impossible task for which he is sorely equipped to handle in his present grief state. However, “moving on” is exactly what he begins to accomplish, one painfully torturous day at a time. It is the first step on the road to healing.

Moving on becomes as necessary as breathing. Psychologists say that the sooner a widower can begin a new routine, the better. He may be barely functional as he trudges through another day without his spouse, but he is at least making an effort towards a new kind of normalcy. The familiarity of his formerly tailored married life is now missing, making his newly widowed life seem strange and awkward.

This slow movement through time will build the widower a new life, albeit as a newly single man. It is an adaptation for which there is only one choice involved: a widower can either stay in bed and forever avoid life, or he can get up, get dressed, and face the world again. Therefore, moving on is more of a physical response to a life situation rather than a mental act.

A woman interested in dating a widower during his “moving on” journey may erroneously believe that his state of grief is manageable only because his daily life appears to be so well organized. She may feel confident that because he has moved on and acquired a new life routine, her presence in it will not be unwelcome.

However, a perfectly organized life routine is often the biggest clue to defining a widower’s present state of grief, as the act of rigid structure and unwavering routine can sometimes be an obsession to hide emotions with which he has not yet dealt. Achieving a comfortable life balance is something a widower strives to accomplish, and anything – or anyone - that may interfere with his hard-earned emotional balance is considered a threat, only because the widower has not yet “let go”.

Indeed, the changes a widower will make along his journey towards moving beyond bereavement will involve making mental decisions and choices - and the biggest will be choosing and deciding to let go.

The newly widowed often equate letting go with betrayal, and may angrily question, “What is it that I must let go of? My memories? My grief? What?” The anger comes from believing society would be more comfortable with him if he would only forget about his late wife, his past life, and erase that part of his life completely from his mind and heart.

Sadly, he is right. Society is uncomfortable with grief as a whole, is loathe to discuss its taboo intricacy and intimacy, does not fully understand its complexity, and sometimes forces the bereaved to adapt to its ever changing and rapidly evolving face just to suit its membership as a whole. But grief defies the law of sociology insomuch as it is unique to each member of society. In other words, one societal law regarding the grief process cannot and will not govern people as a whole because the community of a society is made up of individual people who grieve in their own unique ways and in their own unique time.

And yet, our evolving society, in its quest to aid its fellow members, is right about one thing: Letting go is vital to healing the bereaved beyond the mere functionality of moving on.

“Letting go” is defined as a release: to liberate, disengage, or set free. It is a conscious choice; a mental act that requires free will and effort. Unlike moving on, letting go is not something a widower is forced to accept nor something to which he feels he must adapt. But like moving on, letting go is necessary for a healthy emotional life balance in a widower’s new unmarried life.

In regard to widowhood, letting go simply involves an acceptance of the facts about the deceased: that she is dead, will not be coming back, does not control life from the Great Beyond, will not be angry/hurt/mortified/disappointed if her surviving spouse decides to fall in love again, and has no more ties to nor control over her surviving spouse’s marital status. But more importantly, letting go also involves a clear acceptance that the past is history…a history that may be long remembered and still loved, but a time that served its purpose during its time but has since been laid to rest.

Many widowers never let go. They move on, adapt, and go through their daily lives feeling completely satisfied. But is this a healthy state of mentality? Who am I, or we, to say? Can a widower live out the remainder of his life happily in this state of denial? Perhaps, but let me warn you: A widower who is content with not letting go will not be suitable for a relationship beyond friendship.

In conclusion, a woman who is contemplating starting a relationship with a widower must be clear about the differences between his “moving on” and his ‘letting go”. While they both involve a transition through grief, the former is functional, while the latter is critical. Recognizing the difference will help you along your journey of Loving A Widower...

~Copyright 2009 Julie Donner Andersen. No reprints or links back to this article without express permission form author.