Sunday, March 29, 2009

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Everyone has a past history of prior love relationships: ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands, past lovers, and/or former friends. Each person from our past has contributed in some way to our personal growth. Even if the relationship ended badly, most people can honestly admit that they learned a lesson, gained insight or wisdom, and used the experience to forge a better understanding of self. If personal growth is a good thing, then it makes sense that we should be grateful to the people from our pasts, as they have played a part in molding our unique characters.

Alas, it’s hard to dole out praise to these folks if, for some reason, we harbor old resentments against them. If they broke our hearts or hurt us deeply, human nature interferes with our ability to say, “Thanks for all you did to help make me the person I have become!” but in truth, that’s precisely what the experience these relationships have afforded us has done.

If you are married, do you believe that your spouse has changed you in a positive way? Do you believe that you have changed your spouse? Have you made each other stronger, happier, more patient, understanding, caring, or loving? More importantly, have you helped each other to grow as individual people? I’m sure a majority of married folk would respond “yes” to all of these questions.

Then why does a WOW (or a GOW, for that matter) find it so difficult to not give credit where credit is due and be grateful to the late wife for the positive influence she had on her husband?

Perhaps it’s because GOWs and WOWs are not afforded the luxury of “closure”. Unlike divorced men, widowers did not choose to leave their wives. Death chose FOR them. And unlike divorced men who fall out of love with their ex-wives, widowers will always feel a great deal of love for their late wives. This lack of closure in a widower’s past tends to extend to their future wives to some degree. The late wife, unlike the ex-wife, is not “locked out” of her husband’s heart. Thus, a widower’s new wife must learn to share the same space in his heart that the late wife occupies.

This is a difficult thing for any woman to do. We are a jealous and possessive gender, and find it absurd to accept that our spouses can love two women at the same time. This jealousy can fuel the fires of insecurity rapidly. To overcome feeling “second best”, we tend to compete with the late wife’s memory, vying for that coveted “first place” position in our husbands’ memory. Yet this becomes a frustrating “two steps forward, one step back” race to the finish. In the whirlwind of negative emotions that ensues, we become blinded to one important reality: The widowed men with whom we fell in love would perhaps not be a perfect match for us today had they not been happily married before.

Because my husband was happily married once before, he learned how to be a great husband, which has benefited me immensely as his new wife. Because he kept his first “in sickness and in health” wedding vow while he cared for a dying wife, he has proven his worth as an honorable, upstanding, and loyal man. And most importantly, because his late wife loved him dearly and respected him greatly, he was encouraged toward personal growth and evolved into the man of my dreams.

I urge all WOWs ad GOWs to reap the benefits of the their husbands’ late wives’ legacies and, in gratitude, give credit where credit is due. This is an important part of Loving A Widower...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Taking The "I Love You" Leap Of Faith

“Matt?”
“Hmm?”
“I love you.”
“Umm…I…*gulp*…need a snack. Be right back.” ZOOOOOOOOOM!

Sound familiar?

Ahhhh, love. According to the songs, love is a many splendor’ed thing. It makes the world go ‘round. It’s all you need.

Excuse me, but at the risk of sounding anti-Cupid….Humbug! When it comes to dating a new widower who has never had a relationship with anyone besides his late wife, you need a whole lot more than love: you need patience, compassion, and most of all…courage!

Yes, COURAGE!

Who else in their right mind, besides a GOW (Girlfriend Of a Widower), would share her man’s heart with another woman (the late wife)?

Who else besides a GOW understands that on certain days of the year (death anniversary, late wife birthday, wedding anniversary, etc.), her man’s heart will be broken by grief triggers, and she will be temporarily demoted to “grief therapist” for the day?

Who else but a GOW? No one, that’s who!

Try to envision your girlfriends’ mouths agape if you were to explain to them the same scenario about a divorced man you’ve been dating:

“Hey, gals, it’s the 1st anniversary of my man’s divorce today. He’s pretty low about it. He’s going to go visit her and take flowers. There’ll probably be a lot of tears as he reminisces about “the good times” they shared together, and I plan to just hold his hand and listen with compassion when he gets home. So whaddya say – wanna go get a cup of coffee while he makes his house call?”

KER-plop! (The sound of your girlfriends’ jaws hitting the floor).

Yet, this is precisely what a GOW deals with in her relationship; things that can only be handled with compassion, love, and yes…COURAGE! Being in love with a widower takes GUTS, and lots of them! It takes a strong sense of self without insecurity, an inner peace free of competitiveness, a rock-solid faith in silver linings, a willingness to sacrifice one’s self for the greater good of bereavement recovery, and the patience and knowledge that most if not all "things grief” subside with time.

Most GOWs I have met or with whom I have communicated online share these stellar character traits. Yet when it comes to saying “I love you” for the first time, these same pillars of Samson-ish strength are reduced to peanut butter.

So what gives? Why are these otherwise gutsy women so afraid of beating their widowed boyfriends to the punch by uttering those three anticipated words that will express what is in their hearts?

Simple: they are afraid of the inevitable comparison to “the one he loved first and still does”, AKA: the late wife. It is an anxiety that all GOWs share.

Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all. Confessing our true feelings to someone for the first time is downright scary. As much as we try to predict the outcome of our love professions with accuracy, widowers new to dating are largely unpredictable. Confess your feelings too soon, and he may run screaming into the night. Too late, and he may wonder if you really mean it or are just testing the relationship waters.

Even if the timing is perfect, he may still balk, wondering if how he feels for you is equal in quality and quantity as what you feel for him…wondering if his loving feelings are real or if he is simply on the rebound…feeling guilty for having loving feelings for you – feelings that are perhaps stronger than his feelings for his late wife…pushing his true feelings down because having them is akin to betraying his late wife or cheating on her in some strange way…wondering why he doesn’t feel the same way about you that he did about his late wife…and the list goes on, unpredictably.

So what is a GOW to do? Should she chicken out? Send a Hallmark card that will say it for her? Ask a friend to relay the message? Nahhh. What’s the fun in that? We profess our love feelings for a man TO a man because we want him to know how we feel, but admit it, gals…more importantly, we want to hear the same in return. And if we didn’t take that leap of faith and verbally blurt our heart’s contents to his face, we would miss out on the biggest thrill life has to offer: hearing a man say “I love you, too” for the first time...and meaning it.

In relationships without risk, there is no reward - just limbo. Even if your declaration of love is met with his declaration of fear, guilt, or ambivalence, the risk is still worth taking. Why? Because every baby step you take as a GOW is one step closer to the knowing the truth of a widower’s heart – how he feels, where he stands, and what the future holds for the two of you.

Unlocking the contents of a widower’s heart takes patience, understanding, and a willingness to wait until he is 100% sure that his response will be 100% honest and without reservations. There is no better road to this kind of discovery than to take a deep breath, look him square in the eyes, tell him how you feel…then let the chips fall where they may. I guarantee that the discussion to follow will not only be eye-opening but bonding as well – whether he reciprocates or not. Then you can get back to the business of Loving A Widower....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why Are We Afraid To Ask "The Tough Questions" Of Our Widowers?

After my book was released, I was deluged with letters from wives of widowers, wondering how I found the courage to ask my previously widowed husband about his late wife and their marriage. While I appreciate being thought of as courageous, asking “the tough questions” was more a matter of necessity than bravery for me…and for our marriage.

I have always felt that the greatest fear of all is the fear of the unknown. When left to our own devices, our imaginations can work overtime, wreaking havoc on our insecurities and vulnerabilities. When we privately wonder about things that concern our happiness and mental well being, we tend to lean towards the negative, assuming that the tough questions, if asked aloud, will be met with answers we are not ready to hear…or that will be the opposite of what we hope to hear.

Surprisingly, that’s usually never the case. Information, like education, allows us to calm our fears, put them into perspective, and in most cases, brings peace and relief to a worried soul. Even the painful answers to the tough questions can at least be digested with time. Truth has a way of winning out over the worst of fears.

So what are we so afraid of?

We are afraid that our questions will be perceived as nosy, insensitive, none of our business, or regarded as insignificant by the person we are asking. We fear being judged for appearing needy. We fear the perceived and/or anticipated fight that may ensue as a result of hurt feelings. And worst of all, we fear that the answers will be too shocking or painful to endure.

However, husbands and wives communicate with each other the most intimate, secret, personal things that two people can utter to one another. By doing this, their relationships deepen and their marital bonds are strengthened. Being privy to another’s deepest thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and opinions is an honor. It means that the person sharing this vital information trusts the receiver implicitly, and is assured that the listener will not judge nor hold said information against him or her.

Trust is a two way street. Respecting the answers to tough questions is just as important as being respected for asking the questions. To be trusted, one must be trustworthy. Wives of widowers must first decide if they are capable of handling whatever their husbands respond, whether the answers leave them feeling good or not. They must also decide, before posing the questions, whether the answers will help them overcome fears, issues, and insecurities, thus leading to a stronger relationship.

Case in point: When my husband I were planning our first Christmas together as a married couple, I wondered to myself why I should try so hard to make it nice for us if his grief would only make for a miserable holiday. I wanted cookie cutter perfection for my holiday, complete with Martha Stewart-ish dinners, parties, and decorations…without the interference of “The Grief Monster” or “The Ghost of Christmas Past”. But it was painfully obvious to me, even though he spoke nary a word about it, that my husband grieved his late wife’s loss at this special time of year, just as he did in the past when we were dating. The act of marrying me did not make his grief miraculously disappear.

I had a choice: Either I could muddle through and pretend for both of us to have a good time (but fooling nobody!), or I could gently confront my husband and ask the tough questions about how he would like to proceed with the holiday festivities in respect to his grief.

Brave, yes, but necessary. I needed to discuss my husband's feelings with him so I could make plans based on them. I needed to know his answers so I could be as much of a helpmate to him as I could be through this sentimental time of grief. As well, his answers would also provide me with insight into his grief journey, enabling me to gauge where he was at and if healing was rooting or not. That way, I could prepare my own heart for whatever was to come.

I trusted my husband not to judge me for asking, and he trusted me with his revelations about Christmases shared with his late wife, and how he missed certain traditions of old. Because of our little discussion, we were able to form a united front in the face of grief, incorporate old traditions with new, and enjoy the present holiday and each other.

But are some questions too sacred…too personal…too scary to ask a spouse? In respect to present wives asking tough questions to previously widowed husbands, the answer, in my opinion, is a resounding “No!” Keeping secrets, for whatever personal reasons, is not a healthy thing for anyone to do to a sacred blend of two souls into one, which is what marriage is all about: one soul, one mind, one love...and a willingness to share everything about one’s self with your soul mate.

If you are a wife of a widower, you must first be aware of your reasons behind your questions. Do you want to know about your husband’s sex life with his late wife? First, ask yourself why. Would his answers be beneficial to making your own sex life more interesting and enjoyable? Or is this a “loaded” question – the answer to which will only serve as justification of your insecurities and plunge you deeper into your own self-serving pity party?

The answers to the tough questions are like constructive criticisms – you may not like what you hear, but with a heart full of grace and respect for the one who delivers the answers, you can easily find a positive way to utilize the information...as long as you take “self” out of the equation, and just concentrate on Loving A Widower.


~~Copyright 2009 Julie Donner Andersen. No reprints without express permission from author.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Communication Is Key!

As WOWs and GOWs, our insecurities can sometimes get the best of us...

"Will my W ever love me as much as he loved his LW (Late Wife)?"
"Is W thinking of LW when he's quiet?"
"Will the friends/family he shared with LW ever accept me?"

...as well as the "I'm curious but afraid to ask" questions about LW's pictures and personal possessions still hanging around the W's (Widower's) house, questions about the possibility of W having a joint burial plot with LW, and questions about whether W will ever commit to a permanent relationship since he still seems to be grieving his LW sometimes.

ARGGHH!!! Makes a poor WOW/GOW want to run screaming into the streets!

Be of good cheer, my WOW/GOW sisters, for the answer is simple: Communication is KEY!

It never ceases to amaze me how my worries and fears tend to be so huge in my own mind, yet when I finally summon the courage to face them head-on, I discover that they were totally overblown. Discussing my GOW/WOW worries and fears with my W is no different.

Asking the tough WOW/GOW questions of our Ws is, well, TOUGH! But once we do, we learn that the issues that consumed us with insecurity are often not a big deal to our Ws! And the more we practise communication, the better we get at it, and the easier it becomes. The pay-off is how our Ws get a chance to reaffirm their love and commitment to US when we talk openly and honestly about all things LW-related.

So, be strong, my sisters! You have nothing to fear but fear itself! Do what women do best and TALK!! (LOL!) Talk to your Ws about your insecurities. Bring those little demons of fear and worry into the LIGHT and air them out. Once you do, you will have defeated them, and you can begin to live the life you were meant to live...Loving A Widower!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Visit From The "Grief Monster"

Yesterday, Hubs and I received news that one of his LW's dear friends (I'll call her "B") had passed away from brain cancer. She and LW had met at the hospital when both were newly diagnosed with cancer. They formed an immediate bond and had been friends until the end. After LW died, "B"was a wonderful support for Hubs - sympathetic to his grief, yet unwavering in her encouragement that his life must move on. "B" had "beat" cancer twice, but sadly, it had methesticized beyond hope. She bravely endured, from diagnosis to death, for more than 15 years. She was 39 years old.

I met "B" during the first year of my marriage to Hubs. Her cancer had returned for the second time, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, her survivor's spirit kicked into high gear. She showed up at our home obviously balding from chemo but wearing the most hilarious straw hat with a kooky bird on it. Such was her personality and indominable spirit. Ever the inspiration, she spoke excitedly about her upcoming wedding. Cancer had kicked her in the pants, but she was a fighter, and decided she was not going to let it stand in the way of loving life and living it to its fullest.

She talked about LW, making LW seem so real and loveable for me. She said she was thrilled that Hubs had found me, and wanted to meet me to see for herself "the wonderful women who turned Hubs' life around for the better". I felt such a bond that day with "B", and although Hubs and I didn't see much more of her after this visit, we continued to hear good things about her life and her recovery. That is, until yesterday.

Every time a W experiences a loss, his grief for his LW can be resurrected, regardless of how long the LW has been gone. The new loss becomes a "grief trigger" for the latent grief, easing it out of its cave and to the surface where it can be manifested as depression, anger, or unusal behaviours contrary to W's true personality. The W may not even be aware that he is experiencing latent grief, so the conflicting feelings may be confusing, not only to him, but to his new love.

As a grief specialist aware of how latent grief works, I recognized it brewing in Hubs after we received the news of "B"'s passing. He seemed withdrawn and a bit depressed. Being truly "one flesh" with my husband, I noticed the signs. Instead of ignoring them or allowing Hubs to endire alone and possibly confused, I grieved with him as I lead him into a discussion about our feelings regarding his recent loss - and his past loss - together.

Hubs was truly suprised that, after 13 years since LW had passed, his grief over her loss could still sting him. Since "B"'s loss was so close in circumstances to his LW's, latent grief resurfaced. Fortunately, it didn't last long. Facing the Grief Monster's visit together head-on, we resolved its potential ferociousness by direct communication of our feelings.

Be ready for the Grief Monster, my WOW and GOW sisters. It shows up unexpectedly and without invitation, dredging up past feelings and dragging the past into the present. But the Grief Monster doesn't have to be a rude guest that overstays its welcome. Inviting it in (accepting it) and facing it with courage and compassion with your W through honest communication cuts short its visit, allowing you to get back to the present, everyday business of Loving A Widower.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hanging In There

Hello WOWs and GOWs!

Yesterday, I received bad news. One of my favourite GOWs from my message board announced that she is breaking up with her W (W = Widower). She said she could no longer "hang in there" through his early grief stages, feeling like she gives everything and receives nothing in return except disappointment, frustration, and sadness because her W can't seem to commit, even though he enjoys her company.

I totally support her decision. Some readers might think my support for her break-up is contrary to my life's purpose of helping women in their relationships with widowers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes, the best thing for a couple is to break up. I would never support a woman who felt she should stay in an abusive marriage "just for the children's sake". In this respect, neither would I advocate a GOW staying in a loveless relationship with a W simply out of respect for his grief.

Naturally, it is imperative that we GOWs and WOWs respect what our Ws have been through, and may still be going through, but a relationship is a give-and-take thing. When the woman is the one doing all the giving and the man all the taking, their relationship is one-sided. This imbalance can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment for the giver, and complacency and abuse of power for the taker. These negative qualities have no business in a loving relationship.

GOWs and WOWs tend to be VERY sympathetic, patient people with an extraordinary capacity for empathy. Because of this, they either put their own needs on the back burner to "wait upon" the W's grief needs, or they try to convince themselves that things will be better if only they hang in there and await some kind of payoff for their patience, thus enduring the W's shenanigans as any good martyr would. These are not healthy ways to have a relationship!

Sometimes the best thing a GOW can do is to take the "W" out of the equation. What I mean is simply that the GOW who receives nothing from her W should ask herself, "Would I still be with a man who WASN'T a widower if he treated me the way my W does?"

In most cases, the answer would be a resounding NO! So....why would anyone put up with bad behaviour from a W just because he's a W?!

Blessings...

~JDA

Monday, March 16, 2009

Welcome to my new blog!!

Hi! Welcome to my new blog!

My name is Julie Donner Andersen, and I am the author of a book for wives and girlfriends of widowers, entitled "PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman's Journey as the Wife of a Widower" (sold at Amazon.com, through the publisher iUniverse.com, as well as via my website, http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com/). My website offers an interactive message board to subscribers who wish to communicate with other wives and girlfriends of widowers, as well as widowers who are ready to date again. All are welcome!!

You can also access some of my published articles that are not in my book by clicking to the following: http://www.authorsden.com/juliedonnerandersen.

Feel free to subscribe to a feed for this blog so you won't miss an issue. I welcome any comments or questions you may want to leave via the "comments" hotlink at the end of each blog post. Your question may be answered/used in an upcoming blog post!

The purpose of this blog is simple: As a wife of a widower myself, I want to empower other WOWs (Wives Of Widowers) and GOWs (Girlfriends Of Widowers) by offering comfort, support, encouragement, and validation of your feelings and issues. As well, I want to offer WOWs and GOWs advice and a "game plan" to survive the tough times.

It's not easy "Loving A Widower", but the payoff is great!

Blessings...

~JDA