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.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sex And The GOW/WOW

"Sex and the GOW/WOW" is a topic I barely touched upon in my book, and for good reason. Most wives and girlfriends of widowers with whom I communicated while doing research for the book told me that they secretly bury their issues on this subject, feeling so embarrassed and/or ashamed of their fears, insecurities, and feelings that they found it difficult to even discuss them with me under a cloak of anonymity! WHAT a shock, especially in today's sexually enlightened society!

Shocking, yes - but understandable. As a happily married wife of a widower, I, too, have been loathe to personally discuss this topic for fear that I would be judged harshly, perhaps even thought of as a tad crazy. But the fact remains - there exists in our society a small segment of women who have battled or continue to battle things unseen…even in the bedroom.

When I met my previously widowed husband, his late wife had been deceased for over three years. However, he still resided in the house they had shared together during their 7 year long married life, complete with all of their furniture, pictures adorning the walls, and even her coats hanging in the foyer closet. It looked as though she had just stepped out to the grocery store, and not died prematurely and suddenly three years prior.

My first visit to his home was to be our first night of romance. However, I constantly felt "her" presence. The mementos of her that I faced during my visit were reminders that I was merely a guest and not "the lady of the house". The most chilling remnant of her life was, of course, their bedroom. I doubt that my macho husband had chosen the pink and white lace bedspread and matching curtains after she had passed, so it was a reminder to me that this was at one time HER domain, causing me to feel like a trespasser and an adulteress.

Needless to say, it was a tad intimidating to me as his new love interest. The bed itself represented not only a place where they once laid their heads in rest, but also the shrine of intimacy where they once spoke of dreams, shared their feelings for each other, and yes…made passionate love. How could I possibly even think of coupling in such a way with him on the very same bed where they climbed the heights of passion and intertwined their souls as happily married people do? With closet doors flung widely open, I could almost picture her in the neatly hung and pressed negligee's that draped their way casually from padded hangers there. It felt almost voyeuristic to me.

Their wedding picture and wedding invitation were displayed in gilded frames which hung in all their glory over the bed, as if to speak for her: "You're about to make it with MY husband - you hussy!" Of course, this was not the picture-perfect, romantic evening that I had dreamed of! Too many ghosts.

Her belongings, which produced images of her, were not the only windmills at which I tilted. There was also the issue of comparison. How would I measure up - sexually speaking - to a woman who knew my then-boyfriend so intimately? Considering the fact that they dated for a year before marrying, they collectively shared 8 years of a loving relationship. This gave them plenty of time to figure out how to please each other, to chart the roadmaps of each other's bodies, and to communicate to each other their deepest romantic desires. Foreplay would have been set in stone, each knowing what turned the other on, and the dance of sexual passion would have been played out in satisfying synchronization. Gulp! What a tough act to follow!

Of course, making love for the first time with a new love interest is always nerve-provoking. But as a new lover of a former widower, I had an eerie feeling that "she" was watching us, as if to make sure that I would not "best" her in the sexual arena. Add to that mixture an almost omnipresent feeling - one that nudges your competitive nature and makes you feel that you and your lover are not the only two people in the bed - and you have a recipe for insecurity and thoughts of failure before you even begin to take your clothes off!

When the lights were dimmed and our passion sparked, I almost forgot about "her"…until I turned my head to face my sweetheart, and found his eyes closed. I wondered if he was thinking of "her". With every one of his touches, I insecurely thought that he may be imagining my body as her body. I started to doubt his whispered words of love for me, and felt that he was pretending to say them to her. I wondered if all the grief information I had read was true - that perhaps he may have had feelings of guilt for "betraying" his late wife's memory. I was filled with confusion…and anger. I was NOT the kind of person who would be willing to SHARE my man with another woman.

Bolting from the bedroom, I suppose my sweetie thought I was insane. But we had shared enough time together in our relationship history to forge a firm foundation of trust in our relationship, so I finally blurted out the truth about my fears and anxieties. It was the beginning of a new understanding…and a new life of sexual fulfillment for us.

Eventually, her closet's contents were donated to charity and the wedding pictures stored away for safekeeping. Their bed was sold, as was their house, and we bought our own home and purchased our own bed. But until that time, we had sweet, romantic trysts in hotel rooms and other rooms of the house where the late wife's presence was not so overpowering for me, and we made our own beautiful sexual memories together, away from "her" watchful eye. With gentle reassurance, my husband guided me out of my fears and convinced me that he had never compared my sexual prowess to his late wife's. He confirmed to me that I was a wonderful lover, partner, and friend, so I began to feel more secure about myself and about our relationship.

After a time, the threat of the late wife's memory ceased to exist, and no longer haunted me or forced me to "out-do" her in the bedroom. The pink and white lace bedspread was replaced with and a royal-colored floral comforter that now graces the mattresses where my husband and I renew our intertwined spirits with passion and speak of our future plans. This is now MY domain, and I am now "the lady of THIS house", relegating the late wife to the role of the outsider …a stranger whom I accept my husband will always love, but one who no longer trespasses on our lives in our bedroom.

~~From the book "PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman's Journey As The Wife of a Widower" by Julie Donner Andersen. (Copyright 2002/2003 Julie Donner Andersen. All rights reserved. Reprints only by written permission of author.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It's Only Human

When I was in the research phase of writing my book, I had contacted and communicated with over 100 WOWs (Wives Of Widowers). In order to find a common thread among all of us, I posed questions to each of them regarding what issues they had dealt with as a WOW. Oddly enough, the results of this survey often prompted me to reassure these women by uttering a quasi-patronizing, “That’s OK. It’s only human”.

It’s only human to feel threatened by a ghost who will always reside in your husband’s heart.

It’s only human to feel anxiety on the anniversary date of the late wife’s death.

It’s only human to wonder if your husband will ever love you the way he loved his late wife.

“It’s OK. I’m only human”. That’s partially true. I AM human. And because of this indisputable fact, it only follows that my feelings are human, too. But is it “OK” to have these feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and fear?

In a word…no!

I had used this same statement of affirmation on myself when I first married my previously widowed husband. When the old “Insecurity Monster” reared its ugly head and forced me to react negatively or to feel threatened by the late wife’s memory and eerie presence in my marriage, I repeated over and over, “What I am feeling is normal…because I’m only human, after all”. In other words, I excused myself, and by doing so, I had glossed over my fears and allowed them to be pushed aside for the time being. I had not only used this lame excuse to feel better about my negative emotions, but I had also used it to avoid finding a solution to my problematic fears as well.

Why? What was the payoff for my hanging onto my insecurities? Did they benefit my marriage? Did they change the past? Did they make me stronger? Of course not. Negative emotions of fear, anxiety, and self-doubt are NOT of God. They are Satan’s tools, and he knows how to operate them put a wedge in your faith and to try to separate what God has joined together.

Yes, all emotions are human emotions. After all, Jesus was a human, and felt the negative emotion of fear in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, the big difference between what is human and what is divine was demonstrated by how Jesus handled His anxiety. He went straight to His Father in heaven and asked for strength. He did not stuff his negative emotions into his pocket. Rather, he focused on a solution. And by doing so, He illustrated that that is what He wants us to do, too.

It is easy to do or feel what comes naturally…to do or feel what is human. But Christ calls us to do what is spiritual…and divine. He wants us to come unto Him, release our burdens, then be still and know that He will deliver. In Psalm 56:3, the Lord speaks through the psalmist and reminds us of this: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You”. God wants us to trust our faith and not our humanness.

It would be arrogant for me, either as advice for my fellow WOWs or even for myself, to ever utter the phrase “It’s OK…I’m only human!” ever again, as if what is human supercedes what is Spirit-directed. My humanity does not solve the problems of fear, anxiety, or insecurity. Most of the time, my humanness only serves to exacerbate my problems.

Of course my human feelings and those of my sister HOWs and WOWs are real and worthy of mention, perhaps even validation. But when we rely on ourselves - on our humanness - to excuse away our negative feelings, we stop putting our trust in God, and the result is a separation from the only One who can comfort, love, and strengthen us out of the darkness of our negative humanity - and get us back to the business of Loving A Widower....

(Copyright 2009 Julie Donner Andersen. All rights reserved. No reprints without author permission.)