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.