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.