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.