Sunday, January 31, 2010

For GOWs Who Date An "Early Grief" Widower

The 5 stages of grief are necessary to complete before a survivor learns how to manage it and can thus be considered recovered. That is why the first year or two of grief is the most crucial. When a W begins dating while he is still walking the stages of grief (referred to as an "early grief" widower), the temporary feeling of euphoria that comes with new love takes his mind off the hard work grief entails and delays the necessary work required for healing. But grief is like an insolent child - it WILL have its way, bar nothing. Thus, the giddy emotions of new love eventually collide with the insolence of grief when grief plays "catch up" and forces the survivor to get back on the road to recovery. This is when a W takes two steps forward, one step back, limping along his grief journey and confusing the new love of his life as he attempts to complete his grief work while also trying to balance that with new love....a verrrrry difficult and confusing thing for any survivor, and equally as confusing to his new love (you).


When unresolved/delayed grief collides with new love, the W can suddenly turn into someone you don't recognize. His moods change, and he often breaks off the relationship without warning and without explanation. During this time, Ws often battle guilt, depression, and anger all at once. He feels guilty for being alive while his LW is dead. That guilt also includes feeling as if he is betraying his LW by loving again. Oddly enough, though he wants his family/friends to accept the GOW, he wonders why they have "forgotten" LW by doing so! He wonders if he will ever "get over" his depression, which makes him sink deeper into it. He no longer feels worthy of the wonderful love the GOW brings, so he begins to withdraw from her. He is looking for someone to blame for his overwhelming feelings of grief...and sadly, it is the GOW who takes the brunt of it.


The good news is that these episodes of "fits and starts" in early grief widowers are usually temporary...but can vary in length. Every W handles grief in his own way and in his own time, and certain W behaviours are normal and common to each stage of grief. Thus, there IS a light at the end of this tunnel, but it could be a looong time before you see it. It should reassure you that the emotions W is experiencing are very common...and quite normal....for most early grief Ws.


If you believe your W did not properly grieve before he met you, and is only recently attempting to get back on track with his grief, try to be patient. Though these episodes apepar to come out of nowhere, there are usually signs: Holidays and death anniversaries are common grief triggers. The magnitude of what he is feeling is just as confounding to him as it is to you.


The best thing you and W can do from this point forward is to really learn how to communicate effectively...and often. Although I caution GOWs NOT to play the grief counsellor, there are things you CAN do to bring grief to the surface. It is healthy for a W to walk every grief stage completely, so the last thing you want to do is to stand between he and his grief work. It is beneficial and cathartic for W to be able to talk about his feelings. If this is not something you think you can handle - and it would be OK if you didn't - then I recommend urging W to attend Bereavement Recovery classes, or seek counselling wit a qualified grief therapist. These are wonderful people who recognize what W is experiencing and can give him the tools for recovery.


Meantime, try not to take his behaviour personally. I know this sounds odd since you probably feel like the target of his angst, but please understand that a lot of his feelings are subconscious in nature (he can't help it) and perfectly normal for every W. There are many books on grief that you may want to read, as recognizing the stages will put your mind at ease quite a bit. Just remember that this is part & parcel of Loving A Widower….

26 comments:

  1. Thank you, Julie. As usual your experience, research and writing on dating a widower (W) are like a light of hope to those who are in those shoes now. Please continue your efforts on behalf of all who are dealing with W issues.

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  2. I really enjoy reading all of your articles. I'm in a place though where I'm not sure that the relationship is progressing and am not sure I have what it takes to be a GOW.....the confusion goes on...I will have to try and work through this. Thanks for all you do :)

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  3. Only just come across this site as I make my way through the journey of being a widower and am enjoying reading the issues from the other side.

    Have just spent my first 4 day break away with my GOW and have come back confused, tearful, so much love for her in my heart and want to tell her and hold her and yet want to be left alone and cry, till this emotional confussion all passes ... guess its all part of the journey from what I'm reading.

    I'd be interested to know if there are stages of emotional acceptance within you as you become a new person as a widower .. I intially struggled with being close, even kissing and cuddling was hard, yet they've passed, but being intimate in the bedroom is still difficult for me, the love making process is just not there in me and cuddling is sometimes enough ...

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  4. Dear Anonymous,

    Indeed,there ARE stages of emotional acceptance. I believe you have already experienced one, in that you are no longer uncomfortable with kissing/cuddling. Give yourself time when it comes to the next stage (sex). Only YOU can decide when the time is right...and when it is, you'll know it. Meanwhile, I urge you to please communicate your feelings to your GOW. She is probably just as confused as you are, and her vulnerability will take its toll on her self-esteem. If you truly care about her, which it sounds like you do, please don't let that happen. She needs to know what is happening to you, and most of all, she needs your reassurance that it is not her fault - it is simply grief.

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  5. Hello,
    I want to know what to do. I have seen a w on and off. he calls and is quite intimate (I won't have intercourse with him, as I don't believe he is ready) then he doesn't call. I know he is dating, but women probably don't want to be with him long since he is obviously unavailable except for sex. It is starting to be a big hammer on my head. I never call him, or let him know how i am feeling.
    help

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  6. Dear Tango Bird,

    Please join me and the 400 other WOWs and GOWs on the Official WOW/GOW Message Board, which can be found via my website at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com. The Board will provide you with the help, advice, information, support, and encouragement you seek. Blessings...JDA

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  7. Any advice for a GOW who is also a widow and therefore, I am dealing with my own grief, my boyfriend's grief and we're on this path together, which helps, but your description of the GOW's insecurities fits me to a T.

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  8. Come to the WOW/GOW Message Board, luv. All are welcome. Lots of gals there walk in your shoes. :)

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  9. I committed the ultimate sin, by falling in love BEFORE he became a W. We provided mutual support to each other when his wife and then my father died of cancer. He has now been a W for two years and I am more confused than ever. I have met and love his teenage son to pieces. The three of us went on the holiday of a lifetime last year. I am so confused and frustrated because he says he does not want a 'relationship'. The physical side is amazing and he is loving and giving. He is open that he socialises with other women who are friends and that he feels comfortable with and that he only feels uncomfortable in my company. I love him so much but the insecurity is terrible and I don't know if I can continue to be patient, but, the thought of losing him completely is awful. At least reading the comments on this site have reassured me to some extent that I am not alone.

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  10. Sometimes, it's difficult to discren what constitutes normal W behaviour, and what is "man/male" (or human) behaviour....and in this case, if you take the man's W status out of the situation, you're left with a guy who likes to eat beef but also wants his salad on the side, if you get my meaning. Get out now while you still have some self esteem. He's just not that into you.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I am dating a man who I consider to be an "early widower" and your blog has helped give me some insight into his behavior while he's going through this process. We've only dated three weeks and I've never dated a widower, but reading your blog I can recognize the grief process in him and the ways in which I can help him through. Patience, patience, patience. Thank you.

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  12. Hi Anonymous,

    Glad to be of some comfort. For more, please join me and the 500+ other WOWs and GOWs on the Official WOW/GOW Message Board, which can be found via my website at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com. The Board will provide you with the help, advice, information, support, and encouragement you seek. Blessings...JDA

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  13. I'm one of the few 50-something single women in my church and feel like that's made me a W magnet. I have not one, but 4 W's, all over 80, expressing interest in me which ranges from them wanting to go to concerts/lectures with me to offering financial assistance, a place to live if times get tougher and even marriage. (I've been out of work for several months, but do not need anyone's financial assistance). I believe these W's are inaccurately attaching the joy they feel in reaching out to others again as something having to do with me, though they barely know me. Two are fairly recent W's and I would like to suggest bereavement counseling, but want to do so carefully. Our pastor is pretty inept when it comes to handling tender emotions. Can you advise how I might handle this recommend?

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  14. I married a widower after dating three years. His wife passed away five years ago from a cancer. Among so much of my side of heartbreak watching him greiving...I want your opinion on this incident: We have a beautiful rose garden in the back yard. Every time he would bring some ugly flowers inside of house beautiful roses will disappear (he took them to her grave yard): why do these incidents hurt my heart? What do I have to do?

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  15. When it comes to Ws, communication is key. For "Anonymous" who is being persued by 4 Ws and wonders what she should tell them, the best advice I can offer is just to be honest. It's ok to recommend grief counselling or bereavement recovery classes to them, as many elderly Ws don't even realize that they are still grieving. Life has moved on, but they have not let go.

    For "Anonymous" who is missing roses from her garden because her W takes them to his LW's hgrace, again, communicate your issue to him using what I call The Three C's: communication, cooperation, and compromise. Gently tell him in a spirit of cooperation and working this issue out as a team that it's not OK with you that he raids your garden, but compromise with him about his visits - after all, grave visiting is quite normal for all survivors - and then, offer him a compromise: a substitute for your roses, perhaps with a gift certificate to a local florist.

    For more information, please join me (by clicking my name, above) at my website's free message board for GOWs and WOWs.

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  16. I met a nice gentleman through his friendly dog as I was walking in a community park. We would see each other now and again and especially when I got a little dog of my own. During the course of conversation he mentioned his lovely wife and our incidental walks or a short chat never encroached upon the boundry of respect that he or I had for his relationship for his wife. He mentioned when she became quite ill and was receiving treatment for cancer. Sadly, she has been gone now for over 5 months. He asked me one morning ' how I thought he lined up, if he did line up '. I was a bit surprised but knowing him as I did I answered him honestly. He went away on a five week trip by himself with his dog to visit family in his previous home town. Since he has come back he says he has changed and come to a place of peace. Though he has not yet got back his full enjoyment of life he has got back into the gardening which he enjoys, has discovered he is quite good at cake making and is contemplating renewing his involvement in past hobbies which he previously had lost interest in. We let the conversation about his wife naturally flow in and out amongst everything else we talk about. I am at an age [63] where I know that I am nice ordinary woman and that I don't have to compete with or be in competition with his wife, in fact I almost got to meet her as he came around to get me but I happened to be out. He is 73 and thinks he is too old to marry again and because I have a strong christian ethic I will not live with anyone. He is probably one of the nicest gentleman that I have ever met and we have many interests in common. Though we may eventually hit a wall concerning marriage and not having a physical relationship outside of marriage I figure I have healed previously from a 'crash and burn' and it would be the loss of an opportunity to not experience what we share at the moment as growing friends.

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  17. You seem to be happy with the way things are between you, and are resigned to expecting no more from him than a friendship. The only problem I see is how he has said he has come to a place of peace after only 5 mos. post-loss. I have my doubts. I would want to know more about how he arrived at this declaration and where he stands re: his grief journey at this point. While it may appear to you that he is beyond bereavement because he is enjoying former hobbies, this is simply moving on and is a far cry from the final grief stage of acceptance or "letting go".

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  18. I reconnected with a friend whose wife died 8 months ago after a lengthy illness. He lives 1500 miles away. He got all excited about having a relationship with me and was quickly calling me every day and talking for an hour or more. He was talking about visiting me soon and wanting me to visit him and meet his kids. Suddenly he emailed me that he does not even know me and that he needs to slow down. It really makes sense. But I am hurt and sad. Advice on how to proceed would be nice.

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  19. Dear Anonymous,

    The only advice that seems fitting, regarding how to proceed, is...don't. If you want to stay connected, let HIM lead. He still has a LOT of grief recovery left to do. If he lives 1500 miles away, it could be that he has asked to slow things down because he has met someone else, too. Being that he moved things along with YOU so fast, and so quickly after his loss, leads me to believe that this man struggles with loneliness and is looking for a lovely distraction from his pain. Please don't be the distraction from the difficult yet necessary fgrief work he must do to reach recovery. Only THEN can he handle a fully committed relationship with you.

    For more on this subject, and to connect with over 2,500 other women who walk in your shoes, please join us on The Official WOW/GOW Message Board, which is accessible via my website (http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com).

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  20. I have been seriously involved with a widower of 20 months. We have been seeing each other for 14. We have everything in common. mutual friends, church, hobbies everything. We love each other very much. Suddenly he has pulled back and is very sad and emotional. I am scared but I know he needs space. How long will this last?

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    1. Guy here waiting on a widow. I've been waiting for 18 months. The push/pull is killing me. It's like dope. When she's pulling, I'm high. When she pulls, I'm dysfunctional. It can't be your schedule. It has to be his. Every time I want to give up, something shoves me back into the fight. Throughout my ordeal, my spiritual life has blossomed and sustained me.

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    2. 2 weeks since my post: We are now taking a break from our relationship He needs more time to evict his demons and I know all I can do is wait. I am glad that we are where we are, and pray he will be back when it is over. I know he loves me so I get some comfort from that, but it is the hardest thing I have ever done. Either way, I am done with relationships. He is the last man for me. Love Hurts and I may be meant to be by myself.

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  21. I met my widower online last winter. Because we lived an hour and a half away, we only emailed each other. Then he disappeared for 6 months. When he reached out, he apologized and explained that his father has passed and that he threw himself into his business and children. From our first date, everything was great! He even talked about a future with me and his two young children (who I became attached to). Then in September, we had our first small argument and he got upset with me and withdrew. He told me, that with the emotional pull from his children and his mother (who lost her husband in January), he couldn't handle one more emotional conversation with me. I suggested we take some time apart, so he could get some things in order. He liked that idea, because he wanted to talk to me, but couldn't. When I reached out after a couple of weeks, he told me that he longer wanted to talk to anyone anymore and that I was not the target. That he wanted to keep his days simple. I told him, that I would be here if he ever wanted to talk. I even suggested he talk to his therapist and doctor, because he had told me during our disagreement, he had purged himself of the anti-depressants that he was given when his wife passed. He did it without consulting with his doctor first. I know this has a lot to do with his withdrawal.

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  22. I know how you guys feel. I've been with my W for 7/8 months and he put the brakes on things over a month ago. His wife died 2 years ago and the 2nd anniversary was in February.

    We're friends for now whilst he gets the help he needs although it's the hardest thing I've ever done. He was incredibly romantic with me prior to all this and we were planning the future too. All I can do is just slow things right down and wait for him. I know he'll be worth the wait.

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    1. What ended up happening? I dated my W for 6.5 months then he put a dead stop to things. This was a month prior to the 1 year annivesary. He still contacts me. I try not to respond all the time because he needs time to himself. I don't know if we will end up together.

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    2. What ended up happening? I dated my W for 6.5 months then he put a dead stop to things. This was a month prior to the 1 year annivesary. He still contacts me. I try not to respond all the time because he needs time to himself. I don't know if we will end up together.

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