Thursday, April 29, 2010

Feeling "Left Out" As a GOW

Ideally, your W’s children (whether small or grown), his extended family, and friends have welcomed you with open arms into W’s life. Sadly, that is not always the case. Sometimes, the people you expect to warmly accept you into the fold are the ones who just cannot accept that W’s life has moved beyond bereavement into the light of new love. Sometimes, it is the W himself who feels the need to “hide” his new love from family and friends in order to “shield “ her from what he perceives as potential conflict. And sometimes, the GOW or WOW herself sabotages these potential relationships before they even take flight. In this blog, we will examine the reasons behind each situation.

The Official WOW/GOW Message Board (which you can join at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com) is chock full of members who have been left out of their W’s family gatherings, events, and functions simply because W was not ready yet to bring his new girlfriend into the array. The basis for this unreadiness is fear: W is simply afraid to face the music, i.e., the possible negative judgements and opinions of those he holds dear. He erroneously assumes no one will be happy for him. He is afraid that his new relationship will disappoint those who feel he has “forgotten” LW by loving again, or that he is trying to erase LW from his mind, or that he no longer loves her. Family and friends have been through so much already, perhaps many are still dealing with their own grief, so he does not want to upset the applecart of emotional balance that took years to achieve. Many Ws also feel that they “owe” family and friends their eternal devotion and memorialization of LW because their loved ones have been so supportive of the W’s loss in the past. After all, he reasons, none of them have moved on, so why should I be so lucky? Thus, instead of being confident of his choice to move on, his choice of new love, and his family’s reaction, he instead gives into his assumptions and does his best to please everyone. W rationalizes to his GOW that his decision to “hide” her from the scrutiny of family and friends is because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; that she is better off staying in the proverbial attic until such time as W feels bringing her to meet his posse will not cause trouble. Of course, this never works, as someone’s feelings WILL be hurt – and it’s usually the GOW who pays the price.

While noble in his intent to protect his GOW from what he perceives as possible condemnation, W’s fear of reprisals is ridiculous and more than likely, unfounded. Naturally, friends and extended family will feel awkward and perhaps a little uncomfortable at first, but meeting ANYONE new can bring these feelings to the surface. As a rule, most friends and families of W love him unconditionally enough to be happy for him, and delight in meeting the new woman who has been such a positive influence on his life. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, but the bottom line is this: W must come to terms with his life choices, embrace them, and confidently live his life without fear of what other people think. After all, it’s HIS life, not theirs. And if they have issues with his choices, it’s THEIR problem, not his.

Friends of W were usually friends of LW, too. Those who spent a great deal of time with W and LW and enjoyed the simpatico of their combined friendships may have trouble accepting the GOW at first only because they know it will never be the same at is was before with LW. Soon enough, however, friends begin to realize that the GOW brings a fresh perspective to the group because of her unique and individual personality, which isn’t bad thing, just a different thing!

As mentioned previously, there are exceptions to the rule that friends and family will always embrace the GOW….and that exception is usually his children. Minor children who live at home are fiercely loyal to their mother’s memory, and can stubbornly dig in their heels when Dad (W) brings home the GOW. This is normal, as children do not have the emotional maturity to make sense of grief. A widowed father knows his children well, and because his kids’ grief is so near and dear to his heart, he struggles with trying to balance his newfound happiness with their pain. As sure as he may be of how the GOW could add so much joy to their lives, he is still afraid – and perhaps rightly so – to minimize their mother’s memory by stomping on it with his desire to love again. Ws with children – whether minor or adult children - must be ever mindful to remain respectful of their feelings, but this is not to say that he must demonstrate that respect by sacrificing his own happiness. A balance CAN be achieved with proper communication, timing, and the W’s willingness to comfort his children’s fears with his reassurance of not only his forever love for their mother, but in the benefits of having another woman in their lives to love.

Finally, the last barrier to a happy family is the GOW herself. While she complains of feeling left out, it is often she who often puts up impenetrable walls of fear. She is afraid of being misjudged and criticized. But mostly, she insecurely fears the inevitable comparisons W’s friends and family may make between her and LW. She is afraid she will never be accepted for who she is and not a pale replacement for the late, great LW. The good news is that once she makes the decision to face her fears and meet W’s friends and family, she is often rewarded with the relief that her fears, as W’s had been, were simply groundless.

Naturally, there will be exceptions to the majority of happy endings that occur in these cases, and some friends and family of W will never learn to accept the GOW. They may tolerate her, invite her to family functions but ignore her, and/or blatantly make verbal comparisons to LW to extract some kind of misguided “revenge” on her audacity to “replace” LW in W’s heart. While I feel for GOWs in these situations, I know that understanding friends' and family's complicated grief, and being compassionate towards it, often makes these get-togethers tolerable. As always, it is imperative that the W in these situations have his priorities in order so he can defend his choice of GOW, stand by her side, and facilitate as best he can the GOW's acceptance into the family…whether they like it or not.