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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 51 - Replaceable Me

We're linked with the Wedded Wednesday, on the totally awesome Messy Marriage site.

This post is from the soon-to-be-dead-dude's perspective...a gift one can give one's caregiving spouse. Can give, and in most cases should.

I'm going to die before my wife does (barring anything really weird happening). I do not want her making the rest of her life a mausoleum through which she wanders down the years, her footsteps echoing in the stillness.

She deserves better.

I'm not replaceable as an individual; no one is. God made us unique, and after we were 'done' He broke the mold.

Especially, some might add, in my case. Some things you don't want to try twice.

But I am replaceable in the context of a marriage relationship.

bd I have to be, do leave the best possible legacy for my wife. I have to leave her with the feeling that marriage was worthwhile, that she will miss the kind of companionship I provided.

And I want her to hope that she may find it again, because she'll have decades yet to live, if all goes according to the statistical norms.

But how does one accomplish this? How do you leave a legacy of love that is severed in a clean break, and not a festering wound?

I don't know, but I think it might be done this way...

Love but don't cling. In other words, don't get sentimental and spend evening poring over scrapbooks and photo albums, going down memory lane. Spend time together, but make it time spent in the moment, or looking forward, even to a future one might never see.

Don't mention the elephant in the room. It's fine to say, "I think that when I'm dead you should remarry", but one should not dwell on it. Returning to the subject can create a feeling that the dying person's really insecure, and will put just a touch of poison into any love potion that may be quaffed...after. Don't do it.

Encourage independence. The caregiving spouse should be encouraged to have a life outside the battlefield that terminal illness creates. Whether that is involvement with church ministry groups, or membership in a gym, or just going for a walk in the evening and communing with the great outdoors...there should be a link to the life that is pleasant, and free from the spectre (to some degree, at least) of impending death.

This is not a suggested carte blanche to start dating before the body's in the ground, though I know of an instance when that's exactly what happened. The brother of a friend of mine was dying of a particularly unpleasant  cancer; he had two kids, and a wife who had a degenerative disease, and could not work.

So he encouraged his wife and younger brother to date, while he was still alive, because they did like each other...and he put his family''s welfare ahead of his own feelings of possessiveness.

It worked. The transition for the widow and the kids was as smooth as it could be, and the world rolled on - I was lucky to be a confidante, They were happy, and still are.

But this is the exception; in most cases, there's to much human nature that gets in the way, and too much emotion. A relationship that starts and becomes even mildly romantic, even in a restrained and completely appropriate manner, before the spouse's death is unlikely to survive the upheaval that will follow.

That said, I hope that my wife already knows someone she might choose to spend the rest of her days with (even if that thought has not crossed her mind). I hope that he understands the ordeal she's going through now, and respects her for it. I wish them both all the happiness in the world, with a full heart.

I know her well; she's not made to be alone. Her happiness transcends everything, including my ego.

(In case you're wondering what I'd do if the shoe was on the other foot...I'd never remarry. But I'm a completely different sort of animal; for me, solitude is natural, and I've lost so very many people that I know that somehow, they're close...if Barbara were to die before me, I'd still be living with her, in a manner of speaking, and no one would be allowed to take her seat.)

Help me out, here, please...again, this one was kind of a nightmare to write, because I'm still making the transition from resenting that someone might be walking through my 'life' to simply wanting the best...and letting go of the hooks that might lock my wife to a memory.

What did I miss? What might you disagree with...or at least have said differently?


  1. You're doing a very good job of articulating the journey/transition. What I hear in this one is a growing conviction of love - that true love that lays down its life for another, stronger than ever to bless and release and affirm the other.

    It's an inspiration, and yet (as ever) very, very real and practical: 'there's too much human nature that gets in the way, and too much emotion'. We might like to be idealists, but we still have to live with the reality of our limitations. Even your last disclaimer 'a nightmare to write' only serves to say how it is... messy and complicated, and right in the flux of then/now/getting-there. And that's both parties. Chances are, when one is ready to say out loud 'you should remarry', the other isn't in a place to want to hear it, or vice versa.

    Naming 'insecurity' out loud is helpful too... also a difficult reality for both parties. Nothing is staying the same, for either one, and its hard to know where the fixed points are - but finding it in a stable community, or even a stable woodland(!) will surely help, even if it hurts by showing up how insecure things at home are right now in contrast.

    Once again, many thanks for your words here - more helpful than you know.

  2. I think it's very unselfish of you to want your wife to remarry. If I outlive my husband, I don't think I'll ever remarry again; I'm ok with solitude. But if I die first, I do think my husband should remarry because he's a more social creature than I am. And surely I won't care because I'll be experiencing heavenly bliss in a new degree anyway. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Andrew. It makes us think about things we ordinarily might put out of our minds until it's upon us.

  3. It seems you have come to the end of a grieving cycle for your marriage, Andrew--accepting that your wife has a legitimate relational need to be in a relationship once you pass. I agree that some people need that more than others. My dad was like that. It took him very little time to find a wife in the form of an old friend after my mom died and that was hard for me. However, if my mom had brought up the subject with my dad before she died--giving him permission to remarry, I think I would have felt better about it. I think that's a great gift you are giving everyone in your family--especially to your wife. But I would expect nothing less than that from you. You always seem to be thinking of how to help others, my friend. And for that, we thank you!

  4. My thoughts are in line with Lisa's, in as much as I am ok with solitude and could go on without my Husband, should something happen to him. Him, not so much; even though he's not good alone, I don't think he would ever remarry. And not to sound trite, or trivialize what you are saying here, this is what I tell him when he tells me to go on without him when it comes time: In the words of the immortal Beldar Conehead:

    "If, for some reason your life functions ceased, my most precious one, I would collapse, I would draw the shades and I would live in the dark. I would never get out of my slar pad or clean myself. My fluids would coagulate, my cone would shrivel, and I would die, miserable and lonely. The stench would be great."

  5. Yeah, I'm a loner; I'd be perfectly OK to live in solitude if my husband were to "go" before me...which is likely since he's much older than I am! But, I enjoy the "getting together with family and friends" and hobbies and church and committees and...well, not being alone ALL of the time!

    No, it isn't selfish to think about your wife going on with her life...I am sure sitting there day after day you have given this much thought. And, I am sure, even if she hasn't said anything, that Barbara has had some fleeting thoughts about it, too. Encouraging that "replacement?" person to go ahead and "date" each other? Not sure I agree with that; but as you said in the instance you mentione, it worked for THEM.

    Again, thanks for the encouragement you give US; praying, as always, for you and Barb!