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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Spouse Replacement

Sorry  about the title.I'd originally started with something like "When Is It Appropriate To Look For A New Mate After Your Previous Mate Has Died?"

But that's a bit long, kind of like a chapter heading for a Victorian novel.

Still, it's an important question, involving loneliness, guilt, desire, family dynamics, and a host of other factors that can make that particular transition a very rough passage.

Or it can be a blessing, a doorway onto a joyous part of life.

Death of a spouse is the top stress-producing 'event' in life. It's an earthquake, a tidal wave, a forest fire, a mugging.

When it happens fast, it leaves you breathless, disoriented, and fighting for some sort of cohesion, some kind of security.

When it happens slowly, it grinds joy out of life with each granite-bound minute. It takes the colors from the sky(the Rolling Stones' song "Paint It Black" deals with this topic in a touching way...whatever you think of the band, give the song a listen here).

And life has to go on. The survivor has to move forward. 'Dying of a broken heart' is a nice poetic conceit, but it usually doesn't happen...and would your husband or wife want you to die because you can't live without them?

What kind of legacy is that?

Some of us - myself included - would never consider remarriage, and would look at bereavement as a sort of lifetime hermitage.

But not everyone's a closet ascetic. There are "people who need people", and they wilt in solitude.

(Aside from that, my doctor says I'm dying, and I really don't want my wife to wear black for the next 30 years.It's just not part of her color wheel.)

The Bible sets a mourning period of forty days. Life resumes after that. But try selling that to your family and your in-laws! You'll be accused of disloyalty to a memory, and whoever you may start seeing will likely be ostracized. (Interesting how we follow the Bible when it suits us, but it's 'from another time and culture' when it doesn't mesh with our sentimental nature, but I digress.)

One of the arguments against a quick assuagement of loneliness is rebound. I hate to say this, but every new relationship, no matter how long it waits after the end of a previous one, is taken on the rebound. To assume that life goes back to 'normal' after death is unrealistic. Death of a spouse is a traumatic amputation of the soul.

You have to go on.

Your children may want your life to become a living monument to a lost parent. They, as adults, may want to be able to visit 'home' and be able to visualize things just as they were.

You don't owe them that.

You may feel guilty, having emotions for another person when the smiling portrait of your dead mate is looking down from the wall.

Don't make your life sad and lonely, and pin it on your lost marriage...doing that merely denies every good thing you had, and is a slap in the face to the loved and lost.

The measure of the truth and honesty of love is this -

Will the love we gave bestow upon our mate the courage and hope to reach out again, after we're gone?

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.


  1. Hmmmm....I don't think I would get married again. That's just not for me.

    1. Neither would I. I simply couldn't.

      But I recently saw a situation in which a lovely woman, widowed after many decades, had found unexpected happiness...and her family put her through literal Hell.

      It's as if they thought she has no right to joy, because her husband died and she didn't.

      It did work out - she remarried, and has several months of a fulfilled life before she, too, was claimed by death. Her family chose to stay away, and it was their loss.

      I wrote this for her.

  2. Well, Andrew, you've waded deep here. This is one of those let's-put-it-on-the-back-shelf topics. But you have been brave and wise in your words ... a very difficult, tender subject.

    1. It's a hard topic to deal with, yes, but I've seen all to much oif it. Sometimes with happy resolutions, sometimes without.

      I do think that, overall, this tests the limits of our acceptance of God's grace. Grace can be rather inconvenient when it runs up against tradition and pride.

      We are all wounded by this life; it's not ours to choose whether we are walking wounded, able to get to the aid station on our own, or whether we need stretcher-bearers to get us there.

  3. You are grappling so graciously through these deep and overtaking waters, Andrew. I remember when my mom died, my dad immediately felt such loneliness. In just a month or two, he had looked up an old widowed friend and they began to date. After just a few more short months they were planning their wedding. It was all too fast for me and I let him know so. But after the wedding, I just surrendered it to God and ended up having a better relationship with my step-mom than my siblings who were initially more open to her. Grief does some weird stuff--taking lots of twists and turns. I hate the fact that you are dying, Andrew. It breaks my heart, especially since you're probably fairly young and, if I remember correctly, this was due to a hospital mistake, right? That would make accepting this so much harder. My biggest comfort in all of this is that you will be sitting with Jesus and experiencing no pain but only joy and His deep, abiding love for you. Still, it's hard to think of you being gone from here so soon. You've touched my heart, my friend! I will deeply miss you! Consider yourself cyber-hugged!

    1. 'm so glad that you were able to become a channel of grace and peace for your dad. Loneliness can be a burden whose severity is unexpectedly fierce.

      And thank you for your kind thoughts, and the cyber-hug! Yes, it was a hospital mistake, but such things happen. Death has been at my elbow for much of my life, and acceptance hasn't been too hard. I don't resent it. Well, maybe a little.

      But I'll be fighting on for awhile yet. I figure that we really don't know what animates us, and that faith can trump a wrecked body. I know I've seen lightly-wounded men die, and I've seen guys with limbs blown off move ten klicks through the bush to a PZ - and then help others into the helicopter.

      It's not over until it's over, and when that moment comes is - thankfully - not my call.

  4. "Death of a spouse is a traumatic amputation of the soul." Well said. I've often thought that if my husband dies first, I won't remarry. I think I'd rather do solitude than start over adjusting to a new person.

    But I totally understand and am happy when people do find new mates and start over with a new season of life. Hope springs eternal, right? I tell my husband he's free to remarry after I'm gone, not that he'd need my permission. ;-)

    I know technically we're all dying, but it still takes me aback when I read this: " my doctor says I'm dying". It makes me sad. But I appreciate your acknowledgement of it; that takes courage.

    1. That readjustment is something I'd find hard, as well. Solitude would be better, but I have to say that I always craved solitude.

      For a naturally gregarious person, it could be just awful.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts - I really felt awful for my doctor, having to deliver a prognosis like that. He's a warm and caring man, and it tore him up.

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  6. Hubs and I have pretty much told each other to mourn and then carry on. If we find happiness again? Great. If not, that's fine too. We want each other to be happy and not hobbled by guilt. I think our kids are smart enough to know that guilt is the slayer of all things good, so why sling it like mud?

    1. Slinging guilt like mud - I love that image!

  7. "Some of us - myself included - would never consider remarriage, and would look at bereavement as a sort of lifetime hermitage." I'm curious - why?

    1. Good question - I think it's because of a feeling that this world and the next are closer that we usually think, and this life and the next form a kind of continuum.

      Thus. there are no drastic 'changes'; only seasons.

      If my wife dies before I do, I think she'll be just up the road from me, hidden for the moment by a hill or a stand of trees. Eventually I'll catch up.

      In the meantime, solitude has its season, and its purpose.