THE COMPLEXITY OF GRIEF
Widowers are men who have confronted the unimaginable, but they are more than the sum of their loss and their coping mechanisms. Grief is complex, and being a patient, compassionate listener is part of building a relationship with a senior widowed man. If you, too, have been widowed, you know how comforting it is to share your feelings of loss with an empathetic someone.
Sharing has its limits, of course. If your idea of a first date is a lively exchange of ideas but the conversation stays permanently grounded in a paean to his departed spouse, you may want to make for the door. Some men cannot accept that their wives have disappeared utterly from their lives. They imagine they are looking for someone new, but they’re really looking — surely unwittingly – for a ghostly ménage a trois.
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO
To paraphrase Tolstoy, each widower is unhappy in his own way. Each has a different way of coping with the fact that he’s still here and she’s not:
• His marriage was an extended train wreck and he knows it
This man has no experience with the kind of compasion of which you are capable. His standards are not high. You will take him to new heights because you are much more loving, understanding, and indulgent than his wife was.
- His marriage was Hell but he recalls it as the Garden of Eden
His mind’s marriage-memory chip has been changed out for one in which shrewish, selfish behavior is remembered as a passion for life. What does this mean to you? Again, just being a warm and unselfish companion, one who avoids criticism and smug comparison, will work nicely.
- His marriage was flawless and he can’t let it go.
A friend of mine is seeing a man whose wife died twelve years ago. Even in a room full of her friends, he can’t formulate a sentence that doesn’t begin with “my wife and I” or “my wife used to say.” This is not nostalgia, loyalty, or extended grief. It’s rudeness. Twelve years of pleading with him to lighten up on this compulsion have failed. My friend has far more patience than I. She should take this guy home and wash his mouth out with soap.
- His marriage was vibrant and fulfilling and he wants more of the same
Some widowers grieve deeply, but without the fear that loving again may be disloyal or ill-mannered. If you evoke for this sort of man the traits he admires and is accustomed to, you and he can find happiness together without episodes of maudlin recall. Notice I said “if you can evoke traits he admires,” not “if you are a clone of the departed.” A well-adjusted widower is not trying to replace his lost love, but to build on his earned knowledge of what good relationships can be.
One of the best things about my budding relationship with PASHA is our mutual comfort with sharing memories of our spouses. We can talk about them freely and without self-consciousness. They remain in our hearts but we think of them as inspiration, not impediment. We feel fullfilled because, thanks to the warm and supportive marriages we experienced, we were in the habit of feeling so.