Made from boiled bones
and hides, it jiggles because
it is still alive.
Made from boiled bones
and hides, it jiggles because
it is still alive.
With the arrival of this little cutie this week, our family is now complete. Both Marathon Girl and the little one are doing well. The older kids also seem excited about having a new sister in their lives. Let the wonderful memories and the sleepless nights begin again.
Note: The following was given at the 2015 Wyoming Suicide Prevention Conference on September 10, 2015. The term suicide survivor refers to someone who has lost a friend or loved one to suicide.
Thank you for the introduction and thank you all for the warm welcome. It’s nice to be back in Casper. My family moved here in the summer of 1992 just after I graduated from high school and I attended Casper College for two years after that. And though I only lived here a short time, the city of Casper and the State of Wyoming hold a special place in my heart.
I appreciate the invitation to speak at this conference. Though I do speaking engagements back home, this audience and conference is different than those I usually present at. There are people here with mental health and law enforcement backgrounds, educators, and suicide survivors. You all have difference experience when it comes to helping those who are suicidal or those who are left behind.
I’ve thought carefully about what I could give you, how my experience could help such a diverse group. After much thought, I’ve decided to share my story with you. Now, I believe you all received a copy of Room for Two. The first part of this story I’m going to tell you is in that book. But that book is just about the first year of my life after my late wife took her own life—an event happened 14 years ago this November. However, when one is in the middle rebuilding their life sometimes it's difficult to see the decisions, the people, and the miracles—if you want to call them that—that help us find lasting happiness and peace. Time, however, gives us a unique perspective. It allows us to look back and see the key moments, choices, and events that helped us prevail over difficulties and challenges that at the time seemed insurmountable.
Because I have this perspective of time, I'm going to share some stories with you that I've never told publically before. I share them in the hopes that they can help you in your jobs or in your personal life as you deal with those who are teetering on the edge as well as those who are left behind and have nothing but unanswered questions. Maybe the story of how I rebuilt my life will speak directly to some of you in this audience who are struggling. Wherever you find yourself, I hope and pray that there is something I can share today that you can use going forward.
My story begins on the night of November 9, 2001. It was a Friday night and I was tired after a long week of work. After the 45-minute, congestion-filled drive home from Salt Lake, all I wanted to do was relax and spend time with my seven-month-pregnant wife, Krista. However, when I came home I discovered that my wife had left earlier in the day gone to her grandmother's house in Ogden—a fifteen minute drive north. There was a note waiting for me that said she wanted to spend the night there. I was upset at this change of plans and my wife's increasingly bizarre and unpredictable behavior. I didn't want to drive any more after the long commute to and from work that day. I just wanted to spend the night at home. Despite my reservations, I packed an overnight bag and headed out the door.
As I put my bag in the trunk of my car, I stopped and looked back at the apartment. I had a strong feeling that I should go back inside and get my handgun and give it to my brother for safe keeping. I thought it was a strange feeling to have. My wife and I had moved into our apartment the week before and the gun was locked away in a case. I looked back at the door to our apartment. I was tried and was running behind schedule. I didn't feel like I had the energy to walk back up the stairs and get the gun. I shrugged off the feeling and drove to Ogden.
The next morning, I left Krista sleeping in the bed and got up early to run errands. The night before we had agreed that after I ran the errands we'd head back to our apartment together, finish unpacking, and spend the rest of the weekend alone. As I got in the car to leave I had a second strong impression. This time I felt that instead of running errands I should drive back to our apartment. I didn't understand why I should do that. There wasn't much food in our apartment and the car was overdue for an oil change. There were other things that needed to be done. For the second time in less than 12 hours, I ignored the feeling and spent the morning running around town and crossing things off my To Do list. When I returned to her grandmother's house, I discovered that Krista wasn't there. While I was gone she had taken her car back to our apartment instead of waiting as planned. I called the apartment to see what was going on. There was no answer. I waited a bit and called again. Still there was no answer. After a few other attempts to reach her, I got in the car and drove to our apartment.
When I arrived, I was frustrated and angry. As I headed up the steps and took the key to the apartment out of my pocket I had another strong impression come to me. This time I felt that I should enter the apartment as quietly as possible. I stood outside the door for a moment wondering why on earth I should do that. I realized that it probably wasn't best idea to come home with anger in my voice so for the third time I ignored the feeling. I opened the door and called out for Krista in a somewhat nice voice. A second later I heard a gunshot come from our bedroom.
The police and paramedics that responded to the scene weren't able to save Krista but they got her body to the hospital fast enough to deliver my daughter, Hope, via emergency surgery. However due to the trauma and oxygen deprivation Hope had experienced before she was born, my daughter's condition deteriorated. Nine days after she came into this world, I made the hardest and the most difficult decision of my life and removed her from life support.
Now, I'm going to stop the story for a minute and say that most of the people I work with, those I worship with, and most of my neighbors don’t know this story. Some of them know I'm a former widower but they don't know the details surrounding my late wife's death. They don't know I’m a suicide survivor.
And that is how it should be.
Why don't they know this? It's not like I hide this story from the world. I have a memoir that tells this story in great detail. I have a website where they can find this information too. But I suspect the main reason they don’t know because I'm happy and I lead a pretty normal life. Like most of them, I get up and go to work in morning. Me and my wife, Julianna, socialize with neighbors at neighborhood BBQs and movie nights. I worship with many of them at church on Sunday. I coach my kids and their children on city league basketball and soccer teams. I have a good life and feel that I am blessed with much more than I deserve. On the outside, there's nothing to indicate that I'm a suicide survivor.
Now occasionally a neighbor, co-worker, or member of the congregation I attend with will come across my website or memoir and read about my story. Usually when this happens they express sympathy for my loss and sometimes they ask what I did to make it from losing a wife and a daughter to the life I live right now. My standard answer to that question is something along the lines that I took things day at a time and figured things out as I went along. There's some truth to that. Early on I had to take things one day at a time and with no "How To" manual on rebuilding a shattered life, I had to figure things out on my own.
But the real reason is a little more complex than that. And looking back with nearly fourteen years of hindsight I want to share with you seven things I learned that allowed me to move forward, rebuild my life, and have life I have today. Again, please keep in mind that I share them in the hopes that they can help you or those who you come in contact with contact with as part of your jobs or personal life.
The first thing I learned was the importance of getting out of bed every morning.
In the weeks and months after Krista's suicide, the hardest decision I faced every day was whether or not to get out of bed. I would wake up and stare at the ceiling and have this mental battle of whether I would stay in bed and sleep for another couple hours or get out of bed and go for a run.
I knew if I made the decision to stay in bed it would eventually lead to calling into work and taking a day off. And with no job to go to, I'd sit around all day watch TV and surfing the internet. I'd probably eat a lot of junk food. Maybe I would get around to taking a shower. Maybe.
The choice to get out of bed didn’t involve getting ready for the day but included running four miles. Doing that run would give me 30 minutes to be sad or work through things that were weighing on my mind. By the time I got home, I'd feel good enough mentally that I could get ready and go to work and make it through the rest of the day.
Now some days making this choice was easy and it would take less than a minute to decide for me to throw of the covers and start running. Other mornings it was a five to ten minute struggle on what decision I was going to make. Those mornings just making that one decision left me mentally exhausted. But every morning, I made the decision to get out of bed and run.
This all came to a head on a freezing winter morning. As I lay in bed, I could feel the wind shake the house and listened as bits of snow and ice hit against the window. I knew if I went for my four-mile run it was going to be near or below zero outside. I paused and thought about getting back under the covers for another hour or two. But inside I knew I had to run—even if it was only two or three miles—because I knew if I made the decision to stay in bed, it would be easier the next morning or the morning after that to come up with an excuse to stay home and wallow in self-pity.
I couldn't let that happen.
So I got up, put on extra layers of clothing, and headed out into the cold. Forty minutes later I completed my four mile run. Even though the run took longer than usual and I was chilled to the bone, I felt like I had just climbed Mount Everest. I realized if I could get out of bed under those conditions and run, I could get out of bed any morning.
Getting out of bed may seem like a small, trivial thing but the fact that I did it day after day allowed me to lay a foundation that I could build a new life upon. If I had not been able to do that, I probably wouldn't be living the life that I have. I don't know what I'd be doing but it probably wouldn't include a family, a good job, and or standing here before all of you today.
The second thing I learned was the importance of being grateful.
I lost Krista and Hope just before the start of the holiday season. It was a hard time to be alone. While everyone else appeared happy and excited for the upcoming holidays, I had nothing to look forward to. Then one afternoon just as I was getting ready to leave work for the day, I overheard a coworker talking to about the divorce he was going through. The whole process was bankrupting him and it was looking like despite his best efforts, he was only going to see his four children every other weekend. As I listened to him choke back tears, it made me realize that I wasn’t the only one with problems and difficulties. Other people had their own challenges they were facing.
During the hour-long drive home that afternoon, I thought about what I had overheard. I realized that even though I had lost much, I had much to be grateful for. I thought about the friends and family that had stood by me and supported me during this difficult time. I thought about my friend Brent who had invited me to spend an extended weekend with him in Phoenix so I could to get away from the cold and the memoires that were in Utah. I was grateful for my friends, Ryan and Suzie, who invited me over for dinner once a week I could enjoy some company and a good home cooked meal. I was thankful for my job. Even though it wasn't the best or most exiting job in the world, it paid the bills and kept me focused on something other than my loss for most of the day. I was also grateful for an understanding boss who was patient with me as I tried to make it through each day at work. I was grateful for my good health, good books to read, and small but wonderful home to live in. By the time I got home I realized that despite my loss, I still had many good people and things in my life. After that, whenever I felt sad or depressed, I tried to find at least one thing to be grateful for to cheer me up.
It's something I still do it today.
Whether it's stress at work or something else that gets me feeling down or angry or frustrated, I try to think of the blessings in my life. And to be honest, all I have to do is think of where I was thirteen years ago then think of my wonderful wife Julianna and our six children and suddenly life doesn’t seem so bad.
The third thing I learned was the healing power of serving others.
One spring morning I was sitting in church and a member of the congregation said that they were moving that Saturday and needed some help loading the van. I volunteered to give them a hand. Now, I have to admit my motives for helping were a little selfish. I volunteered because without a job to go to, Saturdays were long and empty and I figured that this would help pass the time. So I showed up and for two hours helped move boxes from their home to the moving truck. When it was all done my muscles were sore but I felt good inside. It wasn't just the a good feeling of knowing that I had done the right thing, but I found I was a less angry at Krista, that I was a little happier inside. I felt a little more normal.
Now the concept of serving and helping others wasn't new to me. The importance of helping and serving others was something I had been taught since I was little and something I had done many times before. But where I was in that time in my life I was able to feel the healing power of service firsthand.
At first I wondered if it was some kind of fluke that I had felt that way. Yet I found the more I served and helped others, the better I felt about myself. When others in the congregation needed help with something, I was usually one of the first to volunteer. As I felt this healing power in my life, I started to look for ways I could serve neighbors. I mowed and edged the lawn or shoveled snow for a widow in the neighborhood who was too frail to do it herself. Sometimes the act of service was as simple as spending thirty minutes with someone who just needed someone to talk with. Each time I focused on the needs of others instead of my own feelings, the more peace I felt about my situation and life in general.
The experience also humbled me.
I'm a very independent person and like to think that I can get through life without the assistance of others. I realized that there were times after Krista's death where it had been hard for me to accept the service from others when it was offered. From that moment on it became easier to let others serve me even if I was sure it was something that I could do for myself. I realized that those performing the service might need the healing power and the peace that comes with helping their fellow man. So when opportunities arose for others to serve me, I let them do it.
For anyone here today who is struggling or hurting I encourage you to look around at friends, family, co-workers, and loved ones and see how you can use your time, your talents, and your abilities to lighten the burden of others. If you do it, I promise you that you will experience amazing healing results in your own life.
The fourth thing I learned was that it’s okay to not to have all the answers.
After Krista's suicide there were a lot of unanswered questions. I saw them in the sad faces of family and friends. I saw them every time I looked in the mirror. Why Krista had done it? Was mental illness? A chemical imbalance? Depression? Something else? How could I not known she was suicidal? Everyone looked to me for answers. I had none.
I still don't.
I have my suspicions why Krista did what she did but the truth is I’m not going to get answers in this life and I'm okay with that. We only have so much time and energy to spend every day and the more time I spent worrying about things I'd never have the answer to, the more it held me back from progressing and moving forward.
When I was dating Julianna, I learned that I couldn't get to know her if I was constantly thinking about the past and why things turned out the way they did. When shifted my focus to Julianna, I was able to open my heart to her.
Today, my time and energy is focused on my family, on my work, and my writing—not the unanswered questions of the past. It’s better spent figuring out how I can help my 11-year-old son with his social studies homework or my eight-year-old daughter refine her basketball skills. It’s better spent on figuring out the next plot twist in my novel, honing my marketing skills for my job, or looking for ways that I can help my wife, Julianna, around the house. There are a thousand things that I can work on that will make me a better father, a better husband, a better neighbor, a better Christian, and a better writer. Focusing on the past doesn't help me do any of these things.
The fifth thing learned that forgiving others is essential to moving forward.
The afternoon after my daughter's funeral, I said three words to Krista that I never thought I'd say to her. Those three words were "I hate you."
Now, Krista wasn't around to hear them, of course, but I remember sitting in my car alone pounding the steering wheel with my fists until my hands hurt and screaming those three words over and over again.
"I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!"
I also remember how good it felt to say them. And inside I found that Krista was the perfect person to channel all my anger and frustrations. Anytime something went wrong—no matter how small or insignificant—I found I could blame her for it. And even though all those feelings of anger or bitterness didn't solve any problems, it made me feel better for an hour or two.
About five months after my late wife's death I started dating again I found I couldn’t emotionally connect with the women I was dating because of the anger. As I started to have feelings for Julianna, I learned that if I was going to fully open my heart to someone else, I couldn’t have feelings of anger or bitterness toward Krista. I had to forgive her.
Now, it would be so much easier to forgive Krista if I could just talk to her. But she wasn't around to do that. No one could do that. I had no doubt that wherever Krista was, she was aware of the consequences of her actions and regretted what she had done. However, she wasn’t in a position to explain why she had done it or to tell me how she was sorry for the pain and anguish she had caused. It would be so much easier to forgive her if she could just apologize.
But that wasn't an option.
I tried brushing off the feelings or channeling my anger in a different direction but nothing seemed to work. Finally, I figured out a solution. Every time I found my rage and anger being directed at Krista, I tried to think of something good and positive about her. Despite all the good memories, it was easy to wipe them all away simply by thinking what she had done with one act. Thinking good thoughts instead of bad ones was difficult and progress at times seemed agonizingly slow.
But eventually it paid off.
It happened on autumn afternoon. I was standing in the kitchen doing dishes and looking outside at the fall colors. At that moment I was filled by this peaceful feeling. It was warm and strong and filled my whole body. It was one of the best feelings of my life. At that moment I realized I had made peace with Krista. I was no longer angry at her. After I realized what had happened I tried to be angry at her. I thought of what she had done and I wasn't angry or upset.
I was at peace.
I can stand here before all of you today and tell you that thirteen years later I still have no anger or ill will towards her. It no longer matters to me why she killed herself or the pain and sorrow that I and others felt as a result. From that moment I was truly able to start a new life.
I sixth lesson I learned was that I had to forgive myself.
The hardest part in this process of moving forward was forgiving myself for not listening to those promptings I felt in the hours leading up to Krista's death. Even though my life was coming back together one piece at a time, I knew that in order to fully heal I had to forgive myself for my inaction. It was so easy to beat myself up over it. There were days when I wanted nothing more than to go back to that November morning and do everything differently.
It would be so much easier if I could just talk to Krista and express my remorse for my inaction. If I could just tell her how sorry I was for not listening to those promptings and have her forgive at me or yell at me, or do whatever she wanted in order to help her feel better, then that would go a long way to helping me forgive myself.
But that wasn't an option.
After a lot of thought and prayer, I realized that I needed to do two things in order to forgive myself. The first was to let go of the past. By letting go, I didn't mean forgetting about what had happened or erasing it from my mind. Rather, I couldn't dwell on it and beat myself up over it. It meant learning my lessons and moving forward. It was about building a new life from the ashes of the old one and not repeating the mistakes that I had made in the past.
And so I did.
Though I never thought I would rebuild my life quickly, I married Julianna fifteen months after Krista's death and together we started a new family. We've been married twelve years and she has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. With her I've tried to be a better husband—one who is more responsive to her needs than I was the first time around. I haven't been perfect but I think I've done a good job over the years.
Now there was a second thing I had to do in order to forgive myself. And that was I had to make myself a promise. And that promise is the seventh and final lesson I would like to share with you today.
And that is: Always listen and obey those promptings.
Back at the beginning of my story, I told you all about three distinct promptings that I ignored. I like to call them promptings but you can call them whatever you want: gut feelings, hunches, impressions, an inner voice. Whatever you want to call them I believe that everyone has them from time to time. It's the feeling that knowing that we need to do something even when we don't know why we should do it. We can have them when it comes to members of our family, our jobs, our friends, and our neighbors.
The consequences of not following those impressions was a brutal lesson and one I had to learn the hard way. Since then whenever a prompting or impression has struck, I have always followed it. A prompting was a reason I asked Julianna out on our first date. It was promptings that has guided Julianna and I where to look for work or where to live. Those promptings have helped when it's come to issues raising our children and knowing how I can best help them when it comes to their education and other problems they may be struggling with.
Sometimes the reasons for these feelings have been obvious but most of the times I don't know why I'm being told to do a certain thing. But even if the reason is never known, I have peace in my heart knowing I followed those promptings.
And that peace is priceless.
For those who are feeling the sting of a friend or loved one who has taken their own life, I want you to know that life does go on and we can find peace and happiness in this life again.
Since it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, several readers have emailed me over the last week or two asking if everything is okay. I appreciate the concern and am happy to report that, yes, everything is fine. Great actually. Life is just really, really busy. So busy, in fact, that blogging is one of many things that have fallen to the side. That being said, I find myself with a few minutes to provide a brief update on book, life, and a few other things.
That’s all for now. More later.
Every relationship has its own struggles, and being in a relationship with a widower presents its own set of challenges. My fiancé Sherman lost his wife after 15 years of marriage. She died at the young age of 41 to cancer and it was the most difficult thing he had ever been through. When I met him, I really didn’t understand how to act or what to say in the beginning of our relationship as I had not spent much time around widowers or for that matter ever dated a widower, but I was willing to try.
How We Met
I met Sherman in December of 2014 when I received a Facebook friend request on December 14, 2014. I was at my church Christmas banquet. I accepted his friend request because I knew him, but didn’t know him. I then received a message from him that read --- “Good evening Ms. Bender. I hope all is well with you this evening. I would love to have a conversation with you when the time permits. I hope you are as eager to speak to me as I am to you. If not I guess I will just have to wait patiently.”
I responded. When Sherman sent me the message, I knew he was a widower, so I thought he needed the CD with all the photographs from the family session, but that was not the case. When Sherman called me that night after I sent him my phone number, I remember him asking was I single. I told him yes and afterwards, I remember asking him if he remembered me and he then asked did I know him. I told him I didn’t know him, but I told him I was his family photographer in September of 2013. But he didn’t remember me immediately. With that being said, I initially met Sherman and his family in September of 2013. I remember first meeting up with the late wife, children, and maternal grandmother on that day [Sherman showed up close to sunset time] at the Railroad Park in Birmingham, Alabama for their family portraits and they were one of the sweetest most awesome families I’ve ever had the pleasure to photograph!
On December 17, 2014, Sherman and I met at BRIO Tuscan Grille and things went from there. On July 10, 2015, Sherman proposed and I said YES! I never would have thought in a million years that I would be with a widower and surely he never imagined his life would pan out like this; but we are proof that you simply cannot plan life, or choose who you fall in love with, or when. We are now engaged and are getting married in 2016 and we are very excited about our future together.
Tips and Advice for Dating a Widower
Accept their past, be patient with extended family and be aware that extended family members may struggle to accept you. Also, communicate about your feelings! Put God at the center of your relationship, pray about your feelings– being honest with God and your mate about how you feel. Your relationship can both thrive! A relationship with a widower is really just a relationship with an ordinary man!
Recently I’ve heard some dating horror stories from GOWs who met a widower through one of the many online dating sites. Since I only used an online dating site briefly before Marathon Girl came into my life, I don’t have a lot of experience on how things have changed. So with the help of the ladies on the Dating a Widower Facebook group who have met widowers online, here are some suggestions to creating a profile that will help your prospects of getting a date.
The first chapter of The Ultimate Dating Guide to Widowers tells the story of Joe Biden who lost his wife and daughter to an automobile accident a month after being elected U.S. Senator from Delaware. I picked Biden’s story to lead off the book because of all the famous, remarried widowers I researched it seemed that he had done the best job of putting his life together and moving on. At a time when it would have been easy to give up on life and being a father tow his two surviving sons, he managed to rebuild his life in a remarkable and spectacular way.
But even the best, most inspiring stories don’t always have a happy ending. Even those who have managed to overcome one tragedy often have others. In Biden’s case his son, Beau, died Saturday of brain cancer at the age of 46.
Two weeks before his son’s death, and knowing that his son didn’t have long to live, Biden gave a very personal commencement speech to Yale graduates. As part of the speech he said “I’ve observed that most people who are successful and happy remembered a third thing: Reality has a way of intruding.” Biden then went on to tell his story including this bit:
I can remember my mother — a sweet lady — looking at me, after we left the hospital, and saying, Joey, out of everything terrible that happens to you, something good will come if you look hard enough for it. She was right.
Prayers and thoughts are with the Biden family during this time. And for the rest of us, I hope that we can all find something good when reality intrudes on our lives. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.
You can watch Biden’s speech below (forward to 1:10:00) or read a transcript of his speech here.
I got a couple of mentions in a Huffington Post article titled "Sex and the Grieving Widower."
Women who date widowers are sometimes stunned when an actively grieving man presses eagerly for sex. Our culture mandates no "correct" grieving process, and grieving is unique to every individual, but most experts agree that men and women mourn in different ways. Women are less likely than men to seek comfort in sex while grief endures, says a writer at hellogrief.org, citing one reason why a women who is dating a widower "might be amazed that he wants to make love to you."
Silent brooding, isolation, and even anger are stock elements of male behavior, while women tend to "talk it out" with close friends. Support systems are emblematic of the female experience; men do not cultivate support structures in the same way women do.
Abel Keogh, author of The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers, believes that a widower's impulse to find someone new is ultimately sex-related. "When it comes to sex," he writes, "most widowers find themselves in a tough spot. When their wife passed on, so did regular sex. The desire for sex is one of the reasons widowers start dating again."
Recently I posed the question of sex as therapy, distraction, or denial to a friend who was widowed some years ago at the age of 57. He seemed surprised at the question. "A man's grief doesn't mean he stops thinking like a man," he said. "Sex is -- what we do."
Read the full article at the Huffington Post.
A recent experience shared on the Dating a Widower Facebook group started a lively discussion about what widowers shouldn't do on dates. Though I think the following three are obvious to most people, I’m putting them out there in case there is a person or two who needs a quick dating etiquette reminder.
1. Don’t Bring Your Late Wife on the Date.
While we all carry around bits and pieces of those we love and have loved in our heart and minds, it’s better to leave physical reminders about that person at home. That includes photos of the late wife, a small portion of her ashes in a small container, or other objects, like rings, that her ashes or other body parts have been used to construct. It’s tacky and gross to take those on a date. If you inadvertently bring one of these things along with you, don’t show it off. If you happen to show it to the woman you’re with, she’s not going to like it. She’ll probably be offended, grossed out, and/or appalled by it. Don’t be surprised if she grabs her purse and takes off on a dead sprint.
2. Don’t Take Photos of the Aforementioned Objects While on the Date
Cell phones make it easy to take photos. So if you happen to violate rule number 1, DON’T take a picture of one of the aforementioned objects while on a date. Don’t do when your date is present. Don’t do it when she heads off to the restroom. It doesn't matter if the restaurant you’re eating at or the place you’re visiting meant something to you and the late wife. Just. Don’t. Do. It. There will always be more opportunities to take photos. A date with someone else is neither the time nor the place for it. Take them at a later time.
3. Don’t Post the Photo on Social Media
Tools like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, make it easy to share photos with friends, family, and the entire human race. If you violate rule #1 and rule #2, DO NOT post the photo on social media with comments about how much the place you were at meant so much to you and the late wife and how much you miss her. This is especially important if the woman you’re dating with you is friends or follows you on the social media account you post it on. Awkward doesn't begin to describe the situation you've put yourself and your date in. Also, don’t plan on another date with that person.
Avoiding these three mistakes is good for a widower’s dating life and physical survival. I don’t think there’s a jury in the world that would convict someone for breaking to a homicidal fury after breaking all three rules. Proceed with caution should one choose to ignore this advice.
Can you think of other things that a widower shouldn't do on a date? Have your own horror story about something a widower did while dating you? Leave them in the comments below.
I'll be at the Storymakers writing conference this week. Thursday I'll be teaching a publication workshop and Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah. I'll be participating in the state's biggest book signing with the following authors:
The signing is open to the public so feel free to stop by if you're in the area. If you're part of the conference, I'll see you there.
Here's another widower relationships success story. Thanks for sending Jacy.
My widower was friends with my brother in middle and high school in Oklahoma, so I've known him for over half my life. He moved to California in his early twenties and got married. His late wife was manic depressive and bi polar.
From what I've heard their relationship was tumultuous. There was a big argument between them in November 2012 which almost caused a divorce but they were able to work things out. W got a job offer back here in Oklahoma and they decided to move here to save their marriage and have more support.
One month to the day of moving here, his late wife shot herself June of 2013. I don't fully know why as I've never asked and feel like it's not my place.
At the time of the late wife’s passing, my brother was in the middle of a bi polar unhinging—so to speak—and I had not seen or spoken to him in a couple months. He wanted me to come to W’s mom's house in the days before the funeral, but I felt like it wasn't the place for a "family reunion"
My sister-in-law brought W’s two girls, aged 1 and 3, to my house for a day of swimming while W and my brother cleaned and moved out of the house. I instantly fell in love with them and knew I wanted them in my life. I thought I could be like an aunt to them. At the time, I was a director at a daycare and told her to tell w that if he decided he needed child care that I would make sure his girls were taken care of. T
hree weeks later, I got a call from W. It was the beginning of July. It was also the first time I had seen him in 15 years or so. When he walked in, it was like God whispered in my ear, "There he is." By August we were casually dating and October we moved in together. I don't know how, I just knew he was the one.
It was rough in the beginning as he was still going thru the stages of grief. I tried to not let it bother me because it was so soon after her passing. I had mental timelines set of when I would no longer put up with something and if he didn't change on his own or after I talked to him, then I would be done.
Christmas was rough because it was their first Christmas without her. W cried and didn't speak much during the day. Quite frankly, I was pissed that my Christmas was spent watching him cry. Later he told me that he was upset because watching his girls’ happy faces he wondered how his late wife would want to leave them. I told myself it WAS the first Christmas without her so I choose to let it go.
June 2014 was 1 year since she died. That day was hard for me. I felt like I was being settled for. But after that day, he was a completely different man. He is very good about making sure that I know I'm number one.
Here are two things that have attributed to our success:
I've had to let a lot of things go because I decided it was more my issue than his. I know he thinks about her and misses her but I also know that I take front and center today. In the beginning, I told myself that I had to get used to talk about her because there are two little girls who need to remember their mommy in heaven in a good light because eventually, the truth will come out.
Occasionally I like to highlight reader success stories when it comes to widower relationships. Today's story comes from Jodi. Enjoy!
I met J when I went to work as a nurse in the hospital he worked at. He was married at the time and we always had a good working relationship and were friendly towards each other. Through the grapevine at work I heard that his wife at the time had battled cancer on and off. Soon she became very ill with another type of cancer. I left my job at the hospital shortly after, though we remained friends on social media. When his wife passed, I was truly sad for him and his daughter and expressed my condolences to him through social media.
About 11 months after his late wife had passed, he would occasionally send me messages on Facebook. We agreed to go on a date a couple of months later. His late wife had been gone just shy of a year and a half at this point. I was not sure what to expect from him as I had never dated a widower before and always said I would not. We had a great time as he was always a funny and sweet man. We started seeing each other and soon developed strong feelings toward each other. I asked several times if he was truly ready to date and he said he was. He dated some casually before me, though not much and nothing real serious.
The night he told me he loved me for the first time, he started out by telling me that he still loved the late wife and thought about and missed her every day. He said if he could get her back, he would. He followed this statement by telling me he loved me.
I was totally confused. I loved this man and wanted him to love me too. I did tell him I loved him but because of what he said I was not sure where this left me. I cried myself to sleep that night after he fell asleep.
The next day I called him to break things off. Based on what he said the night before, I did not feel he was truly ready and how could he really love me if he still felt that way for late wife? There was also much drama with his 21-year-old daughter who felt that he should live with her, his family, and the memories of the late wife. He was very upset and begged me not to break things off, saying he was only trying to be honest with me and that late wife was gone, he was not still "in love" with her as he could not be "in love" with a deceased woman. He promised me that he was in love with me and wanted to share a life together. As far as his daughter was concerned, she would be a work in progress and he felt he should do what made him happy. I decided to stay and see how things turned out, against what my gut was telling me. My heart was saying something totally different and I was sure I would end up a broken heart again and left to deal with my stupidity.
We did have some bumps in the road here and there. I would not go to his home as he told me that pictures of the late wife were up still, some of her clothes still hanging in his closet, and what sounded like a shrine to the late wife that included a urn with her ashes, a leather bound book from her memorial service, and a picture of her on an antique table in his home. Plus his daughter lived at home and was nothing short of a spoiled, drama queen who wanted no other woman in her mother’s home. I told him I would not deal with this stuff and did not want to see the late wife everywhere. If he was ready to share his life with someone else, this stuff should be packed away. I bought the book Dating a Widower and shared it with J. We both read and discussed it and he could see where I was coming from. He agreed to make changes at his home but had to do so slowly as not to upset his daughter too much.
We discussed marriage and I informed him that I would not accept a proposal from him until all of the late wife things were taken care of in his home. He took down pictures, bagged up the late wife’s clothes for his daughter to go through then donate. He was to put the "shrine" in his daughter’s room.
I made it very clear to J that I would never accept being put second to late wife nor would I tolerate him letting his daughter disrespect me or my daughter or treat us badly. He never did any of this. He did put us first and moved on with a life with me, despite major objections from his daughter. She has chosen to stay away and not involve herself in his life. While it is hard for him not to have her in his life, he has moved on. The rest of his family was very supportive of whatever made him happy.
We were married four days ago and we could not be happier. We have very few late wife issues because he has moved on to a life with me. He always puts me first. He has told me that he loves me more than he ever loved anyone else, no exceptions and I believe him. We will have struggles—all marriages do—but those will most likely have nothing to do with his former widower status or late wife issues.
Remember: You don’t need the understanding of others to move on from all the bad things life throws at you. Moving forward requires you to act.
Moving on means getting your butt in gear and making changes. Acting like a victim isn't going to change or improve your circumstances.
I'm traveling for work this week so this post will be a quick one.
Often I'll get emails or read posts on the Dating a Widower Facebook group about red flags GOWs see they see as they get to know their widower better. It could be that he has photos of the late wife up, is still wearing his wedding ring, or won't tell friends or family about the new lady in his life. When a red flag emerges, many times the natural reaction is to wonder if the widower is ready for a relationship or should even be dating again.
Red flags don't mean a relationship is doomed. What it means that there are some issues that need to be discussed and worked on before things can continue moving forward. For example, I had several red flags when Marathon Girl started dating me:
Marathon Girl could have walked away from the relationship when these red flags came up. (And to be honest, I wouldn't have blamed her for doing just that.) Thankfully she was willing to see what I would do to alleviate her concerns before she bailed. She let me know the photos made her uncomfortable. The next time she came over, they were gone from the living room and kitchen of my house. In the following weeks they came down from other rooms in the house. When it came to the wedding ring, she let me know that that she didn't think I was ready to move on and let me decide if I valued the ring more than here. As for the short time being widowed, there wasn't much she could do about that other than make sure I was showing progress when it came to put the past life behind me and start making a new one with her.
So if your widower has a red flag, the first thing you need decide whether or not he's worth hanging around for. If you are, then you need to be able to talk to him about the issues and let him know what he needs to do before the relationship can continue moving forward. Finally, you give him a reasonable amount of time to make the changes. (Note: A reasonable amount of time isn't years. At the high end two or three months is sufficient for most red flags.) Some changes can be made quickly. Others may take some time. What you want to see is that he's figuring out solutions and making progress instead of making excuses why things aren't changing.
Remember that men show love through their actions not their words. Widowers who are serious about you and the relationship will figure out a way to resolve your concerns and put you first. If you find that the red flags persist after you bring up the issues, then it's time to move on.
It's dangerous to make assumptions about the person you’re dating. At some point you need to have in-depth conversations about finances, family, personal values and beliefs, faith, and other important topics to see if there are anything that you can't live with. Yet I’ll often see women who marry widowers or have been dating a widower for years who don't have or refuse to have these conversations and end up with nasty surprises years down the road.
For example, I recently received an email from a woman who’s only been married to a widower three months. She dated the man for two years and during that time assumed he was financially secure. Yet it wasn’t until after they were married that she realized the widower had blown through the late wife’s life insurance policy and had racked up over $100,000 in consumer debt on various credit cards. When they were dating they never discussed money or finances. She just assumed his job paid well enough to support that lifestyle and now finds herself in the unfortunate situation of being married to someone with a spending problem and having to use her own hard-earned savings to pay off the debt.
I felt bad for the woman but wondered how she had dated someone so long without knowing anything about his true financial situation. Then I remembered I got a similar shock early in my marriage with the late wife. About four months into our marriage the late wife thought she might be pregnant. It turned out to be a false alarm but that started a conversation about how many kids we wanted and when we wanted to start a family. It was a conversation we never had before that moment. Much to my surprise the late wife said she only wanted to have one or two kids.
I was shocked. Because we shared very similar religious and cultural backgrounds I had always assumed that the late wife wanted a large family. In the two years we dated it never occurred to me to ask if she wanted something different. When she said she wanted a small family, I was literally speechless. It took a couple of days before I was able to pick the conversation back up and talk about the reasons she felt the way she did.
The fact she wanted a small family wasn’t a deal breaker. We still had a good marriage and I hoped that maybe after a child or two that perhaps she’d want a third. However, I was kicking myself for not having this conversation early in our relationship. I still would have married the late wife had I known early on about her family preferences but it would have helped me set expectations of what our future family would look like and avoided some difficult moments early in our marriage.
It’s a mistake I didn’t make the second time around. After Marathon Girl and I realized that we had a long-term future together, we had an in-depth conversation about when we wanted to start a family and how many kids we wanted to have. There was no way I was going to get surprised again. We also had detailed conversations about finances, religion, and lots of other personal topics. At first these conversations were difficult to have because I didn’t want to consider the possibility that there might be a deal breaker lurking out there somewhere. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Marathon Girl and didn’t want an ugly truth getting in the way of a life together. But based on my past experience I didn’t want any surprises after we were married. I knew that it was better to find out these things early on and decide whether or not I could live with them then find out later.
Whether you’re new to a relationship with a widower or dating one for a long time, it’s never too late to have these kinds of conversations. The sooner you have them the better. If you have doubts about what the widower tells you, don’t be afraid to verify what he says is true. Make sure his actions back up what he says. Don’t let fear stop you from having them because it’s better to find out now than later.
As for the woman who discovered the truth about her husband’s financial situation, the latest update email I received from her is that she doesn’t know if the marriage is going to last. Her husband got defensive when she brought up the debt. They’re going to marriage counseling and she’s willing to help pay off the debts and work on the marriage but only on the condition that he changes his spending habits. Right now she doesn’t know if that’s going to happen.
She’s learning her lesson the hard way. I hope its pain and heartache everyone else can avoid.
The latest edition of Room for Two is available in paperback format.
For those unfamiliar with the book, it's the story of the year of my life following my late wife's suicide. Part of the story includes how I met Marathon Girl, fell in love with her, and learned to open my heart to her.
You can read the first three chapters of the book online for free below.
For those wanting signed copies, they will be available in my store in a couple of weeks.
From the inbox comes the following email:
Congratulations on your and Marathon Girl’s recent anniversary! It gives me hope that things can move forward with my widower. If I can ask, how are you and Marathon Girl able to make things work? Any secrets you can share would be great. My W and I are going through a rough patch and I really want thing to work out if at all possible.
Thanks for reaching out. There’s not really a secret to our marital success. We just put each other first when issues come up and things usually work themselves out. I know that it sounds simple, but it’s the key to any marital relationship.
Most of the time when I get emails from GOWs, WOWs, or widowers themselves asking for relationship advice, it’s because one or both of them aren’t putting the needs of the other person above their own interests, their kids, job, hobbies, etc. Admittedly it’s not always easy to do this and I don’t claim that me and Marathon Girl are prefect at this. However, when we’ve both put each other first the problem or issue in our relationship has generally worked itself out to the point where we can both live with it.
Sometimes this involves Marathon Girl and I talking things through and reaching some sort of compromise. Other times it means one or both of us have to delay or give something up in order for things to work out. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every problem or issue a couple may encounter. But if one or both of you don’t have the desire to put the happiness of your partner above your own, the relationship won’t last long. It takes two people learning about each other and growing with each other to give it long-term success.
I hope you can your widower can overcome this rough spot you’re going through and come out with a stronger relationship and more in love with each other in the end.
Hope this helps,
Twelve years ago today me and Marathon Girl tied the knot. Back then we were young, in love, and had only known each other nine months. In many ways hoping beyond hope that our two distinct personalities and interest would continue to mesh into an awesome relationship.
Today we’ve got 12 years’ worth of knowledge and experience and six(!) kids. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. Life as Marathon Girl’s husband has easily been the best 12 years of my life. Parts of the last 12 years have been a crazy, wild ride for both of us but I’m glad Marathon Girl’s been there to take it with me. Here’s to the rest of our lives and eternity together.
Me and Marathon Girl back when we only had 3 kids. Based on the age of the kids, the photo was taken sometime in 2008.
The other day I received an email from a woman who had been dating a widower for three years. Her email was filled with all kind of problems and issues that she had been dealing with from the very first date. From the tone of her email it sounded like she had reached the end of her patience and ability to deal with the photographs of the late wife all over the house, the constant stories about how great their marriage was, and feeling like she always was number two in the widower’s heart.
I replied to her email with once sentence: If things are so bad, why don’t you just end the relationship?
Her response was just as brief: I’ve already invested three years of my life into this relationship. I’ve spent too much time and energy to just give up on it.
I wish that was the first time I heard that answer to the question but it’s one I hear over and over again. Usually the longer the GOWs been in a relationship with a widower, the more likely it is to be a reason for staying in a bad relationship.
It’s easy to deceive ourselves and think that because we’ve put one year, three years, or five years into a relationship so if we just work on it a little longer or have more patience, everything will eventually work itself out.
In economics this kind of thinking is called the sunk cost fallacy. In short, the sunk cost fallacy is that once a person, a business, or a government has invested a lot of resources in something, it’s not worth quitting. You can apply this fallacy to education, sports, relationships, and just about anything else that requires a large investment of your time, energy, and/or money.
Recently I found myself doing my own dance with the sunk cost fallacy. Last month I wrote how my latest writing project had stalled because of a stressful work environment. I had been stressed on the job for some time but kept thinking things would change for the better and I’d start enjoying my job again. Besides, I could list plenty of things that I liked about my job. However, once I sat down and thought things through, I realized what I liked about my job wasn't worth the cost of coming home stressed out, not having the energy to play with the kids or being the kind of husband Marathon Girl needed. So I spent all of my free time looking for a better job, found one two months later, and my life is good again. I’m working two hours a day on my novel and have the time and energy to be there for my kids and Marathon Girl. And the first step to getting to this better place in my life was admitting that my old job was no longer worth it the time and energy I was putting into it.
When it comes to dating a widower, there comes a point where giving the widower one more chance or hoping that he’ll start living in the present is simply a waste of time. How much time it takes may vary depending on the circumstances of the relationship my personal opinion is that people don’t need more than a year to know whether or not a relationship has long-term potential (read marriage or some other lifelong commitment). Anything past that is simply wasted time and energy.
Looking back at my relationships with Marathon Girl and the late wife, I knew very quickly (within months) that they both were someone I could happily spend the rest of my life with. The relationships that didn’t work out I usually dragged out longer than necessary because I or the person I was dating thought things would work out if I just invested more of myself into it things would change.
So if you’ve been dating widower longer than a year and you’re not happy with where it's going, it might be a good time to think through the relationship and decide if all the pain and misery is worth it. Think about more positive things you could be doing with your time and life and decide if it’s worth the tradeoff. The little time we have in this world is a precious gift. It would be a shame to waste any more of it on someone who doesn't have your long-term interests at heart.