Speaking Engagement Tonight

For those who live in northern Utah, I'll be speaking at a church group on The 7 Things that Matter Most in a relationship. The event will be held in Syracuse, Utah from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. Syracuse Stake Center 1350 South 1800 West Syracuse, Utah Map\Directions

Also, if you want to see where I'll be in 2012, I already have several speaking and presentations already scheduled with more on the way. Check out my 2012 speaking schedule.

Dad's New Wife

Frequent readers and commentator Karen M. liked to a great advice column in the comment section of my latest Widower Wednesday post.

Hi, Carolyn:

My mom passed away suddenly in November. My parents had been married for 40 years. My dad started dating two months after her passing and just got engaged. I have met his fiancee three times total, and they have been together for about six weeks.

Is it okay that I am not thrilled about this? To soften it, they told me they would not get married for a year but also said they are basically living together. I think they expected me to congratulate them. I feel like I need more time to get used to this. Am I being mean?

Anonymous

There is a bright and clear line between what you’re entitled to feel (anything) and entitled to do (very little). Since the way you react to your father’s relationship carries potentially lifelong consequences on your relationship with him, keep your response within these boundaries:

1. It’s Dad’s life, not yours.

2. You grieve your way, he grieves his. There’s no one “right” way.

***

4. Don’t criticize his fiancee; you don’t know her well enough. When you do know her well enough, don’t criticize her then, either. Identify troubling facts when necessary, without assigning blame.

Read the entire column at the Washington Post.

The only thing I have to say about it is that I agree with it 100%.

Final Call for Dating A Widower Stories

Just a reminder that today's the day to submit your stories for consideration for the upcoming Dating a Widower book. (If you ask nicely, I might let one or two trickle in this weekend. :-) ). The real life examples you submit can be either positive or “learning” dating a widower experiences or something in between. Basically we’re looking for any kind of story that can help women navigate the murky waters that come with dating a widower. Though you’re welcome to write about any dating a widower topic, I'm especially looking for stories that can answer the following questions:

  • How to get your widower to open up and talk to you about your relationship?
  • How you overcame insecurities in the bedroom about being compared to the late wife?
  • What have widowers done to make you feel like Number 1?
  • When did you realize it was time to end the relationship with a widower?
  • How did you deal with the widower’s adult children who weren’t accepting of their dad’s new relationship?
  • How did you get the widower’s minor children to accept you as the new “mom”?
  • How did you deal with special days like the late wife’s birthday, and wedding anniversary and other holidays?

To submit your story for consideration, send me an email. Please keep submissions to 500 words or less. You can submit more than one story but please send them in different emails. (This way I can sort them by topic better.) All submissions must be received by May 13, 2011.

The author of any story that makes it into the book will receive a free copy of the Dating a Widower book up publication. To protect your privacy, you can publish your story under a pen name if you wish.

If you have any questions about submitting a story let me know.

Thanks, and I’m looking forward to reading what you have to share.

Widower Wednesday: Redefining Relationships

Just a reminder that there are nine days left to submit your story for consideration in the forthcoming Dating a Widower book. Though I’ve asked for a list of specific stories, you’re free to submit any story that that you think will help women who are dating a widower.

***

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is the importance of relationships. In the writing and publishing world it’s amazing how far a good relationship with agents, publishers, editors, and other industry movers and shakers will take authors along the path of publication. It’s just as, if not more important, than being able to write and tell a good story. In the business world often business deals or hiring decisions made simply because of past relationships between two people. Whether the relationship is with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, or complete strangers, how we treat and interact with people defines who we are and, I believe, will make up a good portion of how we’ll be judged by God in the next life.

Relationships aren’t static. As we grow older and experience life events, we’re forced to make changes that redefine relationships. For example, when I got married the first time, my relationship with my single friends changed. I still maintained the friendships but I ended up spending less time with them (or sometimes taking the wife along) because Krista was the top priority in my life. I had to make similar adjustments to relationships with friends and family when I married Marathon Girl. I never ended or lost any friendships when I got married either time but simply redefined how much time I spent with them.

One of the adjustments widowers have a hard time making is redefining relationships with the in-laws after they become serious with a new woman. At least once a week I’ll get an email from a woman saying she feels like number two because the widower still spends a lot of time with LW’s family or is involved in some annual activities and traditions with that family when she wishes they would start some traditions of their own.

From the emails I receive it seems that widowers who have a hard time adjusting the relationship with the LW’s family are those who were already on good terms with the in-laws when the LW was alive and/or those who grew even closer to the in-laws after their wife died. Often these widowers are oblivious that the amount of time they spend with the LW’s family is problem until the new girlfriend or wife mentions it.

Redefining relationships after a life changing event is tricky and I don’t claim to have done it well in every instance (more on that in a minute). I’m also not going to say how much time a widower who’s remarried or is in a serious relations with someone else should or should not spend with the LW’s family. There are too many factors such as children (if any), geography, and how open the LW’s family is to the new woman that make it difficult to give a definitive answer. However, successfully adjusting relationships involves knowing one’s priorities and communicating with others who may find their relationship changed the most.  A widower needs to know which relationship (new wife or GF, or LW’s family) is most important than organize his life and priorities accordingly while being man enough to lovingly let family, friends, and others know how his new life could affect the relationships. The widower also needs to understand that no everyone may be happy with his new priorities so he’ll need to have the courage to stand by what he thinks is important while letting those who are offended know that he values their relationship. It’s a delicate balancing act but one that needs to be done to successfully start a new life with someone else.

All this is probably easier said than done. I know it was easier for me to adjust the relationship with Krista’s family then it is for other widowers. First, there were no living children from my marriage to Krista. Also, for a variety of reasons, I never got along good with Krista’s parents. After our daughter’s funeral, I never spoke to them again. I did maintain relationships with Krista’s brother, her grandmother, and a few other family members but even those have gone by the way side. And I have no one to blame for that other than myself. It been about 18 months since I last spoke (well, emailed actually) Krista’s brother. When I tried to get hold of him last month to invite him to my book party, my attempts (email, phone, etc.) were unsuccessful. He has a new email address and phone number and I don’t have them. (No, he’s not on Facebook or other social media sites.) Though I have no regrets about making Marathon Girl and our family numero uno, I never intended my relationship with Krista’s brother to wither and die.

So to those widowers who have a good relationship with your late wife’s family, please understand that making a new life with someone else is going to require adjusting relationships not only with the LW’s family but with friends and others too. However, if you value these relationships, please do a better balancing act than I did. You won’t be able to please everyone but at least let them know how much they mean to you.

To women who find themselves feeling like number two to the LW’s family, please talk to your widower about this and let him know how you feel while being understanding that these people were part of his previous life and it’s unrealistic to expect him to simply boot them out of his life just because you’re in it.

Finally, Scott, if you’re reading this, please take this post as an apology. If you happen to read this, please send me an email. It’s been a while since we talked. I’d like to catch up.

Who Are The Johnsons?

Return to Sender

When Marathon Girl and I moved into our home five years ago, we went through the inevitable process of receiving mail that hadn’t been forwarded to the previous owner. We had her new address and forwarded the mail on to her. After a few months, we stopped getting her mail.

Then Christmas came. Holiday cards arrived in our mail box not only to her but two cards address to the Johnson Family. We had no idea who the Johnson Family was but figured it was the owner before the woman who sold her house to us. We Return to Sender on the cards for the Johnsons saying they were no longer at this address.

We forgot all about the Johnson Family until the next Christmas. Once again two Christmas cards arrived for the Johnson Family. And though Marathon Girl and I weren’t 100% sure, we were fairly certain that they were the same two families that sent cards the year before. Once again we sent them back and went about with our lives.

We’ve now spent five Christmases in our home. And each year two cards arrive for the Johnson Family arrive from the same two families. The last two years we haven’t bothered returning them. Whoever sends these cards either don’t get the cards back in the mail or have lost touch with the Johnson Family to the point where five plus years have passed and they have no idea where the Johnson Family lives. If it’s the latter reason, I’m somewhat surprised. In an era of email and social networking, it’s not hard to keep in touch with people or, at the very least, notifying them that you’ve moved. Our lives take us in a hundred different directions making it impossible to keep in touch with everyone. But you’d think after (at least) five years, you’d either find a way to contact them or hear through the grapevine that they moved.

As a writer, a collector of stories, and one who is fascinated by human choices and behavior, I want to know who these families are and what their ties are to the Johnson Family. Were they neighbors? Childhood friends? Casual acquaintances? Ex-lovers? There's a story here and the storyteller in me wants to tell it. But the Johnson Family is just a name on an envelope. With no forwarding address, their story will never be told but maybe, just maybe, the seeds of a book have been planted.

Suicide Survivor

About a year ago I became acquainted with a new term: suicide survivor. It was in an email from a woman whose husband had recently killed himself. She had read both my current and old blog and was looking for advice to help her make it through another day as a suicide survivor.

I found the term suicide survivor confusing. But with a little research I realized that the term didn't refer to one who attempted suicide and survived; rather, it refer to the loved ones left behind.

I reread the woman's email, and pondered what to say to her. Usually I can find some pearl of wisdom or my own experience to be of help to those who email me.

But this time my mind was blank.

After a few days I emailed her back. I can't remember what I said but I was left with the feeling that my words wouldn't be of much help or comfort.

Then a few months later another email arrived from a different suicide survivor. I replied but again felt my words would be of little comfort.

But the emails kept coming. Every few months another suicide survivor contacted me wanting to know how I put my life together. And every time I'd shoot off an email and think I really had nothing to say.

The emails from those suicide survivors lurk around in my mind and during an occasional quiet moment, I ponder what I could have shared with them that would have been of some value.

Though it's taken awhile to gather some thoughts on the subject, I finally have some words to share.

So to those suicide survivors who have wanted to know how I put my life back together and I learned to live again, this is for you.

Suicide Survivor

It's been said that time heals all wounds.

That may be true in matters of love. But the suicide of a loved one is a unique monster. The scars remain long after the person had died. Anger, feelings of betrayal, and lingering questions can last a lifetime.

It's been four and a half years since my first wife killed herself.

I can still hear the sound of the gunshot echoing from our bedroom. The acrid smell of gun smoke still stings my nostrils. The memories of that day are just as vivid as the moment they happened.

Memories of that day will never fade.

That is probably for the best.

***

After my first wife died, I labeled myself a widower.

I was no longer Abel. I wasn't a brother, a son, or a friend. I was a widower – a victim of my first wife's suicide. And for a long time, I thought I'd never be anything more than someone whose wife had died when he was 26.

Looking back I see the widower label hindered my ability to grow emotionally. And I started thinking that everyone else viewed me as a widower instead of Abel.

When I started dating again, I worried that the women I dated would only be able to see me as a widower. I never thought that someone out there would be able to see the positive things about me.

But someone did.

As my relationship with Marathon Girl become more intense, I realized a choice needed to be made. I could continue to think of myself as a widower, or I could become Abel again.

I chose to become Abel.

And with that choice came emotional growth, a wonderful relationship, and a more positive outlook on life.

So what does that have to do with being a suicide survivor?

Labeling yourself a suicide survivor is will stunt your spiritual and emotional growth just as much as labeling myself a widower did.

You're not a suicide survivor. You're a friend, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a husband or wife, a mother or father. Think of yourself as James or Betty – whatever your name is. Think of yourself as anything other than a suicide survivor.

You didn't become a suicide survivor by choice.

So don't let the unfortunate actions of others define who you are. Don't let their bad decisions stop you from living your life.

***

Before my first wife took her own life, I never knew anyone who had killed themselves. Suicide was one of those things I thought was something reserved for depressed teenagers, the businessmen who had lost everything and couldn't live with the debt they had incurred, or those who were severely mentally ill.

Occasionally I heard stories about a friend of a friend of a friend who had committed suicide. These stories always seemed to be told in hushed tones as if to indicate they were never to be repeated. But in reality, the whispered conversations only emphasized to me suicide wasn't something ever to be discussed.

It wasn't until after my first wife died that I really understood why the someone's sucidie, was discussed in quiet way: no one really knows why a person would take his or her own life.

In the weeks or months that followed my first wife's death, I saw that very question in the eyes of family and friends: Why had my first wife killed herself? Their sad expressions pleaded for an answer that I didn't have.

Four and a half years later, I still don't know why my first wife killed herself.

And I probably never will.

It was difficult to learn to be okay with not knowing answers I desperately sought. When bad things happen, we want some justification for our lives being upended. For months I pondered my first wife's family history of mental illness or the incredible stress she was under in the weeks leading up to her death.

I soon learned that thinking about the reasons for her suicide were pointless.

Why?

The truth won't change what happened. Agonizing over the past would not bring my wife back from the dead.

Instead thinking about questions that could never be answered in this life, I started thinking about what I could learn from the experience and turn a negative into a positive.

Do the same.

Don't dwell on what you don't know.

Concentrate on your blessings and lessons learned.

***

Those who have lost a loved one to suicide and read my old blog always seem to have the same question: Where was my anger? Was I not upset that my wife killed herself?

The answer is yes, I was angry. Very angry.

The reason my anger doesn't appear in that blog is because I couldn't write when I was angry. But that doesn't mean the anger wasn't there.

I never knew what it was like to truly hate someone like I hated my first wife in the months following her death. I was mad that she killed herself and furious that she shortened the life of our unborn daughter in the process.

The anger was so intense that my first wife was blamed for anything that went wrong in my life.

Bad day at work? I blamed my dead wife.

Car problems? I blamed my dead wife.

The Broncos lost a football game? I blamed my dead wife.

My anger was so bad that I couldn't even write about how my first wife died on my old blog. Every time I tried to write about her suicide, I found myself typing out some drivel that I ended up deleting.

So for nine months I hid the manner of my wife's death from the readers of my blog just so I could write a coherent sentence.

At some point, however, I realized just how unproductive all that anger toward my dead wife was.

And once I could put the anger aside, I found my outlook on life improved. I found a richness to living I hadn't noticed before.

I'm not saying anger is a bad thing. I think anger toward someone who has killed themselves is beneficial. It's a natural emotion and part of the healing process.

But prolonged anger will eat at your soul.

So be angry at the person who took their own life. Scream your hatred into a mirror. Dance on their grave if it will make you feel better.

Then get over it.

Clear your soul.

Move on.

***

Let's go back to the beginning. The part where I mentioned it was for the best that memories of my first wife's suicide are still a vivid part of my memories.

Those memories remind me how short life is and how fortunate I am to be blessed with a second wife and two wonderful children.

The memories remind me to live every day to the fullest, to take nothing for granted and let those whom I love know how much I love them.

So to those who have lost a loved one to suicide, I'll say this: go and live your life. You live in a beautiful world that offers endless possibilities.

Don't wallow in misery, sorrow and anger.

Embrace life and choose to live.

***

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More widower-related articles by Abel Keogh

  • Up with Grief NEW!
  • Dating and Marriage: One Regret NEW!
  • Widowers: They're Still Men! NEW!
  • 10 Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers
  • Photos of the Dead Wife
  • 5 Signs a Widower is Serious About Your Relationship
  • How Vice President Joe Biden Dealt with Grief
  • Life with a Widower
  • Dating a Widower
  • The Grief Industry
  • Suicide Survivor
  • A Letter to Elizabeth
  • Sex and Intimacy with Widowers
  • The Widowerhood Excuse
  • How to Talk to a Widower
  • Red Flags to Watch for When Dating A Widower