Widower Wednesday: Widowers and Memorial Tattoos

The widower you're in a relationship with wants to get a memorial tattoo. Is that a good idea? In this video, Abel Keogh discusses why widowers want memorial tattoos after they're in a serious relationship with a new woman. He'll also discuss strategies to help the two of you talk through the issues so you can both decide if a memorial tattoo is something that would hurt or help your relationship. This is the perfect video for wives and girlfriends of widowers who want a tattoo as well as those widower who are considering getting one of the late wife.

Widower Wednesday: What Red Flags Should I Look for When Dating a Widower?

Widower Wednesday

Recently I received an email from a GOW who had just started dating a widower. Though the relationship was still in the early stages, she wanted to know what red flags she should be on the lookout for so she could know if he was ready to move on or not.

I’ve previously posted a list of red flags that anyone dating a widower should be aware of. While that list covers the biggest, most common ones, it doesn’t take into account other warning signs that the widower may not be ready to move on or individual circumstances, wants, and needs that come with each relationship. So, here are three things GOWs can do to see if there are other red flags they should be worried about.

1. Know What You Want in a Relationship

Before you can identify other red flags in any relationship, it’s important to know what you’re looking for when it comes to a man. You need to have a good idea what values you want a potential partner and what behavior you expect from him before you can identify red flags. Once you know what you want, compare that list to the widower’s values and actions. Do you feel that he loves and respects you or do you feel mistreated and unsure if how he feels about you? Mark anything that doesn’t line up with what you expect as a possible red flag.

2. Figure Out if You're Making Grief-Related Excuses for His Behavior

After you've identified potential red flags, take a step back and see if you’re making grief-related excuses for his behavior. You determine if you're putting up with a widower's actions, comments, and behavior that you wouldn't tolerate from a divorced of single man. If you are, you need to stop making excuses for his behavior. Allowing someone to misbehave for any reason is simply going to encourage them to keep doing it. You need to put your foot down and start treating him like you would any other guy you'd date and see if he's willing to move on or not.

3. Decide What You Can and Can't Live With

After going through the first two steps, take a long, honest look at the widower and decide if he was to stay exactly the same person as he is today (red flags and all), could you see yourself spending the rest of your life with him? Not everyone is going to line up perfectly with what we want in a spouse. What you need to decide is if the red flags you've identified are things you can live with or deal breakers. If you can't live with them, then you need to decide how much more time and energy you're willing to invest in the relationship that's not going anywhere.

Don't be afraid to walk away from a relationship that's not going anywhere. Breaking up isn't fun or easy, but in the long run it beats staying in a relationship that's not going anywhere. Have the courage to be honest with yourself and the widower about any red flags. You'll both be better off for it.

Widower Wednesday: Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend

Widower Wednesday

Note: I've got a fun announcement coming out Monday. If you want to be the first to know about it, sign up for my newsletter.


Dana posted the following comment on a recent Widower Wednesday post.

I am a widower and want to know if it is OK to propose to my girlfriend and give her the engagement diamond I bought 30 years ago for my first wife.  It is large, beautiful, and I was planning to get it set in something my girlfriend would adore.  The diamond is special to me (more than any new store-bought one could ever be) and has been a token of my love for 30+ years.  Thoughts?

The diamond probably has a lot of meaning to you but it's probably not going to have the same sentimental value to your girlfriend. This isn't a diamond that your grandmother had or even your mother had.  We're talking about a diamond that was worn by your late wife.

Think about that.

Would you wear a wedding band that your girlfriends ex or late husband would have worn? Wouldn't you rather have something that was meant something to you?

Your girlfriend is a different person. If you're going to ask her to spend the rest of her life with you, the least you can do is give her a new diamond or other precious stone—something that has special meaning for her.  You're starting a new chapter in your life. There's no reason to make your past life a part of it.

As for your late wife's diamond, keep is somewhere special and safe and don't let the feelings, emotions, or memories that come with it interfere with your new relationship.

Widower Wednesday: Trigger Warnings

Widower Wednesday

Recently on the Dating a Widower Facebook group, there was a thread from a GOW worried how often the W might be forced to think about the late wife. The reason for her concern was that there were people with the same name as the late wife, places, and other things that could trigger a memory of her or their times together. When asked about whether or not it triggered memories of the past, the widower shrugged it off and said it wasn’t a big deal. The GOW wanted to know if he was telling the truth or sparing her feelings.

Here’s my take: Everyone has something that will trigger certain memories or emotions.  A song, for example, might bring back memories from high school, a first kiss or dance, or a vacation. For others a smell might trigger memories of grandmother’s house, a stay in the hospital, or a job. Some of these memories might be good. Other times the memory might be bad. The point is that everyone, including widowers, has them.

There could be 100 different things that set off a memory of time with late wife. But so what? There’s nothing a GOW or WOW can do about memory triggers. They happen whether we want them to or not.

The bigger concern should be how does the widower deal with memory triggers? Unless his loss is recent (18 months or less), most widowers are able to deal with these the same way other people do: they relive the memory for a second or two and then go on with their life. Once or twice a week something might trigger a memory of my past life with the late wife but 99.9 percent of the time no one knows that such an event has ever happened. But nearly 100 times a week I’ll have something trigger a memory about Marathon Girl or my kids.

And that’s the way it should be.

For example last night our five-year-old son came into our room sleep walking. After I put him back in bed, I had a short conversation with Marathon Girl about our oldest kid and how he used to sleep walk and how that freaked us out the first time it happened. One the way home from work I drove past an apartment complex that Marathon Girl and I lived in for a year. That triggered some nice memories. Then at work earlier in the day I overheard a co-worker telling someone else a story about her kids that sent a cascade of memories of my own children through my mind. Nothing happened to trigger a memory of my past life.

So unless triggers put him in a funk or get him talking incessantly about his past, stop worrying about it. Instead work on creating memories with him so that when he hears a song or sees something it reminds him about his new life instead of his old one. The time you spend together, the more triggers you’ll create.

Widower Wednesday: Out-of-Control Teenage Daughters and Widowers

Widower Wednesday

From the Inbox comes the following:


I know this is not an issue that you have had to deal with personally, but I am in hope that your readers may be able to offer up some advice on how they have met the challenges of helping raise a child, specifically a teenager daughter, amidst the many obstacles of being a stepparent, the teenage years, the lack of authority, and a father who is reluctant to set down rules and boundaries.  It is greatly affecting not only the relationship between he and I, but the relationship that his daughter and I have tried to build over the last couple of years.

The most recent development is her admission to him that she feels like everything had changed (her freedoms) only since I came into the picture.  This admission came, not surprisingly, after we put some restrictions on her phone use.  She has failed to realize that as she matures, new rules and boundaries go along with that and her father seems ill equipped or reluctant to explain this to her.  I should note that I don't say or do anything until I've discussed it with the W, but she still chooses to believe that it is coming from me, and not through her father and I arriving at a mutual decision.




While I don’t have any experience being a step-parent, I do have experience being a father. It’s never good for any child to have one parent who’s doing their best to be a good mom or dad with the other parent is only passively involved. Even though I don’t have teenagers yet, my kids are always testing boundaries and trying to find out if Marathon Girl or I will give in on certain issues.

Based on what you said, her dad needs to start set rules and boundaries. Odds are she'll listen to him more than you. Then the two of you need to get on the same page as far as what these boundaries are and what the punishments are if they rules are broken. Two different set of expectations only cause confusion and the problems you're experiencing. The two of you need to get on the same page. While that may not solve all the issues, it’s a necessary starting point in order to address the problems she’s causing.

Hope this helps,


Readers? What suggestions do you have for N?


Widower Wednesday: Hey Jealousy

Widower Wednesday

Last week someone using the name Uberconfused posted the following question on past post.

Hi Abel!

I have been dating my guy (A) for over 6 months now. In my books it has been 10 months but according to him we weren’t dating the first half of our relationship! Anyways, that’s not why I’m writing. A’s wife passed away two years ago from a brain tumor. He has a three year old and a seven year old. I have totally committed myself to being whatever being a part of his life entails including going to Disney with him and the girls, AND his late wife’s mom and sister! I really didn’t want to because I was uncomfortable with vacationing with them but it turned out to be a good vacation.

So now I am basically living at the house he bought a year ago, the talk of babies and marriage has come up and when I explain to A that I want all the things he’s already had with his late wife, like an engagement and the party and a wedding and babies his response is “I can’t guarantee that we’ll get married or have babies, but I will love you for the rest of my life.” This makes me really upset though j should add that he canceled his vasectomy to be with me because that was a deal breaker for me. He says he can’t see the future and maybe we won’t even be able to have a child! So I’m frustrated and annoyed and think his answer is bogus. So this has all happened in the last week. And then yesterday when I made a comment about checking with me about the girls going away for the weekend he made it perfectly clear that they are his daughters and not to question him about the decisions he makes.

So that’s not even why I’m writing . . . because his wife died of a brain tumor, he holds an annual fundraising gala in her honor. I think it’s a great cause and have helped out with donations and selling tickets as much as I can, even though it really makes me uncomfortable :( and every time his sister’s post a pic of him and his wife on the gala Facebook page I feel jealous… and I don’t really know what to do about it. I love him and the girls, but I truly worry that I’m missing out on some of the things I want and that I’m going to forever live in her shadow. I don’t want to feel jealous of her and I certainly don’t want to be her replacement.



In any relationship, it’s important to know what your deal breakers are. If getting married and having kids of your own are very important to you, then be sure you’re dating someone who wants the same things. If he says he doesn't know if he wants kids, take him at his word. At that point you need to decide how much more time and energy you want to invest in someone who’s probably not going to give you marriage or kids.

As for the annual fundraising gala, don’t participate or help out if it makes you uncomfortable. Have something else planned with friends for the day and tell the widower you hope the event goes well. And after it’s all over, ask him how long he plans on holding these events and decide if it’s something you can live with.

If you’re in a relationship where you constantly feel like second place or you’re missing out on things important things, it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship. Decide what you can and can’t live with. If you feel like your wants and needs aren't a priority with him, there’s probably a reason for that.

Widower Wednesday: Second Place

Widower Wednesday

From the inbox comes the following question:

How do I handle the days when the widower I'm dating is missing his wife. It reminds me that no matter how much he loves me I will never be the one he really wishes he could be with. I feel I'll never know what it's like to be that loved and cherished and wanted. I dated a widower once before and I couldn't handle this feeling. I truly love this man and I am trying so hard to accept this. Do you have any advice?



Hi T.,

You shouldn't be dating someone who still wishes he was with someone else. It doesn't matter if that person is alive or dead. You should feel just as loved and cherished as the late wife. Widowers who are serious about starting a new chapter in their lives with someone else should be able to put their love and feelings for the late wife in a special place in their heart and give 99.9% of their time and attention to the woman they are with now. If you're widower can't do that, you're always going to feel second best. You need to decide if that's a relationship you can live with.

Hope this helps,


Widower Wednesday: Online Dating Profiles

Widower Wednesday

The following question was recently left on this post by Sonia.

I was recently matched with a man online who is widowed. I'm interested in meeting him and we have plans to meet this week. My problem is two of his profile pictures are of him and his deceased wife. Forget dealing with photos in the house; she's a part of his dating profile! I feel weird about it. Is it a red flag? Should this concern me? Or is he just oblivious? I don't want to inadvertently run from a potentially great man, but I also don't want to put myself in the middle of something that could be a disaster.


This is a first for me. I've never heard of someone posting a photo of the widower and the late wife on a dating site. You didn't mention how old the widower is? Is he getting on and years and doesn't understand internet dating etiquette? My level of concern really depends on how long he's been widowed. Recent widowers, especially those new to the dating game, are pretty clueless when it comes to things like how the photos of their late spouse can affect potential relationships. If he's been widowed for awhile and been dating for a bit, he should know better.

That being said, I don't see a problem with going on a date to get a better feel of where he's at emotionally and if those online pictures should be something you should be really concerned about. My personal opinion is that it's hard to get a real feel for someone unless you can spend some time with them in person.

So go out for coffee or lunch. Something short and sweet. If after one date you feel, he's not ready then time to move on to another profile.

Hope this helps.


Widower Wednesday: Did I End Things Too Soon?

Widower Wednesday

The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers is now available on iTunes. A paperback version as well as Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords ebooks are also available. For those who have asked for signed copies, I should have some copies available in my store in a few weeks. (Thanks for your patience.) If you're unsure if the book is for you or the widower you're dating, you can read Chapter 1 here.


Below is a recent email exchange I had with a GOW. A few personal details have been omitted to protect the privacy of the sender. Emails shared with permission.

Hi Abel,

I need your advice. I've been dating a widower for 5 months. We met a few months after his late wife's death. Things were going great until one day I learned that he was making daily trips to the cemetery to visit his late wife's grave. I didn't feel he was ready for a relationship so I ended things. That was two weeks ago. Now I’m having second thoughts that I might have been too hasty. Should I have been more patient?



Hi D.,

I need a little more information before I answer your question. When you asked the widower why he visited his late wife's grave every day, what did he say?




I didn't ask him. I don't really know why he went to her grave every day.




Are you still on speaking terms with him? If so, why not ask him and see what he says.




I haven't talked to the widower since I ended things. He's texted me a couple times but I haven't responded. I don’t want to be one of those women I read about in your blog and books that go back to the widower and nothing has changed. Are you saying that I should contact him again? I don't want to get serious with someone who won't make me number 1. Thanks for your help.




In general, you are correct. You don't want to get back with a widower if he's not going to make you number one. But I'm not asking you to do that. All I'm suggesting is if you want to know if ending the relationship was a mistake, you need to know why he was visiting his wife's grave every day. I'm not saying get back together with him rather just have a chat in order to help determine whether or not he's actually ready for a serious relationship with you.




I know it's been a week since you heard from me but I wanted to update you on my story. The day after reading your email, I texted him and asked if we could talk. He agreed. We went out for coffee and after making small talk for a minute I asked him about the cemetery visits. He told me that he just felt it was what he was supposed to do. He had no idea that his actions were hurting me. He said he was willing to stop visiting the grave if it would mean that I would give him a second chance. I told him that I didn't think that was something I could ask of him and that he should be able to visit her as often as he wanted but that he should also keep my feelings in mind.

To make a long story short, we are back together. I feel like an idiot for not talking to him about it when it first came up. It would have saved us both a lot of hurt feelings and heartache had I simply talked to him. He hasn't visited her grave in the last week but Memorial Day is coming up next week and I told him that he could visit her on that day if he wanted and my feelings wouldn't be hurt. I don't know if he's going to pay her a visit but I think I can live with him going to see her once in a while. I don't want to dictate what he can and can't do. We're both adults and I'm sure we'll figure out something that we can both live with.

Thanks again for your help.


Widower Wednesday: The Accidental In-Law

Widower Wednesday

Book update: The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers is available in e-book format for the Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. A paperback version and other e-book formats will be available soon. You can read the first chapter here.


Today I want to draw attention to a great essay called The Accidental In-Law. The author, Amy Paturel, is married to a widower. In the essay she describes her relationship with the late wife’s family and the reason she has such a great relationship with them.

Often those who are dating or married to widowers not only have to deal with late wife issues but the late wife’s family who might be having a hard time seeing their daughter’s husband fall in love with someone else. I think the essay serves as a good template for all on how everyone (not just the late wife’s family) can open your heart and life to someone after someone else you’ve loved has passed on and encourage everyone to read it.

That first meeting [with the late wife’s parent’s] could have been awkward, uncomfortable, even nerve-racking, but Roger and Chris made me feel at ease. We strolled on the beach, Brandon and Roger walking ahead while Chris and I lingered behind. Then we had dinner and drinks at a seaside restaurant, talking easily about travel, life, and love.

Noelle’s name never came up.

As we were driving home after dinner, I asked Brandon how Roger felt about me—and how he felt about me dating his daughter’s husband. “He loved you,” Brandon assured me. “He said you were warm, intelligent, sweet, and he told me not to wait too long before snapping you up.”


When we’re together, Roger delights in our children, lifting each of them to the sky while the other clambers for his attention, raising their arms and begging for a turn—the picture of a playful grandfather enjoying his progeny.

I think about Noelle. What would she give to have this experience with her dad, her husband, and the children she and Brandon might have brought into this world.

Sometimes, I feel her with us. During Roger’s visits, Brandon might give him some of her old things, or the two of them will reminisce about a long-ago family event. But Roger never dwells in that place for long. He navigates the conversation matter-of-factly, while I silence my longing to ask a million questions about his daughter, and why he has chosen to love what she left behind.

Whatever the reason, Roger has decided to face his loss by surrounding himself with people Noelle loved most in this life. He could have turned into his grief. He could have faded quietly into the background, leaving Brandon to navigate his new life on his own. Instead, Roger has been a pillar of support—embracing me and Brandon in our journey to become a family.

Read the whole essay at Spirituality & Health.


Widower Wednesday: Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Widower Wednesday

Book update: Just waiting on the final hi-res cover for The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers. Once I have that, the book will be available soon. If you'd like to be the first to know about the availability of the book, be sure to join my email list. People on the list will be the first to know when it's available.


A comment that was recently left on a past Widower Wednesday column asks for help:

John was happily married for 38 yrs. We started dating 10 months ago, meet on a website. He’s been widowed 4 yrs. & 2 mo’s now. He claims to love me but somehow I feel that he’s holding back due to guilt.

Here’s the problem: His deceased wife, shortly before she died, ask him to promise to Never be with another women Ever! He made this promise knowing he wouldn’t keep it, but wanted to not cause her any further pain, emotional or otherwise. He’s a wonderful, caring man who appears to want to go on w/ his life, but only so far as his guilt will let him. He says he’s “over this guilt re: his promise” but I don’t really feel he is as I can feel him holding back…in all ways.

He hardly touches me during sex, foreplay wise, almost as though “he shouldn’t touch or enjoy me too much”. He says he’s committed to me, but doubts that he’ll ever marry again. (I would like to be married again but am willing to let that go as long as I know he truly loves me). His grown sons (36 & 38 yrs. old) are still single & are almost too close & dependent on him. He “allows” this, it seems because I believe his wife made him feel responsible for them for the rest of their lives. I feel they need to grow up and move on w/ their own lives, thus freeing John to do so also. His sons and I have a good relationship. John is extremely close to his deceased wife’s family/sisters and her best friend. Even 4 yrs. after his wife’s passing, they all still call on every anniversary: her b’day, their wedding day, the anniversary of her death, etc.

I believe this helps to prevent John from being able to truly move on. He admits that the frequent calls on anniversaries makes his pain worse, but says he’ll never tell them that. The sisters and best friend of wife, all know about the promise she made John give and told him most likely she didn’t meant it and that it was o.k. for him to date. BUT, it seems it’s only o.k. for him to date…..Not be really in love w/ another woman. He still has many, many pix’s of his wife, sons, and himself all over his house, including his bedroom. He took out the ones of just the two of them together, at my request. He does try to please me, but it’s limited to what he feels comfortable with.

I wonder if I’m wasting my time, will I ever be on the same level as his deceased wife was, even if not married, in his heart. I love him dearly, he’s an easy man to love but after reading your books, I don’t want to be taken care of. Am I just a “place holder” for her?



You've got a host of concerns here but it seems like most of them could be taken care of if John really wanted to take care of them. For example, John knows the calls from friends and family on special dates hold him back but he won't do anything about it. He allows his two adult children to be overly dependent on him. He also allows his "promise" to his deceased wife get in the way of your sex life and hold back in other ways.

Does this sound like a widower who's ready to start a new life with someone else?

This isn't a man who's ready to make you or anyone else number one in his heart. Widowers who are truly ready to start a new life with someone else figure out a way overcome the obstacles that present themselves. They man up and politely tell friends and family that he loves talking to them but doesn't need their anniversary calls anymore. He can choose not to use a "promise" he made to his wife as an excuse to hold back.  Yet after 10 months together he doesn't do any of these things. If he's not willing to make baby steps at making you number one, odds are things aren't going to change 10 months or 10 years from now.

The best thing those in your situation can do is decide what you can and can't live with, set boundaries, and let the widower know what you want from the relationship. At that point it's up to him to decide if he values you enough to make you number one in his heart. If he's not willing to do that, find someone who's willing to treat you like a queen.

Widower Wednesday: A Widower with Benefits

Widower Wednesday

Book update: I finished the second and (hopefully) final book galley edits last night. The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers is THIS close to being done. Yay!


Whoever sent me the following email didn't leave a valid email address for a reply. So here's the email (edited to take out some personal, identifiable information) and my answer.

A short month ago I took a trip to Chicago to meet with my two best friends for a girls trip. The second night in town we decide to go to the local pub for a few drinks. The bartender brings us a drink and says it's from the guy at the end of the bar. I told her we have to go say thank you. So we did then I ordered him a beer and we all start talking. My friend says that's Ben and that his wife passed away from cancer two months ago. Of course my heart just broke for him right away. We all continued to mingle as a group and had a great night.

The next morning I had a Facebook friend request and am email from Ben. It said it was nice to meet you and hopefully we will see each other again soon. We start chatting and flirting back and forth on FB. He was very honest with me and said that he doesn't know if he is ready to date that he just wants to have fun and that doesn't mean just sex. During this week I am in town he mentions how he enjoys talking to me more than he expected. We continue to talk and flirt a few more days. He asked me out while I was in town to my surprise I really didn't think he was serious so I put it off for a few days. He continued to ask so on my last day in town I went out with him! We stayed up all night talking, kissing, and I had already determined I was not sleeping with him and I let him know that upfront. I was very honest with him and told him I didn't want to be the rebound girl. Hope that wasn't insensitive I am just a very honest person. To my surprise I felt an instant connection with him.

So I come home we continue to talk on the phone and text. A week goes by and we decide were going to be spontaneous and meet halfway.  So we meet and we go out and have a great time together. We do end up sleeping together we have always had not only the emotional connection but the physical connection was just as strong.

Now another couple of weeks have gone by and we talk more on the phone and text several times a day. He has made the initiative for us to meet on next weekend. I'm just confused I know he still has to be grieving. But why would he drive 4 hours to meet me, meet me again next week. Would you drive and make this effort for a friend with benefits?

He tells me how much he likes me but I know he is not ready for anything serious yet which I don't blame him. I'm protective of my feeling and I am taking a chance of getting my heart broke. But how can I treat him different than I would if I was dating anyone else? Would I expect them to know after one month, heck no! Why do I feel the need to know how he feels about me this soon? My friend tells me to stop analyzing and just take it slow and have fun. I'm trying but I feel really guilty if I go on another date with someone else because I know my heart lies with him. How long should I wait for him? I'm patient and not in a hurry but I don't want to be the fool or rebound.

Please help what do you think I should so?




If he says he's not ready for a serious relationship, then take him at his word. He probably enjoys the company and the sex. (And, yes, most men would drive four hours to meet someone if he thought he was going to get sex out of the meeting.)

Before you meet up with him again, you need to decide what it is you want from. If you have feelings for him or think there might be something more to the relationship, then you need to set some different expectations and let him know that you want something more serious. This gives him the opportunity to decide what he wants. Honestly, if he's only been widowed a couple of months, he probably has no idea what he wants other than company. It probably feels good for him to have some female companionship occasionally. Where he's so recently widowed, it might take him several months to really know if he's ready for a serious relationship with you.

If you do want something serious and he says he wants that too, dial things back a bit. He needs time to sort out his feelings. Next time you meet with him hold off on the sex and focus on getting to know him and where he's at a little better. It will give you a better idea of either of you are ready for something more serious.

Widower Wednesday: The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers: Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Starting Over

On November 7, 1972, a relatively unknown lawyer named Joe Biden pulled off a big political upset. By just over three thousand votes, he defeated the two-term U.S. Senator J. Caleb Boggs. At twenty-nine, Biden became the sixth youngest senator in U.S. history.

Despite his narrow and amazing victory, Biden almost didn’t take the oath of office. On December 18, 1972, just five weeks after his huge election victory, Biden headed to Washington D.C. to interview possible staff members. At home in Delaware, his wife, Neilia, took their three children shopping for a Christmas tree. While running their errand, a tractor trailer slammed into the family car, instantly killing Neilia and their one-year-old daughter, Naomi. Biden's four-year-old son, Beau, and three-year-old son, Hunter, were critically injured.[i]

In the weeks following the death of his wife and daughter, Biden was an emotional mess. He described the feeling of losing his wife and daughter as a "hollow core" that grew inside his chest like a big black hole.[ii] Though he never contemplated suicide, he suddenly understood how it seemed like a rational option to those who were in the depths of despair.[iii] There were also feelings of anger. Lots of them. Unable to find comfort in his Catholic faith, Biden would walk the streets of Wilmington at night, hoping to get in a fight so he could take his rage and worry out on someone else.[iv] Despite these feelings, he tried his best to focus on his surviving boys and "putting one foot in front of the other" so he wouldn't be swallowed by that dark abyss.[v] His future in the United States Senate, something he had worked so hard for, suddenly didn’t seem that important. Speaking to the Democratic National Convention in 2008, Beau recalled his father saying, “Delaware can get another senator, but my boys can’t get another father.”[vi]

Biden was faced with a critical choice that would define the rest of his life: resign before taking the oath of office, or do the job the people of Delaware elected him to do. Life as a senator was a busy one. To be successful, it required a lot of energy—something Biden no longer had. Resigning most likely meant returning to practicing law. The latter wasn't a bad option, but it wasn't the one that Biden really wanted. Politics still interested him, even though his passion had been temporarily put on hold.

Eventually, with the urging of other senators and the thought that getting elected was something for which he and Neilia had worked too hard just to give up, Biden agreed to give his Senate career six months, planning to resign once that time passed. In January of 1973, Biden took the oath of office at his sons’ hospital bedside. Because he still wanted to be there for his sons as they recovered from their injuries, he gave up the home he and his late wife were planning to buy in Washington D.C. and commuted to and from his home in Delawarea practice he continued as long as he served in the Senate.

Life wasn’t easy for the young senator. Like most widowers, Biden struggled to make it through one day at a time. Initially, he did the least amount of work required for his job. He cast votes when needed, but avoided building relationships with other senators and didn't work to get certain bills pushed through committee. "My future was telescoped into the effort of putting one foot in front of the other," Biden wrote. "The horizon faded from my view. Washington, politics, the Senate had no hold on me. . . . I could not bear to imagine the scene without Neilia . . . .”[vii]

One of the things Biden did consider, though, was relocating to Vermont. [viii] It would be a perfect way to start over. No one would know anything about him, his two sons, or their tragic loss. He and his boys could begin a new life and put the loss of his wife and daughter behind them. Senate staffers started taking bets on how long Biden would last at his job.[ix]

But as the months passed, Biden grew tired of grieving. Though he still felt that big black hole inside him, he started taking his job as a senator more seriously and becoming involved in the actual day-to-day work of the Senate. He arranged for his sister, Val, to care for his sons while he commuted to work. His six-month self-imposed deadline arrived without him noticing.[x] For the next two years, Biden did the best he could, dividing his time between Washington D.C. and his home in Delaware.

As he began putting the pieces of his life back together, Biden started thinking about dating again. In March 1975, he noticed a series of ads in an airport with an attractive blonde model. Biden thought it would be nice to meet that woman.[xi] Just a few days later, he got that chance. One of his friends gave Biden the phone number of a woman he thought Biden would like. As it turned out, the woman happened to be the same model he had seen in the airport photographs. Her name was Jill Jacobs. Biden was smitten with her on their first date. When Biden went home later that night, it was the happiest he'd been in two years.[xii] He couldn't keep Jill out of his mind. Jill, however, was less than enthusiastic about getting involved in a serious relationship. She was recently divorced and was finally enjoying being single again.[xiii] Besides, Biden was ten years older than her, and dating someone involved in politics, especially a senator, was something she had no real interest in.

Biden was determined and didn't let her objections stop him from pursuing her. Slowly, their relationship became more serious. As Biden fell more in love with Jill, the shattered pieces of his life started to come together. His interest in life and politics was renewed. For the first time since Neilia died, Biden felt like he could be himself again.[xiv] Biden attacked his role as a senator with renewed vigor. He worked hard to make connections and build the relationships he needed to be influential and successful at his job.

Despite the progress Biden was making, Jill was still very hesitant to get married. She was about to start a job in the fall as a teacher and was unsure about becoming a mother to two young boys. Biden asked Jill to marry him. She said no. He asked her three more times. She turned him down again and again and again. Finally, exasperated, Biden told her he loved her too much to just be friends. She finally accepted his offer and they were married on June 17, 1977—four-and-a-half years after the death of Biden's late wife.

Biden was well aware of Jill’s feelings about politics and told her he wouldn't run for re-election in 1978 if it meant making her happy. At home one day, they discussed his future. Biden picked up the phone and dialed a reporter at the Wilmington News-Journal to tell him he wasn't running for re-election. As the phone rang on the other end, Jill took the phone from him, hung it up, and told him not to make the call. Later she told Biden, "If I denied you your dream, I would not be marrying the man I fell in love with."[xv]

Biden ran for re-election, won with fifty-eight percent of the vote, and continued what was to become a successful political career. He was re-elected five more times to the U.S. Senate. In 2008, after a second failed attempt to become the Democrat’s presidential nominee, Barack Obama asked Biden to be his vice presidential running mate. During his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Biden said something that summed up his life and career: “Failure at some point in your life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable.”[xvi]


It wasn't just luck that brought Joe Biden and Jill Jacobs together. Before they met, Biden made three important decisions that readied him to date and eventually remarry. Jill already had many concerns about getting serious with him, and had Biden made different choices before they met, their relationship might not have lasted very long. Biden wasn't thinking about dating or having a new relationship when he made these decisions. Even so, they helped him build a foundation better prepared him to date and eventually marry Jill.

Choice #1: Biden Kept Himself Busy

Biden's first important decision came weeks after Neilia's death: He had to decide whether or not to be a senator. No one would have blamed Biden for quitting the Senate after losing half his family. He could have easily returned to Delaware and quietly continued his law practice. He could have folded, stayed at home, and let the anger and the big black hole in his heart consume him. Instead, Biden chose to work. At first, he did so half-heartedly, doing just the minimal amount of work to get by, but his job gave him a routine and something to help pass the time and distract him from his loss.

Keeping busy is important after loss. Whether it’s a job, hobbies, or other busywork, it's important to have something else to focus on. Though it doesn’t matter what you do, it does help if what you're doing is something you are passionate about. Work gives you a routine and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Those with nothing to do focus on their grief and sink deeper into sorrow and despair, which is bad for their physical health, state of mind, and overall quality of life. It also makes it difficult to date when you're sad and thinking only of yourself.

After the loss of my wife and daughter, my job was about the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning. Like Biden, I did the minimal amount of work necessary. I'd show up, do what was required, and leave as soon as I'd put in the necessary hours. I didn't socialize with coworkers or attend work parties or other events. I got in and got out and did it five days a week. I didn't love my job, but looking back, it was good that I had something to distract me for eight hours a day.

If you don't have a job to go to, find a worthy cause and volunteer your time. There are plenty of charitable, religious, civic, and political organizations that are looking for people to help move their cause forward. Find one that you care about and see what you can do to help. Keeping busy will do wonders for your state of mind and help return some meaning and purpose to your life.

Choice #2: Biden Chose to Be a Father to His Sons

Biden had two young boys who were both seriously injured in the accident. They needed a father. Biden knew that being a senator would be a time-consuming job. His sister, Val, and her husband moved in to help care for the boys while he was away at work, but Biden knew his boys were worried that he would leave for work, get in some sort of accident, and not come home. Biden made it his priority to come home every night, eat dinner with them, and talk to them before they went to bed.[xvii] He did this even if it meant turning down invitations to parties and other social functions most senators attended after the Senate's business was concluded for the day.

Biden also gave his boys the right to talk to him at any time for any reason. It didn't matter who he was meeting with or what he was doing—Biden told his staff to put his boys through whenever they called.[xviii] When car phones became available, he had one installed in his car so he could talk to them on the way to and from work.[xix] Finally, he gave his boys the permission to come to work with him whenever they wanted. All they had to do was let him know they wanted to come, and he would take them to the office.[xx]

Being a single father is hard. Combine the duties of a single dad with the loss of a spouse, and it can make a difficult task nearly impossible. Biden, however, did everything he could to be a father to Beau and Hunter. That meant supporting the family, enforcing house rules, and trying his best to give them a semblance of normal life. And when he realized he couldn't do it alone, he reached out to his sister and asked for help. Juggling work life and home life wasn't easy for Biden, but it would pay dividends years later when he introduced his sons to Jill and they started a new life together.

It's easy for widowed parents to think only of themselves and neglect their duties and responsibilities as a parent. Sometimes they'll give their kids too much freedom while they deal with their own issues. They may stop enforcing house rules, stop expecting their children to get good grades, and start excusing bad behavior because the kids are grieving. However, Biden's commitment to his children wasn't just a way to help his children adjust and heal—it was also a way to help mend himself.[xxi]

Choice #3: Biden Embraced His New Life

Eventually Biden realized that being holed up in his office thinking about his late wife and daughter all the time wasn't doing him any good. He started putting more time and effort in to his job. As a result, his self-imposed six-month deadline to give up his job as a senator came and went without him noticing.[xxii] He stopped thinking about moving far away and started living the life he had. He also stopped being angry at God and realized that there were many other people in the world who had problems and challenges that made his look small in comparison. Biden still had his health, a Senate seat, and two boys he could go home to every night. To remind himself of what he still had, Biden kept a cartoon on his desk of someone who just suffered bad fortune shaking his fist at God and asking, "Why me!?!" To which God replied, "Why not you?"[xxiii]

Rather than giving up, he adjusted to life as a widower and single father and worked to overcome the challenges that were thrown in his way. In addition to becoming more involved in his job, he also went on the occasional date.[xxiv] There were still plenty of difficult days ahead, but they became fewer and farther between the more he started living his life and accepting his new reality. By the time Biden met Jill, he had reached a point where he was more than ready to open his heart to someone else and begin a new chapter of his life.

Starting Over Is a Choice

In the weeks and months following the death of his wife and daughter, Biden defined himself by his loss. He was a widower: nothing more, nothing less. Eventually, he started thinking of himself as a father and a senator. With the support of family, friends, and Senate colleagues, he was able to take the shattered pieces of his life and build a new one. It's not hard to imagine Biden's life taking a different direction if he had let the anger, despair, or sadness get the best of him.

In order to date successfully again, you need to reach a point where you identify yourself as something other than a widower. This isn't something that just happens. It's the result of choices you make before you even think about dating. It involves laying the groundwork and being mentally and emotionally ready for the possibility of opening your heart to another woman. Reaching this point takes a lot of time, patience, and work. It involves navigating an emotional minefield as well as dealing with children, friends, family, and former in-laws who are still grieving the death of a mother, daughter, and friend. It takes the mental fortitude to pick yourself up from the ground (or get out of bed) after a bad day. There are going to be lots of setbacks and adjustments. There will be days where all the effort you’re making is for nothing.

But once you've laid a foundation, when you find that special someone, things will fall into place. Suddenly your life will be full of laughter and joy, and you will find yourself glad to be alive. And because of all the grief, the pain, and the setbacks you’ve endured, you will relish and cherish those moments of joy and happiness like you’ve never cherished anything in your life. Suddenly that missing energy, passion, and zest for life that left when your wife died will return with a vengeance.

Successfully starting a new chapter in your life doesn’t require falling in love again or tying the knot a second time. It doesn’t even involve dating again, unless dating is something you want to do. Starting over involves making the necessary mental adjustments in order to deal with life without your spouse by your side. It involves making a conscious decision to be happy and move forward even on days when it takes every ounce of strength just to get out of bed in the morning. But for most widowers, having the chance to open their heart and love someone just as intently as before is what gives them the passion and spark to embrace work, hobbies, and life with renewed vigor.

If you're thinking about dating again or have already started dating, keep reading. Dating is an entirely new adventure the second time you try it.


[i] Elisabeth Bumiller "Biden Campaigning With Ease After Hardships", New York Times, December 14, 2007 http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/us/politics/14biden.html

[ii] Joe Biden, Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics (New York: Random House, 2008), 80.

[iii] Ibid., 80.

[iv] Ibid., 81.

[v] Ibid., 80.

[vi] Beau Biden, Transcript of Remarks delivered to the Democratic National Convention, Politico, August 27, 2008, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0808/12913.html.

[vii] Biden, Promises to Keep, 80.

[viii] Ibid., 86.

[ix] Ibid., 88.

[x] Ibid., 93.

[xi] Ibid., 100.

[xii] Ibid., 101.

[xiii] Ibid., 101.

[xiv] Ibid., 118.

[xv] Ibid., 116.

[xvi] Transcript of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Speech at the Democratic National Convention, New York Times, August 27, 2008, http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/president/conventions/videos/transcripts/20080827_BIDEN_SPEECH.html.

[xvii] Biden, Promises to Keep, 88.

[xviii] Ibid., 89.

[xix] Ibid., 89.

[xx] Ibid., 89.

[xxi] Ibid., 88.

[xxii] Ibid., 93.

[xxiii] Ibid., 96.

[xxiv] Ibid., 96.


Book Update 2

Traveling for business this week so there's no Widower Wednesday column today. Instead I thought I'd give you all a quick book update:

  • Second round of edits are back. Hoping to have time tonight to go through a good chunk of them.
  • Second round of the covers are in as well. Things are defiantly going in the right direction.
  • Once edits are finalized, everything will start being prepared for layout. Looks like were (hopefully) two weeks away from having this book ready

Finally, here's a pic from dinner last night. Yes, the place has great bulbs. As a result, you can probably smell me a mile away. :)

Widower Wednesday: I Want to Do the Right Thing

Widower Wednesday

Book Update: I verified all 82 footnotes in my upcoming book and sent it off for a second edit Sunday night. I also have cover in the works. Hope to have the cover and the next round of edits back in 7-10 days. If all stays on track, the book should be available sometime this month


The following question was left on a recent blog post:

Question. My “partner” and I met 6 months ago (3 months after his wife died). I have already moved in with him and we plan to live the rest of our lives together. It was a coincidence we met and fell in love immediately. He has 4 grown children Ages 27-32. I have met 3 of them. The oldest daughter and mother has not met me. My DP and I have made a few mistakes pushing the children to accept us, which hindsight was idiotic. He thought he knew his kids as well, but we understand that the kids are going through their own personal mourning as well. And they probably wonder if their dad really loved their mom after 33 years? who knows. My question is this – we made a decision to leave the house the same until after the anniversary date of her passing. I personally feel that giving the family one year without their mom for xmas, easter, mother’s day etc is only being fair. And since the kids visit once in a while the house, some of her photos are up until after that year. What are your thoughts on this? My other question is – there are photos of his kids with their mom and him – should he eventually remove those as well? At a loss here and want to do the right thing.

As long as you and your partner are both okay with this arrangement, I don't see a problem with leaving the house the way it is for a year. My question to you is living in a house that's unchanged something you can live with until the year is up? I understand keeping things up for the kids, but if they're all adults and living on their own, they don't live there—you do. If you can wake up every morning and feel comfortable in this place, then that's great. If not, then you need to ask yourself why you're putting yourself through this. There's nothing noble about torturing yourself. The same goes for the photos of her and the kids. What can you live with? What can the widower live with? Talk about it now and hopefully you can arrive at a compromise that you both feel comfortable with.

There's no right answer here other than you both need to put each other first. His kids are adults and have lives and homes of their own. They shouldn't be dictating the house décor or what photos stay up or are taken down. Talk to your partner. Listen to him. Be honest with him about your wants and needs. Hopefully he can do the same for you. Hopefully the two of you can reach a decision that you can both be happy about.

Keep in mind that whatever decision is reached, his adult children may not be happy with it. In the end it's up to your partner to have to explain to his kids why things are changing. Cross your fingers he can man up and do that and not let them control his home or your relationship.

Widower Wednesday: Book Update

I'm in the middle of edits on my dating a widower guide so no Widower Wednesday column this week. It will return next week. Instead, feel free to check out these other resources.