Widower Wednesday: The Sainted Late Wife Part I

A joke that was recently posted on the Dating a Widower Facebook Group goes something like this:

In a hurry, the man walked out into the street and managed to snag a taxi that was passing by.

What luck, he thought, as he slid into the cab.

"Perfect timing," the cabbie said. "You're just like Bill."

"Who?" asked the man.

"Bill Smith,” said the cabbie. “There's a guy who did everything right. Like my coming along when you needed a cab. It would have happened like that to Bill every time."

"I don’t believe you," the man said to the cabbie. "There are always a few clouds over everybody."

"Not Bill," said the cabbie. "He was a terrific athlete. He could have gone on the pro tour in tennis. He could golf with the pros. He sang like an opera baritone and danced like a Broadway star."

"Bill was really something, huh?"

"Oh, yeah," continued the cabbie. "Bill had a memory like a trap. Could remember everybody's birthday. He knew all about wine, which fork to eat with. He could fix anything. Not like me. I change a fuse, and the whole neighborhood blacks out."

"No wonder you remember him," the man said.

"Well, I never actually met Bill," said the cabbie.

"Then how in the world do you know so much about him?" the man asked.

"I married his widow," the cabbie replied.


I think most people who are dating a widower can relate to the above joke. Often it seems like the late wife was the most perfect person who ever lived.  Yet the late wife was just as human as everyone else and had her faults and bad moments too. The problem is that after someone dies those who are left behind usually remember only the good things about the deceased. This can make it hard for those who are dating a widower to feel like they can never be as good a wife or mother as the dead.

So what’s the best way to deal with it?

I’ve tried several times to come up with my thoughts on the topic but have been unable to come up with I consider helpful. Instead, I’ve asked readers to contribute stories about how they’ve dealt with it. I received so many good ones that I’m going to make this a two part essay. Look for another for or five essays on this topic next week. Hopefully you find their stories helpful. If you have a story you want to share, it’s not too late. Email it to me by Monday and I’ll include it in next week’s column.

Anabelle’s Story

I am fortunate that my soon-to-be husband has never, ever made comparisons between me and his late wife, nor has he laid down expectations that I do things the way she did them. (Ditto with his friends and family, who have been nothing but supportive of our relationship and welcoming toward me.) He has always loved me for who I am, and has told me so time and again. In fact, as much as he loved his late wife, he was thankful that widowhood gave him the opportunity to fill his life with new experiences and people.

So what do I have to add to the discussion of the sainted dead wife? Perhaps worse than the widower or his friends and family making comparisons is this: You making those comparisons and judgments on your own. I fell into that trap, and it took me a while to get out.

Deb seemed like super woman in my eyes. She kept horses, she quilted, she was a talented athlete and a loving mother, she was an amazing gardener, she worked the farm with her husband, she could drive a tractor with finesse and confidence, she endured 17 years of chemotherapy, surgeries, hospitalizations and pain/discomfort that accompanied her cancer, and she never complained or said "Why me?"

I used to wonder, how can this wonderful man put up with me after 23 years of living with a brave and intelligent woman like her? I am scared of horses, I have never driven a tractor (even now that I live on a farm), my gardening prowess is mediocre at best, I am terrible at sports, and I am grumpy as hell if I don't get a good night's sleep. I am also impatient, have no mechanical aptitude and sometimes feel as if I have no confidence in myself.

My fiancé is also the first to acknowledge that Deb could be a hard-ass, she had a cantankerous relationship with their son, she gave up early any attempts to have her own career in the field she had studied, and though she could grow flowers, she could not arrange them in a vase to save her life.

In essence, Deb was a human being, and so am I. She had strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and failures. So do I.

I realized I was only taking inventory of my weaknesses when I compared myself to Deb. I overlooked my strengths. These include making a successful career doing what I love, being financially self-sufficient, making a wonderful life as a single person with good friendships and meaningful activities, and having the tenacity and discipline to be able to ride my bicycle 100 miles in a day. I think Deb would have admired these accomplishments, just as I admire and respect hers.

But more importantly, I learned that if my fiancé didn’t compare me to Deb, then I shouldn’t either, whether the comparisons are based on positive attributes or negative ones. Admiration and respect are good. Comparisons are crazy-making.

Both my fiancé and his late wife have taught me this valuable lesson, and have helped me appreciate my self-worth without making comparisons to anyone.

Nina’s Story

I feel as though I am the most fortunate wife of a former widower on the planet. My husband has not once verbalized a comparison between his LW and me. I have never even been given the impression that he was doing such. He has never said or done a single thing to make me feel anything less than number 1.  So of course then, I never had problem with LW comparison, right? Wrong.

Instead of outward comparisons or contrasts from my widower or their friends, it happened internally. I did it to myself. I always wondered where I stood- how I measured up. I never knew the woman. I only had tiny snippets of her life that I collected from various conversations over time. Some of them include:

  • Her laughter could light up a room
  • She was always so kind
  • You never saw her without a smile on her face
  • While she battled cancer, her first thought was always about others
  • She loved to help others less fortunate

How in the world could I compete with that? I figured my W thought, "Well, Nina's all good and well. She's a fine ol' gal, but she's no LW."

I certainly couldn't ask how I measured up. I had to deal with that demon on my own- in my own time- in my own way. I almost had to get to know her in my own way, grieve her loss in my own way, and then finally move on without her presence... in my own way.  So, I had to lose her too. Now I no longer resent her for simply being here before me. She doesn't constantly eat at my conscience. She just simply- was.

Andrea’s Story

Practically growing up with his LW has been one of the toughest things to deal with while dating my W. I’m compared to her very often. She and I were best friends in High School and the years afterward and I was a bridesmaid in her wedding to my current boyfriend. We shared a lot (never thought it would be a love interest). We dated for the first time together, drove for the first time together, graduated together, found first loves around the same time, etc. She and I were close as friends that grow up together can be.

When she died, a part of me died. I was there for her family and friends, including her very young widower. When he and I started seeing one another in a different light, just six weeks after she passed away, no one was prepared or ready to deal with that. When people started to find out about us, many jumped to conclusions that W was replacing her with me, since we were similar in so many ways.

There is no way to sugar-coat the way I felt—it hurt. I am an individual, with thoughts and opinions, expressions and features that are all my own. Some things she thought were funny/silly/stupid/good/bad and I didn’t agree. There are still so many things that we did have in common. I did worry about where the W’s mind was when he took a liking to me so soon after she passed away. Was he out of his mind? Was he really into me or was he just needing that attention and affection? Did he like me because I knew her and knew how much he loved her a missed her? Did he pick me because I just happened to be available at that time? Did this happen because God has a plan for us? So many questions that I had no answer for.

Her family had and still has a hard time with us. At first, they felt like I was robbing Matt of his grief. They thought, “Well, Molly has a bubbly personality, and so did LW, so maybe she just temporarily fills that hole for him.” They loved her with everything they have, and are more traumatized by this because of her surprise death at the young age of 26. At her funeral, and most funerals, the clear message was how wonderful, sweet, kind, loving, joyful she was. Now, throw in that her husband, six weeks later, has a new lady in his life. She (me) can never be a perfect as this woman that hundreds of people are mourning. She doesn’t hold a candle to this icon that reigns with perfection of womanhood, marriage, loyalty, etc. She is the bad guy and has taken this precious dedication of life of the LW and smashed it into the ground. At least, that’s how they may have seen it.

I’ve coped with being compared to her and to not ever being able to match up to her for them. That is something I will never be able to be compared to, nor do I want to. However, when it comes to my boyfriend, he has ended comparing us. He has seen that I am me, individually me, with my quirks, passions, desires and dreams that are all mine and he loves me for that. Originally, I appealed to him because I was available, but over some time and deep thought on this situation, he began to love me as me, not because I was her friend.

Sarah’s Story

I think many of the comparisons are all in our heads.  For example, I would imagine he was thinking about her when I was helping him cook in her kitchen and judging me lesser cooking skills.  I would imagine he was thinking about her when a love song would play.   I would imagine he was thinking about her when he was intimate with me comparing our body differences.   I would ask questions about her and then i wish i didn’t know because I would them have more ammunition to compare myself to her.

He is still very close with her family.  When I attended their events I would imagine they were comparing me to her and thinking I wasn’t good enough for him.  My W carried a picture of his LW in his wallet.   It's her picture from the year they met.  She's absolutely beautiful. This picture made me feel so inadequate. I was never that beautiful in my youth.  Or at least I never felt I was.  But who knows if she felt the same about herself. We are all pretty insecure and self conscious.

I realize now that was only my own insecurities coming out.  Thinking back I can't recall anyone ever actually comparing us, at least not to my face.  It really was all in my imagination.  i was really the only one comparing the two of us. It's all that negative self talk that we GOW's have to stop ourselves from dwelling on.