Before we get into today’s column, I did want you all to know that Dating a Widower: Starting a Relationship with a Man Who’s Starting Over is done and will be available for purchase next week. I apologize for the delay but there are several marketing and PR things I had to get in order first before I make the official announcement. If you want to be the first to know, get on my email list or check this blog next week for the big announcement. If you want to pre-order a personalized copy, you can do so here. Otherwise
Now on to Part II of The Sainted Late Wife.
One of the things I’ve noticed from reading last week’s and this week’s stories is how big of an influence the widower can have on whether or not the girlfriend or wife feels compared. When the widower doesn’t compare, it seems to make it easier for the girlfriend or wife to deal with “sainting” comments that friends or family may make. Ultimately it’s up to the GOW or WOW to recognize that the late wife was just as human as she no matter what anyone else says. However, widowers through their words and action can make this realization a lot easier.
Here are this week’s stories:
LW was a very strong willed and hard-headed woman. Given more time in this life, things would probably have smoothed out as she and Wâ s family/friends came to know each other better, but there was a fair amount of conflict in the short time that she was a part of his life.
And yet, I experienced my share of GOW angst--feeling as though I lived in the shadow of someone who would always be there, glowing perfection, no matter what I did.
So much of the comparison between a GOW/WOW and the LW takes place primarily in the mind of the new woman. I realize that there are outside factors in some situations: maybe the W makes comments about how â LW did it this way, or there are still shrines hanging in various homes. But many of us also have an internal dialogue that tells us we will never be good enough to walk in the shoes of the LW.
About nine months in, I was at a point where I was ready to give up. Much as I loved my W, I just couldnâ t take the feeling of being the second-best or replacement part. My internal dialogue constantly reminded me that she was there first, and that I could never take her place.
My W happens to have a close relative who is a very unique person. She's very blunt, but she is also by nature very kind. I called her one day in tears, and let it all pour out. She listened without judgment, and then she told me I was wrong.
Without being at all catty, she told me very frankly that LW was far from perfect, and that their marriage was also far from perfect. Without ever having to say a bad word about either of them, she made me see that both of them were completely human and that their relationship was likewise a normal human relationship. As she talked, I realized that she was right. I was trying to compare my totally human self with a completely inhuman ideal that had never existed.
I realize that not everyone is lucky enough to have a friend/family member who is able to speak truthfully to who the LW was. But if you can find someone you trust, then I strongly suggest taking a leap and asking them some questions. If there is someone whose discretion you can have faith in, and talk openly with, you have struck gold.
Even the most seemingly saintly woman was not a saint. She had PMS and cranky days, just like you do. She dented the car and burned dinner and pouted once in a while, just like you do. It doesn't mean she was a bad person, any more than it means that you are--it means she was human. And coming to terms with her humanity is the greatest gift that you can give yourself, and your W.
My husband has been very good to me. There are two things that stand out in my mind that he has done to reassure me that he loves me for who I am.
First, before he proposed to me my husband spoke to his children and explained to them that he wanted to marry me. He also explained that he could not keep pictures of his first wife displayed around the entire house when he was thinking of marrying another woman. He had them help him take the pictures down and offered to help hang them in their rooms. He did this about a month before he proposed, giving his children time to adjust to the change.
Second, he has always told me what he appreciates about me specifically. Some times he tells me that these are areas his first wife did not do well in, so he appreciated these qualities in me so much more. He has never compared the two of us, he has never bad mouthed his first wife, I know he still loves her very much but he has always done his best to make me realize what qualities I have that are unique and make me special in his eyes.
[Note: These is an excerpt from Annie's blog (which you should all check out) where she describes living in the same home as the late wife. She gave me permission to share. I encourage you to read the full post here.]
The wives of polygamists refer to themselves as “sister-wives”. I think this is meant to impose a familial feel to circumstances that could easily dissolve into something competitive and downright ugly were it not for the veneer of a pseudo-relationship that the term implies. Despite my own negative views on the subject of plural marriage, I wonder if the term doesn’t more aptly describe my relationship with Shelley than any other.
I live in the house that Shelley called home. The colors on the wall and the decor are hers. The garden out back is the one she designed, which Rob dutifully spent hours creating for her, and the planters all around the front and back grew the flowers she planted. The next door neighbor was her very good friend and sang at her memorial.
Now the home decorations disappear, or are replaced, and Rob and I tend the garden together. The planters overflow in the warm months with blooms my daughter picked out, and she has adopted Shelley’s dear friend, following Charlotte around as she gardens and visiting via the back porch door which is nearly always open to her.
There is a room in the basement that until our recent garage sale was crammed almost to the ceiling with things that mostly belonged to Shelley once, and what wasn’t there sat on shelves and in cabinets and hung in closets upstairs and down. I helped her daughters go through those boxes of her clothes and what they didn’t want I sorted for donations, idly wondering if it was too creepy to claim the walking shorts I am certain would have fit me had I worked up the courage to try them on.
Sisters do not choose each other. They are born into families and learn to co-exist. Sometimes quite happily and lovingly. Sometimes not at all. More often than not such relationships fall somewhere in between mutual understanding and merely a shared heritage. Shelley and I did not choose each other. Rob chose us. First her and then me. Though today I feel that I have a life that is all my own, it still owes something to the foundations laid by this not quite sister of mine who I know only from the stories and actions of my husband and step-daughters. In my earliest days here on the Canadian prairie where I live in the abandoned shell of another woman’s life, I felt a presence that I can’t say for sure was hers but that seemed to be studying and watching. It was neither welcoming nor repelling. Just there. I haven’t felt that for a while. Perhaps I have been judged and found adequate. I choose to think so.
W has not openly compared me to lw. Whatever competition there is comes from me and my thoughts (i.e., I don't have red hair, I suck at golf, and I am not into public service, but rather a behind the scenes person.)
I feel the most insecure about these moments at W's house. Never at mine. When he is here, I am proud of the life I have and the confidence I feel on my home turf.
I imagine he does compare on some level. But frankly I do too. I also compare him to others i have known and loved . . . but not in a bad way. More of a aha way . . . that this is different than what I've known and I like it.
I have had so many comparisons made it's hard to write them all, some are direct like "Carol never wore pink nail varnish or lipstick." Others more subtle like, "They were perfect together and made for each other. It was such a sad thing to lose her, they were so in love!"
W has tried to reinforce my good points, the reasons he loves me, my qualities, kindness etc! He continues to say I am not a replacement for LW and he has never seen me that why. He says he makes his own choices an she has chosen me! He has recently touched base with all his friends to discuss boundaries as too much was being said, too many comparisons being made!