Monday, October 27, 2014

Remarriage in Widowhood: How Soon Is Too Soon?

Source
[Reviewed and updated November 8, 2017.]

Many individuals approach marriage, even remarriage, with a “let’s get married and work out the details later” attitude. In fact, most remarrying couples have known each other less than 9 months. Couples remarry long before they have finished grieving their losses, worked through their issues or developed a healthy single lifestyle.  ~ Drs. Jeff and Judi Parziale

A reader writes: My dad remarried recently to a woman he met four months after my mom's passing. I am 36, so part of me feels like I shouldn't be so childish about this--however--they are an extremely insensitive twosome. My father will not speak of my mom; it's as if she never existed! He says constantly that he wouldn't change one thing in his life as it is today for anything. I don't know what my question is, or how you can help, but I am just so angry! I feel so locked in and closed off. How do you get through the anger? How do you start to deal with the rage of it all? Is it wrong to fess up to him and tell him how upsetting I find all of this?
I miss my mom so much, there is such a void without her and it is so heartbreaking that the one person who could tell the best "mom" stories won't even speak her name.

My response: I'm so sorry to learn of the difficulties you're having with your dad, and I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you.

The feelings you’re having toward your dad in the aftermath of your mother’s death are understandable. When one parent dies and the remaining parent begins dating or marries someone else, it can be very hard for the adult child to accept, no matter how soon after the death it occurs. Partly that is because you may be feeling a need to remain loyal to your mother and respectful of her memory, and you may be worried that your father will cease to remember and love this irreplaceable person you both have lost.

It may be helpful for you to keep in mind that you and your father are grieving very different losses, and the relationships you had with the person who died are very different too. Your father has lost his spouse, while you have lost a parent. I don’t know how long your parents were married, how close they were to each other, or anything else about their relationship, but I do know that however your father reacts to your mother’s death depends on many, many different factors. See, for example, some of the links listed on this page on my Grief Healing website: Death That Brings Relief.

In her bestselling book, Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss, author Hope Edelman argues that a surviving father’s behavior in the wake of his wife’s death “matters [to a daughter] even more than we think,” in how it can influence a daughter’s long-term adaptation to the loss of her mother. Of the women interviewed for her book, 59% of the surviving fathers had remarried and 31% of the women who reported “poor relationships” with their fathers had experienced the remarriage of their father within one year from the time of the mother’s death. While Edelman strongly recommends that surviving fathers wait a minimum of one calendar year before moving towards remarriage, obviously not all fathers heed her advice ~ and clearly your father has already made his choice.

Under the circumstances, then, it may help to keep in mind that there simply are no hard and fast rules for deciding when the time is right (or wrong) for a widowed person to begin dating or falling in love with someone new. For some it may be several years while for others it’s only a matter of months. But in the end, it is up to the individual to decide if and when he is ready to love again, and it is not our place to make that determination for him.

You know your father better than I do, and you and I can only guess what he may be thinking and feeling about all of this. I really don't know if "fessing up to him" about your feelings would help in this situation, as his loyalties may lie with his new wife more than with any concern about how his daughter is feeling right now.

I am touched by your statement that the one person who could tell the best "mom" stories won't even speak your mother's name, and I find that heartbreaking, too. But to begin mending your broken heart, I urge you to look elsewhere for those precious mom stories. Find another family member, relative, close friend or neighbor who knew your mother well. Invite that person to share some memories of your mother with you. Write down your own precious memories, each time they occur to you. Gather photographs and place them in a special album. Join Pinterest and make a board with pins that remind you of your mother. (As examples, you can see the Pinterest boards I started for my own parents here: Remembering Mother and Remembering Daddy.)

I also encourage you to get some help with all of this by talking to a therapist or professional grief counselor, so that your own feelings about losing your mother and your current difficulties with your dad can be expressed, worked through and resolved. You may have no control over how your father chooses to live his life in the wake of your mother’s death, but with help you can find more effective ways to manage your own reactions and get on with your own life. Your community library or your local mental health association will have good grief counseling referral lists, or you can use the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory to call your local hospital or hospice. Ask to speak with the Bereavement Coordinator, Social Worker, or Chaplain's Office to get a local grief referral. I hope you will think of this as a gift you can give to yourself, and I hope you will follow through with it.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

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