Is it possible to mourn the loss of a beloved spouse and, while still grieving, to not only meet someone special, but fall in love and begin to build a new relationship that includes a commitment to sharing your lives? Can we overlap our loving and our grieving? The answer is a profound: YES! But, to smooth the path, keep these helpful Do’s and Don’ts in mind:
• Do allow yourself the joy of healing and moving on.
• Do allow yourself to feel good when this happens.
• Don’t feel guilty. You have been respectful, loving and caring towards your late spouse. Time has passed. It is healthy to want your life to move forward. Try to recognize your emotions every step of the way and not shy away from inner scrutiny, or back off from facing your emotions.
• Do know that it is possible to combine families with adult children no longer living at home.
• Do know that it will not always be smooth sailing; there will be moments of arguments and disagreements to work through.
Commonly, jealousy, fear, abandonment and money issues come up, even for your grown children. Will he leave “her” in “his” will? Will he forget about us? Will he respect our grieving? Be aware that often even the adult child feels, “I am not ready for this.” I want my dad/mom to be happy but not so fast….I’m still grieving for my mom/dad; I’m not ready to think about a “replacement” for his or her love. It may be hard for children at any age to fully understand that the bereaved are lonely and, if the widow or widower had a good marriage, this can further motivate the longing for another partner. There is also the sense of urgency, i.e., “time is running out and life will not go on forever”.
Tactfulness, thoughtfulness, and consideration for the feelings of children of all ages are so important, as well as the understanding that fathers and mothers grieve differently than their children who have their own important timetable. One cannot hurry the process of your grief, your adult children leading their own lives, or that of younger children.
While you want your life to move forward, a sensitive and understanding parent needs to recognize and be especially responsive to the needs of children living at home; children who are grieving the loss of their mother or father. The child needs the “daddy” or “mommy” that’s left. They need them to be emotionally available. Equally important, children commonly have expectations that they have exclusive rights to this parent. Dealing with young children still at home, requires an added set of challenges.
• Do listen carefully to what your child is, and is not saying.
• Do not have a new partner or romantic interest stay overnight too soon.
• Do be sensitive about the messages that you are giving your children about this new person in your life.
• Don’t have someone spend the night until they are special in your life, so that your child doesn’t feel the emotional confusion of a string of overnight guests.
• Do continue to impart important values to your child, reinforcing that love is special. Remember your behavior as a role model for your youngster.
• Do understand that someone new entering your life is confusing for your child and may come along with resentments needing to be understood and dealt with.
• Do be aware that the children are smart and can resent a new “mother,” even if she is not posed as such.
Grieving adults are entitled to happiness. Yet the grieving family members may experience confusion, conflict and rage. “I want mom back.” “I never wanted her to leave.” I want you (as my parent) not to be alone….but I’m not ready for this. Sometimes, it can’t be articulated but felt.
Keeping the channels of communication open for discussion, dialogue and sharing of experiences requires listening, and not necessarily agreeing. Each party needs to be heard and wants to be understood. Joy is to be treasured; the challenge lies in working it out in a way that is respectful to all family members.
Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T is the co-author with Gloria Lintermans of THE HEALING POWER OF LOVE: Transcending the Loss of a Spouse to New Love, http://www.championpress.com.
Los Angeles-based Dr. Marilyn Stolzman became a professional counselor specializing in bereavement. She created and directs the non-profit Southern California bereavement and transition support program, H.O.P.E. UNIT FOUNDATION, which offers a life-affirming two-year support group program.
The literature supports that people do 50 percent better if they attend a bereavement group. It helps people to “normalize” feelings and receive validation and feedback from each other and from the therapists. People know they are not alone, not isolated. Group support makes people recognize that they are not going crazy. There is comfort in knowing that others feel the same way.