I recall a Saturday morning coffee shop conversation I had with two men whom I’ll call Bill and George. Bill was in his early 30s, and his friend George was in his mid-60s. They had both lost their wives to cancer during the past year. They both were somewhat pleasantly surprised, and at the same time felt a little embarrassed about the fact, that they were both currently open to dating with a view to possibly finding a new life-partner. They both claimed to have had a close loving marriage. At the same time, they said it felt to both of them that during the long course of their wives’ struggle with terminal cancer they had somehow already been grieving their wives’ death for some time before their wives actually passed. So, after about six months, they both looked to move on to being fully alive themselves including being open to dating and the possibility of discovering a new wife. However, Bill’s young children (aged ten through fourteen) and George’s adult children were shocked and dismayed that their fathers were dating so soon after their mothers had died. Bill and George both understood the natural basis for such feelings in their children, but could only hope that such feelings would lessen when and if an actual possible life-partner eventually came into their lives. In the end, both men, although somewhat surprised by their deep hunger for love and close relationship, were struck by the fact that the significant gap in their ages seemed to make no difference in the depth of their hunger. They wondered if this whole situation was “normal”.
While many surviving spouses stoutly claim that there will never be another (fill in the name of the deceased spouse), it is a fact that many people who have lost a spouse to death then begin to date with an eye to possibly finding a new spouse. This is true not just in the case of surviving spouses who feel basically healed after a normal grieving process. It can also be true of surviving spouses while they are still in the grieving process. Moreover, this quest for love and close companionship can continue long after the death of their spouses.
First of all, “moving on” after grieving the loss of a spouse is rarely a straight-line “logical” movement. The human heart will ever be such a mysterious thing! There is always a need, no matter what powerful reality we are currently experiencing in our lives, to strive to be both attentive and patient in listening to our heart. The natural tendency of our heart is toward health and healing, but exactly what path to choose, going forward, is often not immediately clear at all.
Secondly, no one should be surprised that she or he experiences a strong desire for love, even romance, no matter how short or long a time has passed since the death of a spouse. The inner yearning for loving relationships is the deepest desire of our hearts, and an essential part of our being truly human. One may attempt to bury this yearning under a layer of work or other “busyness” but it will always remain within each one of us at some level as long as we are alive.
One difficulty in this area of human experience can be when one “aggressive”‘ seeks love, romantic or other.
Unhappily, the highway of life is littered with the wreckage of people who desperately sought love in (it sadly turns out) all the wrong places!
Love is always a gift! Although the desire for love is the deepest desire of the human heart, no one ever has the right to claim ‘life owes me love!” On the other hand, every human being is of love because, in the end, it is just life’s gift, and will always be a gift. No matter how many (what turned out to be) wrong choices one may have made, no human being can ever be unworthy of love. But as soon as one attempts to demand the love from any other person (even a family member, spouse, lover, or close friend) one unwitting places a terrible strain on that relationship, no matter how long it has been shared.
Finally, the best way to anyone to be open to the gift of love is to always strive to make loving (compassionate, generous) choices in one’s everyday interaction with others. When one strives to be a loving person, one naturally tends to be attractive to other loving persons. Loving, though, is not a matter of one’s feelings or emotion (although strong ones may be felt), but rather one’s making loving choices. Of course, potential friends (and lovers) are usually frightened off by desperation of any, even implied, demand for love. Love is always a gift!
Bill and George seemed relieved that, in light of my longtime experience in pastoral ministry with widowed persons, I believed that their ongoing deep desire for love and close relationship was quite normal. We then joked about how borderline “normal” we all were in some other aspects of our personalities.