You can remember your loved one and be happy at the same time

I was talking to a close and incredibly smart friend over the holidays about memories, grief and loved ones.

I told him how happy I am with my new wife, Candace, and how happy she seems to be. As the conversation meandered I mentioned that Candace was a little down because the four year anniversary of her husband’s death was New Year’s Eve.

My smart friend expressed confusion. He could not understand how one minute I could say Candace was incredibly happy and then tell him that she was melancholy over her late husband’s death.

I was briefly surprised before I realized again that people who have not experienced the loss of a spouse just can’t understand how conflicting emotions exist with you all the time.

I gently told my friend he was thinking about emotions as a zero sum game and they are not that at all. I told him melancholy and happiness co-exist. One does not replace the other.

I completely understand how difficult that is for someone who has never lost a spouse to comprehend. Intellectually it probably does not compute, but for someone who has lost a spouse the feelings are genuine. To explain to my friend, I put out my left arm in a straight line. Then I did the same with my right arm.

I said the straight line represented by my the left arm is my late wife Jean. I miss her. I loved her and I loved our life together. I regret that our wonderful nuclear family no longer exists. I am deeply saddened that my kids lost their beloved mother. I think about her and what she would have thought about scores of events and people each week.

Then I moved to my right arm and told my friend that was my life with Candace. We laugh uproariously practically all the time. We learn and come to enjoy eccentricities like my sneezes and my constant aches and pains,  and her obsession with Christmas decorating and her cats. We cultivate a new love with all sorts of tender moments each day.

The two lines are wonderful in their own right. They do not subtract from each other. One of those lines is a memory. It cannot be lived again, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be treasured and remembered fondly without detracting at all from the other line. That other line is now. It is real and it can be savored, felt and hugged.

So when Candace was melancholy about David’s death I never felt a single pang of jealousy. Because I experience the same emotion all the time, I knew that she could remember, honor and miss David at the same time she loves me with all her heart.

One of those straight lines represents yesterday. The other line represents today. The two separate lines just are. They are distinct worlds and they are as real to me as my right foot.

Candace holds both of her lines in her heart at the same time and so do I. We treasure yesterday and our late spouses. We savor and live today with our new spouses with everything we have to give.

Divorces produce grief too

As I have discussed grief with people since the death of my late wife Jean last year, a difficult truth has dawned on me. For a lot of divorced people grief is the only effective word to describe their experience.

Certainly the permanence and finality of death make that a very different process. However, I am repeatedly struck by the deep sense of loss that divorced people disclose. I talked to a man last week who referred to three or four years of desperation that blocked him from moving forward. Another man I know is fighting despondency in ways that are achingly similar to the way spouses grieve over death.

In no way am I trying to put divorce and the loss of a spouse to death on the same plane. They are different just because of the permanence and hopelessness that death brings.

In divorce, there is often betrayal, guilt and regret that magnify the loss. But when a spouse dies, I know from personal experience that even when the marriage has been very good, there is serious second guessing and worry about whether you treated your beloved the way she/he deserved to be treated.

We all know that we should be deeply sorry when someone loses a spouse to death. The essence of my point is that we should also be sorry when a person loses a spouse to divorce. The divorced person is often, but not always, feeling a similar sense of  loss, loneliness and especially onliness which I wrote about in this post.

The ongoing reality of my own grief, and now after falling in love and marrying a woman who grieved the loss of her husband, I am coming to appreciate the singularity of the impact of losing a spouse to death. Yet, I am also coming to realize that a deep sense of loss over a divorce, a lost job or a devastating illness carries with it a somewhat similar load of emotional upheaval.

One of the most distinguishing reactions after losing a spouse to death is the almost indescribable loss of control over every aspect of your life. That is accompanied by a gripping sense that nothing can ever be the same again. That arouses great sympathy for the grieving spouse as it should.

I only submit here that divorced men and women deserve some modicum of the same empathy because their loss is also painfully and deeply disruptive.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

I never got a copy of the book about what is appropriate after your spouse dies

The grief to new love trilogy-Part III.

I have never experienced anything like the loneliness of losing a spouse. The personal journey of sadness is impossible to explain and definitely impossible for anyone who has not gone through it to understand.

And yet, it seems a lot of judgmental people believe they know exactly how you are supposed to behave and how much time you should take to grieve. I have heard people criticize people for grieving too long and I know I have been criticized for getting into a relationship too quickly. The reaction I got when I told some people I was in a meaningful relationship within a year of my wife’s death almost convinced me there must be a book of rules and I missed it. You would think that book makes it clear there is a very specific time period when a new relationship is appropriate, but again, the book must be printed on disappearing paper because nobody ever produced a copy for me.

Mostly unstated, but clearly implied is that anything earlier than a year is just wrong. What this view clearly endorses is that there is a prescribed time to grieve and one only starts a new relationship when one is “done” grieving. That is unadulterated bull-hockey. I have a wedding date set with a woman I love very much and I have grieved my late wife as recently as the last 48 hours. I will always grieve her and I do not find that odd at all. I suspect most widows and widowers would agree with me.

I didn’t stop grieving. I simply came to the realization that Jean is not coming back. She can’t laugh with me. She can’t roll her eyes at me and she can’t hold me. I need someone in my life to love and I got lucky and found her quickly because we were good friends a long time ago. If people can’t appreciate that, at least they can keep their mean words and judgmental looks to themselves.

Most people, but more men than women, seem incredibly pleased when I have said I’m going to get married 15 months after my wife Jean’s death. I recently met a long-ago friend in the Detroit airport and when I told him he said with certainty, “and you damn well should.” More than one man has said “I think I would probably be even faster than you!”  Men seem to be able to quickly empathize with the harsh reality of loneliness.

Many women, especially women close to me, have been enthusiastic too. Their reaction is usually, “why wouldn’t we want Tim to be happy?” They saw the depths of my sadness and don’t want me to be sad. My children have been similar. They know the depth of my loss and they have agreed that Jean would not want me wallowing in tears. There is one tricky issue with my kids that requires deep sensitivity. I can go out and find a new wife, they can’t go find a new mom. That makes me cry for them and careful to continue to fondly remember Jean with them. And, it is why my fiance, Candace, has attempted to approach my kids as friends and nothing else. But Jason, my 36 year-old son with Down syndrome who is always wise, has declared to Candace with pride and vigor that she is his “homie.” Jason to the rescue once again.

There have been some people who questioned my timing, simply wondering if  I am of sound mine rather than being judgmental. I don’t begrudge that. I’ve been second guessed all my life.

But then there are the people who seem to have the mysterious book I can’t find. They are the “mean” judgmentals. Though they have never walked in my boots, they are quite clear that I am violating some law of the universe. More than a few women immediately apply my situation to that of their husband and wonder if he would do the same thing. They don’t like that worth a damn but that is a silly inquiry because the grief process and the reconstruction process are unique to each of us.

There can be no schedule for rebuilding one’s life and finding a new partner. Each widow and widower should make their own decision about what is right for them with full confidence that there is no damn book to follow! Only your heart.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

The qualities of new love at 66–It’s different

Grief to new love trilogy–Part II

Within five months of my wife Jean’s death it was clear my relationship with Candace Hadley was genuine.

Relationships at 66 are different than those at 26. My brief bout with loneliness was brutal for me. I had a wonderful 39-year marriage and it was obvious to me I loved loving and being loved. One of the things I missed most was laughing with a partner. Candace and I laugh together in silly, juvenile ways and with sophisticated humor only a few would appreciate. No matter how old we grow together, I pray the laughter will always remain.

I think one also wants a sense that they are needed and both Candace and I felt that with each other. Another thing that is crucial to a late life marriage, in my mind, is a shared sense of values. Candace and I quickly realized spirituality was important to us–we shared a passion for the writings of Richard Rohr. Politically, we are compatible without being carbon copies of each other. Our differences make things interesting. Very significantly, we have both dealt with cognitive development issues in our family. That particular shared experience is vital.

The other shared experience that is critical, in my mind, is the loss of a spouse. I know many widows or widowers build great relationships with divorced people. I think that would have been very difficult for me. My late wife, Jean, and Candace’s late husband, David, are integral players in our relationship. We talk about them often and we frequently share grief experiences and life experiences. Since Jean’s death is relatively recent, that has been especially indispensable to me. Candace has been an incredible grief coach and just the other night asked me: “How is your sadness?” She has been most attentive to making sure I tend my two gardens and grieve appropriately, all the while loving me and knowing that I love her. I still keep pictures of both Jean and Candace, in some cases side by side. And, Candace still proudly displays some of her husband’s excellent paintings. We are our history and neither of us wants to deny that.

A truly fascinating element of finding a new partner after long marriages is that you have to get used to a new set of expectations. I like to joke that after 39 years of marriage I damn well knew the rules, but now the rule book has totally changed! Things that didn’t matter suddenly are important and vice versa. Figuring out how to disagree, and even agree, can be a fascinating new adventure.

Adventure is the key lesson of new love at 66. It’s an exciting adventure in creating a new life of happiness. The adventure needs to be enjoyed, not over-analyzed.

NEXT: Grief to new love Trilogy Part III –Let them say what they want.

My late wife’s birthday represents more forks in the road

Jean Fannin McGuire would have celebrated her 68th birthday tomorrow, April 24, had she not passed last summer.

I am not predicting the day will be easy. It represents several forks in the road for our family and forks mean choices that have to be faced.

My daughter, Tracy, will have the toughest road because her mother and her husband, Ben, celebrated the same birthday. Tracy would have been very tempted to be sad all day, but that’s not really an option when she must celebrate with her wonderful husband. I predict she will pay tribute to her Mother, cry a little and move on to Ben’s big day.  That is the way life is supposed to work.

I face some important forks too. I can choose to celebrate the 39 very happy Jean birthdays I spent with her during our engagement and marriage. I can remember the romantic surprise getaways to hotels, the elaborate presents of fine jewelry and her favorite gift which I gave her frequently the last several years–High Tea at one of the two or three fine restaurants in Phoenix which offered them. An anglophile at heart, Jean had High Tea in the finest places in London and simply adored the fussiness of it all.

Or, I could take another fork in the road and remember her last birthday when she desperately wanted to go for High Tea and simply was not strong enough. If I remember that one I am going to cry as I am right now. I was so damn sad because Jean was broken-hearted that she could not muster the strength to go. She really tried to keep that reservation I had made, but it was just too difficult. In desperation I made another reservation for our May 10 anniversary, but she was even weaker for that one. I have been more than a little obsessed by my failure to get Jean to one last High Tea.

There is a nagging temptation to collapse in grief over the anniversary of Jean’s birth, but that just does not fit where I want to be these days. I work very hard to celebrate Jean and not mourn her. She was a wonderful gift in my life and I try every day to thank God for that gift and appreciate what we had. That is really important to me because I am building an exciting and happy new life with someone and that too is a remarkable gift.

Anniversaries, birthdays and other key memories are vital milestones that allow us to remember, appreciate and celebrate what we once had. But that’s the key. I ONCE had a great life with Jean but, sadly those days are gone. I must not wallow. I must not languish in the barrel of grief because of an anniversary. I need to simply pay tribute to my wonderful life with a great woman.

I must turn toward tomorrow. Jean would clobber me if I didn’t live life to its fullest. She believed with all her heart in the lyrics of
Turn, Turn, Turn which we sang at her funeral.

To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born, a time to die.
A time to plant, a time to reap.
A time to kill, a time to heal.
A time to laugh, a time to weep.

I will always make time to weep for Jean, but it’s time to laugh and love again too. Happy Birthday sweet Jean.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance