Dating After a Spouse-Loss
Our society has so many expectations for us after our spouse has died. We should grieve—depending on the expectations of our friends, religious traditions, or workplace expectations—for anywhere from a few weeks to many years.
The reality of course is that we will grieve for however long we will grieve. The world might forget that we lost the love of our lives; but we don’t. Our friends, even family members, might encourage us to move on before we are ready because they need us to move on.
Contrarily, if we feel ready to build a new life without our loved one sooner than we are told we should, we should not think that there’s something wrong with us, or that we didn’t love our spouse enough. It just means that we are ready to build that new life. Period.
What About the Very Old?
But what about someone who is elderly, perhaps even 90 or more? He or she might have been married for many decades. Should they consider romance again? They may feel as if their world has ended with no time to rebuild it. And as adult children, we might believe that our parent shouldn’t waste their remaining time on a fool’s errand of unrealistic or even inappropriate hopes.
It’s pretty common for elderly people to spend their remaining years single (I hesitate to say “alone” since they might have family close by or a strong social circle). My father died in 2006. For my mother, it was finally a chance to live her remaining years exactly as she wanted: single, and free to socialize and travel without my father’s homebody tendencies.
What’s the Role of the Adult Children?
Yet not everyone wants to be alone in their last years. If an older widow or widower finds romance, what is the role of the adult children? It can be complicated.
My wife’s grandmother lived to be 103 years old. She had outlived two husbands by the time she was 77. And then, when she was 90 years old, she met a man who was 91 at a senior activity center. Born in Cuba, he called her his “little cucuracha.” He was kind and sweet and financially sound, never asking anything of her other than affection. They took afternoon naps in the sun in her backyard. They never married but for five years, until his death, she was as happy as she had ever been. Who would want to interfere with her opportunity to experience love again?
On the other hand, when the father of a friend of mine was 92, his romantic partner of the previous 30 years died from Alzheimer’s. He was heartbroken and with that came some mental decline.
My friend began bringing in licensed caregivers to help his father with some daily tasks. One of them was a woman in her fifties. She was warm and friendly, and it was clear that his father was extremely fond of her. But after a couple of months, he confided to my friend that he had flirted with the caregiver, and instead of maintaining professional boundaries, she accepted the invitation. They had begun having sex.
Be Warm But Beware
His father said that he hadn’t felt so happy since he was a young man. And he didn’t want my friend interfering in what he felt was his last chance at real love. He didn’t understand the problem.
For my friend, the caregiver’s ministrations were at best a terrible ethical breach. The woman was also, possibly, a con artist as she sought to borrow a large amount of money (a request which the father, fortunately, rejected). My friend immediately confronted the caregiver and ended the association. But it was hard to see his father now grieving that relationship on top of the previous loss.
As the adult children of an elderly widow or widower, it’s our responsibility to keep an eye on them, to try to protect them from physical or financial harm. You know if your parent is mentally diminished and capable of reasonably good judgement. But unless something seems clearly off in their new relationship, I don’t think it is our job to micromanage their love lives.
Take the two of them out to dinner or invite them to your home occasionally. Find ways to get to know your parent’s new friend so you can see for yourself why they’re attracted to each other. Allow them a last chance at love.
Read more on Open to Hope by Mike Bernhardt: https://www.opentohope.com/writing-poems-can-heal/
Check out Mike Bernhardt’s book, Voices of the Grieving Heart: https://mikebernhardt.net/order