When the love of your life has died, the future looks painfully bleak, lonely and empty. The last thing on anyone’s mind at that point is falling in love again. As a therapist, I have heard many different responses to the death of a loved one, but it is never, “who’s next then”. Very often it is the opposite of that, “I will never fall in love again”, and sometimes, “I will never marry again”. Both are understandable responses to a deeply sad situation. I think what people are trying to express is that grief is too overwhelming to see any future, and also that it feels too risky because the pain one suffers, is too excruciating when you are the one left behind.
It used to be the culturally accepted idea that one was supposed to be moving towards ‘getting over’ a death, ‘moving past’ the sadness and grief or ‘letting go’ of the person who died, so somehow one could renew interest in life and magically be normal again. Nowadays thankfully the thinking has changed. The way I describe it to people is that you never forget the beloved, you carry them with you, perhaps metaphorically in your heart, or in your thoughts and memories, but whereas at the beginning of your grief, those places feel very raw and painful, in time the deceased rests peacefully there, causing less distress and disturbance. Everything quietens down but the love is not gone.
So what happens when you fall in love again?
Some people actively go out seeking love and others wait for love to come knocking at their door and occasionally love finds people unexpectedly like on a train, or dog walking (two real examples, honestly I am not making it up). Even if you have vowed never to love again, the thrilling energy that love brings into your life can oust any thoughts of ‘not going there again’ out of your head. It does not matter how old we are, we are all the same when it comes to love. Being wanted, needed, adored, loved and the focus of another’s attention are all heady feelings indeed. They are core human conditions and they make us feel alive, energetic and happy. I have noticed that people (especially men) who have been in a loving marriage do start to yearn for that stability and companionship again), so when it comes calling it is a potent mix of emotions.
So now you are in love and everything is right in your world. You feel part of something again, perhaps protected and nurtured, or that you have a purpose in life, and your focus is quite rightly on the immediacy of the relationship. The problem usually comes when something your new partner does, or doesn’t do for that matter, evokes a wave of grief which comes tumbling in and knocks you for six. Everything that was right in the new relationship now feels somehow wrong. You doubt yourself, you doubt them, your decision making, what you are doing, what you should be doing and anything else you can imagine which could get in the way of a new and loving relationship. There are often tears and angst as to whether you should be in a new relationship at all, because somewhere deep inside of yourself it feels like cheating? The guilt can be crushing. I have heard it said that being in a new marriage after becoming a widow or widower, can feel like you are a bigamist.
Those sorts of feelings are entirely natural and normal. If you return to the idea in the second paragraph that you hold the one you have lost close to you for ever, then you can see that it is entirely possible to love two people at once. Society tells us that when it comes to lovers, it’s not right, so it is quite ingrained in our psyche that you shouldn’t do that. However, you do love two people, it just happens that one of them has sadly died, and the love does not stop, nor should it. In fact how could it? You cannot just turn love off. It is one of life’s great joys to fall in love and if that gift should come calling a second time, embrace it fully, knowing that you still love your first partner and they are along for the ride too!
What really helps is if your new partner understands that it is not either/or, it is both. Hopefully they encourage you to bring up their name, talk about memories of past times, say if you are missing them in particular on a given day, if they encourage photographs of that person to stay up in the house and children are still allowed to love the parent who has died. Hopefully they can support your grief and be a place where you can ‘land’ when you feel overwhelmed, all the time knowing that those feelings will pass by like clouds.
At the same time, it is easy to slip into excluding your new partner a bit too much by not telling them how you are feeling, by comparing them to the former partner out loud (or silently to yourself) too often. Perhaps you keep the ashes in a prominent position, and your new partner feels there are three of you in the new marriage? I sometimes wonder what it is like for the new partner to come into the former marital home? Can it ever feel as if it is their home now? Do some physical things have to be let go of to nurture the new relationship. These things balance delicately in the relationship, but given a warm and loving environment, they are things you can work out together to minimise or ban any feelings of guilt you may carry.
I finish with the simple words of Thomas Hardy, in Far From The Madding Crowd,
Love is a possible strength in an actual weakness.
If you have had experience of finding love again after a bereavement and have something to share, please do below, it might help others.