Q. My husband was very sick for years before he died. Although I loved him dearly, I’m now ready for a new relationship. But I’m not willing to be a nurse again. I recently met someone and want to know about the state of his health before I get too involved. I need your advice on what I should say.
Open communication seems like the best approach. If health issues don’t come up naturally in the course of conversation, such as when one of you takes a pill or mentions medication, you may simply have to say something like, “You seem fit. Are you?” Or you may have to ask directly, “Do you have any major health problems?” Yes, it’s awkward, but this is an awkward situation. In one case, a widower went even further than you plan to. He said to the widow he was seeing, “Our relationship is heading toward the next level. As you know, my wife died of colon cancer. I don’t think I could handle going through that again. Are you willing to take a colonoscopy? Would you do this for me?”
The woman involved was very understanding and agreed to take the test (which turned out fine). And he was touched and appreciative. Another woman, however, might have been outraged and retorted, “How could you ask me that?” That’s the chance you take.
Another issue is that there are no guarantees in this life. Someone seemingly in the best of health (even a jock) can suddenly keel over from a heart attack. (It happened to a dear friend of mine a few months ago.) Accidents also happen. And the aforementioned woman who sailed through her colonoscopy could always develop a totally different dread disease at some time in the future. What happens then?
I also think of a widow I once met who remarried and subsequently left her second husband after he fell severely ill. Perhaps both would have been better off if they’d talked honestly about health before marrying. Conversely, other couples remarry fearlessly despite acknowledged medical problems, and they manage to find happiness.
In the end, we are who we are. Past generations didn’t live long enough to confront these issues, which have become very real as second- and even third-time widows and widowers become more common in our society.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author—and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.
Image via Wikimedia Commons/HujiStat