Have you heard that Patton Oswalt is engaged? Widowed fifteen months, he has found love again and plans to remarry. The media is aflutter with a bevy of congratulations and support along with criticism that he did not grieve long enough. How do you judge, or should you even judge, how long a bereaved spouse should grieve? Is one year satisfactory? Eighteen months? Or will only several years be acceptable? Is it not permissible for a bereaved spouse to continue living their life and find happiness again?
My mother had a strong opinion on this topic. Widowed twice by the age of forty-six, she once told me that it was a compliment to the deceased spouse when their bereaved spouse chose to re-marry. She felt it demonstrated that they had a good marriage; they miss the love and companionship of a partner and want to feel the joy of the marital experience once more.
While I agree with my mom in theory, it can be hard for family members and friends who are still grieving to face a surviving spouse’s effort to move on when their own grief is still fresh and preventing them to do so.
There are factors to keep in mind when a bereaved spouse begins dating. One widow shared that her husband told her daughters in his final days to be supportive of their mother as he did not want her life to end with his. Her daughters were then prepared and understanding when she met someone at a college reunion and eventually remarried.
If the deceased was terminally ill, it is possible the spouse did their grieving over the course of the illness and death might even be a relief. And during a marriage, couples may have discussed their wishes should their spouse survive them. Keep in mind a bereaved spouse may not be prepared to live a life alone. They might seek a partner, not only for companionship, but to help in handling the myriad of life’s responsibilities.
Is it fair to consign the bereaved to a life of sorrow? Whether you are pleased or uncomfortable with the news of a remarriage, the kindest thing to do is to wish the couple well.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available as e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store
Photo: Gage Skidmore Patton