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Wednesday February 14, 2018

I'd like to share a love story with you. A man lovingly cared for his wife as her illness slowly took over. His life centered on caring for her. I never heard a complaint from him as he cared for his wife. He still thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world and counted it a pleasure to care for her at home. He was so devoted to her. He made sure that she had all she needed to be comfortable. But her disease took her to her Heavenly home.

Yes, he grieved deeply for her. He received bereavement services and actively participated in the services offered. Months later, he became friends with a lady friend whom he had known all his life. She, too, had lost a spouse. They started seeing each other as friends and 

enjoyed each other's company. After several months, they married. 

Never would I question his love for his first wife. I was glad he found someone with whom he could spend the rest of his life. He has so much love to give and enjoys being active with his new wife. 

This story is not specific to one person. It is a story that I have actually seen several times as I have been a part of hospice. While not for everyone, some people do find love a second time, and they embrace it. 

During the last several years, I have been blessed to listen to many widows and widowers. Often, we talk about the hard work of grief and learning to live alone. Sometimes, people express anger as they tell me about friends who tried to set them up with someone after their spouse has been gone for less than six months. Friends are well-meaning but often misguided in thinking that you should start dating. Over the years, I've assisted many people with bereavement who went on to marry again. The decision to start dating and/or marry again is one that only you can make. 

A good question to ask when deciding if you should start dating is, "Will I feel whole if I start a new relationship?" If you answer yes, it is not time to start dating. Have you heard the saying about being comfortable in your own skin? Being ready to date and start a new relationship – no matter whether it results in marriage – should not be an effort to become "whole." One should feel comfortable with himself or herself first. Rushing into something will result in an unfulfilling relationship. 

Make a conscious decision to start dating. Don't be afraid to let friends and relatives know your feelings if they are encouraging you to date when you do not feel ready. Some people will never feel ready, and that is okay. Think about what you can contribute to the relationship, not what you need from having a relationship. 

Do you feel guilty when you think about dating? It's perfectly normal to feel some guilt at the thought of going out with someone and having fun. You may even feel a bit guilty at the start of a new relationship, but you are not betraying your loved one by dating again. For most of us, our marriage vows are "until death do us part." Many of you showed your love for your spouse, as you gave so much of yourself when you were caring for them while they were sick. Being a caregiver is hard work. It is humbling to see so many of you beautifully fulfill the "in sickness and in health" part of your marriage vows. 

Remember, you have been grieving longer than you may think. Your grief started when your loved one was diagnosed with a terminal illness. You were grieving while you were caring for your spouse. Many people have told me that they cried a lot while their spouse was living, but did not cry after their spouse died. It is different for everyone. 

Be aware that some friends and family members may not like if you decide to start dating again. People may disapprove and be judgmental of when you start dating again. Only you truly know your relationship with your spouse who died. If you are at peace with dating again, then try not to let negative opinions bother you. 

If you have found someone and are contemplating marriage, consider pre-marital counseling. Even though you may have had a successful first marriage, counseling can help make sure this new marriage starts with a firm foundation. 

Consider your children, who may or may not be in favor of a marriage. Make sure documents such as your will and advance directives are up to date. I often hear children talking about their parent's second marriage and how the estate is handled. Children have a much harder time trying to cope with their grief when they are dealing with stepfamily members who do not get along. Make your children a part of the process. Gather their support and let them know how the marriage will affect them. You don't just marry a person, you marry their family. Consider the family dynamics, and make sure your children are protected. 

Whether or not you date again is a decision only you can make. Weigh your reasons for wanting to date and what you can contribute to a new relationship. If you have any specific questions or concerns, please call your bereavement coordinator. 

—Patricia Morris, Kids Path Counselor

Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today toll-free at 1-888-789-2922.

Tags: Grief Support