Independent, 25th August 2023 - Modern Morals advice column
Aug 29, 2023
My husband died after a long illness 21 months ago. I recently met a very nice man and we’ve been seeing each other. We’re both in our 60s and have a lot in common.
During a very passionate evening I made a terrible mistake and called him by my dead husband’s name. I was so embarrassed. But now I’m wondering if I started dating too soon.
Some of my children think it’s cute that I have a special friend but one daughter won’t discuss or comment about me dating. I’m so confused, perhaps it’s too soon to date and have a new romance.
It sounds like you’re trying to navigate some very strong mixed emotions.
On one hand, you’re still grieving your husband and dealing with feelings of heartache and loss. On the other hand, there’s the giddy excitement of a new relationship and all that entails.
You’re possibly wrestling with feelings of guilt too, but as midlife coach Alana Kirk pointed out when I shared your dilemma with her, “you can grieve for your husband and enjoy someone else’s company. They aren’t mutually exclusive”.
“Losing a loved one is cruel at any time, but perhaps when you were both planning a new stage of life, it has been a significant challenge to face the future in a very different way,” adds Kirk, who is the author ofMidlife, Redefined: Better, Bolder, Brighter.
“That you’ve decided that future is you continuing to evolve and grow as a person, regardless of life’s challenges, is a credit to you. It doesn’t negate your grief and loss by also trying to live as happily as you can for the many years ahead of you still.”
Have you started dating too soon? “Everything you write in the beginning of your letter is positive about your new relationship,” says Kirk. “So only you know the answer to that and from what I’ve read, the answer is no.
"There is no rule book. There is only how you feel."
"There is no rule book. There is only how you feel. It seems some of your children understand your need to be happy and another thinks there is a rule book.
“Perhaps ask yourself how your life would feel if this new relationship suddenly ended. What does your future look like with no companionship, passion and even love? Only you have the right to decide what is best for you.
“Your daughter won’t be the one sitting with you every night keeping you company. She’ll be living her life, hopefully experiencing love, passion and connection. So should you, if that’s what you want.
“That doesn’t negate the grief and confusion she may be feeling,” she adds. “A simple conversation with her to explain her father isn’t being replaced might suffice.
"But this is her issue, not yours. You can tread gently of course, she is hurting too. But do tread in the direction that gives your life what it needs. If that is dating, feeling vibrant, alive and loved, then that sounds like a good direction to me.”
I also shared your dilemma with Gemma Kelly of Bereave Ireland, who has completed a diploma in bereavement and grief counselling. She takes a slightly different view to Kirk and notes you don’t mention “how you have grieved for your husband during the last 21 months and whether you felt like you were ready to meet someone new”.
“If you’re having doubts, it may be best to be friends with this man and take things slowly, and see where things go in time,” she says.
“If you are still in the midst of grief, it may be that this new person came along and filled a gap that your husband may have left, without you realising that maybe you weren’t ready for another relationship yet.”
Kelly says it is “understandable that your children would respond in different ways as they will all be grieving in their own ways and on different timescales”.
Like Kirk, she suggests talking to the daughter who seems to be expressing disapproval about how she is feeling, “and explain if/why you feel you’re ready to see someone new after the death of your husband”.
It’s equally important to understand the nature of your grief, said Cork-based bereavement specialist Eileen McDonald when I shared your dilemma with her.
“You mention your husband died following a long illness. In this situation, it is possible you may have been already grieving loss and changes in your lives together, which is called anticipatory loss, before your husband’s death,” she says.
“There is no timeline or stages in grief as once thought, but grief comes and goes, ebbs and flows in different ways in the days, weeks and months following the loss of a loved one.”
As for blurting out your husband’s name during the throes of passion, Kirk says: “People who have been in far shorter relationships have made the same bedroom faux pas. I wouldn’t rush to attach too much meaning to the blurting out of a name you are so used to saying.”