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While I don’t think there is a month safe from loss in our family, January through May is a bit difficult because these are our most recent set of losses. This includes my dad May 2011 to my last living uncle a year ago in February. Talking about loss can be difficult but talking about love after loss, before a loss even occurs, feels unfathomable. This is a topic most of my family has discussed in recent years and is one that is important to have with your loved ones while you have the chance.
My dad died in May 2011, one by one each of my other three uncles have passed away since. My youngest uncle lost his battle with cancer last January. As my uncle knew he was dying he had time to talk with each of us about all the things he didn’t want left unsaid. This included love after loss.
During one of our visits he sat first with my mom and then with Rent-a-Dad and I. He talked about the weather, projects he wanted to complete and the journal he was keeping in his final days. Then he brought up a topic which he thought might be a touchy with one with me.
Since my dad’s death, the roles have been reversed between my mom and I. My dad used to say that when I was a child that I was my mom’s shadow. Now my mom is my shadow. She does not want to leave the house unless I am with her. To some extent my uncle knew this. He wanted to make sure that my mom was not lonely and asked how I would react if my mom found love again.
I remember chuckling.
That initial response made my uncle ask if that meant I was against my mom marrying again.
Not at all. Love after loss has been a conversation I have had often with my loved ones since losing my grandfather.
As a kid I wanted to know when my grandmother was going to remarry. The first time I asked my mom that question, or perhaps maybe she asked how I would feel, I remember answering that my grandmother could marry anyone she wanted so long as they loved her. Then I followed up with the fact that whoever it was had to be rich enough to take care of all her grandchildren (financially). The last part was a condition one of my cousins and I had already discussed. If we were to have a second grandfather he needed to be able to spoil us. We were either four or five at that time.
After losing my dad the thought had crossed my mind about my mom marrying again but we didn’t really discuss it. The reason was my mom rarely left my side so how was she going to meet someone and fall in love? To my mom the question was silly because she didn’t want to be married again. For many reasons she was done with marriage. She was content with having her children, and now grandchildren, be her life.
There was a second reason as to why I laughed. I have never been opposed to my mom finding love again. As a kid I not only wanted to know if my grandmother would remarry but if something happened to my dad would my mom remarry. In essence I had been preparing for the inevitability of this kind of loss my whole life.
As an adult my only stipulation for my mom is that she marry not just for love but marry someone who didn’t see her family as their prize. When mom finds herself meeting a gentleman who is single they end up talking about how she is so lucky to have a daughter who takes such good care of her. I appreciate the compliment but that always makes me a bit leery. Why? I don’t need to have a stepdad who thinks I am going take care of him in the same way I have taken care of my mom. That is not to say I wouldn’t but rather that I don’t know if I have it in me after going from being one of my dad’s caregivers most of my life to then being my mom’s caregiver.
So when my uncle asked me if I would consider letting my mom marry again I couldn’t help but chuckle.
As usual there are a few more levels to this story.
My uncle wanted to make sure that each of my aunts found love again. He was thinking in terms of soul mates, partners, or companions.
Now, as an adult, I think about finding love on many different levels. The person who taught me that lesson, well it was my grandmother.
The reason my grandmother never remarried? She already had her soul mate and didn’t want another husband.
Love after my grandfather looked very different than what most would think of. My grandmother had a rich life with all of the organizations she was involved in and the children she helped as a substitute teacher, after retiring from being a full time teacher. Not to mention her family. That was the love she threw herself into. My grandmother moved to be closer to one of her children and help with her grandchildren. We all loved her so much that she didn’t need anyone else after my grandfather, or that is what she would tell us. There were plenty of men who tried to woo my grandmother from strangers to fellow church goers to members of my grandfather’s squadron from WWII who still kept in touch and had their own losses.
Just because I think of love in more of an umbrella terms doesn’t mean I haven’t had the talk about love after loss with Rent-a-Dad.
As a young adult I had this sinking feeling that I may never see life after the age of thirty. Honestly I have no real idea why except that maybe it is a feeling buried in my DNA because later I found out it was also a fear my mom had as a young adult. When I found out at the age of 29 that I needed surgery and might have cancer, I thought that fear turned into reality. In the days leading up to my surgery I made sure everyone knew what my wishes were if the surgery didn’t go well or if I did have cancer. This meant having the talk with Rent-a-Dad about love after loss should something happen to me.
The conversation was darkly humorous to him because as he says nothing bad is ever allowed to happen to me. My reply always is that I doubt the universe has the same plans (hint: bad things happen to everyone).
To me the conversation was about giving him permission to love again. He didn’t really need my permission but I know it is easier to love again if you know your partner felt that way. We talked about his type, yes he has a type and didn’t know it, and I actually named a few people I wouldn’t mind taking my place.
Sometimes I am more pragmatic than others. At the time, and well even to this day, I feel that is pragmatic. I wanted Rent-a-Dad to know I loved him enough that he should move on if something happened to me. Of course I gave him a list of what I wanted done with my stuff and how I didn’t want him to neglect our animals if his new girl had other animals. The point was I wanted him to realize it would all be ok and I didn’t want him to become a recluse like he vowed would happen.
Several months after my third uncle passed away, and the question about my aunt finding love again came up, Rent-a-Dad reciprocated the permission for me to find love after loss if anything ever happened to him. Years ago Rent-a-Dad didn’t want to think about the inevitable happening but after seeing my aunt’s spouses, their loves, slowly losing battles with their health, he decided it was time to have that conversation with me. He knows I am not good on my own and that I have this need to take care of other but also to be taken care of (on an equal level).
After watching how others were responding to my aunt, he wanted me to know how he felt. That he too wanted me to be happy and to do whatever it meant to find that happiness even if that meant being in love again six months after his demise (yeah we sometimes are dramatic with our words). After a few hugs and some tears we were both good. We knew how each other felt and had permission to find love after loss.
While we hope that we will be like Allie Calhoun and Duke in the Notebook, never truly knowing a day without each other’s presence, we know the likelihood of that really happening is small. We can still dream though while at the same time being practical with our final wishes.
Yes we are still young but strange and painful things happen daily. Somehow having this conversation and knowing each other’s wishes makes life a little easier to move through on days where loss can be so painful.
When my uncle asked his question about finding love after loss and I chuckled, it wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. We had all had this conversation, or a version of it, days, months and even decades before. All of us were good. Something about that made some peace with my uncle that day.
Information on Love After Loss
Love after loss is a hard conversation to have at any time. I am a very open person with the ones I love. They know my feelings and should never doubt how I feel. That is not the case with everyone. Even Rent-a-Dad has his moments when he doesn’t know how to share what he is thinking. If you are struggling with this concept and want more information, guidance, or just want to find someone like minded, here are a few links to help you with your journey:
Psychology Today has an article about widows (widowers) finding love after loss.
Christina Rasmussen explores her feelings about exploring feelings of finding love after loss in a post on her blog Second Firsts.
Huffington Post has multiple first person articles about finding love after loss.