|Embracing The Late Wife
EMBRACING THE LATE WIFE
In the beginning of our relationship, my husband actually felt comfortable
telling me about his late wife. There was an aura of mystery about her,
mostly because I had not known her prior to her death. To sate my curiosity,
I just wanted to know the answers to a few basic questions, and my husband
was more than willing to oblige me. We were still in that "getting to know
you" stage of newfound love, so he had nothing to lose by sharing some basic
background information with me about her - the "non-intimate details" of his
late wife, such as where she attended school, what job she held prior to her
death, the cause of her death, etc.
So, for that time being, I was satisfied with just knowing the basics.
Soon after marrying him, however, knowing more about her became an
addiction that needed satisfying and a hunger to be sated.
The Obsession to Know Her
I remember exactly when the obsession took shape. During the first
week of our marriage, I found a folder in his old filing cabinet, and in it
were signed papers for an adoption process. Apparently, unbeknownst to
me, he and his late wife had actually attempted to become the adoptive
parents of a child. I looked at the date, and was saddened to see that the
papers were filed in between the time she discovered she had cancer and her
Perhaps this meant that she regretted not having any biological children
of her own with him, and now wanted to share parenthood with him before
she passed away, leaving a legacy of herself behind.
Whatever her reasons, I was taken aback. Previously, my husband's late
wife had been, in my naïve mind, just another woman from his past. Prior
to this discovery, I had only received a simple biography or factual resume of
her life - nothing to substantiate anything more meaningful or intimate. But
now, with this new information, she became much more than that.
It was as if I had been in denial - an "ignorance is bliss" sort of
reasoning - since the beginning. But now, all at once, I looked upon her with
my heart instead of only my mind. And the realization hit me like a ton of
bricks - she was, at one time, a living, breathing, valuable human being. She
was a woman, with emotions, needs, and desires, just like me. And this real
person was one flesh with my husband! In one split second, she went from a
sheet of useless data to a real person, and I wanted to know her...intimately.
It's been said that the best way to defeat an enemy is to know him, or in
this case, her. And at that time, I suddenly felt more threatened by her than I
had ever felt by anyone else in my life. She became, in my mind, "the other
woman". She had not only shared a past with my husband, but a bed, a
home, a life, her dreams, her body, and eventually, her illness and death.
That made her special, beloved, and unique…especially to him.
Ugh! I had never really thought about it that way before! She was so
much easier for me to deal with when I thought of her as a one-dimensional
non-entity with non-specific details to describe her non-life! Sure, there were
enough pictures of her to validate that she did at one time walk this earth and
fill space…but now, I had to swallow the painful truth that she did more than
So, with my obsession pumping me with energy, I went straight to the
source - my husband - armed with enough intimate questions as my arsenal to
slay the beast that threatened the security and priority I had always thought I
held in my husband's heart. It must have been the fire in my eyes as I
pummeled him with my ammo - questions - that made him put up his shield,
but he closed up tight, built a wall, and refused to play my game.
He would not share with me her faults! He would not paint a picture for
me of their day to day life as man and wife! He would not regale me with
amusing anecdotes of her personality! He refused to succumb to my ploy to
bleed him dry of information pertaining to what made her special, what made
her real, what made her…loved by him.
Oh my God, I anguished…it's worse than I thought! This evasion was
proof - he loved her more than he loved me! He thinks she was perfect! And
he's holding her up on some unattainable pedestal, where she will forever sit,
canonized and sainted by him, every day of his life! I will never be Number
One in his heart!
Fighting A Losing Battle With Fear
I thought my marriage was doomed. How could I share his heart with
another woman? And how could he want to marry me in the first place if I
meant less than she did to him?
For a year, I managed to depressingly drag my way through my marriage,
day to day, while still holding onto the anger, and hating his late wife more
and more. I used up so much energy doing this that I was exhausted all the
time. My self-esteem plummeted. I dreaded his touch, for fear he would
think comparisons…"My late wife was much softer"…"My late wife was a
much better lover"…"My late wife…." etc., ad nauseum.
I just couldn't take it any more, and seriously considered divorce as the
only alternative, since there was no way I was going to spend the rest of my
life with a man who split his love between me and a ghost. But leaving him
would mean she had WON, and I wasn't about to let her take him from me
completely! There had to be a better way! I wanted validation of my fears
Finally, I arranged for a session with a psychologist who was also a grief
counselor. After sobbing my
story to him, he asked me if I would do a
simple exercise…write a letter to the late wife as if she could read it herself.
I came very close to quitting therapy before I finally gave this idea a chance.
"Dear Late Wife…"
But a week later, with pen and paper in hand, I drove to the cemetery and
sat by the late wife's marker while I poured out my heart. Amazingly,
though, once I started writing to her as if she were sitting right next to me, a
funny thing happened. My anger faded away, and was replaced by sorrowful
compassion. This is what I wrote:
"....I wish I could meet you. I would have liked to have known
the kind of woman my husband chose the first time around. I'd like to think
that because of our mutual love for him, we might have been good friends.
And oh, I would have had so many questions to ask you! What strengths
do we have in common? What fears do we share? What was it about our
husband that first attracted you? What was it about him that you loved so
much? How did he propose to you? How was your sex life? Too personal?
OK, sorry....but it DOES cross my mind from time to time!
Do you know how guilty I feel sometimes, just knowing that I
am here only because you are not - that I am living the life that you could
have, had you not died? Your death also left so many fears for me...will I
ever be #1 in my husband's heart? Will I always live in your shadow? Will
your memory and the ghost of you always be in the back of his heart,
overshadowing anything good he may feel for me? Will he always hold you
up so high on that damned pedestal that I can't get near it? Do you know
how much I envy you? You were the "first", and nothing will ever change
that. I will always be just the "second".
I know it all sounds selfish. You didn't ASK to die, and you
didn't want to, either. I know our husband wishes he could have spared you
the excruciating pain you endured with cancer. I'm so sorry that you were
too young to die. You had so much more life ahead of you, so much more
love to share. He loved you so. But since you did die, he had to move on. I
hope you don't hold that against him. I'm sure that if you loved him as you
did, you would want him to be happy.
And he is happy, really. We have a baby now. Did you get to
hold her in Heaven before she was born? Did you feel a part of our husband
when you kissed her sweet face? I want that to be a nice memory for you. I'm
sorry you didn't have children. Our husband is such a great daddy, and
for him, the sun rises and sets on his daughter. I know you would want that
Thank you for helping to make him who he is today, the man I
love and adore. I know you had something to do with that in the short time
you had together."
Cleansing My Soul
When I had finished, I felt relieved. The burden of all the rage I had felt
was instantaneously lifted from my shoulders. I cried for hours. It was as if I
had been grieving her loss myself. I felt almost a sisterhood with her, and
started to feel guilty about having hated her. I didn't hate her. I hated me.
But now, I loved us both.
When my next session with the psychologist came, I gave the letter to
him to read. This wise, wonderful advisor looked at me with sympathetic
eyes, and asked, "So, how does it feel to have forgiven…yourself?"
Myself? Hmm…I hadn't thought of it that way. But he was right.
Instead of forgiving the late wife for all the things I had accused her of and
all the things I had conjured up in my insecure mind, I came to accept that
since she was the innocent party, it was me who needed forgiveness, and
only me who could grant it.
Consciously, I knew that the insecurities I had plagued myself with were
based on hypothetical and illogical reasoning. But subconsciously, I couldn't
help it. I wanted someone to blame for making me feel so insecure. I blamed
her, when I really should have taken more responsibility for my negative
feelings in the first place.
I suppose I will always wonder about the life my husband shared with his
late wife, and I'm sure I will always be curious about the person she was.
It's no longer an obsession that lives to spite her, but more of a quiet
reflection of a woman who shares my husband's heart. It has taken time, but
since I have become the master of my own feelings about the past and made
my peace with it (AND with the late wife), my life with and marriage to a
widower has become much easier.
Embracing the late wife is relatively easy if you can humbly give credit
where credit is due, since the late wife was a perfectly valuable person,
worthy of love and compassion. Forgiving yourself is the first step in healing
the guilt you may bear for having blamed her for feeling rage or hatred. The
next step is to remember that, even if you never hear a disparaging word
about her, the late wife was not a saint. The seemingly flawless windmills
you tilt at are only those in your mind. Embracing her only means accepting
her for who and what she was, faults and all, including what she gave to your
husband. But most of all, embracing the late wife means accepting that you
two will be forever linked not by jealousy or a sense of competition but by
the love you both share(d) with your husband.
From her blockbuster new book, "PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman's Journey As The Wife Of A Widower" (Amazon.com/WeyantPress.com), Julie Donner Andersen tells it like it is from one who has "been there, done that, bought the T-shirt!"