…Arms Wide Open!

I’ve wanted to write for a long time about the relationship changes that come into a widow/widower’s life when their spouse passes away.  I’m on numerous facebook pages for loss of spouse.  I’ve gotten to know many widows in the 18 months I have been one.  And, the one relationship that truly saddens me, is oftentimes the loss of family in one way or another.  It usually takes various forms, but it seems to be the norm when I talk to people or read posts on social media.  I most often see the relationship with the in laws struggle, but it can happen on the widow/er’s side of their family as well.

I’m not 100% sure where the breakdown happens.  The widow/er goes through many changes.  Often times, we feel so uncomfortable being around our family that maybe it is us to some extent that puts the distance there.  Grief in general can make people withdraw socially.  But, another factor is the discomfort that comes from being so used to going over to their house as a family and now we don’t feel like a whole family anymore.  It is also very hard to be around the sibling couples and not be a couple anymore.  Or, we may “see” or “hear” our spouse in their brothers or sisters or parents and this causes much pain.  Even going back to the house can drudge up so many emotions and memories that the griever just wants to avoid. What’s a family to do with us?  Do they give us space?  Do they come stay with us or visit?  How often should they call?  Maybe they shouldn’t call at all to avoid saying the wrong things?  Distance can easily start to happen as the family and the living spouse have no idea how to bridge the ever widening gap that can begin to form.

But, the real breakdown seems to come when the widow/er begins to date.  I can’t even imagine how hard it would have to be on their end, to see the living spouse move forward in loving again.  I tried to look at it from every angle and put myself in their place. But, time and time again, I see families distance themselves from the widow/er.  They seem to interpret the move to love again as lack of love for the spouse who has passed.  Or they determine the time single was not long enough and take it personally.  I’ve seen instances where they won’t accept the new person because they don’t think they are enough like the person they have lost, deeming them “not good enough”.  Sadly, the widow/er is left grieving the loss of not just their spouse but the family they have shared life with that are now choosing to distance themselves.  And, if children are involved, they lose out too:-(

So, I’ve wanted to brag on my family for quite some time!  I’m not sure how I have gotten so blessed to have the family I have, but they have truly been the epitome of love and acceptance and care and have gone out of their way to make sure I know that nothing has changed in regard to my place…especially as a daughter in law!

I want to start with my children.  All four of my children released me to love again.  In fact, they released me before I was even ready to consider loving anyone but their daddy.  They told me that they KNEW their daddy and I loved each other!  They also knew their daddy had expressed years earlier that he would want me to love again…a truly selfless expression and one I never wanted to live out.

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Next, was my mother in law.  Not long after losing Clint, she recommended I read a book titled, “Option B”.  This book is about a widow moving forward with her life and that includes finding love.  I wondered if this was her way of giving me her approval to move forward living in whatever time frame I needed.  8 months after losing Clint, she verbally “released me”.  She told me that she had let all the siblings know that she expected me to find love again…provided it was what God wanted.  But, she seemed quite confident I would ;-). I asked her what an appropriate time was to begin dating and she said, “There is no ‘appropriate time’.  Maybe you are already talking to someone, or maybe you are just thinking it is something you would like to pursue, or maybe you wait years, but whatever you choose is just fine.”  Then she said something that shows real love!  She said, “I know my son loved you so much and felt loved by you.  I will never doubt your love for him.  I saw the way you loved him throughout your marriage and I saw you the day he died.  From the moment you entered our family at 17 years old, you were mine.  You will always be my daughter and I know it makes Clint pleased as well.”  She has been a constant support to me all these 18 months!  She and I regularly meet for breakfast.  We’ve cried with each other and shared our hearts.  She has reminded me during the process of dating and remarriage, that she does not judge me, so “no one else has the right to judge me” :-).  This is what I wish every widow/er’s relationship was with their family!

To say I was terrified when I let the families know I was dating someone, would be an understatement!  But, I have to brag on them again!  Clint’s siblings, along with their wives, have been so unbelievably wonderful!  Clint’s brothers have scheduled time to go out for dinner to spend time with us, facebook friend requested my new husband, clicked like on his posts and sent him messages welcoming him to the family.  At our last family get together, I saw my in laws turn tables so that we felt included. They were so intentional about getting to know my new husband and make him feel welcome.  As I sat back, watching all of them step outside of themselves and love in this way, my heart just melted!  They don’t have to do any of this.  They could easily choose to reject this new relationship because of the pain of losing their brother.  But…LOVE!  They know what it means to love well! And, they have so endeared themselves to me!  More than they will probably ever know!

Sadly, I see families suffer loss and fall apart.  Everyone is hurting and they just withdrawal.  They don’t open their arms to continue loving but they cross their arms and won’t let anyone too close.  We miss out on SO much when we try to self protect!  In fact, that was another life lesson my husband taught me the March before he passed.  As we were having to put our sweet Sammie girl of 12 years down because of cancer, my heart just broke!  I cried the whole way home from the vet’s office.  “I never want another pet!  It hurts too bad when they die!”, I told Clint.  His response?  “Shelly, don’t self protect!  It’s always worth it to give and receive love!”  We have to OPEN OUR ARMS WIDE to let all the love in that we can!

So, thank you to all the family that has embraced me, my kids, and now my new husband!  You all have loved us so well and I am honored to be a part of this big, wonderful family!  I didn’t get the permission of all my sweet family members to post their picture, but I did get it from Clint’s mom, who I call Mom as well :-). Much love and thanks to you all! And, I know Clint is pleased that we didn’t let this tragedy pull us apart, but are closer as a result!  And, whether you realize it or not, you have been such a wonderful example to others on how to navigate this process!  I brag about you all to literally everyone I can!  You are changing the world by the actions you have shown us!  Love to you all!

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