There are moments that feel like betrayal: planning a wedding as a widow

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Bellaforte
BW&B
Thanks to Elena Arte for uploading this photo to our Flickr pool.

Two years ago, I became a widow after my husband committed suicide. My late husband and I had a Justice of the Peace ceremony while I was pregnant, and we were planning the wedding we intended to have, once our son was old enough to remember it and be involved.

Today, I'm planning a wedding with my high school sweetheart, who I reunited with a little over a year ago. When thoughts of my two weddings overlap, it becomes cause for grief, not joy.

I get asked a million painful, well-meaning questions:

"Is your fiancé going to adopt your son?" No, he is my late husband's son, and that won't change until or unless my son is old enough to choose that for himself.

"Are you going to wear white?" Yes, I am. No, I don't have to explain why to you.

"Don't you think it's too soon?" No, but now I'm wondering if you do…

There are the moments that feel like betrayal:

Is it still okay to have a wildflower bouquet with my fiancé, even though it's what my late husband and I had discussed doing?

How do I show that I'm not trying to replace my son's father, but still involve my son in my wedding to the man who's stepped in and been a dad to him for the last year?

It's hard not to compare them:

My late husband wanted to wear a kilt in his clan's tartan and wanted our son to do so, too. My fiancé hates dressing up with a passion and keeps asking if we can get married in blue jeans.

Some nights, I wake up at 3 a.m. wondering how this happened, how I got to be where I am, and if it's worth it. I love my fiancé. I've loved him since I was a teenager, and even when my husband was alive, I wondered about him. Now, as I plan my wedding with my fiancé, I can't help but remember my late husband, miss him, and still love him.

Traditional etiquette says that if a widow remarries, her wedding should be a quiet affair in respect to her husband's memory. Well, my husband made the choice to not be there to marry me in a real wedding, and regardless of how much I miss him, I'll be damned if I'll deny myself one with my fiancé because of an outdated sense of ownership.

With the help of sympathetic and creative loved ones, so far I've been able to find compromises that work for everyone… but it's still hard.

  1. Sending all the love to you. You have it spot on when you say your husband made the choice to not marry you the way you discussed, and to hell with tradition in this regard.

    I am very much looking forward to seeing your upcoming nuptials on OBB. 🙂

  2. Fellow widow here and planning a wedding for the end of September. I think most people assumed that we would have a more 'low-key' event but my fiancé has never been married before so we're doing more! The big dilemma (for me) is what my new name will be after the wedding. I want to honor both men so I've decided on having a long last name. As for the wedding, my son will be a big part of the wedding because that is what we *all* want – he walking down the aisle with me and he is the best man. Do what feels right in your heart for your new family. Congratulations on your Chapter 2. 🙂

  3. I got married two and half years ago. three and half years before that I was engaged to a great guy. Tomorrow marks 6 years since he died. I got a lot of grief from people who think I moved on too quickly. I still get grief about it (literally this week someone told me I had no right to mourn my first finance cause I now have a husband).
    I always tell people when someone dies things don't get easy, they get different, learning to live with the different is how you get stronger.

    Don't feel bad for still loving your first finance. I still love mine. In some ways, he will always be part of your current relationship, and that's ok.

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding.

  4. I can't imagine the struggle you're going through, but very brave of you to choose to celebrate your love in the way that makes sense to you and your family. Wishing you much joy on your wedding day <3

  5. Congratulations to your family!
    Thank you for sharing this. Personally I'd be polite and try can take people's concerns into consideration but only you and your fiancée know whats right for you. Don't have a quiet affair unless you want to. Have that wildflower bouquet (if it's still your style). I might even be as bold as to suggest having one of those memorial photos attached to the bouquet of your late husband and then after the ceremony taking them to a special place (possibly his grave if he has one) and giving them to him as a memorial.
    I think weddings are a great celebration of life, and death is a part of life.

  6. I cannot even begin to comprehend the complexity of such a maelstrom of feels. I feel bad enough wanting purple as one of the colors for my second wedding, because it was one in my first! Kudos to you for forging on! And to whomever has such insensitive questions and no filter, may I suggest politely suggesting they indelicately place their opinions in the appropriate nether orifice where such shit should be!!

  7. Even though I am not a widow, I related to the idea of planning a wedding when you've already had one. I am divorced and started dating my new partner only about a month after moving out from the home I shared with my ex. We aren't actually engaged yet, but have talked marriage many times and I believe it's in our future.

    Anyway, this article spoke to me because even though some criticism about the choices you make comes from the outside, a lot of it ends up coming from inside (or you let the outside stuff bother you more because you've had the same thoughts yourself). I question whether any future wedding could have ANY like details to my first wedding, and I feel a little odd about having another full wedding – sometimes I feel like, as a second time bride, I really should just elope. Not that eloping would be bad – after my first wedding I thought I much more would have preferred to elope – but it feels kind of odd to take lessons learned or preferences gleaned from your first wedding and apply them to your second. And then I worry that while I might wish to elope, my partner has never been married so he might want to do a big wedding. And on and on.

    Ultimately where I land is that you just have to own your choices AND your feelings. Acknowledge your emotional reactions and then just sort of forget about them and do what's right for the two of you as a couple. At least, that is what I will try to do when the time comes.

  8. Speaking from experience on the widow aspect, I got engaged to my fiance only 2 months after my "ex" husband passed away. Technically, we were still legally married when he crossed over although we had been apart and with new partners for 2 1/2 years. A lot of grieving took place in my heart which my fiance worked through with me for an entire 2 years. Ultimately, it was the unconditional love of my fiance which allowed me to heal, as well as giving myself time, patience and releasing so much guilt from our 10 year marriage. I wish you all the best with your new life and know that all will be healed with time and love.

  9. Sending you all the good vibes I can muster! This was beautifully written. I can't even imagine the mix of emotions you're dealing with right now. But what I know is that you and your fiance DO deserve your wedding and it will be wonderful 🙂

  10. Sending love and support to you. It is so hard to heal after a suicide. Do what makes sense to your and your fiance. The best way to respect and honor your first husband is to be happy in your new life.

    If this were me (and you're not me, so feel free to disregard), for my "something old" I would have something I associated with my first husband—maybe a piece of jewelry or a flower you knew he liked. The wildflower bouquet could be a quiet tribute to him.

  11. I'm the "new' wife, my husband was widowed before I met him. I've been part of a group for the current partners of people who have lost their spouses due to death. (Not anymore, we've worked past any of our issues now, thank goodness and have a healthy, happy marriage now thanks to this group.)

    This…may not be what you want to hear but it comes from a difference perspective. And note that I don't know you, for all I know, you've got this all down pat already. Take what works, discard what doesn't apply to you. All "yous" in the following paragraph are meant in the broad sense and not necessarily directed at the O.P.

    But for people who are widowed and dating or remarrying: PLEASE be brutally honest in considering if you are ready for dating or marriage. If you are considering doing a tribute to the late husband, even quietly, don't. Not one person who was in our counseling group would have felt that was appropriate on what should be THEIR wedding day. The loss wasn't to your fiance, it was your loss and part of your story and past. People should definitely grieve as long as they need to, and maybe that's for the rest of their lives, but if you are putting that onto a new partner, expect hurt ahead. It can be extremely upsetting to have your spouse or partner still actively in love with another person (dead or alive) and considering the needs of that past love in their current wedding or in their current life. I speak from experience and from the experiences of many others.

    Grieve first, fully, not calling him your "husband" but instead your "late husband" (wayyyyy too many partners are caught talking to people and standing next to their partner who is talking about a spouse, confusing and makes you look hella like a mistress), not visiting grave sites anymore (except for your son, which is a different thing), not wearing jewelry or objects of his (one woman I knew left her partner because she couldn't stand his wedding ring hitting her in the face during sex, he had put it on a necklace), no longer participating in walks or memorials for the late partner (your love crying over their love isn't really fun), not talking about things he did or liked (comparisons hurt, a lot), be looking forward and not considering the needs or feelings of the dead while you plan your wedding to someone else. You'll never forget your late husband, you'll never not care about him, and of course you have your son with you from him. He'll be a part of your conversations with your son forever, naturally.

    But in your marriage? No. The late husband needs to be put to a comfy resting spot in your heart or most likely, behavior regarding him will cause a lot of hurt to the current (alive) partner. A running theme in our group was that what didn't bother us in the beginning or in the first 2 years, certainly rubbed us raw in later months or years. It's too hard to consistently play second fiddle or be a grief therapist when your client is the one want so badly to love you in full.

    • I don't normally comment, but as the partner of someone widowed young, I think it's important to offer a different perspective. I don't see many posts from people in this position, although I do look for them.

      I love my partners late wife. Really. I love her because she seems like a person I would have liked to know, because my partner loved her deeply and well, and because her life and death is so deeply a part of who my partner is and why I love my partner.

      I know everyone's experience is different. My partner had been widowed nearly 6 years before we met; I had experienced the sudden death of a close friend so death was not as totally alien to me as it is to many people our age; we are both kind of odd people and very emotionally open; we are queer.

      Yes, there are fewer pictures in our shared home than there were in the apartment that my partner shared with her late wife. But there are still many pictures of her, even one in our bedroom (I wasn't sure if it would end up there, as it had been in her old apartment, but the truth is, I'd grown used to it, and I love that picture, and it felt right for us). I can't imagine expecting her not to talk about L, or mark important moments, or visit her grave (if she wanted to… she doesn't for her own reasons). We talk about L, just as we talk about my partner's late father, as an important person in her life who I will sadly never meet. We also talk about my exes, our experiences of high school, our political beliefs, and a lot of other things. The important thing is that we talk, and we listen.

      Instead of feeling jealous or creeped out by pictures or memories of L, I feel reminded of my partner's tremendous capacity for love. I know that I am not my partner's late wife, and it is utterly absurd to ever think that I am competing with a dead woman. Instead, I am honoured to share my partner with her late wife precisely because I am interested in all of her, including the part of her that is L.

      I recognize that it may not be for everyone, and it's very hard to explain to most people, but I would encourage partners of widows and widowers to approach dead partners as you would approach your partner's dead parent, or their child(ren) or best friends — not as a threat, but as an important part of them worth getting to know. And trust that they have the capacity to love you fully and well without pretending that they never loved anyone else.

      • I liked both perspectives here. It depends on who you are. Don't worry if you are one way or the other, just don't pretend to be what you're not. Good advice on both sides

  12. My Mother went through something similar. Her first husband suffered a motorcycle accident and died after being in a coma for more than a year. She met her new husband a few months later and they were married after about a year (I was born a year later).

    My parent's wedding was the second for both of them; they married at a bed and breakfast in the mountains and many of their guests stayed the weekend.

    One of the things I admire most about my mother is that she doesn't give other people the authority to tell her how she should feel or behave. She was already dating while her husband was in the hospital. She tells me that although she loved him, she knew he was never coming back, and he would have wanted her to move on. Then she really freaked people out by marrying a man who looks strikingly like her late husband (tall and thin, freckled and red-headed). My dad was a good sport about politely replying when people told him how much he resembled Mark, but that was as far as it went. My mom doesn't put up with judgmental people who criticize her choices, she doesn't have a single story about anyone saying anything rude once they got over the initial visual shock.

    My mom wore her mother-in -law's dress for her first wedding. We've all seen how tacky 80s wedding dresses were, so she went with something a little more classic. When she got married for the second time, still in the 80s she didn't even look at dresses. She already had the perfect one, so she wore it again. My mom is just such a badass, I love her independence.

    As far as honoring the memory of her late husband, he comes up now and again, but mostly when I ask her about that part of her life. When I was seven a park station was dedicated to her late husband, and my mother spoke at the presentation. We've been back to visit once since then (my mom gave the park ranger corrections to the bio about Mark that was posted on the wall) but she is not involved, despite there being an annual volunteer event in his honor.

    I think everyone finds their own balance; their own way to remember a departed spouse while moving forward with a new life. What I learned from my mother is to never let someone else dictate how that is accomplished. It's your life, trust your instincts.

  13. Wait, I'm confused. Going to the gravesite of your previous partner is something you should give up if you remarry? Why? That person was still an important part of your life and someone you loved and will always miss. I lost my husband quite suddenly some years ago now, and if I marry again and my new spouse wanted me to stop doing things that are significant to me in remembering my late husband, like going to a gravesite or doing something special on his birthday (which I prefer to remembering the day he died as one day a year to let myself have time to miss and think about him) then we'd have some issues.

    I mean, I'm not saying go once a week or anything, but if my late husband had been buried (he was cremated, so I don't have a grave to go to anyway) and I wanted to take some time to put flowers on his grave on our anniversary or something, I don't see why that should be a problem. I can remember him and our lives together and also appreciate the here and now.

    • Agree! Many of the points raised by the commenter – are way off base, in my view. Yes, a widow/er needs to be ready for a relationship but that can be said of anyone. But the right person will accept your past and even embrace it. My husband ashes are in our front hall and we have pictures of him in the living room and in my son's room. We all (including my new husband) honor my husband's birthday and the day he passed. My husband is not threatened by my late husband and actually encourages conversations about him. He views it as not only a good thing, but critical to the healthy development of my son AND the grieving process. Now, I will say that my husband lost his own mother when he was just 6 months old so he might have a different viewpoint than most. But the open communication has been nothing but beneficial to all of us. There is no reason to feel hurt that your spouse still grieves – I'd actually suggest that the 'new' spouse take the time to learn more about the first spouse, the grief, and how your love has handled the grieving process. The intimacy and closeness that my husband and I have gained from sharing this part of my life has been life-altering, in the best way possible.

    • What *you* should do is talk with your partner if your plan is to continue grave visits and celebrating/honoring anniversaries and birthdays to a late spouse. Especially if you plan to continue to call him "my husband" and keep his ashes and pictures displayed in his own home. And then be really open to hearing what they say.

      In nearly a decade of listening and speaking with many dozens of women who were partnered to widowers, exactly 100% found this kind of activity to be deeply hurtful. That hurt is REAL and it's not a feeling of being threatened by a late spouse, it's being left to the side in your own relationship. It causes them to feel like a second place partner (versus simply being the second), or a placeholder partner until the original pair can be reunited in some afterlife, or that the late spouse is still predominant in their hearts instead of the current and living partner. Cat thinks I'm off base, and that's okay because what works for one doesn't work for all, but I have known A LOT with the same view after trying desperately hard to feel like Cat thinks they should (often called the "Three Hearts" theory).

      Everyone is different and you can do what you want, but know that you've also got an extremely high likelihood that this is going to cause heartbreaking pain to your new partner at some point. It's your call if that's worth it to you.

      • Hi Kate – You are obviously passionate and took offense to my comments about this so let me clarify a bit. I agree that every relationship needs to find what works for them. However, there are other options than having to stop going to grave sites or removing pictures from the home. Especially if children are involved.

        My husband does NOT feel hurt by photos of my late husband in the house (yes, I asked – many times over our relationship) so I do think you are off-base in implying that 100% of spouses will be hurt by these types of actions. Same goes for saying that the path my husband and I have chosen has "an extremely high likelihood" to cause heartbreaking pain. I've worked with young widow/ers for almost 6 years, many of whom have move forward with dating and being remarried at some point. Those that feel comfortable sharing their past with their new spouse have all felt that it strengthens their bond, rather than weakening it. I'll reiterate my point – I really recommend that *both* spouses be open to all conversations about the late spouse– you have nothing to gain but a deeper understanding of each other.

        If there is hurt or pain about hearing about the late spouse, then having a conversation about the issues will hopefully alleviate any feelings of inadequacy or being in 2nd place. Having those conversations is hard, but worth it every time. My husband knows he is not 2nd place or a 'place filler' – he knows this because we've talked about it. He has said, both privately and publicly, that he honestly feels that he owes my late husband a debt of gratitude for the 'gifts' (me & my son) he provided him. My past has shaped me into the person my husband fell in love with and he is very aware of that. I think it is important for people to know that it doesn't have to be a negative aspect of a relationship and can, and has in my personal case, actually deepen the bond. Communications, openness, and understanding.

        • Oh no, I took no offense at all. What works for you and your spouse works, that's awesome. What I said was that it's OKAY that we feel differently because what works for one might not work for another. Mostly, I was speaking to Quiet1 and not to you Cat about the high likelihood of causing hurt. I apologize if my writing was confusing…it's not directed to you at all but I did discuss your situation as you commented with it. Because YES, the hurt is a real thing. The feelings I mention definitely happen to many. (Many does not mean all.) It's not just *my* opinion, it's been a very consistently demonstrated thing over nearly a decade of listening to many, many women. I don't think anyone needs to set their past aside, nor avoid it in any way or pretend it's not part of who their beloved is today, and every single woman I know very much learned about their partners' pasts. But when someone makes their past into their significant present that hurt can be very real. Please understand that just because your husband hasn't been hurt by such actions doesn't mean that countless others aren't very hurt.

          What I suggested is to simply TALK to their partner and then be prepared to listen and work out how everyone feels. I don't think that's off base, nor do I think it's off base to want to both parties to feel primary in their own relationships. Every couple (triad, quad, etc.) is different, communication is key.

          • You basically explicitly said that people should put aside all things related to the deceased spouse in your first comment, though – no talking about the spouse, no visiting the grave, etc. You didn't say "hey, you should make sure you talk to your new partner about that they are comfortable with, and be aware that what people are comfortable with can change over time."

            As it happens I now am dating someone and things are quite serious, and guess what? We do talk about my late husband, and we've been together longer than the 2 year mark you mention, so I brought up this post with him, and he still does not feel threatened by the fact that I had and lost a previous love.

            I don't disagree that some people do remarry before they should, and I'm sure that causes problems. But experiences with people who are not ready to be in a new relationship should not be blanket applied to everyone who is in a new relationship after the loss of a spouse. (And I know you've had a lot of experience, but also – people who are having trouble in a relationship with a widow/widower are a lot more likely to seek out a support group than the people who are happily getting on with life and not struggling with the widow/widower aspect of things. So your sample size is probably pretty skewed in favor of people who were not ready to remarry or are otherwise handling things badly.)

        • I'm also notice the difference in perspective. You've worked with young widow/ers for 6 years. That's not the same as conversations with their partners without the widow/er around. I've been listening to their new partners for over 10 years, who talk candidly about their relationship when the partner isn't around.

  14. I do have a question on the topic of remarrying after being widowed – has anyone found any readings they like? So many of them seem to refer to 'one true love' or a similar concept and obviously that isn't the case if you feel like you can remarry…

    (I'm not planning a wedding myself at the moment, but I'm at a point now where I'm starting to think about dating again and I'm finding that reading some wedding-related things is actually helping me think through what I can see in my future and what I want, and so on. I was hoping to find readings that would also give me things to think about, but so far I'm not turning up much.)

  15. I am a young widow. Actually, my late husband, my fiance, and I were in somewhat of a polyamorous situation, albeit my fiance was long distance.

    My husband had very aggressive lupus and we always knew his life would be short. We eloped and so never had the whole wedding thing. When my husband knew that his lupus was back, he actually asked me to become more emotionally involved with my childhood best friend, who is now my fiance, whom I had reconnected with three years prior (now 6 years ago.)

    It is a long story but the basics are that my fiance and I grew up in a cult that believed dating was sinful. I had wanted to marry him since I was 12. Literally. But when I was 17 his family moved away, forbidding him to contact me, later telling him that I had died in a car accident. When at 20 I asked them about how he was doing, they told me the same thing about him.

    It was 2010, and I was already married, before I found out that they had lied.

    My husband's lupus came back in 2013, and he died this April, after asking my fiance to marry me.

    Because of the strangeness of the situation, only my family, his sister, and a select few friends know so far. But I am glad to see that I am not the only one who moved on quickly.

    My fiance has told me that I can always wear my late husband's rings, and I can have his ashes on our altar (we'reconnected Pagan), and I can have pictures of him around.

    He knows that he's not a replacement. After all, I loved him first, and thought that I had lost him forever.

  16. My husbands brother and sister in law were estranged from us for 10 yrs. we briefly reconciled just before his brother died. 18 mo later she is now remarrying and we are invited and happy for her. Should I as sister in law offer to help in anyway? Or should we just attend as a guest. Never have met fiancé. Some bitterness with their children.

  17. I am a widower, getting ready to marry in a week.

    My wife died of ALS; before she passed she told me to keep living…keep loving…not to stop being a part of this world…and yes, to remarry when ready.

    I met a woman on e Harmony. It turned out, she worked with my wife 25 years ago! And yes, we clicked. We dated and knew we were onto something. I proposed in Oct. 2017.

    I had a few awkward questions thrown at me and I used my sister's excellent retort: "What makes you ask that question?" It has helped define the person that is asking the question, and gently remind them it's my life, not theirs!

    Live, love and learn! Go get 'em!

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