When I married Rod, I made a commitment to myself and to him that I would only marry once – he was the love of my life, my husband and my one-and-only. I could never have imagined that anything in the future could break that commitment, the promise I had made to both of us. Of course, nor could I have ever imagined that he would die at such a young age, leaving me as a young widow and a 2-year-old child without a physically present father.
Fast forward to this past weekend when I was in Pittsburgh, PA running a half marathon shoulder-to-shoulder with my daughter, now in her late 20’s, on the day of my wedding anniversary to my current husband. Each stride my daughter took reminded me of running with my deceased husband. They had the same running style, the same determination and the same threshold to manage pain; yet when I crossed the finish line with her, there was a huge banner displaying the date 5-5-19, broadcasting my current wedding anniversary. All these years later, the see-saw of the old and new, the vision of BR (Before Rod passed) and the knowledge that life throws you a curveball was staring me in the face. While my emotions regarding my loss are now manageable, the reality of my trajectory when I lost Rod will always baffle me. Sometimes I wonder how after thirty-five years of running I continue to get to the starting line of a marathon and run my way to the finish line. We all seem to overcome the challenge but not without a bit of pain and suffering.
When I met my current husband, I told him I was never marrying again. Fortunate for him, he had never been widowed and he was young. How could he ever understand the meaning of such a direct and definitive comment? At first he thought I was bluffing, interpreting my comment as if I was digging my heels safely in the ground because I just wasn’t ready to be married. He took the approach that if he was to be patient, taking the time to understand what I would need to bring the walls around me down, he might be able to change my mind. Clearly, he accomplished his goal but not without the patience to understand why I was so resistant. He asked many probing, yet non-threatening questions to understand why I was unwilling. The reasons really had nothing to do with him, but actually with me. How could I call him my husband as my husband passed away? Would I take on his last name? I wanted to honor my deceased husband by keeping his last name yet how would I honor my new husband? How would my daughter resolve that she has two fathers? What would happen with Rod’s family, would they always be with us?
So much was constantly circulating in my head proving to myself that digging my heels in the ground was an accurate and viable reaction. And those questions don’t even address the fact that I could be widowed again. How does one survive one journey of widowhood only to survive yet a second one? No way I was signing up for that pain – I am not that stupid.
Clearly, I found my way, committed to taking the risk of loving a second husband and rebuilding a family with two fathers. While running next to my daughter, I felt so fortunate that we had the opportunity to experience life transitions together and remain shoulder to shoulder as we did back when she was two years old. I have learned the journey is not about the life transition but rather about what you do with the transition. I am often asked what the secret formula is, how I overcame my commitment to Rod and how I have been able to be true to myself, yet honor both husbands. Like everything else in life, if you create a reasonable goal with the aspiration to accomplish it, the outcome is achievable, no different than crossing the finish line of a marathon.
I was able to commit to a remarriage when I felt comfortable answering all of my own questions: my daughter could have two fathers; Rod would not want me to be alone the rest of my life; I could change my name to honor both husbands; Rod’s family could always be a part of my future life; and most importantly, I knew if something happened to my new husband I would survive. While both husbands were instrumental in getting me to these next steps, my real success was the ability to articulate my hopes and fears of a new marriage. Could I really juggle my emotions of both marriages and survive? The answer was and is yes.
In making the decision if re-marriage or re-partnering is right for you, start by determining what your hopes and fears are when engaging in such a significant and meaningful commitment. To conquer your fears, first define the landscape of your situation. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Create a non-compromise list: These are the items that mean too much to you that compromising them would create anxiety – also referred to as the show-stoppers. Staying true to yourself and your beliefs is critical. Compromise is important; however, sometimes it is not achievable. For me, the things I couldn’t compromise were honoring Rod’s last name, remaining close to his family, and permitting my daughter to acknowledging she had two fathers.
Establish your living arrangements: Some people are comfortable moving into the home of a deceased spouse, while others perceive they are “replacing” the person who has passed. In my experience with others who have remarried, some find moving into a new arrangement provides excitement and freshness while avoiding associated discomfort. If moving to a new home together is not feasible, create a new and exciting environment by redecorating a room, rearranging furniture and combining belongings from both homes.
Manage the in-law family: It is important to determine the expectations of your future relationships with your in-laws. Death is quite different than divorce; therefore, maintaining a relationship with your in-laws is natural, acceptable and real. Although the relationship will inevitably change over the years, it is important to establish with your partner what the expectations are to avoid surprises and misconceptions.
Define your relationship with children: When either partner has children from their previous marriage, defining a parenting plan will help with transition, expectations and forming a true partnership. Each situation will differ based on the age of the child, the circumstances of the death, and whether there are step-siblings involved. Setting expectations allows both partners to participate in the newly merged household without stepping on each other’s toes or walking on eggshells.
Understanding the need to save possessions: Possessions tell a story of one’s life capturing memories, experiences and connections to people around us. There will always be a desire to preserve items from relatives to maintain the special bond you had with them. This concept is often difficult to understand for individuals who aren’t widowed as they often believe that if you keep items from your loved one, you are not over your loss. What is there to get over? We showcase pictures of our deceased parents and grandparents, so why not of our spouses or in my case the father of my daughter? By being thoughtful regarding where you place these items, you can display them with honor, love and remembrance.
Identify the right timing: There is no timeline for when one should or will remarry. Each situation is different based on personal circumstances of children, employment, cause of death, age, financial situation, emotional capacity and whole host of other reasonable factors. Staying true to yourself is the most important element. If something does not feel right, then it is not right. Maybe it’s due to timing, maybe the person is just not right for you or maybe you need more time for self-discovery to conquer your fears. Regardless of the reason, take the appropriate time necessary to settle your discomfort.
Embracing life’s transitions are inevitable. We are forced to make decisions based on what we have endured and learned from our experiences. While I will always ask myself what if Rod was still alive, or what if I could not run shoulder to shoulder with my daughter or what if I never let my second husband into my heart, I know I would find my next trajectory whatever it would be. Each time I run a marathon, I am always reminded that pain is relative compared to other life complexities. Remember, I was the one who said I will NEVER get married again, but I did.
Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides encouragement to individuals or workgroups who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time and Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared and Living with Loss, One Day at a Time. Both are available on www.rachelkodanaz.com or www.amazon.com.