Hi, Carolyn: My mom died suddenly six months ago after 50-plus years of marriage. My dad has largely moved on and is even more active than before, including beginning to casually date. It’s a surprise, but he is happy and I’m happy for him.
But we’ve both gotten some harsh remarks and judgment from his circle, like, “She’s barely in her grave,” and others of that ilk. The fact of the matter is, he DOES feel happier, and their relationship was a lot more strained than any of us knew. He wants to live fully, and I support that, but the remarks are growing, and he’s beginning to be shunned by people he values.
Should he forget them and make new friends at 82? What would you suggest?
Timeline on Grief
People who anoint themselves the grief police are idiots, and idiocy is a condition with tragically few remedies.
I started this answer three or four other ways, but that is what it’s really about, so there you go. No outsiders can fully understand what goes on in a marriage. Your father could have grieved his lost love 49.5 years ago, for all the busybodies know.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that your father’s circle was really your mom’s circle at heart, and/or that your mom shared her side of the marital strain with them and they sympathized with her, maybe even justifiably so, so there’s cause for them to be skeptical of your dad. Even in this case, though, their expressing it as, “You need to be visibly in mourning longer!” is just misguided from conception.
Either they like your dad or they don’t and seek out his company or not. Spending time with him while putting him through this widower beauty contest is an attempt to have it both ways — to preserve their relationship with him while claiming some arbitrary moral high ground above him — and they’ll accomplish neither one.
You’re actually in a better position than your dad is to defend his honor. You are, after all, your mother’s daughter, and if anyone has standing to question his decision to start dating, you do. Which you don’t, by the way, because no one does; good for you for your openness to boundaries and nuance.
So when you hear these judgmental remarks, take them on. “He’s 82. How long would you have him wait?” “She was my mother — I’m grieving, and even I’m happy for him.” “The way I see it, I can support love and life, or I can condemn them. An easy call, don’t you think?” “He’s had companionship for 50 years, so of course he wants it again.” There are so many truths here for you to lean on that you could probably use a different one every time you need to nudge someone back to their side of the line.
You can also remind your father that you love him and support him, and that people likely judge his response to mortality because they’re wrestling with their own.
I’m sorry for your loss.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.