After my very short first marriage (a youthful indiscretion), I’ve been single most of my life. So naturally, I’m thrilled that at the age of 57 I’m marrying a widower who is simply fabulous. Fred’s beloved spouse died this past summer, only months after being diagnosed with cancer, and he cared for her with great tenderness to the very end. Though I knew them both a bit before she died, he and I only got together because he asked me for help planning a memorial for her. Working together on the service is how we grew close and then fell in love.
Even though he still grieves for his wife, we also both know we’re right for each other.
We announced our plans for a small wedding a few months later. Yes, it’s fast. But even though he still grieves for his wife, we also both know we’re right for each other, and we want to make it official—especially because we’re both religious and don’t want to live together without being married first. Plus, it’s the only time we can be sure my elderly parents can make it.
I’ve met some of Fred’s late wife’s family, and they’re all kind to me and supportive of our plans. But Fred’s children, who are in their twenties, are horrified that we’re marrying so soon. They haven’t met me and don’t want to, and they’ve refused to come to the wedding, saying it’s disrespectful to so quickly be remarrying after a spouse’s death.
Fred is sad about this; his family is close, and he and his wife were very involved with the kids and grandkids. But we’re going ahead with our marriage, despite their protests, because he believes that he’s entitled to happiness after so much grief and that it’s not their business when he chooses to marry again. I agree, of course. Still, I’m wondering if there’s a way to make this situation better for everyone involved. Thoughts?
New Wife To Be
First, congrats on your new relationship. Fred does deserve happiness, of course—as do you. It’s sweet and fortuitous that you’ve found each other.
You probably don’t need the Answer Queen to state the obvious here, but just in case: Someone quickly marrying after a spouse’s death—even despite a passionate new love for someone else—is unusual. So I’m not surprised that Fred’s decision is raising red flags with his children. Beyond the fact that it’s common for kids to feel conflicted about a parent ever remarrying after the other parent has died (someone “replacing” Mom or Dad, someone arriving to “steal” their inheritance or even change their old home), in your case, it’s happening when the kids are still in shock and grief about their mother. Hence, it’s understandable they’re not yet ready to meet you, and it makes sense they’re not down to dress up and toast your new marriage when there’s still barley grass grown over their mother’s grave.
At some point, ideally in adulthood, the role of parents protecting their children reverses, and kids will (or should) step in and speak up if they think their parents need help.
But also, to be fair, Fred’s kids might be worried about their father. At some point, ideally in adulthood, the role of parents protecting their children reverses, and kids will (or should) step in and speak up if they think their parents need help. Grief like Fred’s can make someone act impulsively. So can new love, or—sorry—lust, after a long marriage that ends in sickness and death.
Maybe they think that, even if he’s sure you’re The One (and vice-versa), he should wait a year or two before tying a knot that might later need to be untied with a lot of lawyer fees and heartache. Or maybe they’re worried he’s being manipulated by you to jump into something when he’s not at his most rational. I’m not saying he is, of course. All I’m saying, NW2B, is that, though Fred’s kids’ impulses might seem “selfish” or heartless, they actually might be anything but.
And your understanding this about their behavior—and helping Fred see it, too—might be the first step toward “making this situation better for everyone.” The kids need to know that you realize this decision seems rash to them, but that you’re not trying to dishonor their mother; that you fully get why they don’t want to be introduced to you yet, but that when they are ready, you’re there with open arms.
They also need to know that you won’t try to get between them and their father, and—if it’s true—that you won’t swoop into Fred’s house and get rid of all traces of their mother, since that house will likely be one of the places they go to remember her. If they won’t let you meet them and tell them this in person, write it in a letter and mail it to them. Even knowing you cared enough to put it down on paper could unlock resentment for them.
At the same time, Fred needs to make sure they know that the decision to marry you so fast is entirely mutual—and that he’s ready to live with the consequences. He needs to tell them, firmly and clearly, that he was a good husband to the end with your mother and will love her forever, but it’s his decision and prerogative to remarry when he wants; that, to quote my favorite line from the movie Unfaithful, “There are no mistakes; there is only what you do and what you do not do.” So he hopes they can come to respect what he’s doing, for better and worse, and that—for his sake, if not theirs or yours—they’ll try to get to a place where they can welcome you into their family, or at least be cordial. The sooner, the better.
A version of this story was originally published in February 2018.