Resources for dealing with your widowed parents starting to date?
January 28, 2013 8:24 AM   Subscribe

My recently-widowed father seems to have started dating. What are some resources to deal with the emotions I'm going through and the ones that will no doubt come up later?

Snowflake details followed by a TL;DR of actual questions:

My incredible, irreplaceable, beloved mother passed away unexpectedly at the age of 60 about three and a half months ago. It was a brain aneurysm, so no warning, no risk factors. She just died in my dad's arms while they were on vacation. They were married over 40 years.

My family has always been close, but now we've become even more tight knit. Two weeks after my mom died, I sat down with my dad and talked with him about dating. I mentioned that as a healthy, handsome, wealthy man, he was basically the prime target. He said he had no intentions of dating for a while as he joked, "most women who are single at my age are single for a reason."

I had discussed the possibility of him dating with a few friends and relatives, and I mentioned during nearly every one of those conversations that there was one person that I think I would be comfortable with him dating, a family friend. This woman has been friends with my parents for 35 years and they raised their kids together. She divorced a while back for good reasons (none that reflect badly on her).

She lives on my coast. I got an inkling of there being something going on when my dad spent one night staying with me then I drove him to her near-ish city where he spent 3 more days. He's visiting again in a month and, surprise, he's spending one night with me and several with her.

I'm feeling so many emotions. I feel a bit jealous of the time he's giving her (I'm the farthest away of the kids) but two visits in two months is kinda awesome, so the jealousy is tempered by the fact that he might not have come out here were it not for her. She's been around for a long time and was one of my mom's best friends. My dad seems happy. Though a relative I discussed it with said, "too soon!" I'm not so sure. I guess I'm neutral overall.


1. What are some books/websites/movies/documentaries etc that would help me during this time? (I don't do very well with self-help style stuff, but still, recs are welcome)

2. What would be appropriate for me to ask of my father, in regards to speed with which they become public, what he does/says to me about it, what the hell I could say or do should it become, in my mind, too serious too quickly?

3. How do I keep the positive relationship I have had with this woman without letting jealousy or some other weird emotion get in the way?

4. How do I best support my father? I love him and would do anything for him. I almost moved back to the state he lives in just because I wanted to be close. He's so strong, but I'm worried about him.

Anecdotes are so very welcome. I already realized I'm far more "okay" with this than the other relative I spoke with, probably because I know the woman better. Any help is appreciated.
posted by nursegracer to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm wondering whether speaking to him about dating only two weeks after your mother dying may have been WAAAAAAAAY too soon for everyone. Even talking to him about it now is soon - it's, like, no time at all. And I wouldn't take this current situation all that seriously just yet - think about it, if one of your friends had a breakup of a major, major relationship, and then started seeing someone only a couple months later, wouldn't you be kind of thinking "this is just a rebound"?

Exactly. This may be just a rebound on some levels. And I would support your father by politely letting him do what he needs to do in order to grieve - yeah, I know that on some level it's kinda icky to think that for him, the grieving process may involve fooling around with this woman, but...unless it seems he is getting incontrovertibly self-destructive about it (i.e., he rewrites the will to give her all the money and asks you for a loan so he can buy her a car or something completely off the wall like that), let him be. You right now have no way of knowing whether this is going to be A Thing or whether it'll be the sort of thing where he was leaning on her because she knew his wife and she was familiar and when he's doing better he'll move on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend of my family lost his beloved wife after I think about 50 years of marriage, and very soon after started dating another woman. His children supported him, he married the other woman ultimately, and they had several happy years together.

I figured his eagerness to date was not because he didn't love or wanted to replace his first wife, but in part to relieve his grief and also because he had not been alone since he was very very young and had no idea how to deal with it.

In "Must Love Dogs" the main character's father has lost his wife and dates a lot and his daughter struggles with this.
posted by bunderful at 8:40 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

My incredible, irreplaceable, beloved mother passed away unexpectedly at the age of 60 about three and a half months ago.

I am so, so sorry. My mother died at the same age, also quite unexpectedly.

I can't think of the perfect book or movie right off the bat. But this is what people do at that age-- if they are lucky. They don't have time to fool around, and they know what they want. My sisters and I were kind of shocked when my father remarried but since then, some of his other friends have lost their spouses and remarried/recoupled, in more than one case, to people in the same group of friends, just like your father. I think it's really kind of cool. This is kind of rapid, but on the other hand, do you want your father to be alone for the next couple of decades? Probably not.

I think the feeling you have is normal, but you don't really have to do anything about it.
posted by BibiRose at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think you need resources. Your dad is an adult, and he is dealing with the need to grieve and loneliness at the same time. As EmpressCallipygos suggested, keep an eye from afar that he doesn't drift into any sort of destructive behaviour, otherwise hands off and be supportive. My father died in 2001, and my mom remarried in 2007 and my step-dad (who I barely knew) just died on Jan 2. So I've been through this once, and I'm going through it again. People deal with death in intensely personal ways. There really is no right or wrong.
posted by COD at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2013

Also: I mentioned that as a healthy, handsome, wealthy man, he was basically the prime target.

If your dad is really rich rich, yes, he could and probably will have gold-diggers after him. But he's 60 and completely compos mentis, right? He's not this infirm, vulnerable target.
posted by BibiRose at 8:48 AM on January 28, 2013

The documentary 51 Birch Street is about a very similar situation.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm now paranoid that I sounded a little abrupt in my response, so can I get a chance to re-state some things?

First of all, I'm so sorry for your loss.

I do still believe that letting your father be and just continuing to "be there" for him, and let him guide the conversations - or lack of them - about your mother, would be best. But that's not to say that this also isn't a mindfuck for you too, understandably; but your feelings about your father dating right now are a separate issue from your father dating as an issue itself. I get the sense that you understand that, and you're indeed wise to keep them separate, I think.

I don't know of any books or web sites to point to, but my instinct says that understanding for your own self what your boundaries are - how much or how little you want to hear about this other woman, just in case - would be a good thing to figure out; not that I think that he may start gushing about how awesome she is (it looks like quite the opposite, in fact), but that can help you reframe that "okay, I have every right to say something if Dad goes there, but if he doesn't go there then....that's okay." It'll also underscore for you the fact that you have a right to grieve too - he lost a wife, but you also lost a mother, and you're also going through a grieving process.

And also - any grieving process is different for every person, and may involve you doing some things that you wouldn't expect yourself to do. That is okay. Everyone kind of does that. Respect what you yourself need to work through in your grief; support yourself as well as your father.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My dad (then in his 60s) started dating within months of my mom passing away after a long bout of cancer.

1) can't help with media recs. but in my mind, I thought, "My dad spent a big chunk of his years giving me the resources to live my life as an independent adult, why ever shouldn't he get to live his life as an independent adult as well?"

2) Who's judging what is too soon too quickly? Only your dad and whomever he is dating can decide that. Seconding that this is what people that age and situation do if they are so inclined: they are keenly aware that time is of the essence.

3) For me, I took great joy is seeing how happy my dad and his girlfriend (and shortly thereafter, his wife) were with each other. She was by no means replacing my mom but there was definitely a void in my father's life that she was closing and he for her. That, for me, was boundless good.

4) Just listen if he wants to talk. For my dad, he was initially hesitant to tell me because his best friend, who was widowed at about the same time, met with huge dramatic resistance from his kids when he wanted to date again. I assured him that I was fine with it and this and subsequent conversations broadened and deepened our relationship.

She's been around for a long time and was one of my mom's best friends.
As an aside, this is not uncommon. Sometimes, even in the best of health, us older people make informal agreements with our best friends to take care of each others surviving spouses.
posted by jamaro at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think EmpressCallipygos has the direction I was heading in with this question in their second comment....

These are resources for *me*. Not for him. He's going to make his own decisions and I will love him and support him. And, for that matter, give him a piece of my mind if I don't agree with them. However, I am looking for help getting my mind to that place. The one family member I spoke with riled me up quite a bit but I couldn't comprehend why, because I didn't have an angry reaction to the concept, more just a rehashing of the relatively fresh grief.

I spoke to another family friend about it and she grounded me quite well. I know my dad is going to do what makes him happy, but I'm not concerned about gold diggers for two reasons: 1. I have made a point of making myself quite self-reliant and am not depending on inheritance and 2. I'm pretty sure my dad would always put his kids above his own happiness, but especially before someone else's.

I guess I have just been looking for people to tell me it's going to be okay (in general) ever since she died. She used to be that person for me. I remember her encouraging her father to start getting out after my grandmother was fully incapacitated by Alzheimer's. She was happy when he started seeing a friend's widow even while my grandmother was still "alive" (but not really a shred of herself). I guess my mom was already telling me how she'd feel well in advance.
posted by nursegracer at 9:27 AM on January 28, 2013

I'm in a similar situation, but my mom has been gone 2 years and my dad is 71. He is moving in with a woman next month after dating long distance for a few months and they are talking marriage. I was a mess when he told me and for a while afterwards. I'm not proud of my response (I cried as hard as when my mom died), but they were my feelings and I owned them.

I came to realize that what hurt so much was that I had just adjusted to my family being defined as just me and my dad and now it was changing again and I had no control over that. It was like losing my mom all over again. And I had no choice but to accept this stranger into my life. Also the disparity between his extreme happiness over the situation and my extreme sadness was jarring.

There is lots of "too soon" chatter coming from my extended family and even my dad's friends - not in terms of too soon after my mom's death, but too so to be moving in with someone after knowing her such a short time especially since they live in different states and have spent little time together.

I am trying to embrace the notion that it's his life and if it were a stranger and someone was telling me about a man who, after a difficult but long marriage, found someone he was crazy about and had a second chance at happiness, I would think it romantic. That it's my dad is what has made it a sad story for me. And that's my problem, not his.

I wish you well. I know how hard this can be even when at your core you want him to be happy.
posted by cecic at 9:32 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

This recent AskMe question, while a little further down the line in scope, might have some useful insights for you.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:08 PM on January 28, 2013

My grandfather started dating again before my grandmother even died. So to me, waiting two weeks after death sounds like he's being tactful by comparison :P

I think that us younguns don't realize that the old folks date differently than we do:
(a) they don't have a lot of time left to grieve and wait around until they're emotionally recovered.
(b) they've spent 40 or more years of their life with the same person and have nooooo idea how to function alone. Especially if they're men.
(c) If they are men, they need to find a replacement wife ASAP so they are taken care of again.
(d) Older men have tons and tons of women throwing themselves at him because older men are slim pickins.

I don't think I really know how to answer your questions, but those are the things you have to keep in mind with regards to your father. He's luckier than most in that he's got a good family friend to date. just get used to the idea, I guess?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:22 PM on January 28, 2013

Best answer: It is my observation that men who were very happy in their marriage are quick to start dating again as they know exactly how much they like being married and want to return to that state of happiness as soon as possible. At his age he knows himself and knows what he wants (we should all be so lucky). The senior dating game is much less of a game than it is the first time around.
posted by saradarlin at 11:49 PM on January 28, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your suggestions. I had a nice long chat with him on the phone about all this and we really connected on it. I support his decision and love him, as well as his new gf. Especially right now as we just got some pretty devastating news regarding his 6 month old puppy. I am just so happy he has someone to keep him company as he goes through yet another hardship. It makes me sad that such bad things could happen to such a good man.
posted by nursegracer at 8:28 PM on January 30, 2013

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