At a recent From Granny Panties to Thongs book event, a woman named Sarah approached Penny after having listened to her speak about the difficulties that people face when they begin dating again after loss. In particular, the roadblocks that some children can selfishly impose on their surviving parent. In an attempt to preserve their own memories, children will often inflict naive expectations on their surviving parent. Sarah tearfully shared her story; one of both enlightenment and of regret.
A few years back, Sarah’s parents were on their way to a joyous family occasion when her mother suffered a fatal heart attack on the car ride there. Her parents had been together for almost 50 years. Sarah’s father kept himself going, and in keeping with tradition, he continued to help at the soup kitchen where he and his wife had volunteered. It only took a few days before the single ladies were buzzing around him to see if he needed anything.
He was lonely and began dating a nice woman that was also volunteering at the kitchen. It gave his life a sense of normalcy again and he was grateful for the friendship. They took very good care of each other and when they decided to move in together, Sarah didn’t approve. Her dad tried to explain that they were too old to “do anything” but that he loved the companionship and hoped that Sarah would continue to be in his life. His words fell on deaf ears, and she remained steadfast in her disapproval. Her father moved in with his girlfriend, and Sarah kept her distance.
While listening to the speaker’s presentation, Sarah began crying tears of regret…that she had been one of those daughters who didn’t encourage her father to seek companionship. Sarah lived almost a thousand miles from her dad and never considered the simple reality that he was lonely. After her dad moved in with his girlfriend, it took Sarah over two years to begin coming around again and to finally accept his loving partner. Sadly, her dad died shortly thereafter. Sarah kept in touch with the girlfriend for several years, until she too passed away. Sarah had always encouraged her dad to leave his money to her younger sister who wasn’t financially secure. He honored her wishes, but also left a small sum of money to his girlfriend. A few weeks after her dad died, Sarah was preparing for a previously planned trip to Alaska. The girlfriend handed Sarah an envelope with the money that had been left to her. She insisted that Sarah use the money to cover her trip expenses and said to consider it one last gift from her dad. She realized that this woman had genuinely loved her father.
Sarah now wishes that she could turn the clock back. She now knows that her father’s need to seek love again was about being lonely, and not about replacing the love that he had for her mother. He made the healthy choice to accept the things he couldn’t change and to allow himself the opportunity to find companionship. Sarah deeply regrets having not rejoiced in his newfound happiness, and instead chose to lose precious time with him…with them.
It is a lesson for all of us to tuck away. We need to remember that while we return to our spouses, children, careers, and bustling lives, they return to the silence of being alone. Our parents want nothing more for us than to be happy, and they spend their lives looking out for our best interests. When one of our parents becomes widowed and seeks love and companionship again, we owe it to them to cast our own wants and needs aside. We owe it to them to refrain from self-serving criticism and judgment. We owe it to them to place their needs above our own.