No time­line for dat­ing af­ter death of spouse

A wid­owed per­son’s grief isn’t based on how long they wait to be­gin a new re­la­tion­ship

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - SH­ERYL UBELACKER

When it was dis­closed that co­me­dian Pat­ton Oswalt planned to re­marry 15 months af­ter the death of his wife, he was met with a flurry of con­dem­na­tion on so­cial me­dia. How, his crit­ics im­plied, could he move on to a new ro­man­tic part­ner­ship so quickly?

Oswalt, whose spouse Michelle McNa­mara died in her sleep in April 2016 due to a com­bi­na­tion of pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion and an un­di­ag­nosed heart con­di­tion, be­came an on­line tar­get af­ter fi­ancée Mered­ith Salenger an­nounced their en­gage­ment last week on Twit­ter, with the ac­tress call­ing her­self the “luck­i­est hap­pi­est girl in the uni­verse!”

“Wife dies in her sleep and he’s mar­ried a year later? Nope!” one so­cial me­dia user said. Another wrote, “Like good for them and all but, per­son­ally, I’d like to be mourned for more than a cou­ple months.”

Oswalt, 48, pushed back on­line against what he called these “bit­ter grub worms” af­ter re­ceiv­ing nu­mer­ous mes­sages of sup­port, in­clud­ing one from wid­owed blogger Erica Ro­man, who chas­tised the so­cial me­dia posters for their un­so­licited judg­ments based on “sen­si­bil­i­ties rooted in old Vic­to­rian tra­di­tions.”

Still, the de­bate does tap into so­ci­etal ex­pec­ta­tions about when it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to re­sume cou­ple­hood af­ter the death of a spouse.

So just how soon is too soon? And is it any­one’s busi­ness?

Aruna Ogale, ex­ec­u­tive-di­rec­tor of Be­reaved Fam­i­lies of On­tario (BFO)—Toronto, isn’t sure where the idea arose that there’s an ac­cept­able pe­riod of mourn­ing, but she does know that each per­son pro­cesses grief dif­fer­ently.

“It doesn’t mean that if you were able to move for­wards into finding some­one else to share your life with quicker that you loved or ap­pre­ci­ated what you had with your spouse any more or any less,” she said.

“So I think that’s one of the mis­con­cep­tions, that the longer you wait, it means that you loved your spouse more or you cared more deeply or you’re griev­ing more deeply. That’s just not true. Peo­ple just move at their own pace.

“And I think that’s what’s hap­pen­ing with Pat­ton Oswalt.”

Jock Maclach­lan of Toronto can re­late. He lost his wife Lynn to colon can­cer in early 2010 af­ter 25 years of mar­riage.

Af­ter go­ing to grief coun­selling, Maclach­lan later be­came friends with a woman whose hus­band had died about a year ear­lier. The two acted as sup­ports for each other as they each mourned their lost spouses.

But over time, their re­la­tion­ship be­gan to evolve into some­thing more — the pair be­gan dat­ing and now are in a com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship.

“Some friends thought I was rush­ing it,” con­ceded the 56-year-old fa­ther of two, who vol­un­teers as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor of the BFO’s sup­port groups for spousal loss.

“It’s easy to fall into judg­ment, to judge, be­cause peo­ple have a no­tion and they think there’s this ‘re­spect­ful time’ that some­one must ob­serve be­fore mov­ing to another re­la­tion­ship. But those peo­ple are not walk­ing in the other per­son’s shoes.

“If you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced good re­la­tion­ships in the past and this per­son and this op­por­tu­nity is be­fore you, to love again, so be it,” said Maclach­lan, stress­ing that there is no place for oth­ers to speak out against the life de­ci­sions made by Oswalt or any­one else who’s been wid­owed.

Sadly, such neg­a­tive re­ac­tions are all too com­mon in the “widow com­mu­nity,” said Ca­role Brody Fleet, a U.S. grief re­cov­ery ex­pert and author of a num­ber of books, in­clud­ing Hap­pily Even Af­ter: A Guide to Get­ting Through (and Be­yond) the Grief of Wi­d­ow­hood.

“‘It’s too soon. How could you pos­si­bly go on af­ter you’ve lost the love of your life?’ I’ve heard it all, I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced some of it,” said Brody Fleet, whose hus­band died from ALS in 2000, fol­lowed by the death of her fa­ther four months later.

When she started dat­ing af­ter two years of work­ing through her grief, she too got some un­wel­come re­ac­tions.

“Some­one ac­tu­ally said to me: ‘How does it feel to dance on your hus­band’s grave?’ ” Brody Fleet said from Orange County, Calif.

“Peo­ple are quick to bi­fur­cate life and love into an ei­ther-or propo­si­tion,” she said.

“You ei­ther love your past and the per­son you lost . . . and get this once- a-widow, al­ways-a-widow head space and stay there, or you can rec­og­nize that the heart ex­pands in­fin­itely to em­brace all of the love that it wants to.”

She ad­vises peo­ple who have lost a spouse or part­ner to trea­sure and hon­our their past, but not to live in the past.

“This is a new life that (Oswalt’s) in now and he’s en­ti­tled to a new love in his new life, just as I found, just as any­one is who makes that choice to find love again,” said Brody Fleet, who re­mar­ried in 2009.

“No­body can dic­tate that, and I’m ap­palled that any­body, es­pe­cially some­one who hides anony­mously be­hind a key­board and screen, feels that they have that right.

“You can­not live your life by opin­ion poll.”

JEFF TURNER/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ac­tress Mered­ith Salenger and co­me­dian Pat­ton Oswalt, who was wid­owed in 2016, faced a back­lash on­line af­ter con­firm­ing their en­gage­ment.

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