I am a 32-year-old widow who lost her beloved husband to cancer last spring. We had no children. Most of the marriage, he battled with cancer, and I took care of him. He is forever in my heart. While I know I am definitely not ready to date yet, I know it will happen someday. What advice would you give a young woman like me?
On my television show, "Shalom in the Home," one of the most moving episodes we've filmed was about a 36-year-old widow, Caroline, whose husband died in a tragic car accident. She was not succeeding at dating, even six years after her husband's death. In fact, she even kept a bloody dress in a special box in her room (he died in her arms). One of the first things that we had her do was to bury that dress. I explained that in the Bible, on the last day that Moses would be leader of the Israelite nation, he told the Jewish people that every day, before every human being, the choice is placed whether one chooses life or death.
I told Caroline that our obligation is to always choose life, but that sometimes death chooses us. This is inescapable and unavoidable. In Caroline's case, death chose her and her family through the tragedy of a horrific car accident. In your case, death chose you and your family through the tragedy of cancer. But even given your helplessness to stop your tragic loss, you can and must continue to choose life for yourself.
My point is that whereas death is an accident, life is a choice. Whereas death is something we have no control over, life is always there directly in front of us, ripe for the picking. To be sure, there is a legitimate mourning period for the death of a spouse, and dating before a year is over, in most cases, is inappropriate.
But it is now a year since your husband's death last spring. You cannot sit around and expect your feelings of grief to simply dissipate. You must choose life, even if you don’t feel like it. Remember, life is not an emotion—it is a choice. And it is something we must choose whether or not our emotions compel us to, and whether or not we feel ready. Not that I would ever advocate going too fast or overdoing it. But neither should you allow your emotions to make you under-do it.
Begin telling friends that you feel you need to get back into the land of the living, and that you wouldn’t mind being invited to their home, for instance, for brunches or dinners where available men are present. Likewise, start going to wholesome social functions, like church socials or charity events. I know this is much easier said then done, but if you push yourself in the beginning, it will become easier and easier.
On the show with Caroline, I had her register with one of the more wholesome Internet dating sites. She thought it was a terrible idea. But I sat there with her and encouraged her to do it. I told her this was a way to get back into the dating scene from the comfort of her own living room. Three months later, she is dating a fine man whom she met through the site. Not that she already thinks this is something permanent. But it has certainly made her feel more alive.
Death should never be a welcomed guest in your home; it should be quickly expelled. As I said, I believe that there is an important period of mourning that must occur, and since your husband only died last year, for the past 12 months you have been appropriately mired in that period. But now that the first anniversary of his death has passed, you must return to the land of the living—and you must choose life.
Start little by little: Go out with friends, have an open mind if others try to introduce you to a potential date. Remember Caroline, and how she held onto that dress? Ask yourself if you are holding onto anything in a way that might be holding you back from your future. Think about who you are and what your life is about—the principal definition of your life needn't be that you are a widow.
Your husband loved you and you loved your husband—you will never forget that. But his memory should not be a dark cloud that haunts your existence. Your memory of his life should be an inspiration, not a painful albatross. By all means, do things to commemorate your husband's memory—whether it is donating money to a charitable fund, praying regularly for his soul, counseling others who are grieving a loved one, or volunteering at a social service agency of some kind.
Commemorate him—but do not memorialize him. Meanwhile, choose life.
You will not betray your husband by choosing life; you will honor him. Remember, you were not married to a memory, but to a living human being. By choosing life, you become that living woman that your husband so admired and adored, rather than a shadow person who died alongside her husband. Little by little, as you make these life-affirming choices every day, you will feel closer and closer to your husband’s memory. For only the living can really feel.
I hope that G-d blesses you in your ongoing journey.
With every best wish,
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach