Sunday, June 6, 2010

Love and Pie in the Sky

Just finished the book "Shelter Me" by Juliette Fay and have very conflicted feelings about it. As with most books about widowhood, either fiction or nonfiction, this one is about a young widow's FIRST YEAR following the freak accident death of her husband. Janie has a preschool son and baby daughter to solo parent. Here is the novel's main plot - Janie's husband had planned for a front porch to be built on their cape cod home as a gift to her. The building contractor shows up four months after her husband's death with the "surprise," unaware that Janie's husband had died. She decides to go ahead with the project and ends up falling in love with the builder AS WELL as her hot, sexy, troubled priest who has been making weekly grief house calls.

The crush on the priest doesn't go anywhere but the relationship with the builder progresses and by the end of the book, which looms on the one-year anniversary, Janie and the builder are a couple. Happy ending for everyone! And all tied up within that one-year grieving period.

But the fact of the matter is that I don't think Janie was really working through her grief, pain and loss. How could she when her emotions were tied up romantically with the priest and the contractor? Grief work takes such huge amounts of emotional energy. But so does falling in love and starting a relationship. Based on my own experience, I don't think the two are mutually compatible. So this part of the book wasn't believable to me. It would have been far more believable if it had occurred in the second year following the death of Janie's husband.

Did this author do any research or speak with real widows before and during the time she was writing this novel? Come to think of it, I wish there were more widows out there telling their stories about how they fell in love again. I want to hear it from a reliable source, not a fictionalized account by a woman still happily married who has not had to face the circumstances surrounding her main character.

I finished the book feeling more upset than revitalized and hopeful. Just another account depicting how we should have the pieces picked up and our lives restored (even our love lives) within that magical one-year period. During the first year I was so busy caring for my sons and trying to figure out how to navigate in a new world, there wasn't any time for even contemplating a new relationship much less starting one. That doesn't mean I wasn't lonely or missing sex/physical contact. I just had a whole heck of a lot on my plate that took priority over me dating or getting back out there.

I guess I need to remember that this is a work of fiction. But I remain serious about the request for more of the widowed community to get out there and share their stories of love and romance, including the successes and failures. I don't want pie in the sky but reality. I do want hope - but hope that is attainable because no hunky building contractor will be making house calls any time soon. And if there have been widows/ers who've found love again quickly, more power to you. But lets hear those stories too!


  1. The novel sounds very unrealistic. I think most widows are too upset and, at under a year, are going through all the usual emotions of being angry, sad, and also dealing with all the practical stress of trying to sort everything out after the death of a spouse. Sounds rather "Hollywood fantasy" to me.

    As for widowed people and dating, etc.. Now that you mention it, I haven't heard too many stories either. I sometimes wonder what happens to people after they lose their spouses. After my husband died, I went through a phase where I wanted to know what the odds were of losing your spouse when you're in your early 50s. Odds weren't actually that high - so I discovered I was just extraordinarily unlucky -- which was pretty much as I had figured as I didn't (personally) know anyone else as young as me who had ever lost their spouse. I think the statistics just made me angrier than I already was! (-:
    The other thing I checked into -- and I think this just came up while I was looking into the other stats above - was how few women in the 50+ range ever remarry. If I remember correctly, it's something like 1 in 9. Maybe the other 8 just date, or maybe have short term relationships, or casual long term ones, or something else. Maybe 50+ year old men don't want to date women the same age - which I suspect. I don't know. Anyhow, I don't expect to be the 1 in 9. In fact, I doubt I'll ever have another relationship, especially with anyone my age or older. That's not because I prefer young men. No, it's the actuary in me telling me that anyone my age or old is just a major health risk. Hmm.. maybe that's why only 1 in 9 women over 50 marry again -- maybe they're afraid of having to go through all of this widow crap a second time. (-:

  2. As a widow, I say of course the book is unrealisitc. Two loves at the same time in the first year while caring for two preschoolers. Come on!
    As a romance novelist, I say it's supposed to be a fantasy. People don't read romance for realism. Come to think of it, I wrote three books with widows as heroines. Of course, that was before I was one.
    I think your idea of needing more books dealing with real widowhood is a good one. But those would probably be memoirs.

  3. Yeah, I'd say that's definitely someone's fantasy. In real life, the contractor would probably be a slimy guy trying to pick up on (he assumed) the sex-starved young widow, who would either be horrified, or sleep with him in a weak moment and then be unable to get rid of him afterward. But I don't think that plot would sell very many books. :)

    As for true widow dating/relationship stories, my grandmother was widowed in her late 70s, and some time later, she started a relationship with a widowed man who lives in her retirement community. They're not married nor do they live together (her choice), but they've been a couple for several years and are very happy. She's 84 and he's a couple of years older, so there's no escaping the fact that sooner rather than later, one of them is going to be alone again, but they're okay with that. And you know, I would be okay with that too. I knew when my husband and I got married that he would almost certainly die before me, and even knowing now how awful it was when it happened, I'd still make the same choice. Those 10 years were more than worth it.

  4. I was able to find out quite a few statistics on widows through Statistics Canada, the main government department which conducts the national census, crunches numbers, and spits out facts. I think the 1 in 9 remarriage figure may have been from an article that I saw in something like the Globe and Mail newspaper out of Toronto. I believe it was an article on poverty and how so many widowed women are in the group that lives below the poverty line in Canada - and probably elsewhere. As you might imagine, those figures were quite depressing.
    Regarding getting into another relationship - I've pretty much decided that I don't want one. It's not just the "risk factor" thing, although I must admit that's very signficant. The other part is that, after almost two years alone, I realize that I'm truly okay with it. If my husband came back, that would be wonderful, but I don't really want anyone else in my life. I always was a loner and just happened to meet another loner who clicked, but now he is gone. At least for the next few years, I don't want to be tied down by anyone as I'll probably live like a nomad for a good part of the year when I'm not fixing up this old house here in Nova Scotia. After I become old and can't travel....well, I hope I'm dead and gone long before that.

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  6. I'm there with you, Bev. It'll be four years next month, and I can't really imagine rearranging my life to accommodate another person at this point. I loved being married to my husband, but it was him I loved, not marriage itself, if that makes any sense. I feel the same way about dating in general - if I met a specific person whom I really, really wanted to spend time with, that would be one thing, but I can't see myself ever going out and looking for "someone to date." I know this is very different from the way the majority of the world feels - most people are extroverts and have a genuine need for relationships - but there it is

  7. Vanessa - I thought of you the other day as I struggled to start James Joyce's "Ulysses" - I've given up on it! Your story about your grandmother is very touching. There is a married couple in their 90s at the nursing home I work at but they can't share a room - and that makes me feel very sad for them. We're not living in the 1950s anymore!

    As painful as all my love losses have been, I'd still take the experiences rather than not. I've had, rather than have had not.

    I respect your decision to not actively seek out love again. But I hope that people respect my decision to go for it because it is very much a desire in my life. (I hesitate to call it a need and so I term it a want instead).

    Bev - Your statistics brought me a bit down. I went online and saw some that said only 41% of divorced women in their 50s get remarried vs. almost 60% of men in the same age group! I've also seen the figures about widowhood and poverty in the U.S. I guess it is a universal consequence of widowhood. I am glad you have reached a comfortable level of acceptance in regard to not wanting a new beau in your life. I wish I could become more comfortable with being alone but it remains a huge struggle for me.

  8. I think that decision is entirely up to each individual. Those who want relationships should be able to seek them, and those who don't should be able to not seek them, and no one should give anyone grief about it either way. Though, that's a utopia I doubt we'll ever achieve, because no matter which path you choose, there's someone ready and waiting to tell you it's the wrong one!

  9. I met my second husband when I was 11 months out. I'd been dating, or trying to for about 4 months at that point but found the whole thing so overwhelming that I'd taken a break from it. And it wasn't the grief. I wasn't really grieving my late husband anymore at that point but myself - the person I had been before he got sick and before the years of caregiving. I wanted my life back and it was hard putting it together again.

    My second husband was widowed about 7 months after I was. So he was four-ish months out when we met - on a message board for widowed people.

    We were friends. Emailed. Then IM. Then phone.

    Falling in love is easy. Building a relationship that's LDR (different countries no less) with kids in the picture is trickier than back in the day when one is young and single. But it's not impossible.

    Hollywood only has 2 hours to build a romance. It seems a bit fantastical regardless of the two people's backgrounds and baggage to begin with - but as a widowed person who fell in love and remarried, I get a bit annoyed when I am told that what I did, felt - my experiences really - aren't possible or even valid because it doesn't happen for most people. That's a generalization. There isn't a best way to fall in love or a one sized fits everyone process of bouncing back from loss.

    I don't personally believe in "grief work", but if the idea of that helps someone cope and move forward than who am I to invalidate it.

    Love happens. Sometimes it lasts forever (that being relative) and sometimes not. I agree with Vanessa that it's impossible to please everyone. I think the next line in the song goes "so please yourself".

  10. Annie - Thanks for commenting and with the perspective of someone who found love after loss. The reason this book seemed so phony to me is that there was so little mention of the character's loss - the book was mainly about her emotions of falling in love again with two men. And I continue to not consider that healthy after losing a spouse. I don't believe you can go from one experience to the other so easily.

    But that observation is based on my own circumstances and beliefs. Like you say, everyone's life is different. I think it is wonderful that your life was revisited by love again. And your story gives me hope - and I really appreciate that it is coming from someone who has experienced loss. Not someone writing about it but with no personal experience.

  11. I don't think you could capture the duality of falling in love after the death of a spouse unless you've done it, so perhaps the author was wise not to venture there. The majority of people wouldn't have the experiences that you and I have, so they wouldn't know the difference.

    I've tried to write about it, but it's so hard to put down in words that would make sense or even convey my experience. The best I can do is to say that at some point, my late husband and my current husband became parallel lines that run through my life - both present but not connected to each other at all.