After bereavement, ready to love again

New book illuminates the pitfalls widows face when returning to the dating scene

May 08, 2013|Susan Reimer

I suspect my children will want to see me throw myself on my husband's funeral pyre, the better to tie up all the loose ends.

But I am certain they would not want me out there and available again. And frankly, the idea of revisiting all that teenage dating angst does seem like an awful lot of work.

Just in time for Mother's Day, there is a new book, written by two women who watched their own mothers search for love again in widowhood, called "From Granny Panties to Thongs: The Mourning After."

Authors Penny Burke and Joan Pearlstein Dunn have collected the stories of women who found the courage to start over, facing down self-conscious embarrassment and the disapproval of family and friends, because being alone is very lonely.

The title comes from Ms. Burke's own story. During a visit from her widowed mother, she found a red thong in the laundry instead of the underwear her mother had always worn. "Her undies ranged from white to off-white, covered half her torso and looked more like pillowcases."

When she found the thong, "I didn't know whether to feel happy or mortified ... but it meant only one thing ... she was either having sex or thinking about it."

The widows are anonymous in this book, and some of the details have been changed to further protect their privacy. But their stories are pretty courageous.

Panicked calls to daughters for a trip to Victoria's Secret. Lousy first dates. The surreal request that he get tested for STDs. That first night of intimacy and the anguished wait for him to call again. The anger of the husband's family when they realize she has moved on. The wounded children who think she has forgotten the father they loved.

"These are incredibly private women, but they wanted to be there for other widows," said Ms. Burke.

"We sent copies to the women before publication," said Ms. Dunn. "And we held our breath. Every one of them called and said, 'You nailed it.'"

Most women live longer than their husbands. And because so many people are living longer, there can be a lot of years for a woman to be alone — either to satisfy the expectations of others or because she can't overcome her embarrassment at the inevitable toll of aging.

Or that sense that she is betraying the man who once was the love of her life.

"I have come to learn that the tremendous love I feel for my second husband does not annul the love for my first," one woman writes. "I've learned that new experiences won't erase the memories of the old ones."

The women talk candidly about not dating "with a magnifying glass" and about giving the guy three dates before he strikes out. They talk about knowing when to cut your losses and that, even at their advanced ages, "men are still like buses and another one will be along in 15 minutes."

"Often the children can be a roadblock," said Ms. Burke. "They will say to someone who was asking, 'No. She isn't ready yet,' when in fact she is."

I remember after my father's death, my mother confided to me — over cocktails, of course — how much she missed sex. I am ashamed to say that I totally freaked out. Totally.

When she met a nice man at her cardiac rehab and accepted his invitation to coffee and then dinner, I pasted a smile on my face and cheered her on.

No getting around it. It is weird. But our mothers don't owe it to us to live a life that we are comfortable with.

This Mother's Day, give your mother your support in whatever new venture she is thinking of pursuing, whether she is a widow signing up for match.com or not. Your respect and encouragement will mean more to her than a card or flowers.

Susan Reimer's columns appear Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com. Author Joan Dunn will be signing copies of "From Granny Panties to Thongs" Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. at Big Bean, 558 Baltimore and Annapolis Blvd. in Severna Park. The book is also available on Amazon.com.

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