Visiting my husband’s wife’s grave

It wasn’t an easy decision for our experience of love after heartbreaking loss being on the national stage in the Globe and Mail. We thought long and hard about sharing this story. The back story of our decision, the picture featured in the article, and another perspective of the same shot, from an entirely different angle: Composting Heartbreak

J. took me to Carolyn’s grave on Sunday.  For the first time. He took me to the grave of his late wife.

I always thought that this might be space that would belong to him alone. I thought that he might want to keep some part of her private from me.  I live in the house she designed, and have moved into the kitchen she cooked in.  I still see her hand written labels on the red quinoa in the cupboard and on the frozen peaches in the freezer, and her handwriting is on the recipe card of family’s favourite cookie recipe. I have my clothes in the closet where hers used to be.  There are so many ways in which I have moved in where she was. I thought he might want to keep some space where he could be with her–space that I wasn’t in–space that continued to be theirs alone.

But when your husband asks you to go graveside, you go.  It’s the sort of thing you figure out later, but just say yes in the moment.

I think it’s part of us being married.  She was and always will be a big part of his life.  To be invited into the part of him that is still connected to her by visiting her grave is part of loving him by knowing his world.  It was a privilege that I was going to do my best to honour.

The air in the car changed on the way to the graveyard.  It became silent, a little stiff–definitely somber.  He was distant, remembering times past. I asked him once what he was thinking, and with a chuckle, he said that lately the triggers that brought her to mind happened when he entered the kitchen and the cupboard drawers were open. She always closed the cupboard doors when she was working. (I’m of the style of closing them once at the end…efficiency y’know?) He said the counters were often wiped while she working (yep…I’m one of those that wipes them once at the end).

He was careful to say it wasn’t criticism…just a way that he noticed she wasn’t around, and found himself getting wistful for her. She comes to his mind often…maybe sometimes I don’t ask him about her often enough.

We arrived. I watched, helplessly, as his whole body shook with the sobs of the brokenhearted as we approached the gravestone.

Gosh, he misses her.

I watched myself watching him that afternoon.  At one point, he said to her, “I will love you always”. And it struck me that I might have been jealous–but I checked myself and I wasn’t. I was just sad…so sad. The crappiness of cancer personified-they loved each other and were two-people-become-one–and then would be ripped apart when she died. It’s raw and harsh this stuff of grief. It’s wrong. It’s painful to watch…because I know it’s even more brutal to feel.

It’s an utterly helpless feeling to watch someone I love so deeply hurt so much…and I’m lost on the “right thing” to do in that moment. Do I, as his current wife, hold him as he grieves his late love or keep my distance and just silently witness his grief?


Just. Don’t. Know.

I have to say that sometimes my head and heart rather threaten to implode and explode simultaneously as I have the fun joy of being newly wed to an attentive, kind and loving man after a decade of being a single woman.  It’s delicious to be cared for after so many years of looking after myself all by myself. But I am aware that my happiness and our love only happened because of her death.

There was this cutely awkward moment when J spoke to her as he gestured towards me, “Carolyn, my wife…meet Carolyn, my wife.” He and I both chuckled a bit.  I like to think that she heard that, and smiled too.

It was an honour to spend time there.  An honour to watch him talk to her about himself and each of the Junior Tribe Members, putting a rose representing each of them in the vase on her marker as he spoke of them. He included a sprig of pink baby roses for the JTM that whose heart only beat for a few weeks of life. He talked about me too…and laid that rose on the marker near, but not in, the vase.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do, or how to be. There were clumps of wet grass and early fall leaves on her marker, messing up the stone.  It seems pathetically little to tidy up the marker…but it sorta seemed like something this door-closing, counter-wiping woman might appreciate.  I flicked the leaves, and rubbed away the grass. Yes, it was pathetically little.

Loving someone means that you will inevitable grieve for them; love is an engraved invitation for grief. Quote by Sunshine O

We came home in the evening, and he was tired. Wiped out.

But he said something really powerful to me that I hold as wisdom for myself:

“My missing her doesn’t diminish the love I have for you.
These don’t compete in my brain…I miss her a lot and I love you a lot.  I wish my sons had her as their mother still, and I’m so grateful they have you in their life now. I will always love and miss her…and I will always love and cherish you.”

I love J for a lot of reasons.  One of those reasons is his ability to feel big feelings as they are–he accepts them. He doesn’t try to fix, or judge, or shush one feeling in favour of another.  It doesn’t torture him to both grieve his past wife while he loves life with his current wife. He doesn’t have to let his grief go to love me, or put aside his love for me to grieve his love for her.

Wow, eh?

I’m learning from him on that.  I need to learn from him…because I love my life with him, and also so often wish that she hadn’t died…that J wouldn’t have this ache that is now a permanent part of his life, that her JTM’s would hear her laugh, feel her care, and be guided by her motherly wisdom…and that so many to whom she meant so much wouldn’t be living life without her. It’s hard to watch the man I love ache–and to wish he didn’t ache. But to know that for him to not ache–would mean I wouldn’t have him as my husband.

Confusing, but possible to hold at the same time.

I’m learning from him how to hold those big feelings together.

I’m thinking that if all of us had the ability to hold big feelings that are so different, and could feel those big feelings all at the same time, our world would be a different place…a kinder, gentler, more compassionate place. Without judgement, with quiet acceptance, with a knowing that it is possible…we could change our worlds.

If you valued the story of this post, please know that I love to encourage others to think about their stories, and how they might write them down. To that end, I’ve written a book filled with more vignettes and stories, and provide creativity prompts to facilitate the reader to create their own memory journal of the COVID-19 pandemic:

For more:

Leap into Love

A letter to Car: Your husband

A letter to Car: You

A letter to Car: Your Friends

Tale of a Wedding: Part 1

Tale of a Wedding: JTM’s

The Ring

About the Widower’s Club that Husband belongs to: Growing and Grieving…The Widower’s Club

About marrying again: Were you happy being single?


  • Gloria B Kitchens

    Thanks for being transparent. You exhibited such wisdom and Grace fullness in your acknowledging his pain and being able to tolerate understanding and knowing that there is a silent place that he and his ex-wife has together. I think that was so powerful what he said to you, about she being the one that he will always love and miss and you being the one that he will always love and cherish and that his love for her doesn’t diminish the love for you.

    My husband visits his ex-wife grave and they have a memorial every year. At first he wanted me to come and be a part. I was frustrated and didn’t understand why. I finally went to a family meeting on the memorial anniversary and everyone talked about her. So I felt isolated sitting around listening to everyone talking about her and the fun they had and yeah I’m the new wife and this is all being said to my face, so I decided I wouldn’t go to any more memorials. He even said he wanted to be buried next to her and told the children as well. I often think he visits the grave because our relationship really isn’t a marriage.

    It’s been very difficult and horrible basically from the beginning, I believe he goes there wishing, hoping, dreaming, and praying that he wished he never married me, he wished I would be more like her, and I think sometimes he probably even tells her our problems or issues and it just makes me feel like he’s more comfortable going to the Grave than being with me.

    Otherwise I would not have a problem with him visiting. I just don’t believe that he’s visiting with the right mindset versus visiting with the mindset of longing for her to still be his wife, although he tries to convince me otherwise his actions just don’t add up.

    I know that I would feel differently if we were actually getting along and if we actually had a really good marriage or at least we’re able to be open and honest with one another but we’re not.
    I have been very patient with him he was still in the Grieving state. When I married him he assured me he wasn’t however I found out that he was not through his actions and words and he finally admitted. So I’ve been very patient with him for the last 8 years.

    When I first moved into the house I even let her name and picture stay on the refrigerator until he decided to move it. I didn’t move any major items around the house only to clean or and when we clean the house fully I made sure I put keepsakes together for him. I was very patient in cleaning out the house he had not realized how his actions affected me.

    And even though I still do not choose to go to their memorial meetings he still makes it a point to go and sometimes he’ll try to Edge me on to go. Most of the time he acts like he’s only doing it for the children but I know he’s doing it for himself this is where the honesty and Deception comes in. I believe if he was just more honest with me I could really accept these.

    I do understand where you’re coming from as far as your view and I’m so glad I came across your article. I will focus on this and look at it from your perspective from this point forward. I hope that helps me to realize that he actually does love me. It’s just that he loves her more or longer.

    They were married for 28 years and according to him they had a really great marriage so I understand I am the second woman. I’ve always known that but I just want him to not actually show that I’m the second woman.

    He still makes references to his deceased wife and comments are in his writings. I tried to get him to say former wife but he constantly says my wife passed (I dnt want anyone to assume he’s talking about my passing) so I think he’s still not there but he’s not wanting to admit it.

    Because he’s not wanting to admit it, that brings a lot of issues and troubles between us., because I’m aware he still needs help and he believes that he’s okay.

    • Carolyn Klassen

      Hi Gloria…I hear such pain and empathy and longing in your comment. Wanting to be compassionate with your husband in his loss, but very much not wanting to feel that you are competing with (and losing) to his late wife. That sounds so hard…to feel like he wishes he was with her and not you is such a terribly lonely feeling. Thanx for sharing. In some ways, our stories are similar…and in other ways, our stories are so very different. Husband accepts her death…he misses her, but he has let her go, and now lives fully in the present with me. She released him the day before he died, which I think was very helpful for him. Thanx again for sharing your story!

  • jen m

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

    • Carolyn Klassen

      You’re welcome! Thanx for letting me know of your reaction!

  • Ash Torrez

    Way to make her death about you!

    • Carolyn Klassen

      You’re right, Ash…this blog is about me and my experience. That’s what I write about, because really, that’s the only perspective I can possibly have. I wanted to share my experience because being with the husband that we both share was a powerful experience and often when I write, it gives me a chance to process things…and I hear from readers who find themselves in their own awkward-but-painful-and-very-real situations that it is helpful to hear another person’s story.
      Her death was very much all about her…and her husband, and all those she loved. Her death was a very big deal to my-now-family and happened quite apart from me…but I daily live with the task of keeping her memory alive, allowing them to continue to grieve, and celebrating the good in their lives that exists because of her ongoing legacy and influence. While she was somewhere between a good acquaintance and a casual friend to me while she was alive, Carolyn has now become an extremely important person in my life. I share the same passion that she did for making her/my loved ones lives the best they can be. So, yes, I suppose, specifically in this blog, I did make her death about me.

    • Pam Stiles

      For those of you reading this article/comments and anyone dating, living with, or married to a Widower, I invite you to read “One Heart Too Many” by Denise Medany. You can find it on Amazon.

      • Ron Guida

        Oh pulleeze, stop with the shameless plug for a self-published “book” written by some bitter hag who still isn’t even married to her perpetual “fiancé”.

      • Joey F

        There is a wonderful support group on Facebook , Wives of Widowers Positive Only. Really, really improved my relationship with my husband.

    • Steinar Andersen

      Ash – The insensitivity you show – astounds.

  • Larry Lane

    How masterfully you have captured my pain through your understanding of how, and what your husband feels! I just lost my wife a month ago after a 10 year battle with metastatic breast cancer. She suffered greatly the last 6 months. My home is so quiet and the silence is deafening. We were married 36 years. I yearn to love again, but would have to be with someone who could have the understanding and insight as you have penned with the “visit to her grave”. Just don’t know how many are out there with your empathy! Thank you for sharing!

    • Carolyn Klassen

      Hi Larry…Oh my, the house must be stunningly quiet after 36 years. I’m so sorry for your loss, the aching, the heartbreak and the loneliness. Those last months of cancer pain are brutal. Missing her must be hard, and watching her struggle so much in the last months just as hard. Blessings to you as you go move through this pain of missing her…and may you, in due time, find what you seek.

  • Amy Helderman

    Thank you for this. I am engaged to a widower who was married for 38 years and she passed suddenly from an anuerism. He performed CPR on her and could save her. We met 6 months after, while I was at the end of a bad divorce from a 20 yr relationship. In a lot of ways we helped each other because I was still grieving a life I used to know. Not him but my life, my plans, my efforts till that point. I am also 20 yrs younger than him. So his kids were not accepting of this. Still aren’t. In the beginning I got to know her through their eyes, because his life with her is who made him who he is today and the person I love. Unfortunately he dealt with his loss with booze and is recently sober. He also a yr later lost his mom and his dad ended up with Alzheimer’s. So he has had a lot of grieving within a yrs time. Now he is sober, he has called me by her name, and refuses to set a date and tell me why. The family has shunned me saying I was trying to hard when I, reality I was trying to be respectful. They want nothing to do with my kids and refuses to try and blend. His kids are 30 mine are 18 and 20 all boys. I never asked to be a step mom and just said I wanted to have a friendship because family can be in different ways and need to have a title. His youngest lived with us until a yr ago and we were friends until he moved in with his brother. I k iw he grieves for her how could he not, everything has changed for him. But he isn’t open and honest with me. He won’t merge our stuff, he won’t give reason why he wont set a date and ive even said if its different now its ok I just need you to be honest. There’s only been 1 time I was upset about her. He expected me to live within her clothing, her bathroom stuff, offered for me to use it, and the pictures don’t bother me but there is none of us. I told him he needed to empty that part because I was uncomfortable with it and he didn’t understand why. He hides me on social media so he don’t get backlash from others, and he never told his kids he proposed but asked my oldest for permission. He revealed it at a Dr.s office when he wa sick and Dr asked our relationship. He says he will marry me and I hoping to by end of summer, but I’m just at a loss. I want the honest answer as to why not set a date for it. He claims he wants it to be right but won’t say what isn’t. So I’m not sure if its us or them. He’s a good man, good to me just closed off on that subject. Am I a replacement or does he truly want me?

    • Pam Stiles

      Amy, please order the book “One Heart Too Many” by Denise Medany On Amazon. It will help you navigate through your relationship with a widower. Its helped me and countless others. There’s also a “support group” on Facebook if you’re interested. Best of luck to you!

      • Jeannie A

        Are you spamming for that horrible woman, to give advice? Really? She touts herself as an upgrade and is anything but. Are there any success stories from her book or her group? Ignoring and going silent on a man does not work out as well as that bunch of whiny women thinks it does. It isn’t a support group. The moderators have fake profiles or as they “alter egos” as Nikki calls hers to stalk and harass people outside of the group. Outside meaning on Facebook, through personal emails. If you value the people in your life and your relationships steer clear.

        • Justine L

          I know somebody who was in the group you’re talking about and she was booted for no reason. They must have been on some shake-down, they have an illusion that things people post on Facebook are private. The author/admin claims there are no rules so if you’re in or out is up to her whim of the day. That whole sh*t storm of a book and group are toxic, for sure. Thanks for bringing it out.

  • Steinar Andersen

    A more profound blog post, I have not seen. My girlfriend and I are going through this very thing. I am forwarding this to her so she may find something in it that is useful.

    • Carolyn Klassen

      Thank you, Steinar. I think one of the very cool things about the internet is that it provides fodder for meaningful discussions with the people in our lives. Your comment has me smile–knowing that something I’ve written inspires couple to both read it–and then create a space to discuss how they each respond to it. It is in that sort of dialogue that a couple grows in awareness of each other and together. Be well.

  • Fran Pietri

    Thank you for this article. I am in the exact situation. Your words summed up my feelings and gave me hope. Even though I know it is possible to have loved someone so deeply (I too am a widow), lost and found a new love, it is hard for me to accept that he could be the same with me. Too long of a love story to explain here. Just thanks and your words gave me insight and soothed my fears.

    Next week I will be the woman who goes with him to his son’s new house for the first time, not her. I suggested he take a framed picture for his son as a house warming gift. When I made the suggestion, he cried. I did not expect that.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Carolyn Klassen

      Hi Fran…I don’t know you, but I know this–I like you!! A lot. You are generous to him and his in a way that matters. Your effort to understand the dynamics of a tender situation matter. Your kindness oozes out in a way that will be a balm to wounds. Thanx for letting me know!

  • Susan

    Hello, I hope this thread is still going?… I have been dating a widower for 10 years. I was separated from by husband for 8 years, never saw him – divorced for 2 years. We were married for almost 25years. My Ex and I still get on although he has married again I have x1 lovely son left at home from my marriage – he is at Uni but travels back and forth. My widowers wife died suddenly leaving x3 kids at he time aged 11yrs to 16years. I knew my widower before her death, as he is a builder and did work for my x and I. But I did not know he was widowed until I was on my own and needed some work doing in my house after my ex-husband had left few years after, the widower had not worked since his wife died and had been looking after his Kids, basically, i got him back to work and normality. We started seeing each other. I admit, i pushed for engagement after 2years, which it seemed reluctantly he did. His kids still live in the 5 bed marital home and he has grand children there, it is free accommodation for them…. But basically he is never away from the place pops in every day…although he supposed to be living with me. He has no mortgage and they pay him no rent. The youngest is now 21years of age. Widower never wanted to sell the house, so i bought a place of my own – a flat. He has spent a lot of money on my place as he is a builder. But essentially it is my place. He sees his grandkids every day and has never spent a whole Christmas day with just with me and my son. My son is at uni and my widower always helps unofficially financially with him, car probs, tires, petrol and generally if he needs any money at all, they get on, but so does my sons dad – my ex. Even though widower is with me – his heart never seems to be. His heart is always with his grandkid’s and his kids although he has spent a lot of money on me and would give me anything I ask for – he has a lot of disposable income since his mortgage is paid since his wife died. He says I am jealous of him and his kids and his grandkids when we argue. He would never sell his house to buy one with me, so that ship has sailed – he says his house is his kids, not mine. It is me that hopes he will marry me once my son has finished Uni – but he never says it himself to me. We argue a lot about commitment, as i don’t think he is committed to me, although he does spend a lot of money on me. He sleeps with is back to me most nights,. Turns around when he wants to be intimate or before he goes to work. he works from 7am til 8pm at night and does not really converse with me when he gets in – but wants to be intimate?? I is faithful – I know that however. He never talks about his deceased and I can tell he plans things with his kids and calls them about things when I’m not there, often goes outside to speak with them when he is with me. He sees them every night before he comes home to me?. He says he loves me as he spends a lot of money on me, and that he would not do that if he did not love me? ..we have travelled a lot. We have split up a lot too and I’m always asking him to leave when we fall out. But then i take him back.. I have spent the last 3 years eating xmas dinner out with my son as widower gets all into himself at Christmas and i don’t want to be around him when he is like it – he ends up going to his kids and cooking for them and/or having dinner with them, over the years. My fiends have seen him at the cemetery of his deceased wife and deceased grandchild – when he tells me he hasn’t been there?? the final straw (again!!) last night i asked him what he is doing this xmas he said going to see his grandkids open their presents at his house, I said i wasn’t going and that he can at least spend x1 whole day with me this year? maybe cook my dinner? he got cross and says i don’t want him to see his grandkids at Christmas – when that is not the case, trying to make me sound selfish? to tell them…- he also says he is going to get a wreath for his deceased wife then told me he always has done this every year since she died and that im not going to stop him?? But i never knew about this but he says I did but he has NEVER told me about this? I then asked him to leave, as i felt I cannot keep feeling like this. Am I being selfish? I have put up with him avoiding the truth and kind of lying for 10 years, I know this sounds dramatic, but its almost as though he leads a double life – trying to please everybody. It feels feels deceitful and that he hasn’t really got over his wife although he tells me he has – i don’t feel he has. But I feel this is all too much for me now- I am worn out.. but I don’t want to give up an a 10 YEAR relationship but I’m worn out with it all but don’t want to waste another 10 years – am i being selfish please?? can Someone advise me please?? He keeps texting me and asking to come back – which he always does then within weeks of having him back we are at it all over again!! ARGUING!! 🙁 Grateful of anyone’s thoughts please? Regards -Sue

  • Joanne winters

    Susan it’s gaslighting and your story sounds too familiar. As hard as it is we need to get away from these partners. Reading some of these stories it feels like I’m reading my own life story with very much the same scenarios and experiences with the widow. I’m blown away the similarities with each story but ask where does it all end, We stay when our gut says we shouldn’t, we accomodate their feelings but our own get pushed aside. Seven years and for me I think like another wrote I just can’t do it anymore. There is no respect and you feel second best. Whatever you say or do is never seen as right or acceptable and you stop living the life you want and enjoy which should be enjoyable. I never walk
    Away from things in life but this situation is way too much for me.

  • AJ

    My widower just lost his wife this year. A tragic car accident. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was suppose to stay home and wait for better driving conditions…but she didn’t. He is grieving for his lost and the lost to his children.
    We met and are becoming friends over the internet and I’m not sure what to say to him to help him at this time during his mourning , sorrow and intense feelings of longing for her. I
    I’m a single gal who has never had a boyfriend or any romantic experiences. The reason why? I wasn’t ready and things in my life kept me too busy. All my friends are now married with kids. And durung the past year I was finally starting to yearn for those same things in my life too. But I had yet to meet anyone that interested me or I felt was right for me (I’m kinda of picky and know what I want in my future husband). So I did what most gals seem to do these days who are interested in finding ” their special soneone”…I joined a dating website and within a short time there he was. He’s everything I ever wanted in a guy….except for the fact that he’s a grieving widower and still in love with his wife. I’ve come to really, really like this guy and hope very soon we get to meet in person. But I’m willing to wait as long as that takes. I’m not going anywhere and I’ve got a job that keeps me very busy.
    I’m not sure why he decided it was the right time for him to reach out to somebody and then he found to me during his grieving period….but he did. He said he just thought and felt he should. So I believe it was meant to be because…I was in the right place at the right time.
    I’m becoming emotionally involved with this wonderful guy. My questions to you all is ..what do I say to help duting this stage of grieving? I’ve told him that he can tell me what he is feeling and I’ll always listen. It breaks my heart to see him in such pain. Luckily he has alot of family support and he has small children he needs to care for and watch over. He’s a really good dad and it hurts him to see them missing their mom. His kids are so cute and sweet. I’ve met them all through pictures. I’ve talked to him on the phone and have offered to listen to him whenever he just wants to vent and cry. I’ve sent him virtual hugs. I want to be supportive but feel vety much out of my wheelhouse. The only deaths I’ve know have been my grandparents, who both lived to be almost 90, and their passing is nothing like losing a spouse. IHe wants me to ask questions and to express my true feelings. But I kmow that I really shouldn’t tell him how much I like him.abd hope it can turn into a lasting friendship, then love and finally marriage. So I would appreciate any insight in what words I should say that would express my true compassion for what he’s having to go through at this time in his life. I feel such love and empathy for my heartbroken widower.

  • Gary Sharum

    Thank you so much for your candor and wisdom. I lost my wife some time ago and I will never get over that. Our love was one in a million and we had a good life. Now, I am in a relationship with another women whom I knew from my teenage years. I am going through the process of loving both of these women with passion, respect, and loyalty. One is them is not here, one is. I will never not love my 1st wife. I will never not love my current wife. I am beginning to understand the challenges a navigating such a situation. Thank you for your story.

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