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Permanent Vows: What’s a Widower To Do?

This essay originally appeared in The Hook.


I was perusing the obituaries over coffee the other morning, looking for the odd limerick or letter addressed to the deceased. I do this often. It gives me great comfort to know that communication with the other side is as easy as a paid announcement in the newspaper. It’s not only a convenient way to keep the departed abreast of current events; it’s a way for the departed to maintain a place at the table, so to speak.

Years ago, I had to have my wisdom teeth out. Under the influence of whatever narcotic was pumping agreeably through my veins, I admitted to the oral surgeon that I was afraid of dying during the procedure. He “there-there’d” me until I clarified. I wasn’t frightened of the dying part– just the possibility of my husband remarrying and everyone liking my replacement more than me.

This was probably not the best place to “share.” When I returned for my follow-up visit, the doctor regaled the office with my drug-induced admission. (Smirky laughter following me into the exam room triggering an almost irrepressible urge to bite the man as he examined his handiwork.)

The truth is that I don’t buy into that whole myth of the deceased wanting the spouse to go on with life. In fact, I see nothing wrong with insurmountable grief. I’m actually quite partial to that widower on the funeral pyre thing. What greater way to prove one’s devotion? It’s even mapped out in wedding vows. Partners are asked to commit to each other as long as they both shall live. Not much room for interpretation in my opinion.

My husband, however, has a different read on the edict. He (incorrectly) believes that the “both” actually means “either.” In other words, he’s just a heartbeat (mine) away from a singles’ bar.

We’ve had more than a few conversations about the subject, arguing semantics deep into the night. While I’m sure there are couples who discuss possible second acts following the unthinkable, whenever my spouse says things like, “If anything were to happen to me, I’d want you to be happy again,” I respond by saying only, “That’s very generous of you.”

Once or twice I’ve been tricked into grudgingly giving my pre-mortem blessing– but it’s been in that vague half-conscious state before deep sleep. And I’ve quickly come awake, retracted, and provided detailed accounts of unrelenting marital hauntings.

The entire separation by death thing is problematic. There’s the burial issue, for instance. Who gets the side-by-side graves? Is Spouse #1 left to spend eternity like someone being stood up at a restaurant? (“No, no I’m not going to order just yet– I’m sure he’ll be here any minute!”) Or does the family plot end up looking like post-mortem polygamy? An old-fashioned Mormon mortuary? “Here Lies X, Beloved Husband of A, B, & C”?

If I were ever to grant permission for a remarriage, it would be contingent upon my stand-in finding her own permanent resting place. Any subsequent union would be more of a short-term thing– something along the lines of a matronly place-holder in a grocery store line. Helpful but temporary.

One thing I know for sure is that on the anniversary of my passing, I will be stopping in at the Heaven-11 for a copy of my daily newspaper. I’ll want to scan the obits to ensure an appropriate bereavement announcement has been penned and purchased for my special day.

Note To Spouse: I’ll be watching the wedding announcements, too.

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