“If I Die, Please Get Remarried”

DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley walks with husband Shawn on their wedding day

If you are married or have a long-term partner, I want you to do something right now. I want you to turn to your partner, pick up your phone, or get some paper out. And then I want you to tell your significant other this: “if I die, please get remarried.”

“What?” you might be thinking, “I need some time to ponder this. Do I really want the love of my life getting remarried? What would that mean for our family/kids/dog/house? Marjorie doesn’t even know me that well! How can she ask me to do something like this?”

Listen, I get it. Until Shawn got sick, I only had a few conversations like this with him. In fact, sometimes in our early years of marriage, he’d joke that he didn’t want me to get remarried. He wasn’t a jealous guy, but he wanted me to know I didn’t need to be looking around.

Of course, once Shawn got his cancer diagnosis, it was one of the first things he said to me. “You have to get remarried,” he told me as I sobbed, mere moments after the doctors left us. Clearly, he’d thought about what he’d say if he got the worst possible news. He was not thinking about his jealousy. He was thinking about my happiness in a world that wouldn’t include him. He said so many things to me over the six weeks when he was dying. But this phrase: “you have to get remarried” has stuck with me more than most.

Here’s the crazy thing: I’m not convinced that I will get remarried. I’m not convinced that I want to get remarried. I certainly don’t have any prospects on the horizon.

But I’m not dead. It took a number of months, but one day about a year ago, I woke up and noticed that there were still attractive men in the world.

Do you know what I felt? Intense guilt. Pounding, horrible, guilt that made my grief return in full force. I could barely handle it. And yet, the one thing that I could hold onto was the belief that Shawn wanted my life to continue. And as a 38-year-old widow, that meant that I wasn’t going to stop noticing men. I wasn’t going to stop desiring them.

Maybe your spouse or partner won’t get remarried. Maybe he or she will be too scared to try again, or maybe there just won’t be anyone that really checks all the boxes. Maybe finding someone new will be too logistically difficult, or maybe that’s just not how your partner wants to live life anymore. Remarriage may not happen.

But your spouse – that person you love so much, the person who you would do anything for – that person is going to still live in this world. And that means that one day in a coffee shop, drinking a cappuccino, your partner may feel a flicker of attraction for the person at the next table. And the guilt is likely to follow.

Do you know what will make your grieving husband or wife feel better? The knowledge that your love was so great, so amazing and so pure that you were able to look outside yourself and say this: be happy. Even if it’s not with me.

So say this: “if I die, please get remarried.” Do it, and do it now. We were lucky, in a way, that Shawn had time to tell me over and over again that I should get remarried. But life can end in an instant. So give your partner this gift. Your spouse may not get remarried, but when that moment comes – the one where she wakes up, and notices that the world is still beautiful – she can feel comforted by your words.

And she can continue to live.

13 Replies to ““If I Die, Please Get Remarried””

  1. My husband died from a sudden “widowmaker” heart attack 12 years ago. I was 50 – he was 51. He used to joke that he would never remarry if I left first because I was the love of his life. But he always told me that he wanted me to remarry. In more serious conversations, he would say that he knew he would go first. We didn’t talk about this situation a lot, but it would come up from time to time. I always told him I couldn’t imagine marrying again, and that is how I honestly feel 12 years later. I have moments that I think it would be fun to be social and go out with someone of the opposite sex. My life has been so busy with our three kids, and now with my (our) two grandchildren that I haven’t given much thought to it, and honestly have been glad to not have to explain situations or bring someone in to some family drama. My kids and I have worked really hard to deal with him not being in our lives anymore. He was a larger than life kind of guy and loved us all so well. He was a high school sweetheart, so I have always been thankful for the “extra” time that I got to know him and be with him. One of the most thoughtful things that happened only one or two weeks after his passing was a phone call I got from his big sister, my sister-in-law. She told me that she and my mother-in-law had talked about it and wanted me to know that I was too young to go through life alone, and if I ever wanted to date someone they would have my full support. This was shocking to me to hear, but not surprising from these wonderful two women. It always meant so much to me – they basically told me what I know my husband would say. I always tell everyone that I never say never – who knows – maybe I will meet this proverbial person at the next table that you write about.

    I just found this website a couple days ago, and I have enjoyed reading it. I am sorry for your loss and I hope that you and your children are doing well. Much love to you.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing all of this. I truly appreciate it. As you noted, it’s less about whether or not a widow (or widower) might actually get remarried, but more about knowing that the love of your life (and his family, in your case!) would want you to be happy.

  2. Good advice, I like the way you think. My soulmate said to me when I was feeling scared and not wanting to live the rest of this life alone without him he said to me, “don’t worry you won’t be alone, but just remember no assholes.”

    1. This is the greatest things I’ve read all day! Shawn used to say this about his workplace and hiring people: no assholes!

  3. This post is so profoundly on target! Before we can move forward after a death, we have to work out what this even means. Remarriage is a sort of very vague proxy for the relationship that has been lost. Is it worth it to move in that direction? And how? I terribly miss the depth of connection I had. Developing something comparable – let’s not even talk about replacement – is daunting enough that I don’t even know if I want to try. Continuing to live is an incremental process subject to new waves of grief and a recurring sense of futility. I feel a strong sense of ambivalence, and for now that may be the best I can achieve. (Marjorie, you are so skilled at writing narratives that make these generalizations come alive!) The last thing anyone needs is to be dragged back by a sense of betraying the spouse who has died. I was fortunate, because my wife made it abundantly clear that I should feel free to remarry if she died; there never was any question. And you are so right, Marjory, to identify this permission as an act of amazing and pure love, which is shared when both are alive and lingers after the death.

    1. Thanks so much. I do my best to really try and capture these crazy feelings we have, and the way that simple words from a loved one can help. I know not everyone can get “permission” from a late spouse to date, marry, etc., but it’s such a gift if we *can* give it.

  4. Thanks again Marjorie for writing something so relevant and important. My wife told me over and over again this same message. I hated the conversation and would actively try to change the subject. Sometimes it would make me cry or even feel nauseous. Eventually the conversation topic became easier to tolerate. Amanda (and Shawn) was so wise. She knew that without persistence I’d never process this whopper and would likely live alone even if I became interested in finding love and remarrying. I don’t know how I’ll cope with it all if it happens but I can guarantee that Amanda’s message will help me feel supported and a whole lot less guilty. I do know that if I ever enter into a serious relationship or remarry, I will be sure to share the same message.

    1. Yes, I get that. As I noted in the post, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get remarried. But knowing that anything I might do before remarriage (dating, etc.) would be supported by Shawn…well, that’s an amazing gift he gave me.

  5. There is so much truth in this Post that I can relate to personally. Unfortunately, my husband died suddenly and unexpectedly and I never got to hear those words. I know that he would want me to be happy again though. I would, however, phrase it a little bit different. Why does it have to be a marriage? Why not just say “I want you to be happy and in love with someone again someday.” This leaves the door open to marriage or just to be with someone and it is not limited to ‘remarriage’ which may put stress and expectation on a new relationship.
    I personally do not really want to get remarried. I was married and we did everything that a couple does when they start to build a family. We got our degrees, built careers, bought a home and started a family. My new life will never have those things again as I’m not looking to add any more children to my life and I have a home and a job. Getting married does not have the same priority and it really isn’t important to me any longer. I would love to find someone to share my life with someday, but I do not need a ring on my finger.

    1. Kate, you are so correct here in all that you’re saying. My husband told me he wanted me to have a happy life. He also said he wanted me to have a companion. Remarriage wasn’t mentioned. He knew since I was going to be an older widow remarriage wasn’t necessarily in the cards or a priority, but having someone to talk to and enjoy life again with was something he wished for me. As you say, I don’t need a ring on my finger to have that.

    2. Oh, 100%. It’s not about remarriage, really, it’s just easier to write that way (I actually wrote the whole post with a caveat each time I said remarriage with “or finding a new partner or person who is special” but it muddied the message overall.) But yes, I hope the point came through. Remarriage might not be the best option for me both emotionally AND logistically, but I hope re-partnership is something I find someday. I’m glad I have the “permission” to not feel extra guilt about that process, and it sounds like you do too.

  6. My husband died 8 weeks after experiencing a debilitating stroke 7 years ago, Oct. 13, 2012. I was 53 years old, he was 12 years older. He told me he knew I would remarry, and to make sure my next spouse did not spend all his life insurance. He quickly followed those words saying, you’re so careful I know that won’t happen. We knew I would out live him, due to our age difference and yes we had many conversations through the years. Yet, no conversation prepares you for loosing a husband/wife.
    Marjorie your gift with words and willingness to share are a blessing to me. Thank you.
    My children were older, my son was a senior in high school, with a ship date to the Marine Corps in 6 months. My daughter was in her 2nd year of law school. I still struggle with Al not being here to share in these milestones.

    1. Thanks for sharing all of this. And yes, I think the hardest part for me, especially at this stage, is not having Shawn around to share the milestones with me when my kids do something impossibly cute or smart. Thanks for reading.

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