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.