Meeting Flower

I keep thinking I’ll find something eloquent to say about this, but I should just give up. Put this down (it’s one of two emotional hurdles that I need to write about and get out of the way before I can return to topical blogging, I fear) and move on.

So Friday night, I went out for dinner with Dad and Flower.

This is what I knew about her before the evening:

  1. She is from North Carolina.
  2. She is a military widow with a son who moved here, which is why she moved here.
  3. She is (according to my SIL) “nothing like mom.”

All those things are true, though I don’t know a whole lot more about her after spending the evening with her, and one of the things I do know is disturbing.

Brief etiquette suggestion: if you ever find yourself tempted, in your first meeting with someone you don’t know but with whom you are at risk of having to spend holidays in the future, to say, “It might make me sound __________ [negative adjective], but ______________ [statement that substantiates the first, hypothetical assertion],” just don’t fill in that first blank. Because although you are being honest, yes, the negative adjective will apply to you — after all, you applied to yourself — and it will be very hard for your listener to get that out of her brain afterward.

In the end, two relatively paradoxical things are true:

  1. The fact that Dad is interested in spending time with her is a positive for me, in particular, the fact that he is willing to eat what she cooks. When left to feed himself, Dad starves. When I cook things he wants to eat, Dad is reminded of Mom. (There may also be a component of eating at the same table that enters into this for him.) When I cook things I like to eat, especially foreign foods, he’s not interested. I guess that, as a southern cook, she makes things that are sufficiently attractive to him not to alienate him, but also sufficiently unfamiliar that they don’t remind him of mom.
  2. It’s frustrating to watch him do things for her that he would not do for Mom / me / us. (Trying new foods is only a synecdoche for a much larger elephant that I don’t feel like talking about at the moment.) I know that every marriage involves its own power relationships. I know that he is lonely and he needs a person and that that need will motivate him to act in ways that are different than he would if Mom were still alive. This particular issue also doesn’t impact me all that negatively (as it means I don’t have to cook for him or worry about what he eats). But the philosophical problem persists.

In the end, Flower is also a lonely old person. For whatever reason, Dad enjoys spending time with her and is willing to do things that are necessary for that to work out. This is positive for both of them (and, my conflicts notwithstanding) for me. That is all it has to be.

I’m glad the meeting is over, anyway.

~ by Servetus on January 26, 2016.

34 Responses to “Meeting Flower”

  1. It’s difficult, isn’t it.

    My father remarried less than a year after my mother died, to one of her friends who had been very helpful to all of us during her last illness and after her death (at 59). She was a very nice person but she drove me nuts if I spent any time in her company (yes, spending holidays together was a trial – she couldn’t bear a silence, even if we were all reading companionably, and would fill it with reading bits aloud from whatever she was reading. Including, memorably, the small ads from the local newspaper).

    I recognise exactly what you mean when you say your father will do things for her he never did for your mom. I used to bite my lip; I don’t think commenting would have helped in any way and I don’t even think he realised what he was doing. After 35 years with my mother it’s not surprising that there was a certain carelessness about behaviour together, especially with a man who was essentially very self-centred. He probably knew he couldn’t get away with that when starting over!

    My father was a very needy person, in that he couldn’t bear to be alone. Despite all the irritations, I was delighted that the burden of keeping him company was taken off my shoulders and he stayed married to my stepmother for another 20 years, until she died.

    My brother was furious at what he saw as the slight to our mother’s memory and could never bring himself to be very civil to her. However I didn’t see him offering any help in caring for my father so frankly I found that as annoying as anything my stepmother did…

    I reckoned if she kept him fed and content, it was our job to welcome her into the family.

    Sorry for the long ramble!


    • yeah, mouth shut on comments about his behavior. He didn’t ask me, after all. A lot of things that you write here are also true of my father (doesn’t know how to be alone). They are also things that are opposed to my personality (would rather be alone). So there are a lot of benefits to everyone in this situation. I also don’t want to be one of those “my sainted mother” people because mom was definitely not perfect.

      Something I have to keep in mind, frankly, is that Flower is probably also making accommodations. I just don’t know what they are because I don’t know her.


  2. Darf ich fragen wie alt Dein Vater ist und wie lange er alleine war?
    Von Freunden die sich getrennt haben höre ich ganz oft, dass die ehemaligen Partner in den neuen Beziehungen Dinge machen die vorher undenkbar gewesen wären (Sport, putzen, ausgehen). Und die der alte Partner sehr vermisst hat. Vielleicht ist der Wille zu einer neuen Beziehung dann so groß, dass man über die zuvor selbst gesetzten Grenzen tritt.
    Eine neue Beziehung dürfte immer problematisch sein, je älter man wird desto dickköpfiger und sturer wird der Mensch. Sich auf jemand Neuen einzulassen und eine gemeinsame Linie zu finden ist eine große Herausforderung.
    Ich freue mich für Deinen Vater, dass er jemanden gefunden hat für den er bereit ist auf neuen Wegen zu gehen. Ich hoffe für Dich, dass Du mit der Frau leben kannst 🙂


    • He’s 74 and he was single for about fifteen months after mom died. Interesting to read that it’s also an issue with separations / divorces. I did not know that. I’m happy he has found someone who meets his needs, in any case.


  3. Glad to hear the meeting has happened. Hopefully they will find comfort in each others company and as Helen suggests this helps relieve you guys of total responsibility for his well being. My dad remarried a woman who not only looks like my mom (so I’m told, we’ve never met) but also shares her first name (he always liked sameness but that was taking it a bit far!) – so perhaps it’s a good thing that she’s so different.
    I appreciate how frustrating it must be to see him do things for her that he wouldn’t do for your mom. Weird how some habitual ways of behaving develop specific to certain relationships rather than being more generalised. I suppose it goes back to the idea that we have as many different selves as the different people we know (or something like that).


    • I think the question in my mind is, “is this what you wanted all along?” But it’s not a fair question, it’s just the way my brain works.

      My mother was an extremely tolerant person in terms of about 90 percent of things. I now find myself wondering whether that was (a) personal conviction; (b) lack of energy to argue about things; (c) lack of a belief that she had a power to change things. Probably a combination. After fifty years, too, people wear each other down. My sense is that Flower has a lot more energy for conflict than my father does and that he realizes this.


  4. I can imagine that it’s tough. Hugs and blessings, and I hope that eventually it will get better.


  5. My dad’s remarriage was night and day compared to how he behaved as a husband to my mom. And it didn’t sit well with myself or my brother for years, I can assure you! But that was all 20+ years ago, and the “new Dad” still has a companion and we don’t have to worry that he’s lonely. So I think you’re spot on… whatever you may think about her privately, as long as he’s content, that counts for a lot! Though I sympathize about the holidays. Sigh.


    • This points out something else helpful, which is about people’s boundaries to change. I think I think, well, if you want to change, why don’t you, but in a settled situation the barriers to change are always high. If you have a new partner and a new situation, maybe it’s easier to do things you wanted to do all along. (Speaking hypothetically)


  6. It is never easy when a parent remarries because it brings back all those old memories and those are hard to get out of your head, but most remarry just for companionship. It is hard to be alone as you are older, they need to feel that someone is there for them. As you said above your father is doing what is necessary for it to work for them and in the long run is it good for you also (notwithstanding your conflicts). You really don’t have to like her or the situation, as long as she is treating your father well and makes you feel welcome & treats you with respect when you are around, I think you will be strong enough to handle a situation as long as there is simply an understanding of at least that is required.


  7. Marriage is such an odd animal…I see this “doing things that he would never do” element playing out in my parents marriage and in my own. One of the things I’ve reflected on recently (I think we talked about this over dumplings) is that some of this behavior is defined by what each of us (me, my mom, your mom) demonstrated we were willing to tolerate (or trade off) . The behavior becomes a hard pattern to change with the same partner, even if that partner’s toleration is no longer there.

    I also wonder how much stuff is still kind of falling under the veneer of “courtship” that is, “I’ll do this for now…” that wouldn’t last long term?

    Probably if you are able to limit your exposure, the benefits of him having companionship that seems to work for him will ease the rest.

    Welcome to the “blended family” holiday dysfunction 🙂


    • I wonder about the “courtship” question, too. Then again they are both old. So time looks different to them than it does to me.

      This really is my first introduction to it. My family is perhaps unusually un-blended. No divorces, no second wives, children of other marriages, except in one case.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s probably best that he found someone with whom he can spend time, especially if he dislikes being on his own. My mother never did go on to have any other male friends after my father passed away, and sometimes I wish she had because she is very needy and childish sometimes. It would have been so much easier to have her preoccupied with someone else!


    • It’s harder for women, perhaps also culturally? But I agree, it’s not like one wishes, as the child, that they suffer alone or in silence.


  9. It’s very interesting to me to read your post – from the perspective of dealing with a widowed father and his new companion. And I notice that the previous commentators who shared their own experience with a similar situation, also talk about their FATHERS. No one there who has experienced it with a widowed mother. Hm. Interesting…
    It must be strange to face a woman who is taking (part of) the place that your mum used to occupy in your dad’s life. Do you think she is as aware of this as you are? As long as she doesn’t try to take that place in your life, things may be ok? In any case, I hope it works out for all of you. If it relieves some of your burden of looking after your dad, it has its advantages…


    • I think one reason the discussion tends to go this way is that in that age-range (over 60) there are many more available women than men, and the curve gets steeper as the people get over. It’s something we talk about here — how when a married woman at church dies, the older single church ladies sort of swoop around. My uncle got remarried that way after my aunt died (the one “blend” in my family constellation). I think she showed up the week after my aunt died with a casserole and the rest was history.

      Widowed women, in short, have it much harder purely demographically. There may be other factors, of course.

      It’s a bit hard to tell what Flower is thinking at this point, anyway, but I guess we are all going somewhere together on Thursday, so maybe there will be more chance to judge.


  10. Thanks for your post. Very thought-provoking for me. My father died at a relatively young age and my mother, attractive, intelligent, vibrant, never so much as had male friends. Now I wonder what that would have been like. I have always felt very sad for her; she lost the great love of her life so young didn’t she deserve the care and attention of someone else? On the other hand, if it did happen, how would I react? Would I see someone new as an intrusion? I was super-close to my dad, so I suspect I would have found the adjustment extremely difficult. My mom is 87 now and a near-recluse. I think I will always wonder if it could have been different – better for her somehow.


    • I think it depends a lot on how the new partner chooses to behave — you might not have seen your mother’s hypothetical new partner as an intruder if they didn’t intrude (so to speak).


  11. My mother died, my father remarried, my father died and my step mother remarried. My step mother died in 2009 and last year my step father died.

    One of the biggest differences for me was after the first remarriage we NEVER talked about my mother. I even thought my maternal grandmother was an “adopted” grandma. No relation to me. When my step mother married my step father they talked a great deal about their first spouses (sometimes too much IMO.) They ended up being married to each other longer than either of them had been married to their first spouse.

    I’ve been thinking about your post and I feel for you. Blending families is not an easy thing to do. I hope you will be able to keep some memories of your mother in your new relationship with your dad and flower.

    As someone who has been married twice I am finding being alone much more palatable than being married. I didn’t always feel that way. I think everyone is different and they are different depending on their age and the way events have changed and shaped them.


    • After two decades spent pretty constantly in relationships, I am really enjoying what is approaching a decade of being single. REALLY enjoying it. I agree, it depends a lot on experiences.

      I hate that your mother was erased — that’s brutal.


  12. My Dad remarried 5 yrs. after Mom died. I wasn’t thrilled when he said they were marrying and she’d move into the house Mom and Dad had built and we all grew up in. But when I asked him why he had to marry her, he said he was lonely and I said no more. To her credit, she made him walk, exercise, and we give her full credit for his living until he was 82, many years longer than anyone else in his family.
    There were many times we looked at the “new” Dad and asked “who are you and what have you done with our father”. But as Dad pointed out, when we were young, they were just a struggling young couple with 3 kids and a mortgage. We didn’t have many luxuries but we always had everything we needed and more. My Dad even put all 3 of us through college and paid for everything. He invested wisely and things got a lot better financially. Suddenly there was more money to by “luxury” items; less need to scrimp and save for trips. Of course, all of us kids were now on our own and not having to be supported. And then Mom got cancer.
    When he remarried, his situation in life was very different than what we knew and so was he. But Mom wasn’t forgotten. We were flabbergasted when Dad took our stepmom on a road trip from Texas to Wisconsin so that she could see the University where he got his doctorate, where Mom grew up, all the things he and Mom had done. He also took her around to all Mom’s sisters and introduced her. They were dumbstruck but it endeared my Dad to them forever because he had thought so much of them that he wanted my stepmom to know them. I’m not sure what my stepmom thought about all this but she took it in stride with Southern aplomb, grace, and wit, and charmed my Yankee aunts to pieces.
    It’s hard when a parent remarries. We judge the new couple by what we grew up with. We don’t expect them to change. When stepmom remodeled and decorated “my mother’s house”, it was a shock. Only the bathrooms remained the same. I spent a lot of time in the bathrooms so I’d still feel like it was the home I grew up in. But we were fortunate. Our stepmom is loving and wonderful. Her kids and grandkids are wonderful. Mom would approve.


    • Luckily or unluckily, I don’t think I will have to deal with a wedding. Both dad and Flower would have significant financial consequences if they were to marry, and things have loosened up around here to where it seems to be okay for elderly people to lead mature relationships without benefit of clergy. Neither of them seems to feel they need to be married, either. If I thought a wedding were in the cards I would have a much, much harder time dealing with this. And there are some things I would have to talk about with Flower in the interest of making sure she fully knew what she was getting into. I’m pretty sure she’d never move into this house; my mother designed it and was heavily involved in building it. (I keep meaning to write about how this affects me and then avoiding the topic.)

      I certainly think people have the right to change who they are in light of new experiences and circumstances. And I think mom would approve of this as a sort of structural move, no matter how she felt about Flower personally. I posted about this quite a way back — she actually had a list of people she thought he should consider dating, which she left for him / me.


  13. Wow, Serv… this post hit close to home. I haven’t lost a parent, but my parents were divorced when I was a teenager and I’ve had to deal with meeting/spending time with their new companions over the years. I never thought it would affect me as an adult… that I’d have my own life and not really care what they did then. I was wrong! Theses are people that, like you said, I now have to spend holidays with and any time with, really, if I want to see my parents. It is still weird to me… but I remind myself, that at least both my mom and dad are happy, and that counts for something! 🙂


    • That’s an additional wrinkle that I am not encountering but gives one to think — access. Yes — the main thing is that dad is happy.


  14. I hope you give each other a chance. I’m sure it must be an awkward situation for all concerned, your dad included.
    But, boy, it must be difficult to see a parent behave differently (nicer or just differently) to the new partner.
    As long as you come to terms with festive occasions not being what they once were. I think you can resemble it to celebrating Christmas with the in-laws (in my experience) – which can be strained at times 🙂


    • I also think I’d be shocked if he behaved badly (which i don’t think he is — he is behaving in character).


  15. I had written a big comment yesterday which ended up going poof into the cybersphere…. but maybe it’s OK since this hit me hard because I lost my dad this fall. And I realized I might have said too much about Mom anyway. I wanted you to know I appreciated the post though. ((Hugs)) If I end up in the same place later, maybe we can compare notes then ❤


  16. Well, that’s done with. First meetings are hard… I hope she improves upon aquaintance.


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