‘I’ve met a wonderful man, but he feels guilty about moving on’

Tell Me About It: ‘His wife died of cancer a couple years ago and they had 20 years of a wonderful relationship’


I met this amazingly wonderful man. His wife died of cancer a couple of years ago and they had 20 years of a wonderful relationship. The problem lies in that he feels guilty about moving on because she said she would never remarry if it was the other way around. Two days before she died, she had him get “forget me not” flowers tattooed on his ring finger.

His family and three daughters are all understanding of him wanting to move on. We had a wonderful first date. But neither one of us knows how to handle the guilt. I want to be supportive as he works through it, but don’t know what that should be.

Do you have any advice for either of us?



That you are writing and not the man who is dealing with guilt is telling. This is because we cannot go through someone else’s grief for them, and as much as you want to help him, this is his journey so you may need to be cautious in becoming overinvolved or overinvested in it.

His relationship with his wife included a plan for after death and he may need to process that fully and you may not be the right person to assist him in this. Guilt is a normal part of grief and while this stage may pass, we now know that grief has a way of coming in waves and so this feeling will need to be faced and understood again and again.

Sometimes a partner has begun grieving long before the person has died; if a long illness and slow decline has had to be endured and in these cases the process of grief may be relatively short. However, the tattoo of “forget me not” indicates a very strong and intense departure, and this man may need time to process this fully before feeling free to participate in another long-term relationship.

Is he speaking to anyone about his loss? The Citizens Information Board provides information on dealing with the practical and material matters that arise following a death (citizensinformation.ie/en/death). The Irish Hospice Foundation provides a website, (bereaved.ie), providing advice and information for bereaved and those supporting them.

Your one date seems to have opened up beguiling possibilities for both of you and it is very tempting to move quickly into a fully-fledged relationship – this is often fuelled by the knowledge that life is short, and opportunities should not be passed by. While this is undoubtedly true, engaging in an in-depth relationship at an age when you do not do it lightly, needs full awareness and self-care.

Are you in a position to do this slowly?

Can you request that this man manages his own process of grief with professional support so that you are not drawn into either convincing him of letting go too soon or of joining him in guilt?

This is a vulnerable time and if you are to engage in a relationship together do so with caution, self-awareness and support

All of this may push you into a stage of relationship that you are not actually in – after only one date. However, if you decide to embark on this relationship, you might take note of the following:

Give yourselves time. Understand that intense feelings are a natural part of the grieving process and be careful not to impose these feelings on your relationship. Do not make decisions quickly, as intense feelings can lead to impulsive responses. Instead, take each day as it comes.

Acknowledge your feelings. Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling. Your date’s grief is real and valid, and your own feelings of hopefulness and trepidation are also valid. Neither’s feelings are more important that the other’s, but both need attention and space. Be patient and kind to both of you. Take care of yourself. Try to maintain your own life by keeping up with your own friends and social life. Have a routine that allows space for rest, exercise and social life that is not intertwined with the other. This will allow genuine choice to be a factor in this fledgling relationship and also offer relief from the intensity that may exist. Talk.

Be open with family, friends and people who care about you. Good friends will listen and won’t find you a “burden” whether that is speaking about loss and guilt or speaking about worries and fears. Trust those around you to tell you if they have had enough, rather than you imagining this cut-off point and try to focus on your friends’ lives and interests too as this will pull both of you into the present.

Manage your own responses. Your date’s children and family want to see their loved one happy and this will offer you both a community of support. However, you must allow that for them their deceased relative will need to remain a live part of their lives and memory, and this may be challenging for you. Be help-seeking if you struggle with this as you will need your own space where you can fully express your frustrations and fears and not be in a constant state of agitation.

This is a vulnerable time and if you are to engage in a relationship together do so with caution, self-awareness and support.