At this point in my 52-year-old life, I want my parents to stay the same. My beloved mother died two years ago from cancer. She is frozen in my memory just as she was at 74: lovely, classy, artistic, kind - and married to my father for 54 years.
When she died, it was me and my dad. I was the child who lived closest, so my husband and I were the go-to people. My father and I supported each other in our grief: He helped drive my children around, and I would make him home-cooked meals. My father ended up selling their house and moving to Israel, where my parents had kept an apartment for 20 years. He decided he wanted to live there full-time, and I was fully supportive.
Knowing that he would probably date or even remarry eventually, I enjoyed having my father to myself. He is generous, smart and loving. He expresses his feelings easily and freely. Throughout my life, he periodically asks, “Have I told you I love you today?” Pretty great, I know. Some people would kill to have such an expressive parent.
So it wasn’t surprising that my father met a lady friend last year, and a very nice one at that. She, too, was married for a long time and was widowed around the same time as my father. She is also American but moved to Israel 40 years ago. I am pleased that my father has a companion and continues to have an active, full life, even if it is halfway around the world from me. They are even talking about getting married.
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Intellectually, I am all in. Emotionally, however, it’s a little hard for me.
A couple of months before I met “the lady friend,” I was with some friends, who inquired after my father. They wondered whether I had seen a picture of his lady friend and were surprised when I said I hadn’t and didn’t want to. “Why wouldn’t you want to see a picture?” they wondered.
“If I see a picture, that means three things,” I answered: a) this person actually exists; b) my mother is dead; and c) my father has a girlfriend.
A few days later, my father sent me and my siblings a picture of his friend.
My sister called me after receiving the picture. “Did you see the picture?” she asked.
“Yeah, I saw it,” I said.
We agreed that the woman looked like a normal, nice person. She had silvery, gray hair in a stylish cut and a pretty scarf tied around her neck. She didn’t look like a carbon copy of my mother, which I was grateful for. My sister told me that after she looked at the picture, she made a beeline to the kitchen counter, where there was a plate of cookies she had been avoiding all day. She ate the whole plate.
I have since heard many stories from people who have lost a parent and had similar experiences with a parent in a new relationship. One woman told me: “I’ll make you feel better - my father married my mother-in-law.” She wins the gold medal for unusual second marriage. Most everyone tells me how glad they are that their surviving parent has someone to share their life with. Those whose parents were never in another relationship lament that fact. I am thankful for my dad’s run-of-the-mill widow-meets-widower story.
We had the pleasure of meeting my father’s lady friend when we took the family to visit in Israel a year ago. She is more reserved than my mother and, like my father, is interested in religion and politics. She seems to be a good, kind, smart woman and a loving mother and grandmother. We are thankful that she is “age-appropriate,” being only a few years younger than our father.
My father says my mother was the love of his life, but who you pick in your 70s may be very different from who your 20-year-old self falls in love with. My father is now going to spas and getting massages, which he never did before. Part of me wants him to remain that same person, and the other part of me admires his ability to reinvent himself.
I am no longer in denial. My father isn’t trying to find me another mom; he has simply found a companion for himself, for which I am grateful. Hard to believe, but it’s actually not about me. It’s a good life lesson, one that goes down easier with a big plate of cookies.