By Trish Brutka

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My husband is a widower. We met professionally while his wife was still alive. I remember how stark his grief was after she passed away. A friendship between us developed afterwards through work and common acquaintances, several of which often suggested we should date. Having had a small glimpse of his grief, I was not initially interested in him romantically. Don’t get me wrong, he had so much going for him, I just wasn’t sure a widower was for me.  

Our friendship continued and we saw each other dating others and traded stories with each other over 5 years. Quite unexpectedly, at least for me, there was suddenly a new spark between us. I wasn’t even sure at first if he was trying to date me. He claims I friend-zoned him and it just took time to work his way out of that zone. As we started dating, I quickly realized he was even more wonderful than I thought and we were likely very compatible. I saw very soon he was someone I could fall in love with and perhaps marry.


My insecurities became very loud. How could I compete with the mother of his children? How could I compare to someone who was dead and who was so deeply mourned and missed? How much could I be truly loved if that love only grew because of tragedy? I’m also extremely competitive and want to be the best, be number one, be best loved. Could I be happy knowing I wasn’t his one and only?

As I wrestled with these questions and doubts, wanting to make a decision before I was in too deep, I received a gentle hope-filled impression. The words whispered into my heart were, “If you want to love them (Rich and his two sons), you have to love her (his first wife, Jill).”

As I thought on this, I realized that building a relationship with Rich that I hoped would grow into marriage, my focus should not be how much he loved me, if he loved me best, or if it was more than his first wife. I should focus on how much I could grow to love him and those he loved. While his wife was no longer living, Rich and his boys and who they are were deeply intertwined with her and who she was. Their love for her did not die with her.  I saw that I should not be afraid of her memory, but should embrace and encourage it. I wanted to seek to know about her as much as I did Rich and his family and those that were still living.

I saw that I should not be afraid of her memory, but should embrace and encourage it.

As we dated, I was often filled with compassion and empathy for her. Not only had Rich lost his wife and his sons their mother, but she had also lost a longer life lived with them. She had lost the ability to be a physical presence to love and care for them. I would think of what I would want if I were the one who had died and another woman was coming into my family. I would want her to be kind and willing to remember me. I would want her to keep ties with my family. Thinking of these things, being best loved or the one and only seemed even more insignificant. 

During our courtship, I met his wife’s family and friends. Her parents visited here from California. We traveled to them and I met her siblings and nieces and nephews. I have to give so much credit to her family for being so kind to me. With my focus on getting to know and love her rather than being threatened or in competition, I’ve never felt slighted or awkward when she was remembered or discussed. 


One of the most special traditions we began after we married was an idea from my husband. Mother’s Day is particularly hard for him and his sons. They would skip church and go to the cemetery to visit her. As Mother’s Day approached, I let him know I had no expectations and he and his sons could continue their routine for it. Rich had another idea. He had a box of recipe cards Jill had written. He asked if we could use her recipes for Sunday dinner on Mother’s Day. He was understandably nervous about asking me this. I loved the idea! We went through the recipes and decided on chicken enchiladas and almond pound cake for dessert. We let our kids know our plan for Mother’s Day and everyone seemed to look forward to the day. 

What I didn’t know when the Spirit prompted me to love Jill is that by doing that, it would allow her boys to also love me.

While many mothers may not cook their own meal for Mother’s Day, preparing this meal for my family was unexpectedly meaningful. It felt right and good to remember and honor Jill. I felt more connected to her and as a stepmother to her boys. I felt more fully a mother in honoring her for her husband and sons.  I felt honored as a mother to be asked and able to do something so simple and cook a meal she had cooked. Rich and his sons still went to the cemetery that day, but they also went to pick out a gift for me. My older step-son, Richard, picked out a warm and lovely blanket he was so excited to give me. What I didn’t know when the Spirit prompted me to love Jill is that by doing that, it would allow her boys to also love me.

We by no means have a perfect family. We are still figuring this all out as we go. By focusing on the love I could give with no expectations on the return, room was left for me to feel loved that felt natural and spontaneous.  Paul taught, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy…it is not proudIt does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking…always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).”

This kind of love is a gift from God. Experiencing these Christlike qualities of love has enriched my family and transformed how we love, remember, and honor each other whether living or passed on.  


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