I had been married to my husband for 30 years when he suddenly seemed to have a brainstorm – he left me for an Italian woman, moved to Italy and married her. Now, just six months after they married, he has died of a heart attack.
The problem is that this other woman is organising the funeral and has made it clear she doesn't want me there. She's not allowing our children any say in the service, either. I'm so very upset. What can I do?
Yours sincerely, Eileen
You are by no means the only person who's suffered this problem. It's one of the cruel ripples caused by divorce, something that still has the power to hurt even years and years later. I can't count the number of funerals I've been to in which the first wife or wives have been completely airbrushed out of the whole scene like some Soviet leader who's no longer in favour. Even my own mother didn't get a mention by the person who delivered the eulogy at my twice-married father's funeral. True, she'd been long dead, but an acknowledgement of her existence would have been a comfort to me.
Your situation is particularly poignant because you had been married to your husband for 30 years and this woman had only been married to him for six months.
You have to remember, of course, that the fact you'd been married so long must have been agonising for your ex-husband's new wife. She must feel intense jealousy that you had him for such a length of time, and that you knew him so much better than she did. Not only that, but you had his children. She, on the other hand, had six measly months. So perhaps you can find it in your heart to allow her to take on the funeral in a wholeheartedly selfish way. She had little enough of the man compared to you. Let her have her moment, by herself.
I can well imagine you tossing and turning through the night, imagining yourself turning up at the funeral in Italy, dressed in black, a mysterious figure at the back of the church who, at the end of the service, sweeps off like some Greta Garbo character into the woods, causing consternation and gossip among the mourners. But don't be tempted. In reality, it would be awful – not only for her, but for you.
And thank your lucky stars that this funeral is, at least, taking place abroad, because presumably most of your ex-husband's oldest friends will be in England, not fancying a trip out to Italy to attend the funeral of an old friend organised by a woman they barely know.
So why don't you and the children organise a really big and splendid memorial service for your ex right here at home, in a couple of months from now? You will be able to do exactly what you like, have all the control you want, and, even better, you will have loads of time to plan it and make it special.
If you would like to, you can even organise a memorial tree or plaque in your husband's name, so that there will be somewhere where you and your children can always go and lay flowers and think about him.
Of course, if you want to be totally saintly – so saintly that you'll almost be evil – you'll have an extra guest on the list of invitees. And that's his second wife. If nothing else, you will show her exactly how very well-mannered people behave.
She's still in shock
You need to accept that you husband's new wife is suffering the effects of a shock bereavement, and other than to "gatecrash" the funeral and cause a scene, your options are very limited.
Write her a warm, sympathetic letter, acknowledging her loss and explaining that you and the children would like the opportunity to pay your respects by attending. Avoid saying anything that could be interpreted as criticism of her, him or their relationship. Tread lightly, as she will be very fragile.
Her stance may soften, but regardless, you will have done all that you can in the circumstances.
Have your own service
My ex-husband moved to Greece with his new partner, and when he died not long ago she arranged the funeral out there and my children had very little input into the arrangements. I felt really sad, as we had always been on good terms and I would have liked to have gone, along with many of his friends and indeed some of his family.
So we arranged a memorial service for him. Not in a church but firstly on the beach near our home, as he loved the sea and spent many happy times on that particular beach. We threw flowers into the surf and said some prayers and goodbyes together. We then went to a nearby pub where any who wished stood up and talked about their memories of him.
We laughed about old times and my children learnt some more about the person he was and how he was so well thought of. It gave us all closure and felt good.
Name and address supplied
Turn up anyway
Eileen should buy the most extravagant set of weeds that she can find and attend the funeral in full hysteria and hair-and-clothes-rending mode. She should make sure that everyone hears that the Italian strumpet killed her ex with unnatural demands and that he was about to return to Eileen anyway. That should put the cat among the pigeons and make sure that the local community had something to gossip about for the rest of the year.
Alternatively, in about six months she should hold a memorial service of her own, somewhere close to a good pub.
Send him off in style
There are two issues here: first, your grief at sudden bereavement, and second, your understandable feeling of earlier betrayal.
You may feel that the "Italian woman" has usurped your right to mourn your husband of 30 years' standing. This is absolutely not the case. The "Italian woman" (much better to face your demons and call her Maria or whatever, by the way) may genuinely have loved your husband for the short time they were together. Let her bury his body and mourn him alone if that is her choice. You (and your children) may not be able to do this, but you are still free to celebrate the life of a man you have loved.
Do so, with style, shortly after his burial, either with a church memorial service or with the most immense party, and invite all those who knew and loved him – including his "Italian woman". She won't come, but you will feel so much better.
Ross and Cromarty
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies