Shall I Marry Again?

My late husband, Jim, and I had been sealed in the temple. Would it be disloyal to love and marry again?

If two people who have been sealed to their spouses in the temple are left alone when those spouses die, is it really all right for the pair of them to fall in love and get married? I remember asking that question of a Mutual teacher when I was about twelve. The answer was “Yes, of course.” Still, I was never quite sure if the Lord would endorse it.

The question became even more imperative for me when I became a widow at age forty-three, with five children at home. Widowhood seems to run in my family. My grandmother and my mother were also widowed before any of their children married. We were all left without insurance benefits and, at the time our husbands died, we each were unqualified to earn enough to care for our families properly. I watched my mother and grandmother, along with many other widows and widowers, settle into a quiet apathy, suffering loneliness and self-pity while waiting patiently on the Lord to reunite them with their spouses.

I did not want to follow this pattern. I loved the Lord. I wanted to serve him with all my heart. I wanted to serve a mission—with my husband—but without being disloyal to Jim I couldn’t see how it would be possible to fulfill my dreams.

I remember my mom and grandmother both saying that they were “one-man women” and that they felt it wasn’t right for them to remarry. I felt I was also a one-man woman, but at forty-three I did not want to choose the role of “poor-widow-struggling-to-survive-on-social-security.” I felt it imperative to build a more productive, satisfying life for myself.

I went back to school and earned a degree in business, wrote some books and articles that were well-received, and found a satisfying job at the American River College LDS Institute. I enjoyed participating in the Church’s singles program and made many new friends who faced challenges similar to mine. It was good to have the support of brothers and sisters who were fully understanding and nonjudgmental.

I did not meet anyone I cared to date, but at times I would indulge in a little fantasy: What would it be like to have an adoring husband to help me raise my children, to be my best friend, to urge me to quit my job and spend my spare time writing and serving others, and to share my dream of serving a mission?

But how could I ask for more? The Lord had already blessed me richly. During those rare times when I felt intense loneliness, I would permit myself a few minutes of self-pity, then I would pray for strength to do whatever the Lord wanted me to do. At times I would get the courage to add, “If I could be a better mother and serve thee more effectively with a worthy, righteous companion, I’d be willing to consider the idea.”

I had been single nearly four years when I met Richard Whipple at a Single Adult ballroom dance. Richard had been a widower nearly a year. When I first saw him, I assumed he was a member of one of the stake presidencies chaperoning the dance. When he asked me to dance, he put me at ease immediately by focusing on my life and my interests. He told me about his wife, Gloria, and how he had felt it a privilege to care for her through ten years of serious illness before she died. He seemed sincerely grateful for all that the Lord had given them. He felt he and his four children, ages nineteen to twenty-six, had been strengthened by the experience.

I told him briefly about my husband, Jim, and our five living children, now ages eleven to twenty-five. As I told him a little about each one, he made approving comments. We talked about the challenges of single parenting.

A week later, at a dinner party we both attended, he asked me out. I hoped I hadn’t hurt his feelings by not jumping at the chance. “I … I suppose so,” I said. I was well aware of the attention he was receiving from many sisters.

He followed me home that evening so that I could show him where I lived. He was from the small farming community of Winters, California, some fifty miles from my home in Fair Oaks, east of Sacramento. We sat on the porch swing getting acquainted and each of my children looked surprised and pleased as I introduced them. I told him how my four younger children had warned me not to marry again. They didn’t want anyone to try taking their father’s place, and I assured them that if I found anyone worthwhile it would probably take me five years to work up to the hand-holding stage. Richard laughed, and I was glad he understood. I still felt very married to my husband.

Richard and I attended a light opera production the following week. He worked swing shift and I worked days, so I took a day off the following week and we attended the temple together. It was so good to have someone to share that experience.

Two weeks later we attended a Single Adult conference at Lake Tahoe. At the dance Friday evening, Richard decided that after four weeks it was time for us to hold hands. I kept putting my hands in my pockets while trying to control the emotions rushing to the surface. I was beginning to care for Richard very much. My head was spinning from all the questions arising in my mind; I was confused by feelings of disloyalty and guilt because I was enjoying Richard’s company, and I wished there was some way to know Jim’s feelings.

Jim had mentioned many times before his death that given the nature of his job—installing transmitting antennas on the tops of the world’s tallest structures—he would probably die young. I would shudder in fear. Then he would assure me that as long as he was not breaking the laws of God or of man, he would not be taken before his time. An accident involving lightning claimed his life, but it occurred while he, a Scoutmaster, was caring for his boys during a sudden storm. When I learned of Jim’s death, his words came into my mind immediately; I was filled with the knowledge that he was needed elsewhere, and that I would be fine.

Although Jim had told me clearly that if he died he wanted me to marry again, he hadn’t told me if he wanted me to actually love my second husband. I had witnessed “convenience” marriages and knew that Richard deserved something far more meaningful. That was the source of part of my present confusion.

After an enriching Saturday morning at the Single Adult conference we attended, Richard took me and several other single sisters for a ride. A lump was building in my throat and I felt a desire to reach over and touch his hand. But I couldn’t. Later, we each went back to our rooms to nap before dinner.

After four years of holding them back, I cried real tears … lots of them. I prayed fervently to know what to do about all these feelings growing inside me. As I lay pondering all the possible turns my life could take and how I wished I could hide in the security of the past, the thought came to my mind that Jim would undoubtedly approve of Richard as someone who would love me and care for me in the way Jim would if he were here.

After my hour of exhausting “rest,” Richard came over to talk. Looking into my red, swollen eyes, he expressed so much concern and compassion that I was able to tell him of the many unresolved conflicts in my mind. I told him how much I disliked this phase of my life. He smiled and said, “Any time you say, I’ll be happy to help you leave the single life behind.” I was agonizing over holding hands, and his thoughts were progressing far ahead!

I recalled meeting Elder Eldred G. Smith and his beloved second wife, Hortense Child, shortly after I became a widow, and I told Richard how impressed I had been with them. I was struck by the deep love they seemed to feel for each other and wondered how that could be, when they obviously both still loved their first mates and spoke so affectionately of them.

Richard responded by telling me that if he and I were to marry, he imagined that after we passed on, we would be eager to introduce our spouses to each other and that they would thank us respectively for taking good care of each other. He felt that love worthy of continuing into the celestial kingdom would not be cheapened by jealousy and that we would still have an interest in each other’s children, whom we would grow to love as we cared for them on earth.

How could celestial love be any less than this? When Richard told me that his number one requirement in a companion was to find someone who loved the Lord as much as he did and who would serve a mission with him, my heart sang! At a dance that evening, Richard and I slipped out and walked beneath the stars. He held my hand, and I smiled and didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

During the ensuing months as our friendship strengthened, we grew wholeheartedly in love. On September 3 as we sat, contemplating, in the Oakland Temple, we smiled and nodded at one another. “How about October 3?” I later suggested. It was perfect. I had received the confirmation I needed to know that it was right for us to marry.

The next problem was the reservations some of our children expressed when they received the news. I suspected other family members and friends wondered if a woman who had been sealed to one man should really love another. As I searched for a way to illustrate the appropriateness of our love, a scene came into my mind that made sense to me.

I saw couples fashioning wagons, preparing to carry precious cargo to a faraway destination. They were warned that their wagons must be built sturdily so that they would endure many hazards on the road ahead. They were told that fewer than half of the wagons starting out would reach their destination. I witnessed many broken wagons along the road—some a result of carelessness by the drivers, and others abandoned by one or both partners as the ride became difficult. Other wagons were victims of accidents that claimed one of the drivers, and the survivor struggled to mend the conveyance and keep from losing his cargo by the wayside.

A few of those single drivers pooled the best parts of two wagons to rebuild one that would help both families complete the journey. Marriage, I thought, was like that vehicle. At the final destination, there was great rejoicing among those who had survived as they were reunited with their original companions who had been called ahead in mid-journey.

The analogy seemed to allay at least some of the fears our children had.

Since our marriage, Richard and I have grown to love each other deeply, and we sometimes wonder how we will ever be able to live without one another. Each time these thoughts come to mind, we are reminded that it is not expedient for us to concern ourselves on this matter. All we know is that it is imperative for us to build strong bonds now if our “wagon” is to withstand the dangers in the road ahead and if we are to set the kind of example for our children that will prepare them to build strong marriages of their own.

We find some qualities in each other that we did not fully enjoy in our first marriages, and miss some we did enjoy. Yet we feel that everything we learn from each other will enable us eventually to build a union with the spouses to whom we are sealed that will be stronger than if Richard and I each had carried on alone in mortality. We know that our spouses are also learning and growing as they serve the Lord in another estate.

Meanwhile, every day is a celebration of the Lord’s wisdom and of the great love he has shown in bringing us closer to understanding the potential for joy each circumstance in life can offer us.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

Marilyn Whipple, a homemaker and writer, is Relief Society president in the Winters Branch, Davis California Stake. She and her husband, Richard, serve as stake Single Adult program chairpersons.