On grieving an old flame

The man I thought I was going to marry died suddenly and young, and while we’d both moved on and he married someone else, I feel like someone punched me in the chest. But also a part of me feels like I don’t have the right to be as upset as I am. We haven’t spoken in years. I was asked to stay away from the funeral out of respect for his widow (whom I’ve never met). I get why, but it just seems like now the business between us will never be finished. I guess I don’t know where to go from here. I have all this grief that I don’t even feel a right to.


You have every right to grieve in whatever manner is necessary.

I don’t know who asked you not to attend the funeral, but unless it was someone speaking directly on behalf of his widow, I would ignore them and go to the funeral anyway. (Since you’ve never met the widow, I doubt this warning came from her, and I’m guessing it was just someone with a personal opinion who’s meddling.)

Unless there’s some serious shit between you and the widow, it’s not at all disrespectful for you to attend his funeral. You don’t have to be all front-row about it, but he was a major part of your life, and you deserve to be there as much as anyone else.

However you decide to say your goodbyes and pay your respects, this is really only the beginning of your grieving process. His death is gonna fuck with you for a long time in ways that you won’t be expecting. Not only is it okay to feel all that shit, but you kinda have to. It doesn’t matter that your lives diverged. He was a part of your life, and you were a part of his. That will always mean something, and it will always be important.



15 thoughts on “On grieving an old flame

  1. k says:

    Fuck whoever asked you to stay away from the funeral. Unless there’s some underlying drama OP is withholding, that is inappropriate and rude.

  2. Avi says:

    You can always hold your own rites, too. Go somewhere pretty and remote, write him a note, light it on fire, watch the smoke rise. Your feelings are valid; give yourself the space to feel them.

  3. Mango says:

    If my husband passed away, there is only one person I can think of who would be banned from the funeral. She has caused us so much pain and turmoil, and is narcissistic enough to think she has every right to be there. I would flip my shit if she showed up, and have her removed.

    However, that is a special circumstance and it would depend on if the widow herself requested you not be there. Everyone should grieve and be given room to mourn the loss of someone special to them, regardless of how long ago that relationship was. Your presence there just depends on why you wouldn’t be able to in the first place or who banned you. Because yes, immediate family and spouse take precedence.

    Good idea to lowkey hang in the back, say your words quietly, and leave if you’re worried about drama.

  4. Funeral Frequenter says:

    Like Coke said, you have every right to grieve. But you say that someone asked you not to go and you get why. If you think that attending would be a disruption to the service and distract from other people’s grief, don’t go. If you were asked by his immediate family not to go, don’t go. Because he died suddenly, emotions will be running high and the widow or close relatives may have an exaggerated reaction to your attendance. Or they could be totally cool with it, but in my experience, when someone dies young and suddenly, close family rarely acts “cool” about anything unplanned.

    If you go, be inconspicuous. He is young, so it will probably be a fairly large funeral. It should be easy to stay towards the back. Don’t arrive early or on time, arrive a little late because immediate family always arrives first.

    I hope that it’s possible for you to attend, but only you know the details of your situation. If you think that your presence would create too much tension, try to find other ways to grieve. Hold your own memorial, write, talk to mutual friends. I find I often process grief through dreams. This will take years and it’ll rough, but you are getting through it. Just keep reaching out to people.

  5. Angie says:

    You can feel grief at any moment. The boy who lived across the street from me as a child (literally ages 0-7), and did attend my high school, was killed in a car accident in our early 20s. While I knew him as a teen, my last real communication with him was shouting and waving across the road. I pulled out a book we wrote together in first grade and cried.

    My ex-boyfriend (who I’d dated about three years) father passed away 4 or 5 years after we broke up (and he is now married to someone else). I was very upset, and sent his mom a sympathy card including my ex and his siblings in the note I wrote.

    I think it’s totally fair and normal to feel grief, especially to someone who once had your heart. It may be even totally normal for you to send the widow a sympathy card (in fact, this may alleviate any “what is she doing here?” funeral moments). Whoever told you to stay away is not respecting your grief.

  6. Catherine says:

    This recent episode of the Dear Sugar podcast may be useful to the LW –

    It deals with moving on from a loved one when you are no longer really in a personal relationship with them.

    The Sugars receive a pained letter from a young woman whose ex-boyfriend was recently murdered in an altercation at a bar. His death came not long after she had cut off communication in an effort to move on. She’s grappling not just with feelings of sorrow and guilt, but jealousy — toward a young woman who came into his life after they’d broken up.

      • werewolfmary says:

        True. This story intrigued me, but that’s because I totally personalized it. What the hell happened that someone asked OP not to go to a funeral? It made me take inventory of the people in my life – is there anyone I wouldn’t want at funeral of someone I loved? Are there people that I wouldn’t take comfort from in grief? Are there funerals where would I not be welcome?

        This post also made me think about the people I know who died young and the grief I’ve watched and experienced in the aftermath. It took me a long time to realize how important grief is and how important it is to feel it and let it pass.

        I was curious about the whole story, even if it’s not mine to know.

  7. the letter writer says:

    I ended up deciding not to go.

    There is indeed, a lot more to this story. It involves a time when I was young, and often foolish. He broke my heart, things happened, and I left my hometown behind with nothing but my car and three boxes of books and my laundry basket and a broken heart.

    We buried the hatchet, him and I, years ago, privately. He married a wonderful girl and they were soul mates in every way. It made me happy, he was the kind of guy who deserved happiness. He drew people to him, he made a second family out of his friends. It was his friends who were concerned about me attending his funeral. I’m newly arrived back in my hometown after eight years away, struggling with a long term illness that I finally decided I needed the help of my family to deal with. Emotions are raw and real.

    I will not go because my number one concern is his widow and his family, and I don’t want my presence to cause any unforeseen drama. The day is already super shitty for them, they don’t need any crap from his friends circle making it worse. Also, because I know if I see his mother again I will break into a thousand pieces and I have no wish to have HER comfort ME in this time of grieving.

    Instead I will write his mother and his widow a letter, and I will write him one. And grieve in my own way. I will reach out to my old friends and hope there can be peace among us again, because it would be what he would want the most for all of us, and the best way to truly honor his memory.

  8. Luezette Mallory says:

    Hello. I’m soo glad I found this site. I’ve recently, as in last night, found out that my ex boyfriend died. We were soo young, my first love. Recently though I began experiencing this need to find him, we haven’t seen each other in years. Well I found him, dead, online by the words of his brother and I doubt if I’ll ever pick up the pieces of my broken heart. Yet though it was surprising, but not too much because I always wondered why his name wasn’t included on “friends” on Facebook with the rest of his family. Well now I know. But I aware I’m in denial, because I still have plans to go to his place, and knock on that door. I have to. Why? I don’t know. Just like I couldnt understand why all of a sudden this urge to find him came to me.
    I have no one to really talk to because of some who feels because he’s a boyfriend, and an ex at that, then Im not really hurt. WRONG! I feel like a wife who lost her husband in death. I’m totally devasted!
    Oh, and last week and a half, I emailed him. Prior to that, a few ago before that, I sent a letter. I never got a response. Now I know why.
    I don’t know what to do. Wait. Yes I do. I want to go to the store for a nice bottle of Alize Passion. Crazy.

  9. Frank says:

    Similar circumstance here. My old flame passed away in March ’16. She was my first true love & the one I wanted to marry…but she was also the one that got away. It’s a long story, but in the end she was unfaithful with a “friend” from church. Still refer to him as Judas to this day. Regardless, she ran off with him, eventually marrying. It really hurt.

    Years later following my father’s death, she reached out to me & expressed how sorry she was to hear of his passing. It was then I discovered she just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Despite her still being married to the other guy, I ran a race for her…raised money for charity in her name…& sent her the medal afterward. It gave me an opportunity to express how much I still loved her.

    She would pass away less than a year later & I was conflicted about going to the funeral. Ultimately not going, but choosing to grieve at her gravesite alone. I do recall wrestling with the decision about attending her funeral, much like I wrestled with not going to see her while she was alive…with her husband & children there. Life was difficult enough for her without my complicating things. At least, that is what I told myself.

    In the end, I chose not to go for two reasons. One of which was completely selfish. First, this was her funeral & her family was in mourning. I didn’t want to say/do anything I would regret, given my own emotional state. Second, I did not want to hear about how great her life turned out after what they did to me. Really struggled with forgiveness over the years & thought I had finally reached that point (hence, running for her)…but her death brought back all the old heartbreak from years ago.

    Everyone & every situation is different. I tried to find a balance between respecting her family during that time…& grieving quietly (albeit alone) at her grave.

  10. Silky says:

    Last night I had a dream where the mother of a man I used to love over 30 years ago told me he passed away. When I woke up, I remembered the crazy dream because she died 5 years ago in real life. I never stayed in touch with him after I left, he was a very confused and addicted man who could not shake his inner demons, and I could no longer take the physical and mental abuse from him after 4 years of trying to help him out of his self destruction.

    So I searched his name on the net this morning, and surely he did pass away on Oct. 1st of this year. My heart sank, but according to his sister’s facebook, he suffered from his demons until the day he died. He never married, I was his only love, and I am sad but relieved for him to finally be at peace. RIP

  11. Lara says:

    I’m so glad I found this thread. Last October I was visiting my fathers grave, I was sat in the car and a very solemn feeling came over me, a magpie landed by the car and I just got this overbearing sense of something being wrong. The next morning I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw a comment a friend had left on the page of a lady I knew was married to my first love, saying ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’. I messaged my friend to ask what had happened and he told me her husband/ my first love had taken his own life.

    I was devastated, despite the fact we had not spoken for around 20 yrs. it was a sad ending to our relationship, he was an alcoholic and was a lot older than me. He couldn’t accept that I wanted to go to University. He had wanted to come with me and get a place together but as much as I loved him I was terrified of the instability and that he would be drinking, not working and not contributing towards bills. I don’t think he could handle me moving and only seeing each other on weekends so he started taking drugs and became aggressive with it. I can see now that we were both just too immature to talk about how we felt and pushed each other away.

    A few years later I saw him with friends and his friends shouted at me that I had ruined his life. I believe he went into a downward spiral. Despite the fact we both married other people. I had children, he didn’t. I always hoped that one day we would talk and I could tell him how painful it was for me too, as I had felt that I had lost him to the drink and drugs. It’s been around 8 months now. I didn’t go to his funeral, I wish I knew where he was buried so I could visit. We had actually lived quite close to each other for the past 10 yrs and saw each other but never got close enough to speak.

    I adore my children but can’t seem to get over the need to put things right. I think a letter or some quiet time in nature to try to reconnect is needed. Sadly it’s only since hearing of his passing I realised how much a part in our relationship ending was down to me and not just his ways. If anyone has any suggestions to ease the grief would be appreciated. It’s so lonely keeping these feelings to myself as I don’t feel anyone else would understand as I’m now married with children and feel I have no right to this grief.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *