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Is it too soon? The internal conflict of dating after the death of a partner

ABC News logo ABC News 10/01/2019 Tracy Bowden and Lucy Tassell
Melissa Dafo and Jason Groom spend time with Melissa's daughter, Bianca. © ABC News Melissa Dafo and Jason Groom spend time with Melissa's daughter, Bianca.

Melissa Dafo had mixed feelings when she thought she might be falling in love with Jason Groom, who was an acquaintance of her late husband.

"It was really hard when I thought it might be turning into a relationship," Ms Dafo told 7.30.

"I'm still grieving, I still felt married, but then this is something else that's happening as well."

It is a common dilemma for those whose partners have died — dealing with the internal conflict and external pressure, real and imagined, from friends and family.

Ms Dafo and Mr Groom both lost partners to cancer before finding each other.

Ms Dafo married her partner, Dan, as he underwent treatment for stage four bowel cancer.

Bianca was just 16 weeks old when her father Dan Dafo died. © ABC news Bianca was just 16 weeks old when her father Dan Dafo died.

They had a daughter, Bianca, with the help of IVF, but Mr Dafo died when Bianca was just 16 weeks old.

Mr Groom reached out to offer support a few months later.

"It was really just a matter of getting through each day at that stage," Ms Dafo said.

"Dating wasn't even remotely on the cards."

Mr Groom's wife, Jen, had died of cancer three years earlier, and the couple were able to bond over their similar experiences.

"Meeting someone that's gone through the same thing, almost the same thing, just allowed me to make a connection a bit easier, knowing that Jason understands where I am coming from, what I have been through," Ms Dafo said.

"I don't think I would have got into a relationship with someone that I hadn't had that kind of connection with."

Mr Groom said it was not a simple process.

"It's a very interesting situation, how you can still grieve for someone and be seeing someone else. It's like there's two of you," he said.

Elisabeth Shaw, New South Wales chief executive of Relationships Australia, said this was a natural feeling for people who were re-partnering.

"We all have the capacity to love more than one person at a time," she told 7.30.

"It doesn't have to get in the way, but it is something to be mindful of and managed."

Sarah Bailey fell in love with Graham Kane, pictured, while she was still grieving for her late husband. © ABC News Sarah Bailey fell in love with Graham Kane, pictured, while she was still grieving for her late husband.

'It's like your heart wakes up again'

Sarah Bailey's husband Dave died in a motorcycle accident two months after they were married, and when she was 10 weeks pregnant with their child.

She named their son David after him.

"Initially I had this expectation that I needed to have Dave at the forefront of [our son's] life," she told 7.30.

"And I realised that that actually wasn't fair to make him focus on somebody who is not here, who can't love him."

Ms Bailey met Graham Kane, her now husband, on Tinder when David was 11 months old.

He committed to supporting her in her grief.

"If she needed a shoulder to cry on, then I was going to be there for her," Mr Kane said.

"I want her to talk about him, I don't want her to forget about him."

Ms Bailey said Mr Kane's appearance in her life was important for her and her son.

"When you think that your heart is not able to love at all, somebody comes into your life and it's like your heart wakes up again," she said.

Elisabeth Shaw says new relationships after the death of a partner can be difficult to navigate. © ABC News Elisabeth Shaw says new relationships after the death of a partner can be difficult to navigate.

Not everyone shares the happiness

The road for both couples has not always been smooth. Ms Dafo found it difficult to announce her new relationship to her family.

"Initially I was hiding Jason," she said.

"I didn't want to tell people about him, not knowing how they would cope.

"When I did tell them, it was hard for them — mainly for those closest to Dan.

"They're obviously still grieving as well." But she said it was important to keep working through it.

"Dan's family are Bianca's family forever, so it's something I would really like to keep in both our lives," she said.

For Mr Groom, it meant extra pressure on the relationship.

"You have all the normal relationship pressures you might have but extras as well, from the after-effects of all that, all the things you carry emotionally," he said.

And he discovered that not everyone in his life necessarily shares his happiness.

"Most friends of mine have been quite supportive," Mr Groom said.

"One in particular was not happy about it in the slightest. He was a friend of Melissa's husband, as well as myself.

"I can't blame him for that. People have their own feelings, and you can't make them decide how they're going to be."

Ms Shaw said this kind of tension is common.

"Often you might feel it's the right time, but your children don't, or family don't, or your neighbours don't," she said.

"It's amazing how many stakeholders there are in the question of time."

Sarah Bailey, Graham Kane and her son David. © ABC News Sarah Bailey, Graham Kane and her son David.

'I felt guilty, that people would judge me'

Many parents struggle with when to tell their children.

"Parents sometimes feel like they don't want to share anything with the children until it's really happening," Ms Shaw said.

"The point at which you decide it's really happening can be quite late in the piece." Ms Bailey also worried about perceptions of their relationship.

"I felt guilty that I needed to move through that part of my grief," she said.

"And I felt guilty, that maybe people would judge me for needing to be in a relationship again."

Ms Shaw's advice is to be patient.

"There's a lot of people to contend with and that's a process that takes time," she said.

"You don't win everybody over overnight."

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