For the first time in its history, the reality TV show The Bachelor, has expanded to an older demographic with The Golden Bachelor. Instead of focusing on men and women in their 20s and 30s, its contestants are well into their 60s and 70s, people who truly know love and loss, including the golden bachelor himself, widower Gerry Turner.
While it would be easy to dismiss the show as just another reality show for people finding love, the connections Gerry and these women are making are much more than surface level right from the get-go, bringing grief to the forefront during moments when Gerry talks with some of the women, who like him have lost a spouse.
That type of grief, losing a spouse, is something the Angela Hospice Grief Care team knows well, working with loved ones in a similar time in their lives as Gerry, who lost his wife in 2017, through both one-on-one counseling and grief support groups at Angela Hospice.
Debbie Vallandingham, Angela Hospice Director of Grief Care Services, often talks with men in the Angela Hospice grief support group Loss of a Spouse – the second largest group that takes place at Angela Hospice – who are exploring the idea of dating after losing their spouse. Men often come to this idea much sooner, she said, while women who have lost their husband tend to wait longer before they start to date.
“It’s all peer pressure, a societal peer pressure,” Debbie said. It can come from well-meaning friends, family, or even their children who think after six months or a year, it’s time to move on.
“They don’t understand why dad’s still hanging out there, because they haven’t experienced losing a spouse,” Debbie said. “It doesn’t register the same.”
And for those who may be feeling the pressure from those closest to them, or society in general, Debbie said if it’s not your relationship, it’s not your grief.
She said in her experience, it’s often about three years after losing a spouse that people begin to date again.
“Usually people turn the corner about year three, to start doing things like that. That’s a healthier pace, especially for a long term relationship,” she said. “But the caveat is, I’ve seen people do it a lot faster. But it depends on the relationship.”
Much like grief is individual, it really truly depends on the relationship as to when one might be ready to date. If it was a relationship with a long-term illness, where a partner has been watching a decline for years, they may be ready to move on a little bit faster compared to something more sudden, which was the case for Gerry. His wife of 43 years died suddenly, shortly after they had gotten their dream home together, and he isn’t shy to share this with viewers or his fellow contestants, becoming quite emotional when he does.
Gerry is sharing his grief on a national stage, being upfront that while his wife is no longer with him, the memories and life they shared very much still is, as they would be for many widows who are now finding themselves dating again.
“He’s moving forward, but she’s still coming along too, she’s still part of him, his life, his kids, all of that,” Debbie said. “They’re still going to celebrate probably their birthday, they’re probably going to have…. grief surges when that anniversary date rolls around or the holidays roll around.”
Or when they suddenly find themselves in a wedding dress.
Take for instance one of The Golden Bachelor’s earlier episodes where all the women take part in a photo shoot with Gerry, dressed in outfits from different eras and themes, with one being weddings. Each woman wears a wedding dress, but for Nancy, who lost her husband, it was the first time she had worn a wedding dress since her own wedding. Her reaction surprises even herself, bringing up a lot of different emotions and her own grief for the man she still loved.
The show didn’t shy away from Nancy’s grief, the roller coaster of emotions that can still happen even after a loved one has passed long ago on full display. And just as importantly, The Golden Bachelor didn’t shy away from she and Gerry having a very open and honest conversation about their experiences with loss. Because even though their experiences were different, that grief they feel for a beloved partner still hits hard for them both.
In fact, it actually seems to make the two of them closer, knowing someone – quite possibly for the first time – gets what they’re truly going through, finding that balance of looking for love while knowing they’ll always hold a special place in their heart for another.
Gerry and those on The Golden Bachelor are forming their own beautiful relationships, and showing that they can love one person while learning to love another.
That they can love one person but still learn to love another and form something beautiful, much like Gerry and those on The Golden Bachelor are trying to do.
“They’re only focusing on now,” Debbie said. “This is a time that they honestly just focus on themselves and their happiness, which may be the first time they’ve ever had a chance to literally do that.”
Hopefully, Gerry and his final contestant will find themselves happiness and another great love on The Golden Bachelor, albeit a little differently this time.