Ask Damon: My boyfriend passed away. Then I found out he cheated.

Hi Damon: About four years ago, I got involved with a man who had been a friend of my late husband. We had some wonderful moments of romance. Who doesn’t love a man who kisses well and gives you vintage Joni Mitchell vinyl? But he had some boundaries I could never sort out and maybe because I was naive or attached, I didn’t ask a lot of direct questions.

He died recently of a heart attack and I learned that he had a long term partner who lived abroad and came to visit a couple of times year. This explains a lot. He covered it up with some misdirection and some lies. I have some connection to his family and have a huge desire to tell them I didn’t know about the partner. I want them to know that I wasn’t knowingly cheating on this woman. And part of me wants to make sure she knows as well. People are grieving so I’m giving it some space. As things stand, I’ve been cut off from some of the main avenues of grieving with other people who loved him. And even though I’m furious, I miss him. Should I just keep my mouth shut even though it feels impossible?

Mamie: I’m very sorry for your loss. Grief can be arbitrary, sneaky and cruel, and this seems to be particularly difficult for you because of your deceased boyfriend’s complicated legacy.

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Unfortunately, I have more questions for you than answers. So many questions.

1. Does the partner know about you? (If so, how?)

2. What exactly were his boundaries? Asking because “he had some boundaries” could be anything from “he only drank Aquafina and refused to try other bottled water brands” to “in four years together, I never once saw where he lived.”

3. Are we certain he was cheating on her? From what you wrote in your question, it’s possible he was dishonest with you, but practicing non-monogamy with his partner. Which, considering that they lived on different continents and would only see each other twice a year, is conceivable.

4. What are these main avenues of grief that you’ve been cut off from?

There are so many information gaps here that it’s difficult to grasp on to something concrete. Which is not your fault. You were in a relationship, for four years, with someone who presented a false reality to you, and this lack of clarity is reflected in the vagueness of what you’re sharing about your feelings. But I think you need to find some clear answers about them before you proceed.

For instance, what exactly are you furious about? His dishonesty? Or the feeling that you’ve been barred from grieving? Are you upset that the family, who you said you have a relationship with, didn’t tell you? Basically, is your impetus here to let everyone know that you were a big part of each other’s lives, and that you deserve the same “grief status” that a family member or close friend would receive? Or is it to let everyone know that you were clueless?

If the family was unaware, I’m curious what value your confession would provide. Sure, it would reveal a part of him that they might not have seen, and maybe that’s your goal here. But, again, what would it do for you? I doubt the family would be quick to grant you that elusive grief status, and so you’d likely still find yourself on the outside. (And, to be fair, I’m not sure that everyone would believe that you had no clue he was partnered. I believe you. But I’m not them.)

I keep coming back to what you said about the avenues of grief, and I’m still unsure about what’s getting in the way of you grieving him. Maybe you’re not able to do the same sort of public, social media remembrance that his partner and the rest of his family might’ve. But what’s stopping you from grieving in private? And perhaps working through these complications with your friends and family instead of his?

I apologize for not having a clearer solution for you. But maybe — hopefully — you’ll answer some of these questions, and your path will emerge.

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