Have you ever known someone who was coming off of a breakup and they said that nobody could ever replace their former partner? Perhaps you have even made such a statement yourself. Well, when someone makes a statement like that they are often more right than they could possibly know.
The truth is that for all of the good and bad I’ve had in relationships, no future romantic partner of mine could ever replace my former romantic partners. It would be foolish for me to expect them to and it would be a waste of their time to even try. The reason is so simple and obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be pointed out. And yet, it is the fact that it is so simple that makes it go overlooked. Nobody could ever replace any of my former romantic partners because people are not replaceable.
I used romantic partnership in my example because it is one in which that statement is said often. Yet it is true of any relationship. If I ever get another guide dog that dog will not be able to replace Ginny in my heart. Ginny was special, she was a unique personality. She was there for me at very specific points in my life that will not be recreated with another dog. A second dog would not be able to replace Ginny in any way, shape or form.
I have had cause to think about this topic recently because of my dad’s health. My dad is currently fighting cancer and has started to make his own funeral arrangements. On one hand I am glad to see that he is doing this. For one thing it means that he will get things done the way he would want them to be done. Also, it decreases the burden that my mother, my siblings and I will have to bare when the time comes.
Of course, watching him make arrangements is emotional. I was in near tears last week when he asked my cousin to handle the music when the time came. I was in near tears even though I knew that it was coming. Even though I had been discussing funerals with a friend only a couple of days earlier, when we talked about it it didn’t quite feel as real to me as when my dad was making his arrangements.
When the day comes and my dad finally takes his steps off of this planet and into eternity I am not going to try and replace him in my life. Such a thing would be impossible. Nobody could ever be anything like my dad, nobody could ever replace him because nobody could ever teach me the things that he taught me or share the special moments that we shared. People are not manufactured, they do not come off of an assembly line, you can’t just go to a store and find one that is identical to the one you lost.
A second guide dog could not replace Ginny. However, that does not mean that a second guide dog could not carve out a special place in my heart. There would be new memories and moments to share and new things to experience together. It would be different than it was with Ginny but that doesn’t mean it would be wrong or less worthwhile.
When and if I date again, I’m not going to look for someone to replace my last girlfriend Ann. I’m not going to look for someone to replace my longest-term girlfriend Jessica. I’m not going to look for someone to replace any of my x-girlfriends because such a thing as impossible. But that doesn’t mean that a new relationship can’t or won’t be as meaningful as those previous relationships but in a different and entirely unique new way. And frankly, I shouldn’t want a new girlfriend to replace any of the others since there are reasons I’m not with any of them right now and a true replacement would provide both the good and the bad of the previous relationship.
So next time someone tells you that they’ll never be able to replace someone that they have lost, tell them that they are right. You can’t replace people and it is unfair to ask that of anyone. But the heart has an incredible capacity for love and caring. You might not be able to replace someone you have lost but you will always be able to let someone new in and build new relationships. The only thing that can limit our capacity to care for others and find places for others in our lives is we ourselves.
When you lose someone either because of death, the end of a romantic relationship, a falling out with a friend or even a beloved pet the best thing to do is to grieve the loss in whatever way you see fit. But recognize that the grief isn’t going to last forever and that you will still have a life to live, things to experiences, memories to create and moments to share with others. It won’t be the same as it was with the previous relationship but that doesn’t mean it won’t be special in its own way.
I hope that I will have my dad for awhile yet to come but nobody is guaranteed tomorrow. For all I know, he could outlive me. But when the time comes, I know he will always be with me. When the time comes it means that we won’t share any new memories but he will remain in my heart where I can call up all of the good memories we have had whenever I want. There’s that old saying that when a person dies a piece of us dies with them. I disagree. It feels like that is true because you have reached a point where that relationship has been fixed in time. But you still carry it with you and you still have been shaped by it and the impact it has had on your life. To the extent that I am like my father, I won’t stop being like him when he is gone.
My advice to all is this. Don’t look to someone as a replacement for someone else because nobody can replace anyone else. And don’t think of yourself as a possible replacement for someone else. All you will do is set yourself up for disappointment when you don’t measure up. Create your own relaationships and become irreplaceable to other in your own way. And let people become irreplaceable to you in their own way. That’s how life works.