I am in agony

Dear Dr. Neimeyer,

My wife Angela passed away very recently. It was just us. No children. I am in agony. 24/7. Going to work means nothing. A waste of time. There is no meaning since we lived only for each other. I wish God would take me now. My heart grows weaker each day. I’m utterly at a loss. We had no social friends. Why??? Why did she have to die?? We’re both morbidly obese which is what the coroner states was the cause of her death.

Please God, oh God. Take me so I can be with my wife. I am miserable without her. I can’t stop thinking about her. I’m having to collect her ashes, place them in an urn and I will bring back to our apartment. I want to be close to her. And if God is indeed merciful, he’ll take me as well.

Are there any other widowers I can connect with who struggle in the same way? With no children? I thought it might help us if we communicated. But now my heart is weaker by the day…

Rob

Dear Rob,

Between the lines of your anguished letter, it is easy to read the great value that you and your wife held for each other, both in a day-to-day way, and in an ultimate sense. With her death it must seem that you are confronted constantly with a “hole in the universe” where she once stood, sat or slept, and a profound sense of emptiness and meaninglessness in attempting to move toward a future without her. As she was your “everything,” everything now seems lost, to a point that you seem to yearn for the end of your own life as well.

And yet, even in the midst of this devastation, your words suggest glimpses of hope. You will return her ashes to your home in a bid to feel close to her. Might there be other ways you can extend this closeness, ultimately carrying her with you into a world that once held you both? For example, many people use photos of their loved ones as the background images on their computers and cell phones, wear or carry a memento of the deceased as a reminder of their continued presence, write symbolic letters to them petitioning their advice and love and listening for the answers, or make a point of sharing appreciative stories about the loved one with others who care to listen, both in conversation and in other media, as in Internet blogs or memorials. The first several times we take such actions the pain of the loved one’s sensed absence might well overshadow the consolation of her presence, but as we tenaciously strive to preserve the connection in the ways we can rather than focus only on losing it, we commonly come to restore a more balanced and bittersweet bond that supports us in moving forward in our changed lives.

Similarly, your closing outreach regarding possible connections with other widowers who share your struggle suggests your need to find fellowship in your grief. No man is an island, as the poet John Donne once reminded us–we need connection to the continent of the rest of humanity. And this is particularly true in grief, as we struggle with existential questions and profound aloneness of the kind you have vividly described. As you seek out and find others who share key dimensions of your pain, whether in Internet based chat groups like those provided by Open To Hope or in face-to-face support groups for widowed people in your community, you might begin the process of building hope and community to replace that which was lost with your wife’s death. Finding not only commonality in your bereavement, but also practical advice and inspiration for how to begin to care for yourself and reach for new meaning in life are worthy goals, and ones best pursued with caring others. In this sense, crisis can prompt deep reflection on what is missing in our lives, what now is needed to give them meaning, and what others can be recruited to support this life-giving effort across time. Your letter to me could represent the first step in such an effort.

–Dr. Neimeyer

2 comments on “I am in agony

  1. To Rob:
    Your letter acknowledges God. Although you may not feel it, God feels your agony and is with you. Despair strips us of so many illusions, and leaves us a gift of humility if we accept it. It is good you are seeking out others in a similar situation – such people have made it possible for me to survive long enough to see the light at the tunnel’s opening. It took time and an acceptance that numbness, and nothingness – for lack of a better word are as real as joy or sorrow and as important A vacuum makes up the greater part of the universe. Rests are important in music Ponder math without a zero. Life and death, love and grief are linked. Tears are a universal human experience to be cherished.
    Ask other questions than why. As to the cause – on paper my husband was healthier, and we both had a history of asthma. As to obesity – my sister-in-law had doctors blame everything on her obesity – and missed a pituitary tumor, among other things. It was caught when she went to get eye-glasses. Do what you can for your health. Walking is good. Be careful to drink enough water. Even minor dehydration can make thinking foggy. Fill the slow-cooker with veggies and put a piece of meat on top for flavor -turn it on an leave it overnight or while your at work – it insures you eat better that week – important because grieving when you get sick (especially if you live alone) is worse!
    Give yourself a pat on the back – for reaching out – Its not easy.

  2. So sorry for your loss.

    I know all too well how hollow, though well intended that may sound. I lost my dear wife of over 35 years almost 2 years ago. I too am alone and still struggling to cope. I wish I had some words of wisdom to offer or hope, but I too am here on this forum seeking support and guidance. I know my wife would not want me to feel this way or to be wasting the balance of the precious days I still have left – the future that was robbed from her.

    I catch myself at times stoking the fires of my grief as if allowing the embers to die would be a kind of betrayal. How can I be happy? How dare I? And so I consciously/unconsciously rip open healing wounds – through self-flagellating fuel on that fire of grief to bring it back to full force. I fear that my grief and pain is becoming by very identity. I don’t want to live like this – it’s not life – it’s treading water. My wonderful wife was (among many things) a therapist. At times she would tell her clients ‘if you don’t know where you are going – where you want to be – no shore is the right shore’. I have no shore in sight. The past is a painful memory, the future is unimaginable and the present is a quicksand pit of emotion.

    A doctor told me I ‘need to let go’ but I cannot accept that. For me, that’s like denying the force of gravity that holds me to the earth. I hear you when you say you ‘want to be taken now’. I have no belief in God, but I respect whatever place God plays in your life. My wife and I say life as a form of energy – like water, it can take many forms depending on the conditions – steam, liquid or ice – but every drop of water here now has always cycled through different forms. My connection with my wife was so deep, I feel we have always been together in some fashion and will be again in whatever form nature allows. I can’t say I am suicidal (though I have had very specific plans at times) but I too have yet to find any meaning in my life. I have gained about 40 pounds, I only sleep a few restless hours a night. I only work part time, and that’s a struggle to maintain any focus at all. A lot of life stuff is slipping through the cracks. The days just fall away like dominos tipping into each other in a slow meaningless procession of inevitabilty.

    All I can offer is what I hope for myself – that you will find a way to experience joy and happiness again. That your loving memories of your life together will bring you joy, not just the reminder of loss. Though this is little comfort to you, please know how moved I was by reading about your feelings – Sadly, I relate to your pain and there is a strange kind of comfort in knowing that I am not alone in the shadows we are both struggling to overcome.

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