“I Lost My Husband…”

Dear Dr. Neimeyer,

I lost my husband one year ago. My biggest problem is our children live so far away and only visit once a year. I feel so isolated because they are so busy with their lives and I am not included. One daughter will call weekly and the other daughter very rarely calls to check on me. I was a caregiver for my mother for 6 years, and 2 weeks after her passing my husband became ill and I cared for him for 6 years. So I became isolated from my friends and groups I belonged to, to lovingly care for my husband for he could not be left alone for very long. I am finding it very hard to stop crying and to reconnect with the friends from 6 years ago, for they have moved on without me. I do stay busy with projects by crocheting, and I donate to the homeless and nursing homes. But this is done alone and I am not sure I want to reconnect with the friends of the past. I feel safe just staying home alone. Is this normal?

Bethany

Dear Bethany,

It sounds like you made many sacrifices for those you loved, substantially setting aside your own friendships to provide care for your mother and then husband for a dozen years. And now, in the wake of their passing, you feel the price of that sacrifice in the loneliness that characterizes your daily life. Adult children who are busy launching or maintaining families and careers, especially when they are at geographic distance, often can’t fill the void, and perhaps they, like your friends, became accustomed to your absorption in caregiving and reorganized their lives along more independent lines. Thus your friends and family, like you, seem to have learned to adapt to greater distance, and it seems like a hard pattern to unlearn, despite its cost.

As you mention your altruistic activities on behalf of the needy, it seems that you have found several creative ways of continuing your caregiving, but have redirected it to the homeless and elderly, in this way preserving a strand of consistency with a major source of meaning over the past 12 years. But as you imply, crocheting and donation do not necessarily offer human contact as a compensation. As you further suggest, there might even be a part of you that has come to prefer the distance, despite the loneliness, as reflected in your comments that you are not sure you want to reconnect with old friends, and that you feel “safe” at home alone.

So, what is to be done? At a practical level, of course, there are steps you could take toward a world that again includes deeper forms of companionship: participation in a support group for widows, “meet ups” with people who share your interests that can be found in every community on the internet, crocheting circles, volunteering time, as well as material donations, to needy groups. But a first step is to have a heart-to-heart conversation with the part of yourself that resists taking these steps, the part that feels “safer” not doing so. What does isolation keep you safe from? What is the protective function of distance? Might it minimize the risk of something even worse than loneliness, such as allowing yourself to care again deeply for others, only to risk losing them as well? If so, are there other ways of confronting this fear, without retreating into house arrest now and in the future? Compassionately inquiring into the meaning of your reluctance might yield the candid answers that could let you understand your fear and find helpful and hopeful ways to assuage it as you reconstruct a life shared with others.

–Dr. Neimeyer

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2 comments on ““I Lost My Husband…”

  1. Bethany, everyone’s grief is different so I can only tell you what worked for me. I too was a caregiver for several years before my husband died 7 years ago. I followed the example of my mother-in-law, who was widowed twice. She taught me not to turn down invitations because people would forget about me & move on. I learned to reciprocate & and to initiate social activities. I got back in organizations & church. I found compatible groups to travel with. I made a list of every single woman I knew at all (9) & invited them over for soup one Sunday night. Several casual acquaintances have become dear friends. I have made new friends through them. I do not allow myself to dwell on my children’s busyness. Don’t wait for them to call you. Call them. And never complain about their lack of attention or compare them to what you did for your mother. Don’t make them feel guilty. Don’t wait for them to visit. Go see them. I have been blogging about my journey from grief to joy this past year at http://www.ellawallprichard.com. Perhaps I’ve said something that will relate. Do you do social media? Text message? Have a smart phone, iPad? My kids and younger friends text message instead of calling or writing. The virtual community, especially the #grief and #loss communities on Twitter, connect you to old friends & distant relatives, to those with similar struggles. Good luck and God bless.

    • or done that changes your loss; hoewver, time enables you to adjust to such a great loss and good memories will help ease the bad ones. I am so sorry for you loss. I like to say it is far better to have know someone for awhile then not to have known them at all.References :

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