Inconsolable Grieving for my Wife

Dear Dr. Neimeyer,

My wife of almost 35 years died suddenly four weeks ago. Yes she was ill for many years but I took care of her full time including doing her dialysis  at home, running her feeding tube every night and doing everything in the house as she was unable to do those things do to her various illnesses. Despite her illnesses she had been doing well until the day she suddenly died next to me in her sleep.

We were ALWAYS together. We lived and worked together and literally were never more than a few feet apart for the last 27  of our years together. She was my whole life and my whole reason to live. She made me what I am. I am nothing without her. The pain of losing her and our whole way of life is unbearable. I cry all the time.

All I ever wanted was to be married and have one person to be with all the time. We didn’t have children so we could just focus on our very special marriage. Now I am alone and have no reason to go on. I can’t stop grieving for my wife.

I guess my question is, why should I go on? I see no life for me now. I wish I had died with her. I never planned on being without her. I need a reason to live. Can you give me one?  Samuel


Dear Samuel,

No, I cannot give you a concrete reason to live; no human being can engineer that for another, however much we might want to. But I can stand with the side of you that hopes for such a purpose, for some way to fill the terrible void created by your wife’s loss–the part of you that wrote this letter. So joining my hope with yours, let’s see what now is possible.

First, any compassionate response to your pain would have to validate your profound grief, so fresh and raw, scarcely a month after your wife’s death. No doubt most of us who experience so recent and anguishing a loss would identify with your sense of desolation and questioning, and all the more so given the deep and dense bonds of connection you and she shared. Your grief is in proportion to your love, and when she was everything to you, of course it would feel that everything has been taken away. So I would hope first that you might accept that psychological reality and be caring and generous to yourself now, exactly as you would hope that she would be compassionate to herself had you been the one who died first.

Second, consider the essential roles she played for you: the attentive presence, tuning in to your feelings, perhaps talking things through. Especially because you turned to her so completely for these basic functions that all human beings require, you likely feel like a ship without a rudder or anchor for navigating the stormy waters in which you now find yourself. Psychologists speak of the profound way grief challenges our “emotion regulation,” the gale force angst that surrounds us, without the safe harbor once provided by the very relationship we have lost. In mourning such a loss, we need to find another haven, even a temporary one, to ride out the storm. In your case, with seemingly all or most of your ballast once provided by your wife, it may be especially wise to seek such a haven in an attuned relationship with a counselor or therapist–perhaps especially a woman–who can help you orient to this changed world, find the landmarks, and with support, begin to rebuild. Like reconstructing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, this is not something accomplished in a month or two. It begins with psychological first aid, continues with support from others, and gradually takes the form of a new life, livable in its own terms.

Third, however, this new world need not be so completely different from the one now lost in a physical sense. As you ruminate about what you have lost, I would also invite you to meditate on what you have retained. Certainly your professional skills as a healer persist, and perhaps even were sharpened by your attentive care for your wife for so many years. What other lives might be touched, saved or transformed by your efforts? And equally fundamentally, consider the gifts that your wife left for you, engendered by decades of loving interaction, even in the midst of her illness. What did you learn about yourself, the world, and suffering nobly that you might draw on now, and deploy in the service of others? Might you write an AfterTalk letter to her enumerating all she gave you, and that she would want you to use rather than discard as if it had no enduring value? And imagine her response to your letter, fully acknowledging your pain, but also affirming your worth: how might she ask you to care for yourself in your suffering now, as you long cared for her suffering before? In these important senses, and in the invisible cloak of care she would ask you to wear and draw close, she can remain a key part of your support team, even as you gradually open to other relationships that can take on meaning in their own way.

In sum, be gentle with your tears as she no doubt would be, hold her close now in the lessons about love and life that she taught you, and reach toward renewed reasons for living that honor this bond, even as you revise it with the help of a caring professional and others. And–perhaps with the supportive structure of AfterTalk as well as others who care for you–keep her apprised of the progress.

–Dr. Neimeyer

8 comments on “Inconsolable Grieving for my Wife

  1. I feel the same as Samuel. My wife died suddenly of a massive stroke. Otherwise, she had been in excellent health. Like Sam, we did everything together. We’d be celebrating 58 years of marriage this December. I’d see her doing a swing volley and I’d begin crying. I use to hit tennis balls to her so she could warm up for a match. Everything I am today has been shaped by my spouse. She’s been my love and support system through all the years. I’ve lost my soul.

    I feel as if I had died with her. I don’t know how to live without her.


    • I know exactly what youre going through Samuel. My husbabd and I were together 25 years. He was paralysed from his shoulders and I was his only caretaker. He passed away 58 days ago and my life also ended. My hands and heart are empty. Life has no further meaning for he was my whole life. I feel like I’m drowning in sorrow. Can’t stop crying. I see no future without him. Nothing makes any sense. I”m a total stranger to myself. I can only pray that God will carry me trough tjis cause I can’t do it by myself. Samuel, I hope that somehow we will get through this. Best of luck to you.

      • Oh Sonja. I feel the same way…don’t know what to do about my crying or the tears that well up every time I think of my wife. I cannot see a future without her either. A part of me died with her and I can’t forgive myself for all the things I want to say to her and all the regrets I hold in my heart now. She was my whole life…I can’t live without her. That’s how bad grieving is…

        • James, like you I have also lost my wife of 12 years. Just passed on a year ago ,and since then lifel has no meaning for me anymore. I often find myself thinking and praying to God to please take me ,to end my pain that I feel inside .I can’t think ,eat ,socialise all I want to do is die.I could never love anyone else as I am still in lovewith her .There are no words, good deeds or material objects in this world that can console me.I now know what it means to die from a broken heart. GoODluck to you and I wish you well.

  2. My tears flow like a great sorrowful river for the inconsolable grievers here. When my Wayne Anthony passed from cancer, I too died. I have lived in this solemn valley of death for three years now, not wanting to ever ever let-go. Where does one find peace? …so I lament, and cry ceaselessly. But! what consolation I find, is in knowing and BELIEVING! “What God has put together, NO man may put assunder …that’s the promise of Our Heavenly Father. Yes, I am ready to draw my final breath in this world, to be re-united with\and to that one and only one soul that moved me, that inspired me, that comforted me, that made me feel and believe in PERFECT LOVE. My husband is my Christ.

    Beloved mourners, your Love IS MADE PERFECT!
    You will surely find SANCTUARY IN PARADISE with your PERFECT LOVE. Know this and believe it, when the great angel Gabrielle visits you, he will not be alone, for with Him is your eternal Perfect Love…

  3. My wife Annette passed away this December 2nd, 2016. 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.

    Is there any widower in the New Jersey area? With no children? I thought it might help us if we communicated. But now my heart is weaker by the day…


  4. My wife of 52 years died March 2016 from a stroke. I have talked with my pastor , a psychologist, my family and friends and it seems nothing helps me.i was her caregiver for about eight years which given the opportunity I would do it all again. I know she is well and happy and with God. I am so proud of that. Still I grieve for her. Just to be able to touch her velvet skin. I am worried about myself possibly harming myself if I don’t come out of this. I know it would be a terrible sin but sometimes as others have said why do I want to live. My life here I feel ended the moment she went to heaven.

  5. 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 too was a caregiver of sorts as cancer took her away from me like an invading army. I helped her deal with post-op care, medications, intimate details. And through it all, we held the inescapable ultimate reality at bay – held on to hope against all odds. But when that hope shatters, all that fear and pain and reality comes crashing down – crushing you, body and soul. I am still crawling out from under the rubble.

    I fear that my grief and pain is becoming by very identity. 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 – throw self-flagellating fuel on that fire of grief to bring it back to full force. 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 and the others who have commented here with the best of intentions. My wife and I saw 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 inevitability. I have only just found a therapist, who lead me to this helpful site.

    All I can offer is what I hope for myself and others here in similar pain – 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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