My Wonderful Husband Passed Away…

Dr. Neimeyer,

My wonderful husband passed away six months ago. It was very unexpected and he was the love of my life. I’m just having a hard time adjusting without him. He was my rock.

Sabrina

Dear Sabrina,

When we lose an intimate life companion like your husband, we feel displaced, uprooted, without the grounding and connection that relationship afforded, often for many years. Like a ship without an anchor, we may feel adrift on stormy seas, with no idea how to make our way to the secure harbor that person once provided. This is true when we lose all sorts of attachment relationships, but may be especially true for those, like you, who lose loving partners, or children who lose loving parents. Grieving is the emotional acknowledgment of the severity of that loss.

And yet, as natural as it is to focus on the immensity of our loss, in doing so exclusively we can fail to recognize how much we have retained. Indeed, nearly all children will one day lose their parents, if only in adulthood, though the lessons learned at their hand and ideally the security developed in that bond will remain with them for the rest of their lives. This is no less true in widowhood, when we can review, sometimes by journaling, the many “life imprints” left by the loved one. What might we notice, for example, about what we carry forward from the relationship, at any or all of the following levels:

-our mannerisms or gestures

-our ways of speaking or relating to others

-our pastimes, hobbies or interests

-our vocations or volunteer activities

-our basic personalities

-our core values and beliefs

Writing a bit about each of these layers or levels of imprint, we often come to see more clearly the cherished legacy of our loved one, which remains very much alive in our lives. Indeed, in a certain sense, we continue their lives in our own. A meaningful extension of this reflection would be to write an AfterTalk letter of gratitude to our loved one to express the depth of our appreciation for this lasting gift, and to share our ideas about how we can constructively continue to manifest it in the future.

Of course, this thoughtful and creative response does not erase the grief we feel, but it can ennoble it, and remind us that even in the physical absence of someone we have loved and lost, we need not erase his deeper presence in our ongoing lives.

–Dr. Neimeyer

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