Dear Dr. Neimeyer,
My husband passed away nearly a dozen years ago and I have been receiving his Social Security Benefits since that time. On my birthday next Spring I will be taking my own Social Security. My question is: Why do I feel so apprehensive about taking mine and giving up my husband’s? This is the last thing that I have that was his and mine…I feel as though if I give it up I am losing the final piece of him. Is this normal even after 12 years?
Ah, Moira. Even in matters of the heart, we human beings are drawn to symbolism and significance. And just as you say, the Social Security provided posthumously by your husband had profound meaning for you that went well beyond a monthly check or electronic deposit. In an important sense, t was not simply a monthly deposit to a banking account–it was a deposit to a love account. And now, even if your financial needs are met by your own retirement benefits, your emotional needs are not, and you feel the shadow of an old grief flicker across your vision of the future.
Understandable as this disquieting feeling is, it could also hold the key to its own solution. That is, what seems required is the development of psychological security to replace the Social Security, to discern more clearly the many ways his is still very much with you. Very likely many things in your home, from the chairs and tables that support your body and meals to the lamps that disperse the darkness bear his fingerprints or sense of presence, and perhaps the home itself is one that sheltered you both. More intangibly, but ultimately more importantly, much of who you are likely bears the imprint of your years of loving connection. You could find it helpful to reflect, perhaps in an AfterTalk letter or journal entry, on the “life imprint” he left on you, at levels ranging from your mannerisms and ways of speaking, through your ways of relating to others and yourself, to your choice of pastimes or interests and ultimately to your core values and purposes. Meditating on these, and perhaps expressing in that symbolic letter to him the gratitude you have for the many ways he is still very much with you, could help bridge the transition from one expression of a continuing bond in the form of your joint Social Security check, to a form of psychological security expressed in a dozen more durable connections.