Why do I want to live?

Dear Dr. Neimeyer,

My wife of over fifty years died a little over a year ago 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, and yearn to 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 as others have said why do I want to live? My life here I feel ended the moment she went to heaven.  My question is:  Where do I go from here?

Gary

Dear Gary,

You are right:  your life, as you knew it, did end with your wife’s death.  And the burning question, “Why do I want to live?” insistently seeks an answer.  To go on without an answer is unthinkable, and yet the meaning of your previous life seems to be undone by this loss.

So how might you find meaning in the life you have now?  Some clues might be provided by your question:

First, you clearly seem to be a person of faith, and one who is integrated into a church community.  If so, I presume that there are many other older widows and widowers in your congregation who have lost spouses, and who faced similar challenges in finding new direction in a changed life.  Might you invite some of them out for coffee, and have a chat about what worked, and what didn’t, in handling this difficult transition?  Might your church, or another in your denomination, even offer a support group for widowed persons where you could find support and understanding?

Second, you devoted yourself to caregiving for your wife for many years, and no doubt developed not only skill, but also compassion, in doing so.  Are there others in your community who might similarly benefit from your occasional care?  Extending this part of the story of who you have become in relation to your wife in the service of others who need care or their families who need respite could in an important sense honor the special person for whom you cultivated this part of yourself.

Finally, you mention your pride in relation to your wife, which she no doubt felt and appreciated during your life together.  What now might you do that she could take pride in, as you find a way to move forward in a life that was precious to her?  Sometimes the question of finding meaning in life is not answered with a single, grand answer; sometimes it comes in a hundred little installments.  To find them, you might ask each day, “What is one small thing I can do today that would make my wife proud?”  Then do that thing—perhaps it is organizing your study, planting a flower, venturing out of your home, lending a hand to a friend or neighbor—and then have a private conversation or symbolic correspondence with your wife in which you tell her about it.  In this sense, perhaps she can return some of the support that you generously provided her for many years, as you move through a difficult period of your own.

Dr. Neimeyer

2 comments on “Why do I want to live?

  1. I am dealing with the same anxiety, having lost my dear wife of 35 years. It’s been 2 years now and I am still struggling to find any meaning to my life. It’s as if we both died that day. I have seriously considered suicide as well.

    We were everything to each other – at least she was to me. I don’t believe in any religion, but I respect that it is a source of comfort for many. What Dr Neimeyer said is so true. We all struggle to fill the massive crater that grief and loss has left in our lives – but that damage cannont be repaired as quickly or as suddenly as the chasm occured. I like the notion of doing little things that build the way back to life – I guess I have been doing that unconsciously. When I do things I know she would like or appreciate, it helps me to maintain my relationship with her. Death does not end a marriage – the love remains alive in those of us who find the strength and courage to carry on. It is never easy, but we carry on somehow.

  2. Hi Bob

    Wonderful support: “What might you do that she (your wife) could take pride in.”

    So subtle, but far from suggesting the man ask himself: “What would your wife want you to do? Would she want you to stop living?”

    “What would your spouse want for you” questions are commonly offered, but they can cause the griefing person to feel guilty for not having the emotional strength to live up to their deceased’s expectations.

    I always love reading your blog.
    Best
    Vicki

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