Dear Dr. Neimeyer,
My wife Angela passed away very recently. 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.
Are there any other widowers I can connect with who struggle in the same way? With no children? I thought it might help us if we communicated. But now my heart is weaker by the day…
Between the lines of your anguished letter, it is easy to read the great value that you and your wife held for each other, both in a day-to-day way, and in an ultimate sense. With her death it must seem that you are confronted constantly with a “hole in the universe” where she once stood, sat or slept, and a profound sense of emptiness and meaninglessness in attempting to move toward a future without her. As she was your “everything,” everything now seems lost, to a point that you seem to yearn for the end of your own life as well.
And yet, even in the midst of this devastation, your words suggest glimpses of hope. You will return her ashes to your home in a bid to feel close to her. Might there be other ways you can extend this closeness, ultimately carrying her with you into a world that once held you both? For example, many people use photos of their loved ones as the background images on their computers and cell phones, wear or carry a memento of the deceased as a reminder of their continued presence, write symbolic letters to them petitioning their advice and love and listening for the answers, or make a point of sharing appreciative stories about the loved one with others who care to listen, both in conversation and in other media, as in Internet blogs or memorials. The first several times we take such actions the pain of the loved one’s sensed absence might well overshadow the consolation of her presence, but as we tenaciously strive to preserve the connection in the ways we can rather than focus only on losing it, we commonly come to restore a more balanced and bittersweet bond that supports us in moving forward in our changed lives.
Similarly, your closing outreach regarding possible connections with other widowers who share your struggle suggests your need to find fellowship in your grief. No man is an island, as the poet John Donne once reminded us–we need connection to the continent of the rest of humanity. And this is particularly true in grief, as we struggle with existential questions and profound aloneness of the kind you have vividly described. As you seek out and find others who share key dimensions of your pain, whether in Internet based chat groups like those provided by Open To Hope or in face-to-face support groups for widowed people in your community, you might begin the process of building hope and community to replace that which was lost with your wife’s death. Finding not only commonality in your bereavement, but also practical advice and inspiration for how to begin to care for yourself and reach for new meaning in life are worthy goals, and ones best pursued with caring others. In this sense, crisis can prompt deep reflection on what is missing in our lives, what now is needed to give them meaning, and what others can be recruited to support this life-giving effort across time. Your letter to me could represent the first step in such an effort.