Hi Dr. Neimeyer,
My husband of 40 years died three years ago after a very short illness. (Cancer). Never sick. We had no children, just our beloved pets. He was my life, soulmate, my everything! When he died, I died a little too! I guess my question is, will life get better for me? A little more happiness and less sadness. I miss my husband so very much. Thank you for your time.
I am sure that your way of expressing the personal dimensions of this loss–that when your husband died, you died a little too–will resonate with many readers. Especially when much of the fabric of your life was woven together with his, it must feel like when he was torn away so suddenly, your life was ripped apart as well. Mending the fabric of that life is no easy task.
And yet it can be done. Perhaps your grandmother once sewed quilts, saving fragments of previous garments, blankets or tablecloths to piece together with a new and secure backing in an artful and practical fashion. (The internet will contain thousands of images of the remarkable comforters that result.) Like quilting, in grieving we commonly find ways to configure a new life pattern out of the pieces that remain of the old–those roles, activities and people that have long given our lives meaning, and that can do so again in a new configuration. And of course your relationship with your husband can be very much a part of this.
You might start in an AfterTalk fashion, by writing a letter to your husband about your hope for a life with more happiness and less sadness, as you now move forward into the third year after his death. Then you might consider writing a “Dear Jani” letter back to you from his perspective. What might he tell you about the dependable personal strengths on which you could draw? About the goals you once held together that you might now pursue for you both? About the people who love and need you, providing a strong sense of validation for the woman you remain? And what new pieces might he suggest you add to make the quilt of your new life both beautiful and serviceable?
As you imagine or re-imagine this changed life, give yourself a nudge to “just do it,” acting on intentions to make them real. And consider telling your husband about these concrete steps beyond your “comfort zone,” just as you also recruit others in this effort by making plans that involve them. Step by step a life of meaning and even happiness can emerge, even if it is different in important ways than the one you lived before.
Every Thursday we publish “AfterTalk Inspirational.” We invite readers to submit their own poem, essay, or suggestions for inspirational quotes for publication. If you are a therapist you are welcome to extend this invitation to your clients as well. Please send your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org