Now what?
April 30, 2013 9:02 AM   Subscribe

The story: wife gets breast cancer. Double mastectomy, chemo, radiation. Two young kids. Nine years of remission. Then, recurrence. Three years of more chemo, then three months of hospice and she dies at home in my arms.

That was two years ago. I took a month off of work where I mostly just stayed in bed. Then I pulled myself together and got back to business. I did a month or two of counseling from hospice, and that was very helpful. Everything is all back to normal.

Except not really. I thought I was all better, but it turns out I have a hard time caring about anything. I can keep things going, keep the day-to-day necessities of life ticking along, but really, who cares? Who cares if people get the next shiny thing I am working on at work? A few more years and we are all going to end up as a box of dust anyway.

I feel like many days I am just running out the clock. I expect that I’m going to have a stroke, or get cancer, or get hit by a bus eventually, so why bother? Not that it’s all bad. I have taken up some new hobbies. I put on a good face; I even have a girlfriend, and we have a good time together. But I keep coming back to this place of just feeling like it’s all just pointless and stupid and who am I kidding.

I tried going to a young widows/widowers group, but it is all women who seem to all have a very different process for this kind of thing. Also, I had a kind of difficult relationship with my wife, and so it is difficult to relate to all the people who are holding their dead spouse up on a pedestal. I’m kind of angry and resentful, and that doesn’t seem to help or be socially acceptable.

Now what?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I know you've heard it before, but it's time for individual counseling again. Find someone you match with. If it's not the first therapist, try again and again until you do.

You are probably depressed. You have described anhedonia. You can feel joy again, and you can forgive your wife and move on, but you have to have some outside help.

Take care of yourself.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:08 AM on April 30, 2013 [11 favorites]

Therapy, not because there's anything "wrong" with you, but because you need the space to talk about it. Or further grief counseling through a religious organization or nonprofit.

If you want help finding resources, you can MeMail me.
posted by liketitanic at 9:09 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

There aren't easy answers to this. A therapist could help. But finding a good fit can be maddening. I have never heard of a group session that works with the angry side. Even though one on one every person will say it's okay to be angry.

Feeling like none of it matters in the grand scheme doesn't mean you have to only look at the grand scheme. When I fall into the pit of despair brought on by childlessness, tentpoling my life around only what's lost, not what's ahead, and feeling made small by the universe I make a very conscious effort to narrow my scope. It's almost a mantra of "Be Here Now."

I wish you luck, and peace, and a thousand other things.
posted by DigDoug at 9:12 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

That's an awful experience that you lived through and I'm sorry you had to go through that.

Grief and anger and fear are all at the root of it, and to echo others, you may need a combination of an anti-depressant and therapy.

Again, not everyone meshes well with each therapist, try and find someone who deals with your situation as specifically as possible. A therapist who deals with grief, a therapist who deals with widowers, etc.

You've been through an emotionally wrenching experience and feeling nothing is infinitely better than feeling what you have a right to feel. Numb is how most folks feel.

Hang in there, it will get better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:13 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You went through several years of hell. You had a couple of months of counseling when it was over. Perhaps it wasn't enough. You sound depressed. Please consider seeing a therapist soon. Are your children off on their own or still at home? How is your relationship with them?

The women who put their dead spouse on a pedestal may be afraid to do anything else, they know that it's socially acceptable to behave like that and not socially acceptable to focus on the flaws of the dear departed, or the shortcomings in the relationship. As women, they may also be more freaked out about money. If they have kids, they probably wonder if they'll ever find a man willing to take them all on.

As you search for a compatible therapist make sure you get plenty of exercise, and consider doing some community service. If you're in a cold grey northern climate get out in the sun, take vitamin D.
posted by mareli at 9:15 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get the kids counseling. I lost a parent young, and I think I really really needed more help than I got.
posted by thelonius at 9:18 AM on April 30, 2013 [13 favorites]

Nthing that you need to talk to a counselor. I suspect that not only are you depressed -- which seems really clear from what you say -- but that you are very angry, not only that your wife died, but at her. This is actually pretty common, and a great thing to discuss in counseling. And I think you need someone who is zeroed in on you, not a group setting. Be choosy when you pick a therapist - make sure the person zings you with something true and insightful on the first visit.

The toughest deaths are the ones of people with whom we have unfinished business. I miss my father terribly, but it was my mom's death that threw me for a loop. Guess which one I had the difficult relationship with?
posted by bearwife at 9:43 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your kids are what? 12 - 15-ish.

"Now what"? is being the best dad you can possibly be for them. They have lost their mom.

This means taking care of yourself. yes therapy. Also exercise outside, also diet, also hobbies also if you are no longer enjoying your work find something more meaningful, either work-wise or volunteering.

Yes, your kids need more help then you realize. You have options which you should take, and which hopefully you can reach out for, but as sucky as it is for you, you are also an adult and at least have a few more years of coping skills to rely on.
posted by edgeways at 9:47 AM on April 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Everyone else is suggesting therapy, and I'm going to echo that.

I'm also going to suggest a short story - "Widow", by the Irish author Mary O'Donnell. It's about a young woman who's been widowed and is struggling in almost exactly the same way you are. I'm not recommending it because it contains easy answers (most of the action concerns a string of one-night stands she has, until she finally has this huge cathartic emotional break in the middle of one), but because it is the only story I've read about a grieving spouse that even acknowledges that anger even is one of the things that you can feel in the aftermath. So I'm recommending it as a sort of consolation that "feeling angry is not a crazy thing". And sometimes, a reminder that what you are feeling isn't crazy is enough.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you need therapy and I think you need a wild change of scenery. First, a little therapy, then a wild change of scenery. How old are your kids now, are they still home? If so, I think therapy for them and family therapy -- they know you're hurting but may not have the language for it. A parent who is feeling dead inside does not go unnoticed.

I hope you're also giving yourself a break. My Dad died a couple years back and when I really think about his death, I also get some serious who-gives-a-fuck-about-fuck-all?!? going on. I don't talk about that with anyone because it's depressing as shit. But, I have the distance of it being my father. If it was my husband or, I would need some serious therapy.

I also recommend massage to just about anyone dealing with anything traumatic. Spending some time focusing on your body and relaxing can do wonders. You can also do something new and active with your body to give your stress a physical outlet: yoga, hiking, biking, boxing, whatever.

And then, see if you can have a wild change of scenery. Do a group trip somewhere if you're not up for planning something. Volunteer in a different location. Think about a way to get away and just shake things up a bit.

I'm sorry you're going through this. It sucks.
posted by amanda at 9:51 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

MeMail me. I was your kid, and I have a lot of thoughts that I'd prefer to express privately, if that's okay with you.
posted by decathecting at 9:55 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was also going to suggest the possibility that deep immersion in the task (no, make that "joy") of raising your kids (assuming that's an option) might be therapeutic.
posted by Dansaman at 10:05 AM on April 30, 2013

I don’t think our culture helps us come to grips with death well, at all. Somehow, sometimes a few months after a loved one dies, we’re expected to get it together and pretend that this awe-some thing didn’t happen – to be embarrassed about it, even -- and are quickly thrust into everyday life, left to be insulted by its banality. And then friends and acquaintances are afraid to talk about it, for lack of any appropriate linguistic or social or philosophical (if you are not religious) containers for the idea of death, and for the idea of a loss this big. We’re left with silence and awkwardness, or, I guess, the kind of hero-fication you’ve experienced. I think those cultures that give people time (a year is not uncommon) and tools to signal and talk about grief, and for others to do the same, have it right.

But you’re not in one of those places, you’re in a place that leaves you and the people around you with silence.

Others have mentioned grief counselling. In addition to that: are there any friends you think you could talk some of this out with? They may be able to help you sort through feelings and memories about your wife; maybe if you explicitly let them know how you want to talk about things, they’ll feel freer to support you the way you need it.

And you are also left with making sense of life in general, and your life in particular. I find philosophy helpful for that, in the absence of religion. (There is philosophical counselling, as well, if you think that might help.)

Take care. You are not alone in feeling this way, and it’s not your fault.
posted by nelljie at 10:10 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Again Nthing counseling. And if the counseling leads to seeing a psychiatrist and being prescribed some sort of medication, dont be afraid of that. I have found it very beneficial.
posted by Billiken at 10:13 AM on April 30, 2013

Welcome. You are not alone. Many of us feel this way. There is nothing wrong with you. This is simply an acknowledgment of the true nature of life, minus all the distractions of living in an affluent country and whatever other wild things we do in our mind to 'make it all better'.

Live is suffering, sickness and death, yes, for all of us.

You have broken through to the other side, don't push it away and try to get back to normal. You can evolve, or return back to your previous state of denial.
posted by nanook at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You say you're running out the clock. Well, there's still plenty of time left on your kid's clocks.

You may not have had a great relationship with your wife, but she would've wanted you to take care of her kids, and you can't do that if you're feeling like a schmuck.

I tried going to a young widows/widowers group, but it is all women who seem to all have a very different process for this kind of thing.

I bet there's one that's male-focused and you haven't found it yet.

If you really can't find one, make one. You feel like a schmuck, but I bet there's another dude our there that feels like a schmuck, too, and you can help one another.

The best things you're going to get here are "you are not alone" and "get counseling."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:21 AM on April 30, 2013

I am also widowed. My husband committed suicide in May of last year, so I get that feeling of not fully meshing with the other widowed folks. My own lack of joy is not depression, it's more like being suspended, like I’ve lost my past and my future, and I’m just stuck here, fully capable of work and parenting but not giving a damn. You too? My therapist has helped me work through my past and to stop dwelling on the future, and I highly recommend a good therapist.

You’ve still got to do the work yourself, though. Here are some of the things that can provoke feeling in me: meditation, poetry, mild exercise, discovering a new band on my Pandora station, connecting with people who really care about me, catching up on Metafilter and Metatalk threads to admire all these people on here who give a damn, letting go of the things I used to rely on for happiness and gently trying out new things (poetry instead of the novels I used to read, kayaking or hikes in the woods instead of long-distance runs, hanging out with single friends instead of couples).

Please feel free to contact me, if you’d like. I’m no expert, just a fellow traveler.
posted by Fichereader at 10:24 AM on April 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

This happened to me (well my mom) and also to my stepfather. I was 15 and my sister was 12. My mom was a wreck for a while but did pull thorough and I know that we were the center of her world. I think I managed alright but my sister spun into a depression that she is still fighting 15 years later. She started therapy on and off around age 17 and it helped but I really think we all should have seen someone right away. Its hard for me to evaluate what impact it had in my life but it sure did change everything.

About the same time my dad died (no notice, just up and died one day) my future step father was dealing with the loss of his first wife. He had three kids ages 11-16 and his wife died a slow and horrible death from brain cancer over several years. The tumors affected her personality and she was not the mother that family knew. In many ways I think the children were relieved when she finally died because the experience was so terrible. This had led to a huge amount of guilt and emotional baggage for all of them. None of them saw any kind of therapist. Step dad threw himself into work to support the family and the youngest and only girl was expected to hold the family together. 10 years later when I met them the emotional toll on all of them is clear to see (maybe they felt the same about us). My step dad turned out to be a good husband to my mom but all us kids are still dealing with our own losses.

I tell you this so that you will consider making your kids a priority by getting the help and the treatment that you need for your depression (which is totally understandable) but also getting the kids some assistance even if they don't seem to need it right now. I think family sessions would be great for all of you. Please remember you lost a wife but they lost a mom.
posted by saradarlin at 10:37 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hesitate to suggest this because it's only been two years, but consider that you may be suffering from complicated grief.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:39 AM on April 30, 2013

Grief and anger are both exhausting and numbing. Its ok to be angry, hurt, deprived, lonely, scared, upset, happy, confused, grieving, frustrated, etc, at any point in time or even all at once.

Its ok to go on medications for times like this- its one of the things they are designed for! It evens out some of the crushing grief and despair, letting you A, live your life, and B, grieve more evenly and with less huge swings.
posted by Jacen at 10:40 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was involved for a number of years with a wonderful hospice here in San Francisco, and there is a grief support network, including training, that is loosely associated with it (and is run by the founder). This is a founder who has said more smart things about grief than I've ever heard come out of one individual's mouth.

I would like to see if I can help connect you with someone trained through this group -- there are folks across the country who have been through the training -- could you tell me what part of the world you're in?

I agree wholeheartedly with "get counseling" but I also think you have to find the right counselor and that isn't always easy and, unfortunately, I've seen people become more and more invested and stuck in their grief or depression when they're working with someone who isn't right for them.

I also want to say -- and I know that just hearing it from a random stranger isn't going to turn on any lightbulbs over your head but I just want to put it out there -- death makes life meaningful. When we really get it that everything ends and that there isn't unlimited time for everything, we have this opportunity to stop procrastinating and make every moment count because it's limited and therefore special.

I know that the first reaction to the truth of impermanence is so so often the feeling of helplessness and despair, like what's the use if it's all going to end anyway? but I genuinely believe that it is this kind of crisis that allows us the doorway to freedom and joy. But it's hard work, and I would love to offer whatever I can to help.
posted by janey47 at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I haven't lost a loved one to death, but I know this feeling well. I had it after the traumatic end of a long-term relationship that implicated my work, social, and romantic life.

Here's my take on it: You've lost everything that has given life meaning and structure. "The center cannot hold" and all of that. At the same time, you are realizing that those things, themselves, are flawed. Your relationship with your wife was why you have the children you do, probably why you live where you do, why you have the particular job you do. It shaped your life profoundly. And it ended earlier than is socially typical. And it wasn't perfect, and no one wants to hear that because it's not part of the myth of the dearly departed spouse. This is something called "complicated grief".

For me, the only thing that helped (over the very long term... several years) was completely reorganizing my life. I went back to school. I made new friends. I moved to a new city, then a new country. I changed my relationship to my family of origin (no longer have contact).

You have kids, so this may be more difficult, but I think what will help is cultivating your dreams. Your old dreams are dead, it is true. And what's worse, they were flawed as well. But you are still alive and can still do things that matter, to you and to others.

You don't have to do this right away, and you might need to wait and prepare while your kids are still at home... but what did you want to do when you were 11 years old? Be an astronaut? A doctor? Travel to the arctic ocean? Change the world?

I would focus on those things -- things that inspire you, things you really care about, and try to find what you really care about (which may be a process of trial and error). Those things are not dead. Those things are still in the world and available to you: art, science, community... whatever means a lot to you.

A couple of books that you might find helpful:

Fred Luskin, Forgive For Good - You sound like there are issues of forgiveness, and he has a great formula for re-framing painful issues in a way that helps you move forward
Seven Choices - Particularly good approach (imo) to dealing with grief as a series of choices, not as things that happen to you.
posted by 3491again at 10:57 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with everything you have said. We are running out the clock. We are doomed to a box of dust. It doesn't matter what you are working on. Life is short.

That was all true before your wife died, too. And before mine did.

Grief gums up every psychological system you have. For years. Even at T+15 years for me, there are echoes of a very bad death.

There is a beautiful thing that comes out of this, though. Growth. The gift the dead leave behind is an acceleration of appreciation of today that you usually don't develop until you are old, old, old or very sick yourself. The bad stuff keeps masking it, but as it dies off, you get a mature calm. Wisdom in a can. Acceptance of some bad stuff that suddenly doesn't look all that bad anymore. Tolerance.

In short, you get to walk around with the UNDERSTANDING (visceral) that we are running out the clock, we are doomed to a box of dust, it doesn't matter what we're doing, and that life is short. What looks bad now becomes the basis of being able to confront YOUR human condition, and lets you make the most of what remains. If you are lucky, your kids will get some of that, too, and be better adults for it. You have to show them how, still, as a parent, but it's the best and biggest gift you can give the dead....caring for what they loved and honoring their memory with good works. One day, you smile when you think of her instead of cry. You start appreciating all her bad habits and attitudes. But it becomes happy remembrance, not sad.

Peace, friend. It takes a long time for a big explosion to dissipate.
posted by FauxScot at 11:58 AM on April 30, 2013 [23 favorites]

FauxScot knows what he's talking about. Read that a few times. Also, I started re-reading Seven Choices after you posted this. Please, please get that book and read it. She talks EXACTLY about what you're going through, and provides a really great way of looking at it. (Her husband died young as well.)
posted by 3491again at 12:22 PM on April 30, 2013

This NYTimes article addresses the differences in grieving strategies between men and women, with emphasis on how difficult it can be for men to grieve, and why.

Mentioned in the article is the National Widowers' Organization, a nonprofit organization which looks to establish and support grief groups for men nationwide.

I hope this helps you.
posted by subajestad at 1:04 PM on April 30, 2013

This sounds so hard. I'm really, really sorry you're dealing with this.

As everyone says:

Therapy. Make appointments with three different therapists and tell them all you're interviewing a few people. Commit to see each of them before you choose one. You need someone you can connect with.

A hobby. Take a woodworking class. Or Brazilian Ju Jitsu. Or learn to play flute. Something immersive and difficult that takes a lot of practice and requires a lot of support from a teacher. You need support and mentoring and something to focus on that has meaning.

Get outside. Commit to getting into nature 3 days a week. Ask your girlfriend to hold you accountable. Take up an outdoor hobby like surfing or mountain biking. Or just go for quiet walks outside.

Take your depression seriously. It's understandable and even normal to feel empty and meaningless right now. But this can become a spiral that can ultimately be very damaging and hard to shake. You need to take this seriously.

Get your kids the support they need, primarily by taking care of yourself.

Best of luck to you.
posted by latkes at 2:30 PM on April 30, 2013

Grief is a part of being alive. Grieving is part of life. But, it is not life.

I wanted to share this with you:
"You know, life—and the power of life—shines through us, even when we ourselves do not notice. When that happens, it will strengthen the will to live in others as well. But, why don't we recognize the power of the will to live in us? This is another function of the American way. You know, we have a tendency to put our wounds and difficulties behind us, and get on with the rest of our life. You can't barely read a newspaper without seeing someone who's had some enormous tragedy happen to them, and some spokesman for them will say, 'They want to put this behind them, and get on with the rest of their life.' This is not a particularly compassionate society. We expect this of ourselves. We often expect it of others. Our culture denies wounding, denies vulnerability, can almost see it as something shameful. And if you live this way, it's possible to lose something very important without learning anything much from it. Nothing much about yourself, or about life. I think we may need to reclaim the courage of our vulnerability. We may need to revisit our wounds and losses, because only there will we find our strength. The will to live is buried in the depths of any wound we have survived."
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, "The Will to Live" audio CD/talking book, track 7, disc 1
Figuring out what will bring the light back to your eyes can take time. We are altered by loss. Loss is inevitable. Your losses, your layered feelings about the passing of your first wife, are all asking for attention right now. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. I think you need some care. I think you need some attention.

Grief is about feeling lost. Feeling like the moorings are gone. Like you are starting from scratch. Like being a stranger in your own life.

Recently, I read this April 2013 NY Times article and wanted to share an excerpt with you:
Mr. Owen said in an interview: "A lot of things that seemed abnormal in our lives were common to the other guys in the group. Someone would bring up a situation, and the rest of us would nod, 'Yeah, me too.' These issues were very difficult to discuss with friends who hadn't been through a similar experience," said the father of two children, who were 9 and 12 when their mother died.

"We were all in a place in our lives we hadn't prepared for," he said, "and collectively we could share experiences and help each other navigate."
Ideally, [Dr. Yopp] said, every major cancer center would have a support group for widowed fathers, whose experiences and needs are different from those of widowed women and older men. (More information about how the group works can be found at

Cancer is responsible for more widowed fathers than any other cause of death, Dr. Rosenstein and Dr. Yopp noted in an article in the journal Psycho-Oncology.
—"A Lifeline for Widowed Fathers" by Jane Brody, NY Times online 22 April 2013
Grief can bring about isolation, both felt and de facto, physical. You are not meant to be isolated through this process. Remember, you deserve support through this process. Wanting time alone is healthy. We are also biologically wired with the need for connection. When we are feeling loss and perhaps even grieving, it is a normal response to want to gather close. It's a blow to the entire system when a person dies, even a person for whom we had complicated feelings. The anger, everything. You have a right to your feelings, even if the feelings you feel are for a person who is deceased. The loss never goes away. The way you are able to process it changes over time. It is like a tree that grows over and around a bicycle left in its branches.

Anyway, I just wanted to share a few things with you. A start. I feel a lot of love for people who grieve. All of us will grieve at some point, if we haven't already. It is part of being human. We have bloody few models for how to grieve, much less societal support for it. But, grieving is necessary, if exasperating. And, it need not be the only thing. It is possible to laugh at a funny movie even while grieving. It is possible to have, as you said, a partner whose company you enjoy, while grieving. Eventually, you may decide that connecting with people who may get it (get what it's like to lose someone, to experience the death of someone close to them, who gets the absolutely shortness of life), or at least listen well with some good training and both experience with hardship in their own lives, will help soften you and get you back to your own life, the one you are living right now. You are alive.
posted by simulacra at 2:31 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm an admitted online support group junkie, so I'm going to suggest that if you didn't quite mesh with the in-person support groups available in your area, you might see if there are any online (forums, e-mail lists) support groups that you find useful. One of the great things about online support groups is that it is really easy to take what you can use and leave the rest, because you don't even have to read messages that aren't applicable.

In coping with my own grief journey (suicide of my teenage son in 2012), I've found that support groups and my therapist provide different kinds of support, both valuable. A support group, in particular can help with the realization that every thing you're feeling and experiencing is completely normal and OK for someone in your shoes, while at the same time the sum total of everyone's grief journey is going to assume a different shape. (in other words, your experience is quite similar to that of others, while also unique). I've also found benefit in catching a glimpse into the experiences and feelings of people who are much further into their journey than me--5, 10, 20 years down the line, even--seeing the kind of people they have become through the crucible of loss.
posted by drlith at 3:59 PM on April 30, 2013

I don't know if this is useful, but it's heartening to know that others have been through this. Galway Kinnel says to Wait.

After Buffy's been going through the motions, Spike says that she has to go on living.
posted by Fichereader at 4:03 PM on April 30, 2013

but it turns out I have a hard time caring about anything.

This is often referred to as anhedonia - the inability to take pleasure - and friend it is a classic indicator of clinical depression. Do you find yourself waking up quite early in the morning by any chance? Another sympton of depression. You are not well.

It's also interesting that you talk about feelings of anger. Some therapists say that depression is "anger turned inwards". It's an interesting way of thinking about it, as depression is not usually something we associate with high-energy emotions like anger, but not uncommon.

Back to therapy, and possibly a psychiatrist I think. Don't forget your kids; they need a healthy father in their lives even more than most kids do.
posted by smoke at 4:38 PM on April 30, 2013

It took me hours to think about your question.

I have never been in your situation, exactly. I have held loved ones in my arms at their final breath. That alone is hard. You must be a stong person to have even done that. I know many, many, many people would have left the room. I've witnessed that!
You must continue to be strong for your children. They hurt too.

I can offer you no quick advice, something that will make your life instantly better. Not a thing exist, and if it did it'd be trouble. I won't say to you to go get therapy. I have been in therapy. I am not preaching against it, but honestly, in my opinion , it isn't for everybody.
For me, I was just going through the in day out. Breathing, at least constantly aware of it. Awake when asleep, asleep when awake.

I offer to you to choose to consciously change your mindset. Actively think about it. Choose to be a better different person. Think long term goals. If your children are 13 right now, then five years from now you are going to do/be X!

If it was me, I'd think something stupid like, five years from now I am going to be a pilot, and spend the next five years working on it. Or go even bolder, in five years, I am going to join the circus. If clowns aren't your thing, join the army, sail a boat around the world trying to beat someone else's world record, be a solo artist. Think bold.

Granted, a quick adrenaline rush would would jump start your heart.
I recommend skydiving. It made me feel alive!
I am not advocating doing something reckless and stupid. Far from it. The most important, and to me, the only goal is for you to change your mindset.

You have to want it. No amount of therapy will ever make you. You sound ready.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 5:46 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd also advocate religion, but I am not the kind of person to naturally push religion. I am selfish with my religion, keeping it all bunched up inside me.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 5:54 PM on April 30, 2013

Do you live near a Gilda's Club? I'm in Seattle and our club has a group for people who have lost someone to cancer. I was in a group for parents dealing with cancer, sadly we had many members die. In time we spoke of the realities of marriage - sometimes it was horrible between one another - sometimes it was okay - sometimes it was good. Gilda's is a place to "come as you are" no pretense. I am a witness to seeing broken spouses find hope and joy again, in time. I hope you find peace, support and ultimately happiness.
posted by jennstra at 8:49 PM on April 30, 2013

Hi all, it's me. Thanks so much for all the responses. I'll be MeFiMailing some of you.

It's been hit or miss with counseling for me but I think I will give it a try again and see if I can find someone that I click with. I have been on antidepressants in the past but I have been feeling curiously resistant to starting them again. I might give them a shot again though.

Did I mention that two months after my wife died, my mother died also? Yeah, well. I won't mention having to euthanize my wife's favorite dog two months after that. Not a good year.

I think the most puzzling part for me is that I thought I was doing better. I guess I wasn't as better as I thought I was.

I have been doing much more exercise; I gained a bunch of weight during the worst of it, but managed to lose it all over the last year, and I'm more active than I ever have been in my life. I even took up running in the last two weeks. C'mon exercise endorphins! Guess I need more than that.

I did feel like I got an appreciation of life for a while. I felt like I was in a hurry to do everything and go everywhere and see everything. I bought a sports car and I've been racing it at the track. I've traveled more than I have in the last ten years. I have eaten really good food and drunk really good beer and had really great sex. But in my dark hours I forget to remember those things.

My life ended, I suppose, and I have to learn how to start a new one. That takes a while.
posted by nthing at 8:59 PM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

My life ended, I suppose, and I have to learn how to start a new one. That takes a while.

This is an extremely accurate way to put it.

It's no wonder that your zest for life has tapered a little now that you don't feel death breathing down your neck in the same way. It's kind of like you start off running from an explosion and yay you survived, now time to celebrate being alive - but in the process your life is in a kind of suspended animation with no real driving force. Now you're running out of the "hooray I lived" adrenaline and you're having to deal with finding a direction in a world that's vastly different from the one you "left", if you will. It's rough. It takes time. If you're the kind of person who can handle therapy, it might help; same with anti-depressants.

I had the benefit of being a student (woo suspended animation) when my mother passed away in a similar manner and even then, it shook up my world something fierce. I went from having a "normal" home life and family to being the de facto parent and guardian of two teenagers. I did well for a while, then OK, and at 2.5 years out I still hit some stumbling blocks - usually out of the blue. That's to be expected. Give yourself room to fumble around, feel whatever feelings you have (negative feelings are actually quite common - the pedestal can be a coping mechanism), and take some of the pressure off of yourself to live the most fulfilling life right now otherwise it's 100% wasted.
posted by buteo at 9:36 PM on April 30, 2013

I have been thinking of posting something not too far different from your question for some time, nthing. I had already been teary tonight when I read your post, and then got even more teary (still wiping some away as I type this). I feel like I've been where you are for the past seven years, and there's no real end in sight. I didn't lose a spouse, but my twin sister.

Therapy didn't really change anything for me, and the antidepressants had their own issues that just didn't seem worth the trouble, and didn't change much anyway. I was amused when you said that you were waiting for those exercise endorphins to kick in -- my personal trainers keep telling me that exercise will make me feel better, but of course, it hasn't.

About the only thing that keeps me going is my involvement in animal rescue. It was something my sister did, and so in a way I try to think of it as keeping up her legacy, but on the black days that's not enough.

I hope that some of the folks here who've offered to talk privately with you might offer you some help. In a weird way, it's helped me to read your post and what people have said -- I offer that up to you, for what it's worth. I don't have any family left, and I'm sure that's a lot of why I have struggled so much.

It is an ending. And you have to figure out how to keep stepping through it, putting one foot in front of the other, in this new life. I hope you can, especially for your kids. Figuring out where the anger fits in, and if there's any good stuff left in you. If you need one more person to memail with, feel free to contact me. I get it.
posted by emcat8 at 12:08 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nothing will ever be all better, and nothing will ever get "back to normal". There can be a new normal, and a new sort of things-are-good, but the old normal is gone, and the old "all better" is gone.

so why bother?

That's the sort of existential question that many people answer with religion. If you don't do religion, try meditation. Buddhism seems to have an interesting take on this sort of question as well (I'm not going to elaborate on this here, as I don't feel I know enough about Buddhism to do so).

Everyone is stardust eventually. We only live for a short time, and we may as well experience life with all it's ups and downs while we are at it. You've been handed awareness that nothing we do matters in the end at a younger age than a lot of people.

If you think a widow/widower group would be useful to you, try going to others or back to the same one if it has been a while, there will be different people. Even if there aren't different people, you might find they have different views at this point. There are also online groups, including groups specifically for men, or specifically for people who had a difficult relationship with their spouse.

You might consider trying an antidepressant medication. There's some controversy over using such things for grief, with some seeing using an antidepressant as "pathologizing" a normal process. Don't let this keep your from trying something that may be a small help. People drink coffee to give them a little small help in the mornings, but if there were laws that you needed to be diagnosed by a doctor and have a prescription to buy coffee, they'd be pathologized as having morning-sluggishnessitisness-technicalterm. If there's a tool that will help you, talk to someone who can help you get that tool.

Most people kid themselves about death eventually coming for them to some extent. The trick is to kid yourself just enough to enjoy life.
posted by yohko at 11:27 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is interesting indeed that you forgot to mention the loss of your mother and pet in your original post! That you are able to function is a miracle to me, and you should be proud of yourself for doing what you need to do for yourself and especially for your children.

Everything is all back to normal.

Except not really.

There is never going to be going back to normal. There will be a new normal, where there is a void left behind by the lost loved ones but its going to be a different normal, and a different you.

I thought I was all better, but it turns out I have a hard time caring about anything.

With the kind of losses you have endured, and in such a short time, two years is nothing when it comes to grief.

In this age of facebook and constant checking of emails on the phone every five minutes, its the fundamental human feeling of loss and grief that reminds us that not everything can be willed and dismissed instantly on command, and there is value in going back to the basics and cultivating some hard to learn lessons.

With all due respect to other posters, the myths and misconceptions of grief are obvious in some answers above. Do remember that its a very individualized process, and there is no right or wrong way about it. You feel what you feel. Honour that. There is nothing you *should* or *should not* be doing. You have to educate yourself on this, from resources and being aware of your own patterns, and then get the help you need and can relate to. And keep seeking help till you find what fits you best for if you dont seek, how will you find it??

As a general but excellent resource on grief, Wolfelt's book Understanding our Grief is a good start. It gives you an idea of what to expect and what not to expect, apart from other things. It also talks about some of the things you have experienced in your grief journey and mentioned in your posts. If you feel up for more reading email me and I'll send more. Unfortunately, I cannot be any helpful with grieving children...

You are still grieving, my friend. Embrace the uncertainty, the insecurity, the roller coaster of all sorts of emotions (including anger about and at the loved ones) and get an idea of what to expect and how to get and know when to get help.

Finally, regarding the meaning and purpose of life, maybe the correct question is not "what's the meaning of it all?" but, "what brings meaning to *my* life?". What makes your life meaningful to you? This is a question whose answer doesn't necessarily have to change after experiencing loss although the latter will certainly influence it profoundly. I have personally felt that asking myself the first question makes me go round and round in circles whereas asking the second one makes me think in a focused way and gives me some sort of a direction based on what is of utmost importance and value to me, if that makes sense.

I wish you and your children peace. Feel free to email anytime even if you just need to vent to a fellow human experiencing some of the same pain.
posted by xm at 8:12 PM on May 2, 2013

I've been in a different space, but maybe it will help you. I haven't lost a spouse, but my spouse has a serious chronic condition that will most likely kill him long before my time on this planet is done.

About 5 years ago, this lead to him spending 5 days in the ICU, nearly dead. I'd been working 80 hour weeks, had actually been at my parents' place to see them for the first time in forever, and had to cut my trip to see them short to come back when our housemate called and said he'd had to take my spouse to the hospital.

I remember so clearly standing at his bedside, staring at him, crying and thinking to myself, this is the stupidest cliche Lifetime movie thing ever. Seriously. No one's life works like this. No one gets the Big Indicator From On High that your priorities are all screwed up. I can still remember what it felt like. I was freaked out and upset and This Is Not Happening, and for months afterwards it felt like a part of my brain had started screaming and never stopped. It was like if I tried to listen I could almost hear the high pitched wailing of the part of my brain that just snapped that night.

It did change a lot for me. I did stop being so enmeshed with work; it's really hard to give a care if the client is ticked about their database being a day later than promised when faced with something so big as death. My immediate response to almost anything was, "I don't care, X almost died". It was like a litany. It did spur me to re-evaluate things, to change my career, to make different decisions about how I spend my time. But it was slow. It took me 2 years to put some good boundaries around work, and another 6 months before I actively sought out my new career. And even now, I'll get struck by the stupid futility of it all. And I'm fairly certain that it's taken my agnosticism and turned it into atheism.

But, here's the thing. I know that if I get into a thought pattern of, "This is the stupidest thing ever. We're all just dust and there's no point", that it's an indication to me that something's out of balance, that something's pushing me out of whack again. For me, that's generally overwork - when I get too enmeshed, when I care too much about the outcome, when I'm working too many hours because I'm in too deep - it's a reminder to me to pull back. It's a reminder that I'm in too deep, that I need to get some distance, that I need to re-prioritize my boundaries and cut back on my hours. I mean, if we're all dust anyways, I might as well spend some of the time that I do have playing Minecraft instead of adding yet more unpaid hours to the profit coffers of Giant Company X.

Also, grief is not something tidy or easily boxed up and put on a shelf. It's taken time for me to really process things. I would be great for months, and then something would throw me for a tailspin, and I'd wonder what the hell was wrong with me, especially because my husband didn't die, and for cripes' sake, he's sitting right here, what is my problem? When the reality is, you can say you understand that someone will die before you, you can say that you're prepared for that eventuality, but I don't know that one can ever be prepared for something like that, and it's ok to have a part of you break when something like that happens. And it's ok that it took me so long to work through everything. It's ok that it took so long for the part of my brain that snapped to stop screaming.

So I guess in that long rambling I wanted to say: this isn't an easy thing, and it's not a linear thing. You'll be fine then you won't, and then you will again. It's ok to say, "I thought I was doing ok, but you know what, I'm not." It's ok to go back to therapy and say, I've got this part down, but I need to deal with this other part now. It's ok for grief to be a complex multi-layered onion. It's ok to be where you are. It sounds like you're thinking about getting help again, and that's great. I think there's a certain gentleness you need to have with yourself and where you are that isn't common in Western culture. Just ... know that it's ok that things don't fit into a tidy box, and do what you need to do (therapy, meds, support groups, all of the above, plus the other great suggestions in this thread) to get to the next better place on your journey.

Also, yes, definitely get your kids into therapy if they aren't already. For the people I know who lost parents early, it helped them a lot.
posted by RogueTech at 7:45 PM on May 6, 2013

« Older Can I effectively protest the actions of my state...   |   The company located next to my house won't stop... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.