Dear Annie: Dealing with debilitating grief
Dear Annie: I am a 69-year-old man who, until now, only read your column periodically. Each time I read your advice to someone, I would say to myself, “Hmm, that’s really good advice.” I never ever thought that I would need to write to you. Well, now I am eating those words.
In late August, I lost the most important person in my life to inoperable pancreatic cancer. My wife was diagnosed in June 2014, and despite the fact that the cancer spread to three additional organs, she fought back. This amazing woman refused to let the cancer win. She went on with her life, and even though she received chemo and radiation therapy on a regular basis, as well as numerous medications, she refused to give in.
I drove her to every doctor’s appointment and every radiation and chemotherapy appointment, as well as all over the country as we searched for clinical trials. However, after two-plus years, her fragile body could fight no longer, and she died in my arms.
The reason I am writing to you is that I am a total mess. Friends and family are calling me to come to dinner. I don’t want to be around people as I grieve; I prefer to be alone all of the time. Our house is just as it was on the day she died because I simply can’t part with her things at this time. Yet seeing these things sends me into pain and sobbing sessions that may last for hours. I have completely lost faith in everything, and I don’t trust professionals. I have joined several grief support groups, but I do not find solace in them yet.
My wife and I spent 50 years of our lives together. She was my best friend, my soul mate and my only love. Without her, I feel empty and incomplete. Although people keep telling me that things eventually will get better, I have my doubts. I am trying to take care of myself and to do the things I believe she would want me to do if she were still alive. The only thing I really have difficulty doing is sleeping. I would appreciate any advice you can offer. — Neil
Dear Neil: I know that nothing I say can reduce the enormity of your loss — that my response may come across as cliched or maybe even a little hollow — because in the face of such grief, words look ridiculous and small. Still, I must say, with all of my heart, that I am so sorry for your loss.
In these times of deep grief, turn to the memories you and your wife shared. Let them warm you through the night like a blanket. They are eternal. No one can ever take those away from you. Your wife lives on in your heart. Let her strength help you through this.
Be patient with yourself and permit yourself to grieve as long and as deeply as you need. But it sounds as if your wife was an amazing fighter, and she would want you to fight — to be strong, to wring as much joy and happiness out of life as you possibly can, every single glorious day on this earth.
You are blessed to have friends and family who want to lift you up. When you are ready, you will let them. One day, someone close to you will find himself in this same unfathomable situation, and your friendship will be his saving grace. Think how proud your wife would be to see you spread that love.
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