The dilemma It’s only been a few weeks since my husband took his own life, but now the reality is starting to sink in and I feel completely overwhelmed by fear about what the future holds. I’m nearly 40, no children, and was with my husband since I was a teenager. He was my first real boyfriend and my best friend, and his death came as a complete shock. Aside from feeling immense guilt about his death, I was already anxious about living and ageing alone – and now I am living my greatest fear.
I don’t intend or want to be with someone else soon, but when I look online it seems that the odds of someone my age finding love again are unlikely at best. I can’t face the next few decades living alone. I try to see the positives, but my overriding thought is: “What’s the point?” I am struggling to see how life can be enjoyable again now that my husband and best friend is gone.
I despair of how I can continue like this. Any words of comfort and/or support would be most welcome.
Mariella replies I’m so sorry. It’s no wonder you’re feeling lost and alone. What a terrible loss for you to endure. It would be unusual if such an experience didn’t knock you down and find you questioning what life now holds. If you need immediate support, there are plenty of people who offer counselling (the Samaritans is on 116 123).
Your husband was suffering from depression, an illness that impacts heavily on the people around. Living with his mental struggles and then coping with his death will have placed an incredibly heavy burden on you that is difficult to shrug off on your own. You describe him as your best friend, but I sincerely hope you have others. You need all the support you can muster as you slowly emerge from this dark episode. Although your husband has permanently concluded his own suffering, the residue has unfortunately been passed on to you.
Taking your own life is an irrational, desperate, tragic act, but it’s also an extremely selfish choice. It’s rarely embarked on with mental clarity so it’s important to acknowledge the terrible legacy those left behind are lumbered with. I urge you to seek support and professional help as you negotiate the aftermath of this trauma. The guilt you are feeling is as entirely natural as it is absolutely unfounded and a good therapist will help you realise that and make better sense of his unthinkable act.
It may not feel like it at the moment, but it’s really good news that you are trying to look forward and consider what the future holds, even if currently the view appears bleak and your path ahead hard to see. Trawling the internet to gauge the potential for future romance won’t offer you a realistic picture. One of the disadvantages of the internet is that it can supply us with whatever we are looking for: good or bad, true or false – so don’t believe everything you read. Finding a new partner is a concern you should try to ignore for the moment. It’s natural to want to replace what you’ve lost but, heartache aside, what you have now is the opportunity for a second life. It may be entirely unwanted, but it’s also a great gift. A day will definitely come when your grief starts to lessen and life becomes easier to endure. It’s no crime to let your mind drift occasionally to the shape you want this next phase to take.
You say that being old and alone is your greatest fear and that’s definitely something you should also discuss with a therapist. You’ve been part of a couple since your teens so it might actually be a positive thing for you to sample the world entirely on your own terms for a while. Most of us chug along until midlife when we famously worry about all the things we haven’t achieved, question what we have accomplished, reconsider our closest relationships and fret about the time we have left. We often feel compelled to throw everything we have up in the air just to see where the pieces fall. You’ve had that watershed moment imposed on you and when your grief has lost its sharp edges, you may start seeing the benefits of sampling a different experience. It’s very early days and I suspect much of what I’m suggesting seems unimaginable, unsympathetic or both.
There’s a benefit to living your worst fear, in that there’s nothing left to be afraid of. As a simple exercise, why not start a bucket list of all the things you’ve deep down dreamed of doing – and make it as fanciful as you like? Is there a hobby you want to master, a country you’d like to live in, a marathon you fancy running, a charity you’d like to get immersed in? A life skill or a work skill you’d like to acquire? You need only please yourself and that’s scary, but also exciting.
The worst you could have imagined is now behind you. Enduring happiness is only possible if you learn how to create it for yourself – and when you do it opens the door to all kinds of new relationships, too. Allow those around you to help you back on your feet and be kind to yourself until you’re ready to face forward. Then step out and embrace the world with impunity. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised at where it leads you.
• In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.