Widower Feels Anger / Guilt about "Moving On"
QUESTION: I am a 37 year widower with two young kids. My wife was diagnosed with nueroblastoma almost three years ago and died within three months. The kids were so devastated that I spent much of my time and focus on them. I'm incredibly lonely, and I because of this I feel like a complete traitor to my wife. I've tried having coffee with a woman I like, but I shut down as soon as the conversation got too "close." I also find myself feeling angry when I look at my wife's picture. I can't believe I would be mad at her for getting sick. I don't know how to move on!
ANSWER: Your wife's death has precipitated not only the loss of your life's partner, but a dramatic alteration in your lifestyle. Your path to recovery has included experiences you had not bargained for. Becoming a single father to two very young children and managing your own and your children's grief has been an enormous challenge. Anger is often a stage that follows sadness in the grieving process. It is not surprising that these feelings would arise as you are beginning to date.
Acknowledge, but do not judge your feelings. It is natural to experience feelings of abandonment which can trigger both anger and sadness when a spouse dies. Though you know it was not your wife's "fault", you are still left alone with the family you began together.
Mourning and sadness allows us to gradually let go, as to some extent we experience the person with us in some way. When you begin to date, you are beginning to move on towards the possibility of a new family constellation, a new possibility for partnership. This is an experience of greater separation, as you know your wife will never share in this new situation. And, though you are not "replacing" her as the unique person she was in your life, you are considering filling the space she has left with another. This does not make you a traitor.
Anger is an emotion which is sometimes helpful in separating. Perhaps there are things that were left unsaid between you. Certainly there was much that was unfinished. Reflect on what words you would give your anger if you could speak to your wife now. Perhaps you could write a letter to her to express these feelings that are "unpopular" with you.
Reflect on whether you think your wife's "greater spirit" (if it exists for you in some way) would want you to be happy. Would she want you to move forward, understand your anger and accept it as natural and necessary to your transition towards another relationship?
Feelings are not logical. You may be angry at her for "leaving" you and need to express this in order to move forward. If these feelings continue to be uncomfortable for you, consider consulting with a counselor individually who will help you acknowledge and work through your anger and your guilt. The "acceptance" stage of grief includes coming to terms with feelings that do not always "make sense".
It is your job to take care of yourself and your future. It is often the case that unexpected and untimely loss as the one you and your children have experienced requires a greater time period for adjustment. You have been deeply hurt by your wife's departure. Intense sorrow and deep anger may also be a part of the process of opening up to new love again. There are no "rules" for when you should feel "past all this stuff". The "acceptance" stage includes you and your needs, too!
Allowing yourself to love again means you are vulnerable to loss once more. But it also makes you eligible for future happiness!
Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.
Copyright 1996-2003. Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.