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After a Year | by Linda Sherby, Ph.D., ABPP

06/28/2017 3:14 AM | Anonymous

It’s been a year since my wife died,” Andrew    Solomon begins. “She died of breast cancer. It    was a long process. Hard. She fought for as long    as she could, but she had an aggressive cancer.    She couldn’t beat it. Now, now I have the rest of    my life. I’m 65. I guess people consider that young  these days,” he adds with a slight smile. “I’m still working, thank goodness. It’s a great distraction. I’m an accountant. I have my own business so can pretty much make my own hours, except during tax season. But I cut down on my clients during my wife’s illness, so I do have more time on my hands.”

Mr. Solomon is a good looking man with wavy white hair, intense brown eyes and a slight dimple in his chin. I wonder what has brought him into therapy at this point, but wait to see where his thoughts take us.

He continues. “My friends tell me it’s time for me to start dating. That I’m young, secure financially, decent looking and that I’ll have women, younger women, flocking all over me. Maybe. But I don’t know. I don’t know that I feel ready.”

“How do you feel about your wife’s death?” I ask.

“Sad. Like there’s this big hole in my life. Don’t get me wrong, Bella – that’s her name, that was her name, hard for me to talk about her in the past tense – Bella and I didn’t have a perfect marriage. We had our fights. And I wasn’t always the ideal husband, especially when our kids were young. I had a couple of affairs. Never felt right about that. We got lots closer after our kids left. And actually we got even closer when she got sick. I guess I realized how much I was going to lose…” He trails off fighting back tears.  

“Sounds like you’re still understandably very sad.”

“But shouldn’t I be better after a year?”

“What do you mean by better?”

“Better, less sad, not so teary, ready to move on. Finished with grieving.”

“Grieving the loss of a loved one is not something we ever finish.”

Mr. Solomon looks startled. “No that can’t be. I can’t stay at this level of pain forever.”

“It’s not that grief doesn’t diminish that, as you said, the level of pain remains as intense, but we certainly don’t stop loving or missing the person we’ve lost.”

“But does that mean I shouldn’t start dating? Maybe I should start dating, maybe that would help with the pain.”

“That’s certainly not a decision anyone but you can make. Some people start dating soon after their partner has died, others wait years, and still others never date at all. There’s not one right answer for everyone.”

“I had a friend who got involved with the woman who eventually became his second wife, a month after his wife died. I thought that was awful. I lost respect for him.”

I flash on what Mr. Solomon said about having affairs earlier in his marriage and wonder if guilt plays into his question about whether or not to start dating. “How would you feel about yourself if you decided to start dating?”

“Bella told me it would be all right with her. I thought that was an amazing gift she gave me, especially since she knew about the affairs, or at least one of them.”

“Sounds like you still feel guilty about your affairs.”

“Yes, yes I do. I know it’s silly. It’s so many years ago. But especially when Bella got sick, I kept thinking how horrible I had been to her. How could I have even looked at another woman when I had Bella this amazingly strong, brave, good, beautiful woman?”

“You know, Mr. Solomon…”

“Please, call me Andrew.”

“You know, Andrew, I wonder if your guilt about those affairs very much affects you in the present, both in terms of how you feel about Bella’s death and also about whether you feel comfortable dating.”

“Why should that be?”

“Well, our pasts always affect the present and we haven’t even talked about your past before Bella – your childhood, your young adulthood. I suspect that guilt may have played a role in your life then as well. And we haven’t talked about why you think you had those affairs. Were you angry with Bella? Were you angry with her attention to your children?”

“Wow! I guess there is a lot there. I thought I was going to come in today, solve the problem of whether or not I should start dating and that would be that.”

I smile. “Therapy is way more complicated than that. It opens lots of questions before you’re able to answer even one.”

 

 

 


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