Neverending Grief

Ruth sits with me crying. It is our first session together and she started crying from the moment she began to speak. In between sobs she told me her story. She had been married for 34 years and had a very close relationship with her husband Max. They did everything together-worked in the family business, shared friends and social activities. After their children grew up and left home they became even closer, and laughed at people who had problems dealing with the “empty nest” syndrome.

Then Max became sick, developing prostate cancer. Ruth was there with him, and for him, every step of the way. It was a long difficult journey, with the inevitable end. Max died. He died in Ruth’s arms. He was buried and her grief was unbounded.

Three years later, her grief is as raw and strong and penetratingly painful as it was on the day he died. She cannot do anything except mourn and grieve and cry. She has stopped seeing her friends, and most of them have stopped trying to see her. She has some contact with her children who take her to their place for meals and who also drive her to appointments. Luckily, Max’s will left her financially secure.

If allowed to by her children, Ruth would prefer to sit in her lounge room and stare into space, or just lie in bed. Nothing interests her. She is filled with memories and tears.

Her children managed to get her to her GP who prescribed a large dose of antidepressant and told her to get on with her life. In fact, this is virtually identical to what everyone else is telling her. “Stop being depressed. Three years is too long to grieve, put his death behind you and make a life for yourself. Enjoy your children and grandchildren”. Her children made her an appointment with me, and she came to the session half hoping that I could help, and half convinced there was no point.

As Ruth talked, I realised that she also believed that there was something wrong with her. She couldn’t understand why she was so depressed, why her grief was still so strong and why she didn’t really feel anything much for her children and grandchildren. We talked about the Kuhbler-Ross mythology and the reality of grief as a search for new meaning. She quickly agreed with me that her life had no meaning and purpose without Max. She also was able to verbalise that she felt so empty without him. After a pause she said “It is as if I am grieving for the loss of my self as well as the loss of my husband”.

Ruth’s words rushed out. “No wonder I am so sad. This is a huge loss I am dealing with – the loss of the two most important people in my life, Max and me!” As she talked, it became clear that Ruth’s life had revolved around Max – apart from him she had had no friends, no outside interests, no hobbies, nothing. She had a big emptiness in herself which she was filling with tears. Did she want to find other ways to fill that emptiness?

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