“When I lost my husband in a motorcycle accident four years ago, I felt like I had nothing left to live for. Evan* was the love of my life; we had known each other since we were 15. Without him, I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to move forward.
Evan was only 31 when he died; he’d sustained severe head injuries and the doctors couldn’t save him. I was having dinner with friends when I got the bad news. I was so upset that I started crying hysterically and had to be carried out of the restaurant because my legs wouldn’t stop shaking. The next several days after Evan’s death were a blur – I barely remember his funeral or who showed up to pay their last respects. All I remember is not being able to sleep or eat much and not really wanting to see or talk to anybody. Evan’s and my families did everything for me because I felt like a zombie.
Struggling to move on
I once read that six months is a normal amount of time to grieve the loss of a loved one; anything longer than that and you may need professional counselling. And that’s exactly what I got when I still found myself unable to move on with my life, 12 months after Evan’s death.
I was having trouble waking up to go to work and focusing on my job. I couldn’t spend time with friends the way I used to because my sadness prevented me from enjoying myself and I didn’t want to affect everyone else with my low mood. I didn’t care about paying my bills, doing the housework or even eating and showering. I didn’t care about anything. In fact, many nights, I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. I couldn’t stop thinking about Evan’s death and worrying about whether he felt any pain. I missed him terribly.
My counsellor was caring and empathetic. She listened to me without judgement and tried to make me feel better by encouraging me to look at the positives in my life. While the counselling sessions did help a little, I couldn’t deny that, no matter how often I opened up to my counsellor, Evan was gone for good and never coming back to me. I stopped the counselling after just four months.
Can’t let him go
Since stopping the counselling, I’ve tried my best to move on with my life but it hasn’t been easy. I know that Evan is dead but it makes me feel better to act like he’s still around. For example, I’ve kept all his clothes and possessions as he left them – if I threw them away, it would make me feel like I was trying to forget about him. Sometimes, when I’m alone at home I talk to him as if he was right next to me, and I like to pretend that he’s with me when I go to sleep at night. Once, a few weeks after Evan passed away, I made extra food for dinner, totally forgetting that I was cooking for one. To this day, I also can’t bear to delete all the text messages and emails that Evan sent to me over the years. When I feel down, I listen to his old voicemails for comfort.
It’s not that I can’t accept that Evan’s gone; I know I’ll never see him again, but it’s hard to act like he’s gone forever when I can still feel him around me. Acting like he’s still a part of my life helps me miss him a little less. It sounds crazy, I know, and I’d never tell my family and friends how I truly feel because they would probably think I’ve lost my mind.
Still married to the love of my life
I haven’t been able to call myself a widow yet – whenever I meet people for the first time I tell them that I’m still married but that my husband has passed away. I still wear my engagement and wedding rings, and I still have my wedding photos displayed in my house and on my desk at work. In my mind, I am still a married woman.
My friends have introduced me to new guys, in hopes that I would click with one of them, start a new relationship and move on with my life. I wasn’t against this idea and did go out on a few dates, but I never went out those guys more than once or twice because I felt like I was betraying Evan.
I’m doing a little better now, but I can’t say that I’m completely over Evan’s death. Emotionally I can usually keep it together, but when I think about the plans I made with Evan or the fun things we used to do when he was alive, I break down in tears and am inconsolable for hours. When I wake up in the middle of the night and realise that he isn’t around, I feel so sad that I end up crying myself back to sleep.
Of course, I hate being in this funk. I’d like to be happy again but I don’t know how to even start. My friends tell me that I’ll move on in time but it’s already been a few years, so I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be feeling this way. Maybe I’m not ready to move on. Besides thinking about Evan, the only other thing that gives me relief is the knowledge that I will eventually see my husband again, when I leave this world.”
Is there such a thing as “abnormal” grief?
Yes, says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness at Gleneagles Medical Centre. “Grief becomes abnormal when it’s prolonged and lasts longer than six months. The symptoms may be intense and affect how you function in various aspects of your life.”
Symptoms of severe, abnormal grief may include a persistent yearning for your deceased loved one, a persistent occupation with the deceased, and urges to die to be with the deceased, adds Dr Lim. There may also be persistent denial and an inability to accept the death of your loved one, intense guilt over their death, social withdrawal or anger towards family and friends, or the use of alcohol or drugs.
“Grieving is a normal and natural process,” says Dr Lim. “As cliche as it sounds, time heals, and most people will move on and live normally again. However, some people may fear forgetting their loved one or even feel guilty if they were no longer grieving or mourning. The right way to honour your deceased loved one is to remember them for their life and not for their death. By celebrating their existence, you’ll find it easier to let go of the grief of losing them.”