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Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist: My Wife Died and I Can’t Recover

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Q:  My wife passed away a couple of years ago. I knew that I would be heartbroken, but it’s not getting any better. I do believe in the Resurrection and that our marriage is eternal, but sometimes I’m scared that none of that’s real and I’ll never see her again. Family and friends say I’m just lonely and I should remarry, but I don’t want anyone else. What should I do?

A: I’m so sorry for your loss. A widow once told me that “no loss is like the loss of a spouse,” and I believe it. I recognize that the well-meaning words of others sometimes open your wounds further. You might feel like there’s something wrong with you, or that you’re failing in your testimony, because no matter how much you fast, pray, read scripture, attend the temple, and try to live righteously, it’s still agonizing. Even trusting that you’ll be reunited someday, it hurts to be without her here and now. It hurts bad.

The fact is, there’s nothing wrong with you, even two years later. You hurt because you care so much about your wife. As Queen Elizabeth II said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” The privilege of living with your wife, the joy of the good years and the experiences you had together, the fulfillment of being loved by her, your pain now is the price for all of that.

Elder Lance B. Wickman expounded on this truth when he said, “Grief is the natural by-product of love. One cannot selflessly love another person and not grieve at his suffering or eventual death. The only way to avoid the grief would be to not experience the love; and it is love that gives life its richness and meaning” (“But If Not,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 30).

In other words, the only way to live without pain is to live without love. And that’s no way to live. It’s not worth it. So what do you do now? Allow yourself to grieve. Allow yourself to cry. Don’t run from it. Don’t stuff it down. Give yourself time to feel it, every day if necessary, before continuing with your labor and activities.

Steven Eastmond, a social worker specializing in the mourning process, said that “grief hurts, but it can be the salve that helps us heal when it is allowed to do its work appropriately. The first step in handling grief is to recognize that the pain is a normal part of the process. It needs to be acknowledged, not avoided” ("The Healing Power of Grief," Ensign, Jan. 2014).

After I lost my mother, the Spirit reminded me “you hurt because you love. That’s good, because love and pain are essential for growth.” I found that, because of my pain, I was better able to empathize with, serve, and lift others who were grieving. You are in a position to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9) because of what you’re going through. Give your pain a purpose. Find others like you and be there for them. Let them be there for you as well.

Ashley Isaacson Woolley, a mother who lost a child, wrote of her experience that “in God’s plan for me, grief was a refining fire that transformed my love for others, my perspective on life’s challenges, and my faith in Heavenly Father” (“The Refiner’s Fire of Grief," February 2013). Your grief, while it will subside, will always be with you. You can still be happy and find joy. This experience can transform you and better prepare you for celestial glory with your wife.

Speaking of celestial glory, you are under no obligation to remarry. Others may think you should, and if the time comes that it feels right and you’ve found someone, absolutely do so. But a new relationship can’t play a role in your healing unless you’re ready for it. Rushing a new romance so that you’re no longer hurting is like putting a band-aid over a bullet wound. Only Christ can patch that up. A new relationship, when it’s right, can be a salve that eases loneliness, but it can’t replace your wife.

As for your fears about “none of this being real,” I refer you to the wise words of historian Will Durrant, as quoted by Latter-day apostle Hugh B. Brown: “No one deserves to believe unless he has served an apprenticeship in doubt.” It is natural to be unsure. It is all right to wrestle with doubt, with questions, with uncertainty. If done correctly, this leads us to seek wisdom from God Himself.  I refer you to the words of the man who, after asking the Savior to heal his son, cried “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Alma taught that even after we have obtained a testimony, we still don’t have it all figured out. We’re still not certain. He asked, “Now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith” (Alma 32:35-36). As you approach God, you will gain light and truth, growing more and more sure of your reunion with your wife. As you go, though, you must choose to believe before you can know.

I don’t know you, dear brother, but I love you. My heart goes out to you. God bless you. I hope this helped. 

Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily Gospel-based relationship tips. 

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