Monday, September 22, 2014

Anticipating the Death of A Spouse

[Reviewed and updated September 17, 2023]

In order to get from what was to what will be, you have to go through what is.
 ~ Unknown

A reader writes: My husband has advanced-stage lung cancer, and I have to face the inevitable that he will die soon. It’s been 8 months; we’ve been married for 20 years. I’m sure that it’s normal, but the thoughts that are running through my head are driving me insane. I keep envisioning myself starting relationships with other men. I feel guilty like I’ve already moved on with my life. It’s survival instinct too, because I can’t support my kids on my own and I’m trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I love my husband dearly. I want to be focused on the present. How do I do that?

My response: I’m so sorry to learn of the terminal illness of your husband, and I can only imagine what you must be going through as you struggle with facing each day that comes before you. I don’t know anything about your marriage or your relationship with your husband of 20 years, but you say that you love him dearly, so I suspect that the thoughts and fantasies you are having about your life in the future may be one of the ways you’ve found to cope with your present circumstances. By focusing on what your life might be like after your husband dies, you are able to transport yourself (in your mind, at least) away from whatever you may be feeling right here, right now.

You’ve asked how you might stay focused on the present, which leads me to wonder what you might do to help make your present more pleasant, or at least tolerable enough to help you feel more willing to stay in the present moment. I know that in this period of anticipatory mourning, this is extremely hard to do, which is why it helps to have the support of caring others.

I am assuming that you are your husband’s primary care giver. Has your husband been admitted to a hospice service? If not, I encourage you to talk this over with him and with his physician, because hospice care is aimed not just at the person who is dying, but at the family as well. Using a team approach, hospice provides physical as well as emotional care for your husband and for you and your children, too. Read more about hospice at some of the sites listed on the Care Giving Links page of my Grief Healing Web site. See also Anticipatory Grief and Mourning: Suggested Resources, listing articles and books with suggestions on what you and your children can do to make the most of these final days with your husband.

If your husband has already been admitted to a hospice service, see if you can spend some private time talking with the team social worker or chaplain, if only to obtain reassurance that your reactions are normal and understandable under the circumstances. The social worker may also be quite helpful in guiding you in your very realistic concerns about the future and how you will support your family.

You might also consider joining the Anticipatory Grief and Mourning forum that you’ll find online, which is part of our Grief Healing Discussion Groups. There you will find the loving and compassionate companionship of others who are traveling a similar journey. Sharing your story with others in a completely safe and private setting like this is a wonderful and quite powerful way to obtain the support you need and deserve, at a time that is convenient for you, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

I also encourage you to consider meditation and mindfulness as tools to help you "stay" in the present moment. See Meditation: Helpful To Those Who Grieve.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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