Monday, March 28, 2016

In Grief: “I Fell In Love with My Patient”

[Reviewed and updated February 21, 2021]

If you don't receive love from the ones who are meant to love you, you will never stop looking for it.  ~ Robert Goolrick

A reader writes: I am having much difficulty dealing with a patient that has passed away. I took care of him for a little over a year. During that time, my husband was less than kind. Anyway, I fell in love with the patient and I find I am grieving alone. I see a therapist however she advises me to seek some sort of group therapy. I feel so depressed. My husband knows all about the situation, and believe it or not, has been very supportive to me. He knows that if he were a little different, maybe things would have been different. At least I know that I made the person very happy in his last days. I would do it all again, for he was a wonderful man. Thank you so much.

My response: I'm so sorry to learn of the difficult time you're having since the death of your patient. I'm not sure what I can say or do to help you, but I will share with you what I am thinking.

You say you're seeing a therapist who is advising you to seek group therapy. Are you clear on what sort of group she is recommending, and for what purpose? Are you comfortable with the focus of the therapy you're already obtaining? Does your therapist specialize in grief and bereavement issues? From what you said in your message to me, it sounds as if you have some marital issues as well. Is your therapist addressing those issues? Are you even interested in working on your marriage to make it better?

I don't know where you are in the process of mourning the death of your patient, but I can tell you that one of the (later) tasks of mourning is (over time) to find meaning in your loss – and I'm wondering if you might consider the possibility that this may have been the purpose of having this man in your life to care for – giving you an opportunity to see what true love looks like and feels like, to enable you to experience truly selfless loving, to see by comparison what has been missing in your relationship with your husband.

Can you identify what lessons you have learned from this experience that you can apply to your relationship with your husband? Is your marriage what you want it to be? Have you invested as much of yourself in your marriage as you invested in the care that you gave to this patient? What was there about you, about this patient and about the relationship you had together that enabled you to give so much to him? What do you need in your relationship with your husband that you're not getting now? And what does your husband need from you that you've been unwilling or unable to give to him? Have you thought about seeking marital counseling together to enable the two of you, with some professional guidance, to get at some of these issues?

The one you say you loved has died, my friend. Harsh as it sounds, there is nothing you can do to change that fact. But what you can do now is to ask yourself why this man came into your life at this particular time, what lessons did you learn from the experience, and what can you do to honor the relationship you had with this patient. What changes do you need to make in your own life? Yes, he has died – but you have not. What you decide to do with the rest of your own life is up to you.

You say that you feel depressed – but I would be very hesitant to consider someone in the fresh throes of grief to be depressed. Sorrow is a normal reaction to losing someone you love very much –it is the price we pay for loving. Have you read anything about normal grief so you know what feelings and reactions are normal and so you know what to expect in the weeks and months ahead? (See, for example, Grief: Understanding The Process. You might also consider checking out my book – or one of the on-line "e-courses" I've written. Go to Self-Healing Expressions to get a sense of it.)

I don't know what else to say to you, my friend - except to tell you that I will keep you in my thoughts and in my heart, and whatever you decide to do, I sincerely wish you all the best.

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

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