January 13th, 2020

What you need is not whom you lost

I once met a person whose spouse had died suddenly in an accident two years prior to my meeting them. Obviously, an event like that will leave a person with grief that will take time to heal, but when I met this person, they were inconsolable to the point of hysteria, even two years after their loss. Every time I talked to them, they would repeatedly tell me how much they missed their spouse, how they were unable to function in everyday life because they missed their spouse so much that they couldn't get over it.

At first, I concluded that the person was simply a basket case, so tormented with grief that they lacked a coping mechanism to deal with the pain. It didn't seem like there was much I could do or say to help them. Sometimes I would talk to them, but the conversation would usually fall into the same pattern: The person would repeat, over and over, how much they missed their lost spouse and how they couldn't deal with the pain of being without them. When our conversations did go a little deeper, however, I uncovered some strange facets which I didn't pay much attention to at first, and which only later made sense to me in hindsight. In particular, it seemed that this person hadn't even gotten along with their spouse particularly well: They would often fight and disagree about things, and it seemed like the spouse hadn't even cared about my new friend that much; the deceased spouse had rarely said "I love you" or offered words of praise or gratitude. If I had been thinking a little more clearly, this should have been a hint as to what was really going on, but I was so overwhelmed by my friend's constant grief that I couldn't really see through the smokescreen of the intractable emotions they constantly talked about.

I finally understood what was happening when my friend made a comment to me about feeling alone. This in itself shouldn't have seemed like a huge relevation, but at that particular moment in time, I thought about this comment and connected the dots. "It seems to me", I said thoughtfully, "that what's troubling you is not so much that you miss your spouse, but more generally just the state of being alone. You feel this way because you don't have anyone else. I think if you had someone else, you would feel a lot better and not miss your spouse so much".

My friend thought about my words for a moment, and then quietly responded: "That's true. I don't even miss them that much anymore. I just feel heartbroken".

"You're heartbroken not because of your spouse who passed away", I concluded, "but because you can't stand to be alone".

"I can't believe you found the answer", my friend said. I thought at first that this conclusion might have been too simple, but sure enough, when my friend began meeting other people, they forgot about the spouse they'd lost. My friend had thought that it was necessary to get over the grief of their loss before they could start dating other people, when in fact the opposite was true: It was necessary for them to start dating other people so that they could get over the loss of their spouse.

When you truly love someone, when you experience true love, the real kind of unconditional love that some people dream of finding, if that love becomes lost for any reason--usually either because of a breakup or death--you feel like you cannot go on with life. You feel certain that you need that person in your life, and if you can't have them in your life, then living is very difficult, because that person was what made your life bearable. The urge to commit suicide in these situations is very strong, and without intervention, it does not go away: People think that a broken heart will heal with time, but if a person needs love and doesn't get it, a heart can remain broken, and its bearer suicidal, for years and years. I know this because I've experienced it too. You cannot just wait for enough time to pass for the person to "get over" their grief; they will not get over it if things don't change.

What needs to happen is that the person who has lost their love needs to understand that they do not specifically need that person to relieve their desperate grief. In the endless torture chamber that is lost love, there is an overpowering feeling that that person, that one person in all the world, is the only person who could ever relieve this suffering. This is how the mind thinks when it is in love. In reality, however, what you need in this situation is not that person, but someone whom you can love the way you need to love, and who can love you the way you need to be loved. Your suffering is not specifically caused by the loss of that person--though it might seem to be--but rather by the fact that you're alone and desperately in need of someone to love.

This goes back to an idea I've written about a few times before, specifically that there is no "one" in the world: There are several people in the world whom you could love truly, with the limitless devotion that is genuine, soul-deep love. What you need to do is not focus on the person whom you've lost, but on meeting someone who could fill the void in your life.

Then too, there are people who say that you shouldn't date to fill a void in your life, that you should be a "complete person" before you start trying to involve someone else in your life, but some people just aren't capable of being complete on their own, and if you're one of those people, then it's probably not worth trying to become something you can't be. What you need is not whom you lost; what you need is someone else.