How do I go on?

The love of my life was killed, and I can't stop thinking about him.

Published April 15, 2003 7:26PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a 22-year-old recent college grad and I'm a little lost. My decision to write to you was triggered by a conversation I recently had with a friend. He asked me how it was going with the guy I'm dating. I said, "OK." And he said, "Of course, it's 'OK,' it's always just 'OK.'"

But it wasn't always just OK. There was John. I met John when I was 18 and he was 22. We were friends and then gradually we were lovers, and for the year before I left to go abroad, we spent every day together. While I was gone, we spoke every week, we professed our love, we missed each other. We made plans. And, while I was gone, he died in a car accident.

The day after he died, I got a letter from him in the mail. He wrote, "I feel like I have another person living inside of me, affecting everything I do." I felt the same way. So when he died -- as clichéd as it is -- I felt like part of me went too.

That was two years ago. I've been in one serious relationship since then, of about a year. I've dated other guys and enjoyed their company. But I've always felt, somehow, like a switch was flipped off inside me. I'm a happy sort of person, I have lots of friends and a good job. But when it comes to guys and dating, I feel like I can't fully engage. I miss the feeling I had with John, of being so in love and so connected to another person.

And since I'm young and really just getting started on all this love business, I can't figure out if my ambivalent feelings are just because there is no love like your first love and, in any case, true love is hard to find. Or if it's because when John died I didn't mourn the right way, or enough.

I don't know how to deal with my feelings because, although I write pages and pages in my journals and I try talk about it occasionally, at the end of the day, he is always gone and I always just miss him. At some point, there isn't anything else to write or say. When I take the time to really get lost in my memories of him, I find in myself as much grief, confusion and desperate sadness as on the very first day I learned he died. It's as though all the pain settled down like silt on the bottom of my consciousness. Sometimes it gets stirred up, but most of the time I'm going about my life as if it weren't there.

What I really want is for someone to sit me down and tell me why I'm feeling the way that I am. To tell me, "You haven't fallen in love again for the following reasons, in descending order of importance..." And to tell me how to find the middle ground between grieving and forgetting. Of course no one can give me the answers. But it would help, I suppose, to have the right questions.

I would love to know what you think.


Dear Lost,

Thank you for stating with eloquent precision what many women have felt long after losing a husband or lover. You do a service to others that I only wish I could do for you. But while some of us can describe it, none of us can make it go away. This is the stone that is grief.

What I can say is that you are probably nearing the end of it, after two years. And like the person who is described in this article, a day is coming when something will catch your attention -- a chance conversation, a strain of music, the smell of fresh bread, an automobile horn -- or you'll be running for shelter from a sudden rain, or a cop will pull you over on the highway, or a boy will kiss you, and for that moment, amazingly, you won't think about your loss. And later that evening or the next day you'll be tying your shoelace or buying breath mints or just idly opening a window when you'll realize: I didn't think of him!

That will be the beginning of your next chapter. The stone will have vanished. But in its place you will find an absence of ballast, a strange and disconcerting lightness. Take care then, with your giddiness, lest in laughing you fall over the railing into the sea.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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