The wrong man died

My wonderful lover is gone but my dreary husband lives on! That's not fair

Published September 4, 2009 10:12AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I need some advice. I have been married for 29 years and have three children, 25, 21 and 18. The man I am married to is 71 and I am 50. We have very successful and beautiful children but my husband is a misogynist and has given me a life that outwardly is very generous but on his terms. He gives me things, possessions, and he feels that in return I should put up and shut up.

We are financially insecure and I am not too sure what our future holds. Two years ago I started a relationship with a friend; he was experiencing a similar life, successful with three children of a similar age, married to a good woman whom he no longer loved or she him. Our relationship grew to become something that I have never experienced before -- tender, loving, caring. He taught me about unconditional love. We planned to make our exit after our children had taken their A levels this summer. I loved this man more than I have loved anyone before, with the exception of my children, which is a different kind of love.

Then on Monday evening he died at age 48.

I am not allowed to grieve, as no one knows about me. I know that I was stealing a man from his wife and now he has been stolen from me.

I cannot go on. I have never wanted to die but I feel that I have done my job as a mother, I do not love my husband and I cannot imagine that I will ever love again.

I cannot bear the thought of my life without this man. I want to die. That is the simple matter. How can I do this? Shall I take sleeping pills or shall I shoot myself?

Disappointed that Wrong Man Died

Dear Disappointed,

Before he died, this man gave you a gift. You had it in your hands and now you feel you've lost it. Your grief stands between you and this gift. All you feel is the loss. But you will grieve and your grief will lessen. As your grief lessens, the gift will reappear. What you will be left with after the grief is his gift.

His gift was that you can still love. He reminded you.

So wait. Keep living and wait. Go through your days. Go through your grief for this man. Cry and pound your fists and curse the heavens. Share this grief with someone confidentially -- a therapist, a member of the clergy or a discreet and trusted friend.

Why did it happen like this? People pass us and we pick up a fragrance, or a piece of a tune, and for a moment we feel happy. We see only a tiny fraction of what exists. We get glimpses and hints. This is not an emotional, poetic thing. This is not some song I am trying to sing to you to make you feel better. This is, roughly speaking, the condition of existence, our consciousness, our state of being. Motion, change, incompleteness: These are the conditions of existence on a molecular level, on a cellular level, in the cosmos, in the weather, in the sea and wind and stars. We are part of nature. Nature is full of change and uncertainty. People come into our lives and give us things and leave, and we are wondering, what's with the lack of closure? What's with this jagged, ragged end, this incompletion, this lack of symmetry?

It is nature, reality, life as it really is, pure and simple. We devise rituals and ceremonies to give order to our passions. We create marriage contracts and pledge undying love. But our passions spring from nature. They swirl and eddy; they come and go. Bearers of precious gifts come and go. Birds pass by. That is the nature of things beyond our jurisdiction. It is nature.

You married thinking marriage would bring order and certainty, but it did not erase nature; it just put an orderly fabric over it. Nature spills out.

Nature is full of jagged ends. It is rough and asymmetrical.

Perhaps this talk goes beyond your real concern. Maybe I am sounding like some kind of preacher. When I was a kid, down South, preachers were all around us, telling us stories from their Bible that were supposed to make things OK. They seemed as crazy as everyone else, if not more so. What seemed to make sense was the sea, trees, creek beds, the roseate spoonbill and the manatee, the shark and mollusk. But the preachers would go on, trying to make us feel better about what happens after death, as if kids my age cared.

I fear I'm doing a bit of preaching right now, perhaps annoying you, trying to make you feel a different way about what happened. I am trying to help you feel a different way about what happened. I am trying to make you conscious of the gift he gave you. I am trying to make you conscious of our place in nature.

There's really nothing to worry about. You have not been singled out for punishment or cruelty. This was a natural occurrence. He was just passing through, and he awakened something in you, and it is still awake.

Believe me, what he gave you was a gift. He awakened your capacity for love. So honor him. Love. That is what he wanted you to do. It is our capacity for love that matters; if we have no capacity for love, it doesn't matter how many perfect partners come into our lives. It is our capacity for love that matters. He awakened that capacity in you. It is still in you.

He had something to teach you. If you were to kill yourself now, you would not honor him. You would not show love for him.

So don't do that. Instead, find someone you can share your grief with, and work your way through it. It may take you six or nine months or a year before you are feeling strong enough to understand what your next step is. But you will get there. Grieve. Surely you can. People have been grieving for thousands of years without resorting to suicide; we get through the loss of a loved one; we are strong, we humans; we get through things. You can grieve and then you can come out the other side. You can divorce your husband and start out on your own with this story, and this knowledge: Yes, love is possible. Yes, there are men out there.

You can go on.

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By Cary Tennis

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