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How can I get over my wife's passing?

answered 12:07 AM EST, Thu October 31, 2013
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anonymous anonymous
I can’t get over my wife’s passing. She died of cancer a year ago last Tuesday. The anniversary was hard. My daughter wants me to see a psychiatrist because she says I am depressed. I am sad and I am lonely but under the circumstances I do not see why this is inappropriate. I know if I initiate this I will end up with a prescription for an antidepressant. There seems to be something perverse about taking a medication to erase sadness about my wife’s passing. I am not sure what to do.

Penny Bell Says...

Penny Bell P. Bell
Master of Counselling, Grad Dip Counselling, Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy, MACA
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Firstly may I express my deepest sympathy for the loss of your wife. You are correct when you say your sadness and loneliness is appropriate, and particularly at this time at the one year anniversary of her death. I am interested though that your daughter is seeing something more – that she is noticing that your sadness is pervasive, I am assuming, and it’s concerning her.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist who introduced the hypothesis that there are five stages of grief, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (On Death and Dying, 1969). Problems arise when the grieving person becomes stuck in a particular stage, and so cannot resolve their grief. Since then other models have been developed, and I particularly like that of J.W. Worden (Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, 1991), who suggested there are four tasks of mourning that we need to accomplish for the process of mourning to be completed and equilibrium to be re-established. They are: To accept the reality of the loss, to work through the pain of grief, to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and to find an enduring connection with the deceased whilst embarking on a new life.

The first task involves coming to terms with the fact that this has really happened, and now life must be continued without the loved one. The person speaks about them in the past tense, and acknowledges that life is different now. For the second task, feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, despair, and all the other feelings a grieving individual may feel, are not to be avoided but rather experienced, acknowledged, and talked about so that they can be worked through. It may be that as you undertake this task your daughter is uncomfortable with seeing you sad and lonely and therefore is suggesting you do something to change this. On the other hand, this may be a task that you are having difficulty with and need some extra help.

The third of Worden’s tasks of grieving, adjusting to the environment in which the deceased is missing, not only involves your wife’s day to day absence but also the role she played in your life – friend, partner, ally, companion, as well as the practical tasks she carried out and no longer does. It could also be about living alone, doing things alone, and seeing yourself in a new way, without your wife. The fourth task follows on from this, and involves continuing to hold your loved one in your memory whilst finding new things and relationships that bring pleasure and joy. According to Worden, not accomplishing this task is to not live at all; feeling that life stopped when your wife died, and being unable to resume it in a meaningful way with a different connection to her. He says this task can take a long time and be one of the most difficult to accomplish.


Important to note is that grief is not linear. You will probably move in and out of the above tasks, and can undertake more than one at a time at some points in your journey. There is no distinct timeline – everyone is different in the way they grieve and in the length of their grieving journey.


Just one last comment about your concern that taking an antidepressant will erase your sense of sadness. Sometimes we can wish to hang on to our sadness or melancholia because not to do so could mean that we lose the precious memory of our loved one. It’s as if not being sad all the time means we are disregarding or forgetting them, and the sadness is maintain the connection. If this is what’s happening for you, there are things you can do to make sure your memories remain. Some like to make special photo albums of their times with the person, and include in it favourite colours, fabrics, animals etc. Some plant a tree or a rose, frame a memento, journal, write a poem or a song, put aside time to listen to a favourite piece of music or watch a favourite movie, create an online memorial page – the list is endless. If you are finding that you are feeling flat most of the time, are unable to enjoy things, or have other symptoms of depression, it would be a good idea to visit your doctor and have him or her assess you for depression. It would also be beneficial to seek counselling, to assist you to complete your tasks. I hope this information has been helpful for you.

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Page last updated Nov 01, 2013

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Penny Bell - Master of Counselling, Grad Dip Counselling, Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy, MACA
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