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Anger, shame, sadness--all of it overwhelming

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My husband of 54 years died January 30 of this year. I have written here before, and believed I had all the answers to getting on with my life. Actually, I believe I numbed the really troublesome emotions. Our marriage was not one of sharing. In fact, we went on with me supporting him and our two children full time. He was an artist. Self absorbed. Manipulative. Probably narcisstic. Yesterday I listened to a novel where both partners supported each other through their difficulties. It was a great ending to the novel, but left me crying. A lot. I feel so empty. I wanted him to hold me and comfort me when I was sad or troubled. He NEVER did. When he caressed me, it was more like sexual groping. He was NOT a companion. And I believed that was how it should be. For 54 years. How deficient I was in so many ways. I was so so very stupid!

I am quite smart intellectually, but I have always kept my emotions in check. Afraid they would overwhelm me. I raised two children, now in their middle age. My daughter has borderline personality disorder. I have recently read that it develops out of fear of abandonment. From 2 months on, I had babysitters while I worked full time to support everyone. My son has chronic depression. And so I am thinking I so enabled a deficient nurturing environment when they were so young. And I feel ashamed. I am angry with him and with myself. How long does this anger last?

 I'm in the twilight of my life and I often feel terribly sad. (I do have an appointment on Monday with my doctor, and have asked for a therapist referral.) 

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I'm so sorry. It's hard to not be angry, but you shouldn't be angry with yourself. You did the best you could, I'm sure.

I have to remind myself every day that I had a marriage that was so loving and I am so lucky that we were a team -us against the world! Everybody else didn't matter, because all we needed was each other. I kinda regret that mindset now, because I am very alone as far as not having any real friends or anybody that needs me in their life. My wife couldn't have children (we joked that it was a good thing not to be able to pass on our bad DNA), but I don't have any kids and I never will. I'm the end of the family line. It's pretty sad for me. You have children, and I'm sure you mean the world to them. There's no need to blame yourself for how they "turned out". How much is genetic and how much is parenting? Does it matter? Love them and be there for them. Guilt and shame don't help anybody and they're not needed in this new year. We need hope and goodness. Be the best Mom for them now and in the future. It's really all you can do.


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Thank you. That is good salve for a wounded soul.

I am sorry that you are alone. I often feel that way, because I have spent so very much of my life trying to "fix" life for others. And perhaps mothers in particular are susceptible to feeling guilty about how they treat their babies. Certainly the medical profession has, at least in the past, attributed many disorders to bad mothering.

I know you are right about letting the guilt go. I have been told that often, but 12 years of old-timey parochial schooling planted a bumper crop for that! And I have good reason to believe the depression has genetic overtones.

You have helped. Someone outside my inner scold voicing a different perspective. Thank you.

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Well, truth be told, I live with my Catholic raised, emotionally repressed mother and brother- so I FEEL very alone. I'm not completely alone, and I should feel lucky- but I can't talk about my feelings with them, they're not able to deal with what I'm feeling. And I know that my Mom always passive-aggressively blames herself for every little thing that we do that she thinks is wrong. I also know that I inherited her agorophobia and other mental issues because we're very similar. They drive me nuts, but I could be homeless. Everything I had, emotionally, I gave to Annette. I don't have anything left. The only way I was able to work was with Annette's encouragement, and because she couldn't anymore. I'm on disability and don't make enough to live on my own.  My Mom and brother don't "need" me- they have their own weird relationship, and my Mom is, thankfully, still able to get around on her own and is healthy-ish, so I might be just being greedy. A lot of people don't ever have the kind of love the people on this forum experienced. My family never have. I hate living in a year that my wife wasn't alive in. But life goes on whether I want it to or not.

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I am sorry you feel so abandoned. And I am not certain how much comfort I can offer to you. Annette seems to have supplied a missing ingredient in you that allowed you to truly participate in love and life. Perhaps at some times when you are thinking about her, you might recall a conversation or an action that you found especially helpful or soothing. If that gives you comfort, try to hang on to it as long as you can, being blessed to have had that moment, that enlightening thought, that pride in yourself that she encouraged. 

As for agorophobia--I think many people are being forced to experience this in some aspect with the virus potential. I do know it is debilitating in other "normal" circumstances.

I have a little dog that I adopted when my husband was ill (he was in a nursing home for 9 months, gradually losing function. He was telling people that I did not love him because I would not bring him home. There was absolutely no way I could personally care for him.) But this little dog relies on me for her care, and she gives her love--and her puppy mischief--to me without question. For me, she fills a space in my heart. We "feed" off each other: her with her joy in life (she just turned 1), and me with a living soul who trusts me and loves me. This is how I try to fill the emotional holes I experience.

I wish you well in the coming year.

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18 hours ago, Ofoeti said:

I am thinking I so enabled a deficient nurturing environment when they were so young.

Your children are old enough now to speak candidly with, and apologize to, for what you perceive as enabling or contributing to their eventual demise.  It could be they might have different perspectives of it.  I, too, am happy you have your dog, they're so wonderful, understanding, accepting, loving!  Someone asked me the most fun thing I did yesterday.  I made 100 mile round trip to get groceries, not fun.  I walked my puppy in what turned out to be a sleet/hail storm with horrid thick fog upon us (which I rarely get in the mountains!) cold, wind!  Carried in groceries & put away.  Got a load of wood up on the deck.  Dealt with encroaching mice.  I can honestly say the most "fun" thing yesterday was snuggling with my puppy!

Sounds to me most of your "missing/grieving" is for what you never had, that's often how it is.  I read a letter I wrote my husband a few months after he died.  We loved each other so much and he was a great husband except he put me in the poorhouse with his (unbeknownst to me) drug use and each and every lie/theft from me that covered his choice!  And subsequent death.  All of which I had to deal with ON MY OWN after his death.  It's hard to reconcile by yourself, without them there to answer to you.  In reading that letter yesterday, I was very proud of my wisdom that I showed.  I took the WHOLE of the man, not the part.  I didn't whitewash him or vilify him either one.  I held him accountable for what he did wrong and I forgave him.  That took a lot and did not come easily/lightly.  I am able to remember the good things and let go of the bad...but I do still have my memories and it does NOT excuse his wrong behaviors!  I was lucky in that he came to me of his own free will and confessed to me three weeks before he died.  I would have figured it out in time anyway but it's good that he did confess up.  He sought help and was getting rehab.  And I believe he would have made it, he'd overcome much in his life.  It would have been a hard road, I don't kid myself, I know the statistics, that it takes seven tries before a meth addict gets free of addiction.  I would have borne the brunt of much of that carrying the load, even as you did all your married life.  I pray only for a better future for you!  You did your best with your kids and it's possible that what either of you did or didn't do would have resulted in their same conditions, could it be hereditary?  I am sorry you lived with a narcissist, you can't do much with them.  I've had that experience too, another time/place.  Now is a time for PEACE in your life.  Love yourself, keep faith and hope alive, realize your strength and how wonderful YOU are!  You have much to offer!  I have learned to be my own best friend!

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I thank you for your message. I do not know if I can forgive him. Or myself.  My sense of shame is immense. I am going to look for a counselor to help me with this. It is a very old feeling, from childhood I think, because my parents lobbed shame bombs back and forth throughout their life. So all 3 of us children had it embedded. I have probably needed to develop a sense of self-worth for a very very long time.

Forgiveness is something I need to develop. I believe that is what helped you to make the first steps out of the chaos. Thank you for your insight.

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The shame is not yours, but his.  Unfortunately he is not here to live with his and if he was, probably would not accept that responsibility anyway...Narcissists don't.

A lot of us have things to deal with from our childhood.  I do.  I had a mentally ill mother who was extremely abusive, verbally, emotionally, physically.  I had a dad who was sweet but ineffectual and an alcoholic.  He never once protected me from her.  

As an adult I had to learn to deal with it.  I went to Al-Anon.  I got counseling.  I learned how to NOT let my mother or others control me!  I learned to take charge of my life.  I've been married four times: 1) A monster that continually beat and cheated on me (I was 17-22). 2) My kids' dad, tried controlling me, cold, never loved me, 23 years!  3) My George...my soulmate and love of my life!  He never tried to change me, we were each other's best friend, truly loved and appreciated each other, but he died, I only knew him 6 1/2 years, married 3 years 8 months.  Our marriage wasn't perfect but our love was.  4)  A Con, never lived with me, lied/cheated on me throughout, stole from me, ran up my credit for $57,000 and stuck me with it.  I've had my heart broken twice besides.  I've lived alone 15 1/2 years since George died, haven't dated in 10 1/2 years.  I would have liked a friend/companion but it wasn't to be and I do NOT do on line dating!  I've learned to live alone and have learned to have confidence in myself, "just me" and realize my own value!  I've learned to be my own best friend.  Some IMPORTANT lessons in the years since George passed!  Yes, I've made mistakes in my life, but I've also learned from them!  My son once remarked that I always married opposites, yes, I have learned to make NEW mistakes!  He also told me he'd never seen anyone try harder at their relationships.  I can take pride in knowing I gave my best, my all.  But I also realize that any strength carried to the extreme can then become a fault, so I have learned to be careful about my over-perseverance!  There is a time to recognize when you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. ;)

Forgiveness is not so much for them as for us.  It releases us from their power!  We do it NOT because they are deserving of it, but because WE deserve to be released!  

A person needn't be religious to self-examine...I remember running across this and going through the list with myself (All may not apply to all situations!):

55 Strategies for Coping with Grief

___1. I examined the thoughts that kept me from seeking help from others, such as the beliefs that “I am a burden to others,” “No one can help me, no one understands,” “I have to do this on my own,” “I should be stronger,” “Listening to the grieving stories of others will make me feel worse,” or “People are tired of hearing about my loss.”

___2. I reached-out to family, friends, elders, or colleagues for comfort and companionship, but gave myself permission to back-off when I needed time alone.

 ___3. I took the initiative to reach-out to folks from whom I might not normally seek help. I looked for new friends in church groups, social groups, work, school, or I went on the internet to find others who experienced a similar loss. I made a list of these supports to turn to when I was struggling or experiencing pain.

___4. I forced myself to be with people and to do things, even when I didn’t feel like it. I put something on my calendar almost every day, with back-up plans.

___5. I allowed myself to tell people how much I loved, admired, and cared for them.

___6. I hugged and held others, but felt free to tell people when I did not want to be touched.

___7. I learned to grieve and mourn in public. 

___8. I shared my story with others who I thought would appreciate and benefit from it. I told anyone who would listen to the story of the deceased, even if they had nothing to say back.

___9. I gave and received random acts of kindness.

___10. I connected with animals and nature, for example, the deceased’s pet, a beautiful sunset, hike, or garden.

___11. I cared for or nurtured others. For example I spent time caring for my loved ones or children. ___12. I found my faith or religion comforting. I participated in religious, cultural, or ethnic mourning practices, such as attending church services, sitting Shiva, participating in a Wake, celebrating the Day of the Dead, visiting a memorial shrine, etc.

___13. I sought help from organized supportive bereavement groups, hospices, religious groups, grief retreats, talking circles, or groups specific to the way the deceased died, such as cancer support groups or survivors of violent loss groups, such as suicide or homicide.

___14. I sought help from mental health professionals. For instance, attended counseling sessions or took medications as advised by my providers.

___15. I read books written by others who have coped with the loss of a loved one. I read about the grieving process, loss, and advice books about other issues that arose.

___16. I made a list of all the professional resources that I could use in a crisis, such as suicide hotlines, mental health crisis lines, mentors, clergy or imam, or mental health providers.

___17. I decided not to walk through the grieving process alone, so I visited websites that focus on the grieving process (Refer to the list of websites at the end of this checklist.) Took care of myself physically and emotionally

___18. I examined the thoughts and feelings that kept me from taking care of myself physically and emotionally, such as guilt, shame, sense of lost self, and loss of the will to live.

___19. I established routines of daily living. Although things were different, I made new routines and did not berate myself when I was not “perfect.” I maintained personal hygiene, medical care, healthy nutrition, and regular sleep.

___20. I reconnected with my body through exercise, yoga, Tai Chi, or expressive arts, allowing myself time to get stronger.

___21. I recognized that my brain needed time to heal and for things to improve, so I forgave myself when I made mistakes, became distracted, couldn’t remember or understand.

___22. I avoided the excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs, and caffeine as a coping mechanism.

___23. I relinquished avoidance and learned to face my fears by engaging in life. I participated in activities that had meaning and kept me occupied, such as work, hobbies, crafts, singing or dancing. ___24. I allowed myself to pursue and feel positive emotions, such as compassion toward myself and others, expressions of gratitude, and emotions of love, joy, awe, and hopefulness. 

___25. I recognized and labeled my feelings, viewing them as a “message” rather than something to avoid. I accepted and dealt with these emotions, understanding that the less I fought them, the more I was able to handle them.

___26. I regulated my strong negative emotions using slow smooth breathing, coping self-statements, prayer, or other mood-regulating techniques.

___27. I allowed myself time to cry at times and gave words to my emotional pain. I distinguished feelings of grief from other feelings such as fear, uncertainty, guilt, shame, and anger.

___28. I expressed difficult feelings through writing and talking to supportive others. I used journaling, reflective writing, letter or poetry writing, or other expressive arts of scrapbooking, dance or music. ___29. I engaged in gratitude activities, such as telling others how much I appreciate their love and support, reminding myself of the things that I am thankful for, and being grateful that I knew the deceased.

___30. I established a safe and comforting space for myself, either physically or through imagery. Stayed connected to the deceased and created a new relationship, while recognizing the reality of the loss. ___31. I examined the feelings and thoughts that kept me from forming an enduring connection with the deceased, such as the fear of what others would think of me, guilt, shame, humiliation, disgust, or thoughts of anger, revenge or being preoccupied with my grief.

___32. I participated in practices, such as visiting the grave or memorial site, celebrating special occasions, prayer and candlelight vigils, public memorials, or commemorative services.

___33. I commemorated the deceased’s life with words, pictures, things, or created a small place of honor for the deceased, which I could visit any time I chose.

___34. I thought about what I received from the deceased and the legacy and mission to be fulfilled. I became involved in a cause or social action that was important to the deceased or myself.

___35. I created a legacy such as planted a tree, started a scholarship or charity in the deceased's name, started an internet blog, or launched new family or community practices.

___36. I allowed myself to talk to the deceased and allowed myself to listen. I wrote a letter to my loved one and asked for advice.

___37. I asked for forgiveness, shared joys and sorrows, and constructed a farewell message.

___38. I accepted that sadness was normal and learned how to be with my grief. I learned how to contain my grief to a time and place of my choosing. However, I understood that intense upsurges of grief may arise unexpectedly and without warning, and I developed coping strategies to handle such events.

___39. I used imagery techniques, shared stories and photos of my loved one, or purposefully used reminders such as music or special routines to recall positive memories. I cherished and hung onto specific, meaningful possessions (objects, 9 pets, etc.). I actively reminisced, holding onto our relationship in my heart and mind.

___40. I reached out to help and support others who are grieving for their loved ones. Helping others is a way to reengage in life and combat loneliness and tendencies to withdraw and avoid social contacts. Created safety and fostered self-empowerment

___41. I examined the thoughts that fuel my fears, avoidance, and the belief that I cannot or should not feel happy and that things would never get better.

___42. I took a breather and gave myself permission to rest knowing that grieving takes time and patience, with no quick fixes.

___43. I identified memories that trigger or overwhelm me and disengaged and/or established boundaries by limiting people, places, or things that cause me stress or overwhelm me so that I could address them one by one, in my own time. I learned to say “no” to unreasonable requests.

___44. I identified important activities, places, or things that I was avoiding due to fear of my grief reactions. I slowly reintroduced them or allowed myself to choose those I never wanted to encounter again.

___45. I began to think of myself as a “survivor,”, if not a “thriver” of my own story, rather than as a “victim.” I reminded myself of my strengths and of all the hard times that I have gotten through in the past.

___46. I wrote out reminders of how to cope and put them on my fridge, cell phone, or computer. I looked at them when I was struggling and reminded myself of ways to be resilient.

___47. I created a plan about how to cope with difficult times. I learned to anticipate and recognize potential “hot spots” of when things are most difficult. I rated each day on a 1 to 10 point scale on how well I was doing. I asked myself what I can do to make things better and increase my rating. I worked on increasing the number of good days compared to the number of bad days.

___48. I avoided thinking “This is just how it is,” realizing that I have choices no matter how hard life is. I came to recognize that emotional pain can be a way to stay connected with my loved one.

___49. When I was overwhelmed by negative memories of the past, I avoided “timesliding” into the past. a) I “grounded” myself to the present by refocusing my attention on the environment around me, b) I changed my self-talk by telling myself “I am safe and that this will pass,” c) I controlled my bodily reactions by slowing down my breathing, and d) I oriented to people’s faces, voices or touch or called for help from a friend. Moved toward a future outlook and a stronger sense of self

___50. I examined the thoughts and feelings that kept me from moving forward, such as “I am dishonoring the deceased by getting better,” or “I am leaving him/her behind,” or “Feeling happier means that he/she is no longer important to me,” or that “My love for him/her is fading.”

___51. I regained my sense of hope for the future. I worked to reestablish a sense of purpose, with meaningful short-, mid-, and long-term goals. I asked myself, “Is it 10 okay to be okay?” and decided to create a life worth living, taking control of my future.

___52. I worked on regaining my sense of self-identity, knowing that my life had changed, but that I am still me. I focus on what is most important. I developed new goals and action plans, consistent with what I value.

___53. I created purpose by keeping the memory of the deceased alive in others. I kept others aware of the circumstances of the death, so that some good could come from the loss. I transformed my grief and emotional pain into meaning-making activities that created something “good and helpful,” for example Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention.

___54. I use my faith-based and religious and spiritual beliefs to comfort me and move on. People hold different beliefs, such as "My loved one can continue to influence the lives of others in the world," or "My loved one is no longer suffering and is in a safe place," or "We will be reunited in the future.” ___55. I examined the reasons why some of the activities that have been helpful to others in the grief process were not helpful for me, and what I can do to help myself further in the journey through grief. Other coping activities or strategies I have used to cope with my loss ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________

Source: Donald Meichenbaum and Julie Myers To Appear in Neimeyer, R.A.(Ed.) ( 2015). Techniques of Grief Therapy(Vol. 2): Assessment and Intervention, New York: Routledge. Contact Information Don Meichenbaumdhmeich@aol.comJulie Myersjulie.myers100@gmail.com2

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Thank you, everyone.   

I have just connected with a counselor. I have also begun work on a resting place on my property for my husband's ashes. A task I have put off. And I have signed up for Osher Life-Long Learning lectures through Zoom.

I will keep working on steps.

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Thank you, Marty, I've edited with credits due and saved it to my document.  Where I found it nothing was listed.

@OfoetiI'm so glad you've gotten a counselor!  I wish you well with it!

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