While on vacation with a girlfriend, I suddenly realized I was still in a relationship with my dead husband.
You would think I would have realized this, since I am a psychiatrist and had been in psychotherapy for two years prior to his death in July 2012. Yet I denied it, even when I found myself ordering his favorite pancake breakfast and scheduling a sunset walk on the beach that he would have loved. It took the gentle prompting of my friend to help me come to terms with reality.
Here are eight ways to tell if you are still in a relationship with your deceased loved one:
- You constantly mention the deceased to others, saying: "He would love this museum," or "She always enjoyed waterfalls."
- When you prepare food at home, you make enough for you and the deceased loved one, or when in a restaurant you order enough for the both of you.
- You hold onto his or her clothes and other possessions. I still have my husband's wheelchair, guitar and suits. I give myself the excuse that maybe someone will need the wheelchair or someone will play his guitar or wear his suits.
- You want to celebrate your dead loved one's birthday or your anniversary. On Feb. 5, our wedding anniversary, I found myself wanting to celebrate with him.
- You consider how your loved one would feel about important life decisions, like relocating or buying a car.
- You dream about him or her frequently. This means that your unconscious is processing the relationship or lack of it on deeper levels.
- You always compare new people who come into your life with the deceased loved one and you find the new ones lacking in comparison.
- You travel the same route or street that you and your dead loved one took and reminisce about how you both felt at the time.
When you are in a relationship with someone for a significant period of time, usually years, you incorporate many of the person's aspects into yourself. You may walk like that person or talk like him or her. People even say that you grow to look like each other. You go from being an individual to being a couple or a family member or a close friend. In a healthy, intimate relationship, you let down barriers and make that person part of you, and your loved one does the same.
When you lose your loved one, you must break apart and individuate again. That process can be extremely difficult if the bonding has been strong and enduring.
Although it's completely understandable to feel like you would like to keep an intimate connection, if the relationship with the deceased continues for too long, the mental and emotional energy used will be too great. You will not have anything left to engage in another relationship with a new, living person.
Once I realized I was still in a relationship with my dead husband, I tried to stop talking about him to everyone. Then I made sure I didn't order too much food or try to celebrate our anniversary or his birthday. I'm still dreaming about him, though. I haven't cleaned out the closet with his wheelchair and guitar. But I've scheduled it on the calendar and made a call to Goodwill. The point is, I'm aware of these issues and am working on them with the help of trusted friends and my support group.
For more by Carol W. Berman, M.D. click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.