Spring 2006

Dear Catherine,
My husband died five years ago. Though I am no longer in what I would call a state of grief, I find that any strong sense of meaning has disappeared from my life. This week in particular I am noticing that, although I have signed up for three new classes and a volunteer activity that interests me, I feel mostly exhaustion and dread at the prospect, a feeling of “so what.” I realize this a common reaction – in her new book, Joan Didion talks about the loss of meaning with the loss of a spouse. But now, after all this time, I feel I should be further along in this process of finding a way to live this new version of my life. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you,
JW,
Portland, OR

Dear JW,
While some of what you have described is expected or perhaps even necessary suffering, the phrase in your letter, “I feel I should be further along in this process…” is the key to your unnecessary suffering. It is natural and normal that you would have grief over the loss of your husband. It is also natural and normal that there may be an extended–even indefinite–time of readjustment to life after having lived in the company of someone one loved very deeply. There is no need to add any further distress by expecting to feel differently, to have found profound meaning in grief or in existence, or to see through the veils of life and death. It would be enough to simply find acceptance for where you are in this process, to whisper to yourself, “Okay, such as it is.” In this you may find a great inner space around the rest of the distressing feelings, space enough in which to live your new life.
Catherine

Dear Catherine,
I am finding it very difficult to live in this world. I sometimes think of myself as a “bubble boy” like those kids who have to live in a plastic tent because they are allergic to everything. I am not allergic but I feel that everything is really hard and that there is not much future and not much point to anything. I listen to Kurt Cobain a lot and I think that he really understood how things are. My parents think I am depressed, but I feel that I am just seeing the world for what it is and that it is totally fucked up. I don’t know why I am writing to you since I don’t believe anyone has an answer, but I liked some of the answers in your column in the past.
JJ,
Portland, OR

Dear JJ,
You are absolutely right that the world can appear as a horrible place, hopeless for a sensitive person to manage. That is one vantage point and any rational person can make a very good case for it. However, there are other perspectives that can exist side by side with that perspective. For instance, there is the perspective that sees that there is a lot of beauty, mercy, and love in this world as well. And a rational person can make quite a good case for those being reasons enough to live. This is not to deny the horrid. It is to say that the horrid and the beauty co-exist. You may be out of balance in seeing the darkness. You don’t need any more evidence for understanding that the world can be horrible. Yes, sure it can. But now you need to start seeing the ways in which the world is also beautiful. Open your eyes and heart and it is there, all around you. (And maybe cut back on the Kurt Cobain for a while.)
Catherine