My greatest fear as the years went by was that my spouse might die first. Having had no children, the thought of my husband dying first and me being left alone in the world was something I simply couldn’t bear.
Even if I had had children, the idea of my best friend, lover, business partner and companion leaving me behind was unbearable.
So I didn’t think about it – or when the thought came to mind, I just banished it as quickly as I could.
And then my greatest fear came true.
Philip was diagnosed with stomach cancer in October 2010. We had 14 months together from this point, which, rather surprisingly, became one of the best years of our marriage.
We were forced into living in the ‘present moment’ much more than we had ever been. As a result, we found a greater depth of love, joy and peace.
But then he did die. And I was left alone.
Another surprise laid in wait for me, though. I discovered that the fear I had experienced was just that – a projection of thoughts into a future that I did not want.
When it actually came to pass, I coped. I managed. I unearthed strengths in myself I had not anticipated before.
Sadly, though, I also discovered that I had been withholding love from Philip without realizing it. At that point, I promised that if I were fortunate enough to have another relationship one day, then I would make a point of keeping my heart fully open all the time.
If you’re afraid of being abandoned, to go all out with a heart open to love seems like a mad idea – it’s counter-intuitive. And yet it is the thing to do.
That is the one way that will help you experience the fullness of life and love right now. And that doesn’t have to be just with a new partner – it can be with anyone.
Here are my tips:
When you acknowledge that your partner might die before you, that lessens the pressure. If you try to push fear away, it simply hangs around, waiting until you do recognize it is there.
I would recommend that when any feeling comes knocking at the front door – even if we don’t like it – our job is to open the door. Welcome it in. Open the windows of your house and let it fully in.
But also, open all the doors at the back of your house, so the feeling can easily leave as well. It will do that. This is exactly what happened with all the rage, the tears, the bewilderment, fear, worry, depression and insecurity that I felt. That’s how I can speak so authoritatively about this now.
You can learn to do this. I did it (and still do) by meditating every day, using a chakra meditation. You can tell when your heart is open or closed; keeping your heart open is a much more fulfilling way to live.
After Philip died, I promised myself that if I had the chance to meet another man, I would open my heart fully, and keep it open. I would reap the benefits from that new relationship in honor of the time we had had together.
And it has happened – about 3.5 years after Philip’s death, I met a lovely widower with whom I intend to spend the rest of my life. We can easily talk about our spouses, and in fact, feel that they are both in this new relationship with us.
All of this has led me to be truly grateful for Philip’s life and the 20 years we shared together. But also to feel truly grateful for his death, and what I learnt about myself as a result.
Now, my work is educating others to feel more at ease with dying, death and grief – and I feel like Philip still works alongside me, just like he always used to. It is a future I could never have foreseen.
Read Jane’s book Gifted by Grief: A True Story of Cancer, Loss and Rebirth and find out more about her products and programs to help you prepare well for the ending of lives, whether it be your spouse’s or your own. Or discover for yourself how well prepared you are for a good end of life by taking the Before I Go quiz here. Watch Jane’s TedX talk ‘How to Do a Good Death.’
Are you afraid that your spouse might die before you? Are you prepared for your husband to die before you or would you rather not think about it? Please join the discussion below!