“I would like to see an article for women who have lost an alcoholic husband, which was caused by excessive drinking over many years. I am struggling with guilt and “what ifs”. My husband died… and I am so saddened, even though there were times I wished him dead.”
This article is for all women who have lost, or anticipate losing, a husband… With loss comes grief. You grieve after the loss whether the death was through natural causes, an accident or suicide. You grieve whether he was a good mate, an alcoholic or a narcissistic abuser. His death was still a loss.
We all know the usual symptoms following loss: sadness and low spirits, low-energy, weepiness, sleep disturbance, wanting to be alone while at the same time suffering loneliness, an empty feeling, forgetfulness, and yes, feelings of regret and guilt.
There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, except that trying to avoid grieving only serves to prolong the process. Over the next year or two remembering his life replaces dwelling on his death. Social contact replaces isolation. Good self-care replaces self neglect. Crying spells become less frequent and sleep becomes more peaceful.
Why is grief sometimes more intense and disturbing when the deceased husband was an alcoholic?
In long-term alcoholic marriages the identities of the two people often become enmeshed. This can happen without alcohol, of course, but it is more common when one person is an alcoholic. As the man became addicted to alcohol, his wife became addicted to his care and protection. She covered for him. She rescued him. She may have even lied for him. She kept his secret. In short, the relationship became extremely codependent as she merged her identity with his.
When two people with separate identities are in a loving marriage, and one of them dies, of course there is the pain of loss. But the survivor still maintains her identity as a person. This helps her go through the grieving process in a healthy way and come out the other side intact.
When the woman has merged her identity with her husband who then dies, it is as if part of herself has died. She has to go through, not only all the pain of loss of her husband, but also the pain of loss of part of herself. She will have the struggle of rebuilding her own identity. She will have to figure out who she is.
In the bad times she had wished him dead. Now that he is dead, she feels guilt over actions she took or didn’t take that might have contributed to his death. In spite of her attempts to help him, he had chosen to continue on a path towards an early death. He was in the process of committing suicide… and succeeded.
The life task is the same for anyone who was lost a spouse, although there may be more work when the husband was an alcoholic. The life task is to emerge from the grieving process as an independent person with an intact identity.
For anyone who has lost a loved one, get rid of any regrets early in the grieving process, with or without help. Regret can keep you locked in the past.