Friday, April 22, 2011

My Death Wish

Filling in for Jackie today with a post I wrote almost four years ago. Even today, I can clearly remember the feeling of wanting to be dead. It would have been terrifying if I were capable of feeling anything besides empty, but in that moment all I wanted was to be with Phil. Of all the words I have written over the past 5.8 months the ones I share here remind me most powerfully of how far I have come since the day that one life ended, and another unwillingly began.

It is an odd and frightening sensation to wish you were dead. After Phil died I fervently wished I could die, too. The first time I read that grieving people sometimes fantasize about death, I was relieved. My entire life I had appreciated the gift of life, to suddenly and frequently wish it away was a disconcerting and lonely experience. When my husband, Phil, was hit by a car, the initial shock provided a buffer to the complicated emotions that would gather to haunt me in the days and months to come. As the buffer of shock wore off, I was struck daily by the realization that Phil wasn’t coming home. It felt like Groundhog Day—everyday I woke up with the expectation that the day would somehow go differently, and I would discover that Phil wasn’t really gone. Day by day the reality of his death ate away at my desire to live.

There is a difference between wishing to be dead and being suicidal. My death wish did not come from a desire to stop living. It didn’t even come from a desire to stop hurting—though the pain was so intense at times I hoped it would kill me. My death wish came from a desire to be with Phil again. His physical absence was like a phantom pain in a limb that was no longer attached. My death wish became a part of my daydreams. Jogging up a street, I would mentally challenge cars to run me over. On a plane, I would imagine a fiery crash that I didn’t survive. Hiking in the mountains I looked for wild animals that might want to make a meal of me. Driving alone in the car, I visualized my car flying over any ledge I passed. Every brush with imagined death was followed by the disappointing result of still being alive; continuing to jog down the street, landing as expected at my destination, a safe return from hiking adventures, and no crash over the nearest ledge. The longing I felt to be with him was a constant ache; the only cure I could imagine was joining him wherever he was.

As time marched on, the call to live gradually grew stronger. In the early part of my grieving I desperately held on to two reasons to live; my kids needed me, and I didn't want my family and friends to have to grieve me, too. All my reasons for wanting to live were about someone else; if it were up to me....beam my up Lord! There was not one personal reason that I could think of to continue living—but healing has a way of sneaking up on you. Eventually I recognized that my husband lived his life fully, every moment. He had an awareness of the value of life that influenced his daily choices. Reflecting on how he lived his life reminded me of the gift that life is, and he became a role model for me. As I have begun the process of creating a life for myself without him, I have had to find reasons to live that are my own. I want to be a mother to my children. I want to make a difference in my community. I want to weave my husband’s spirit into the fabric of the person I am becoming. I want to bask in the joy of being in love again. I want to experience the adventure that life still holds for me. The woman my husband married died with him. Grief has changed me, but I am proud of the woman that is emerging from the ashes of loss. Life is a gift to me in a way it never was before. The nuisances of life don’t bother me as much as they once did. Age old adages like, “Take time to smell the roses,” actually mean something to me now. The world can’t be the same place it was two years ago, because Phil isn’t in it—somehow that comforts me. What I am learning is that though many things around me are radically different, I can still be a whole, happy, grateful person.

Ironically, my death wish has become a steely will to truly live. Phil would be glad to hear that.


  1. I'm at 10 months now. I remember numerous times last year going to bed and thinking that it wouldn't be such a bad thing if I just didn't wake up in the morning. I told God repeatedly that I was 'good to go'! And the desire was mostly to be with Dave again. Early on, death was no longer a frightening thing to me.
    I wonder if that changes?

    I'm so tired of going to bed alone. :(

  2. I am 18 months out and still pray to die, without children I don't feel a reason to go on.....if I were to die tomorrow, I would be happy to know that I would be with my husband again. I have grown, I am different, I am stronger, but I am unhappy, I am in constant pain, I too once loved life and everything about it, I nor longer feel that way.....I know he'd be sad to know this is my desire, especially after he fought so hard to stay alive and so we could be together, but he'd understand..........

  3. The last page of Joyce Carol Oates book "A Widow's Story" reads:

    "Of the widow's countless death-duties
    there is really just one that matters:
    on the first anniversary of her husband's
    death the widow should think I kept myself

    It's been 9 weeks since my husband passed away and intermittently when the pain is almost unbearable, I think about how death would end this pain and bring some much needed peace. I know I'd never really go through with it but, as Joyce Carol Oates writes earlier in the same book, "...suicide promises A good night's sleep-with no interruptions! And no next-day."

  4. To anon above who has no children and does not feel a reason to go on....hope you don't mind if I throw in my two cents. I am at 18 months also after a long happy marriage and caring for my husband through several years of devastating illness. I have one grown child, who moved out 8 years ago for college and our visits have become less and less. They move on with life. I get what you are saying, I have had the same thoughts at times. At this point I have decided that inasmuch as I would be thrilled to join my husband, I keep waking up every morning. Therefore, there must be a reason for my existence. We each have our path mapped out for us, and I had the great honor of being the wife of a wonderful man and experiencing an incredible life and love. We shared our journey for 28 years. I'm still in bereavement, no doubt, still struggling, but I think there are still a world full of people out there, and who knows who or what situation will cross our path. My husband and I both chose helping professions (he a physician, I'm a counselor) so it is meaningful for me to find ways to help others. I admit it's not as satisfying as lying in my husband's arms every night, but it is a big world and there are so many in need. I have always found that no matter what I'm going through, someone else has it worse. My unsolicited advise is to reach out in whatever way is comfortable for you. It fills your time, it takes out of your own head, and it makes life better for someone less fortunate. Hope you find your way, blessings to you and all of us who mourn.

  5. Sorry, my comment should have read the thought or temptation of "...suicide promises A good night's sleep, etc...."

    My thinking is not as lucid as it was before that awful day :(

  6. Thank you for the Joyce Carol Oates post - the first time I read that my heart felt like it had found a life line.
    I have been writing about the journey with my husband during the year and a half of his dying. I wrote about starting a new year and realizing "I didn't die, like I thought I would" - we know that feeling, not suicidal, just no longer wanting to live without them. The pain is so great, I thought I would die from it, that my heart would just collapse into itself, no longer able to beat. But - it didn't.
    I think the advice above is so true. Whenever I feel at my worst I make myself get up, I call a friend, I visit another couple who are facing cancer and bring them soup, or flowers, or fresh bread. I call up my kids to "say hello", I make myself engage in the world - because when it is bad is when we most need other people.
    It has helped to do that.
    I would say to all of us - the world needs to hear our voices, to understand more about grief and about living in the moment and about the eventual truth - we all will die and because that is true, our lives matter even more than we think.
    live - because you can.

  7. Anonymous, It does get better. It really does. And that is the amazing thing about reading this post years after I wrote it and still more time since I felt it. The call to live grew stronger. The realization that Phil wanted to live, and was not given that opportunity makes me adamant that I won't waste the gift of life. It took time to get to a place where I could see this, but as I said healing snuck up on me. Hold onto love of all kinds, and be patient with yourself as you find reasons to make this life your own. They will come.

  8. I found this page by a Google search for "not suicidal but have death wish"...3 months now and I'm wondering how many more cigarettes it will take to kill me. I found out my step grand-daughter is 5 weeks pregnant...I know she expects it's him coming back...even if it is's not my husband. I hope somehow I can find a will to live before the winter comes and I succumb to pneumonia or just walk out into the woods and die from hyperthermia.

  9. Anonymous, Just take this one day at a time. I know it seems impossible to have any will to live, but healing really does sneak up on you. Just know that you deserve room to grieve, you need an outlet for your feelings, and there is a lot of help available to walk with you through this journey. I remember so well writing this piece and marveling at the fact that somehow I lived through Phil's loss. I know it may seem impossible, but just find one reason every day to be grateful, and please seek help if you feel that you are drowning in grief. You will find great resources at under the resource tab. We are here for you.

  10. I am approaching four months since my husband's death. I still miss him immensely but I no longer feel like I want to die RIGHT NOW. I've always been an optimistic person, able to roll with whatever life has thrown my way. My husband's death has given me a new type of resilience. I feel like I can survive anything if I make it through this experience with my mind intact. Some days it's a struggle but I continue to move forward. It helps when other people share their similar experiences. Thank you.

  11. I used to be an optimistic person. Since my husband died, almost a year ago, I became a complete pessimist. We had been together for nearly 13 years, and married for literally one week, when he died of a massive and unexpected heart attack. I hate God, I hate life, I have no desire to live, nothing in life makes me happy. I have great parents and a wonderful sister and brother-in-law. They love me very much and I love them very much, but it's not enough. I just want to die and be with my husband, if there's an afterlife (or cease to be altogether, if there's not -- at least I would not feel this pain). I am absolutely suicidal, and the only reasons I don't kill myself are that I don't know for sure i'd be "allowed" (by that bastard god) to be with my husband if I did, and because I promised my family that I wouldn't. But every day I pray to die, beg to die. and every die I am upset when I wake up in the morning, because I wake up. Things will never get better while I am alive, because my husband will still be dead. That's the sad truth of what has become my life, and I don't want any of it.

  12. thankyou so much for writing this. I have experienced such longing to be with my true love who died suddenly . you speak here so clearly and articulately about this taboo subject and the difference between this longing and suicidal feelings
    I have had no desire to end my life but the desire to be together again is powerful.all consumimg. the ache of phantom limbs is something I identify with very much. and the ache for my heart that went with him.
    and like you I try now to honour him by being more of the me he loved and living life with a full and open heart as he did. not easy when it has been so broken.
    grief is hard and often lonely as no one around knows what to do and so they ignore your feelings and want you be cheerful and' normal'. or just stay away
    to hear this unacknowledged aspect of grief acknowledged helps tremendously. thankyou

  13. It's 3 days shy of two months since my great love left me here. I, too, beg God to just let die so I can be with him. Someone walked past my office door in a blue shirt today, and I had to physically stop myself from getting up and running after him because I was sure it was my husband. I'm shocked every day that he isn't coming home. And I'm shocked every day that I'm still alive. Yet there are lots of moments in every day that I'm happy. I really am. I've told people that life is so easy now, especially after the harrowing journey of his illness. I have wonderful people around me, and I can laugh and enjoy myself. But then out of nowhere Grief shows up, taps me on the shoulder, and I have to shut my door while I sob for 4 minutes or so. And then I'm happy again. It's just that I also want to die.

    1. Our Widow's Voice blogs have moved over to the Soaring Spirits web site: