A friend’s wife died suddenly a week ago. She was just a few years older than me and, as far as I knew, she wasn’t sick. When I called him to find out what happened, I was stunned to learn that she had an addiction, one that took its toll last weekend. He said it was something she had battled for a long time, and obviously he battled right alongside her.
This couple had an amazing love for each other, yet outwardly there was no sign of the struggle they endured daily, the road that he walked with her. I’m sure he knew that there was a possibility that one day this could cost her life and that may be the only peace he finds right now, the relief that she doesn’t have to fight anymore, that the battle is over.
There are many relationships where one partner battles addiction or mental illness, and often the rest of the world is unaware of what happens behind closed doors. Much of the time it isn’t pretty. The well partner tries to hold together the relationship, the routine, the kids, the jobs, and their relationship. The other partner tries hold onto life but often may be abusive, depressed, and/or exhibit behaviors that under normal circumstances would be inexcusable.
But it’s tolerated because some kind of love exists that brought these two people together. The love might not be perfect, sometimes it has created a situation of enabling or codependency. Whatever it is, these two people care about each other, although one is carrying more than his or her fair share. It’s a difficult place to be: when you love someone you believe you must do everything for this person, yet sometimes you find out too late that you’ve done too much. Or maybe it was too late. Or there’s the reality that it never will change.
And when that person dies, which can happen prematurely when one is struggling with severe addiction or mental illness, there may be relief, a sense that the difficulty journey is over. Not only is that person out of pain, but all the work to keep everything together and running smoothly is finished. The fight has ended and it’s time to leave the ring. The sense of relief leaves some people feeling guilty; others aren’t sure what to do with themselves. What’s next without that person to protect and care for?
It’s a unique road for anyone traveling this particular journey. It’s also one of self-discovery because, only when we have the opportunity to love someone, even in the most difficult of circumstances, can we truly understand ourselves and where life will take us next.
Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., is an international author and speaker about finding hope after loss and change. She is the author of several books including Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief and Ginger's Gift: Hope and Healing Through Dog Companionship. Her first book, based on the suicide of her younger sister Denise, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Si..., inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. She is the President of the American Association of Suicidology and lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Read more about Michelle at www.michellelinngust.com.
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