THE LOSS OF TED: "I AM NOW MY HUSBAND'S VOICE, AND I WILL CONTINUE TELLIN' MY HUSBAND'S STORY."
In many ways, Judy’s husband Ted was the first person to truly see her. In Ted, Judy had found a good object; he loved her, validated her feelings, shared in her experiences, and made her feel safe. Ted was the first person to truly support and connect with Judy. Unfortunately, this was short-lived. Ted died abruptly under traumatic circumstances before Judy’s eyes and in her arms. She described his loss as even more profoundly painful than the loss of both of her parents, or any of the other experiences that she had had in her life. In this relationship, she felt loved, understood, and appreciated. She described her husband as her very best friend, and the space created by his sudden death served as an ever-present void.
Going through my parents’ death is one thing. Going through my husband’s death . . . completely turned my world upside down. . . . And, over two years later, it kind of surprises me. I’m in an- I’m in an apartment by myself. If you would have told me three years ago this would have all happened, I would have told anybody “Go jump in a lake.” You know? But there’s a saying: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ It’s true.
Kernberg (2010) describes mourning as a process that permanently alters an individual’s internal relational schema. He cites clinical cases in which patients who have lost a loved one continue to maintain a sense that the deceased person still exists in the world. This is not a form of delusional thinking, as these individuals know that their loved ones have died. Rather, the deceased person’s essence, their personality, goals, desires, and opinions are fully maintained by the living person years after their death. This is clearly evident in Judy’s situation as well. Two and a half years after her husband’s death, she still communicates with him and very much senses his presence with her throughout the course of her day-to-day life. In this way, Ted is kept alive in Judy’s mind, as he has never fully left her . . . even in death.
Uhm, I don’t like to use the w- word grieving because that sounds like, it’s a downer it’s a negative. My husband and I, we are doing it together. One day at a time. And . . . and, I know my husband is with me everyday. Because, I can feel his spirit.
Kernberg (2010) furthermore states that often the spouses or family members of a deceased person will alter their behavior in an attempt to better meet the expectations that the deceased individual had for them when he or she was still alive. Similarly, they may pursue goals that were aligned with the deceased person’s aspirations. In this way, they continue the unfinished work of the dead. Through this work, a connection to the person can be maintained and the individual’s wishes, values, and desires can be honored and actualized. Judy articulated this clearly in reference to Ted when she said,
As far as my husband is concerned, my husband was very very quiet. Myself?
I have the big mouth between us. Always will. I was told that I am now my husband’s voice, and I will continue tellin’ my husband’s story. Uhm, and I will continue fulfilling some of his dreams.
Judy’s conviction that she is “now (her) husband’s voice” is a way for her to commemorate him and the relationship they shared. It is a means of coping with a loss so profound that it can never fully be overcome. Instead, through mourning, Judy has found a way to further integrate her husband into her own sense of self. One way in which Judy did this immediately after Ted’s death was by overseeing his funeral ceremony and burial. Prior to his death, Ted had been studying for his Bar Mitzvah. However, he died before this goal could be achieved. Judy described Ted receiving his Bar Mitzvah as “one dream that I fulfill for him.”
Before the service, I spoke to the rabbi about his Bar Mitzvah. And, he said, “It will be taken care of.” And, during the service, when it came to that time, the rabbi was explaining to my friends and the guests, what a Bar Mitzvah is. And then, the rabbi looked at me. And then I stepped up and I looked down at Ted, and I said, “Ted, do you hear what the rabbi said? You are now a man. You are now hereby getting your Bar Mitzvah. I wanna make you happy. Eh--- congratulations.” And then all the sudden, I hear everybody laughin’. And I wasn’t sure why. And, and it’s like . . . and and it was back at the house, I was askin’ why was everybody laughin’ when I was being serious with my husband, talking to him about the Bar Mitzvah? They thought it was so beautiful. That, Ted got his dream, of the Bar Mitzvah. Because, even in death I still wanted to make him happy, which I did.
This tender moment was one of the more positive aspects of Judy’s mourning process. By facilitating Ted’s goal of receiving a Bar Mitzvah, Judy honored his final wish. This was a means for her to actively appreciate the life he had lived and the person he had been. Another way that Judy honored Ted was by ensuring he had a proper burial and tombstone to commemorate him. This is especially significant, as any attempts to mourn, acknowledge, or symbolize other deaths that she had experienced had been foreclosed. Even with her parents, Judy was never given this kind of closure. Due to conflicts she had had with one of her siblings (who was also partially responsible for overseeing the funeral arrangements of their parents), neither of Judy’s parents received headstones for their graves. She advocated for them in the best way she could, but ultimately, her sibling prevailed. Judy articulated the difference between these experiences clearly when she said:
To this day, is there any graves to- marker headstone for my parents? No. For my husband? There is one. Because because I made him a promise that I was gonna get him one. And sure enough, he has one. Because I honored his wishes.
I honored . . . my husband’s wishes. . . . And, I mean first he got his headstone and on the bottom, “Love will conquer death.” Because he’s my baby. You want to see a picture of my husband? (Judy removed a photo of Ted from her wallet and showed it to me.)
Green (2003), Emery (2002), and others speak of the ghosting that occurs when losses are unmourned. Death may go unacknowledged but cannot be completely ignored, as unspoken losses can haunt the living. However, Judy feels Ted’s spirit in a different way. In her daily life, she actively continues to honor Ted’s memory and to maintain their relationship with each passing day. In many respects, Judy is living side by side with the memories of his spirit, which she has maintained by preserving the space they both inhabited. By keeping Ted alive in her mind, she does not have to completely abandon the relationship they had. In this way, Judy is able to simultaneously acknowledge his loss and maintain his presence within herself. Judy and Ted are separated in body but not in mind or heart. Judy stated quite adamantly that as far as she is concerned, they are still married and it is her obligation and desire to continue to maintain her commitment to Ted. Their separation is only temporary, as she awaits their reunion in death.
I know that, whenever my time comes, ten, twenty, thirty years, my husband will take me to the other side. And we will renew our vows before the altar of god. And I told him w- while I’m still livin’, here on Earth, he completed his wedding vows, my wedding vows are still intact. Because I’m an old fashioned (religious identification), please do not send me any guys, because I will not date. I will not marry.
Judy still experiences an ongoing battle against depression. As she awaits their reunion, sometimes the pain of Ted’s death becomes unbearable. In these moments, subjective darkness—what Judy calls her “dark cave”—sets in and the loss becomes overwhelming. In these moments of grief, Judy mourns Ted’s absence wholeheartedly. She longs to die rather than to live without him, as it feels like there is nothing left for her here. This is a battle she must struggle with against herself; her emotions dictate that death is the desirable outcome to release her from pain, whereas her intellect and reason tell her she must fight and continue living despite the agony she feels.
I will crawl up into bed with a picture of my husband and . . . I wi- I will ask Ted “take me home now.” Because . . . Ted is . . . because I never dated. I never had a boyfriend before Ted. And, Ted is my true love. And . . . and I talk to him twenty- four seven, seven days a week. And . . . and . . . when I when I get that way . . .
I just want to be with my husband. You know. But . . . but when, reality or common sense sets in, Ted is preparin’ a place for us. I’m down here, finishin’ up business. And doin’ the rest of god’s will. Uhm, there is the intellect and the emotions.
I have to try to keep the intellect above the emotions. It’s easier said than done.