Feb 012018 5 Responses

I Regularly Assume My Wife Is Dead

Jenny dies on a near-weekly basis. Not in reality, but in my head.

  • She’ll take the kids to her mom’s house–car crash.
  • She’ll be later than expected after going to the grocery store–kidnapping.
  • She’ll go for a workout–random dumbbell mishap.

Whatever the scenario, I often fear Jenny is dead. I can imagine the accident, picture the police heading my way, and wait for the phone to ring or for there to be a knock on my door.

And I’m not alone. (See: When Worry Knocks, Do This)

Thirty people were circled on our back patio talking about life. Someone mentioned a scenario where their spouse was late coming home and they assumed he was dead. “You do that too?” I said. We talked for a minute about the variety of ways our spouses had died over the years. Jenny was shocked at the thought. She had never considered my possible demise. It seemed demented. I asked how many in the group occasionally or regularly fear their spouse is dead and nearly every couple had one spouse raise their hand.

It’s a sick game, but it’s fully understandable. Some worry about the possible death of their spouse because we have deceived ourselves into thinking that if we prepare for it, we will handle it better. It’s a matter of control. We believe that what we control will not cause us pain. Of course, life is full of a thousand pieces of evidence to the contrary, but we keep returning to worry in hopes of managing our way around our next sorrow. We try to control life so we think we can control grief, heartache and disappointment.

But we can’t.

Worry is a denial of our humanity. While everyone worries to an extent, when it becomes excessive, we are overestimating our power and ability. We are foolishly attempting to control the future even when we are aware that much of the future is outside of our control. Worry is an attempt to play God and therefore prevent bad things from happening. Or play the role of a machine by properly processing every fathomable outcome so that if one is to occur we will have already emotionally dealt with that scenario. Neither is possible.

The antidote to worry is a deep recognition and appreciation of our humanity. Emotions can be influenced but they cannot be denied. Future events can be considered but they can’t be fully controlled. Every worry should be an invitation to be reminded of who we are, our limitations, our opportunities, and a redirection toward what actions and attitudes deserve our energies.

Worry is a mirage. It gives the appearance of work, but it lacks any substantive value which true work brings. Work changes things. When we put our energies and effort toward actions which influence outcomes, that is work. Worry changes nothing. It demands the same amount of resources–if not more–but it has no positive impact on potential outcomes.

Worry hinders relationships, distracts us from important issues, and leaves us exhausted. It feels loving, but it doesn’t aide relationships. Instead, it divides people. When we worry about others, we can’t help but partially blame them for the presence of our concern. If they would check their cell phone or be on time or tell us where they are going to be, we think we wouldn’t worry so much. Worry can cause us to put barriers around our heart in hopes of preventing us from loving fully so that we won’t fully hurt. It robs us of the necessary energy to make relationships work. We spend so many resources worrying that we don’t have the energy to love. (See: Does Praying Add to Our Anxiety?)

At the heart of worry is this belief that as long as we control things, life won’t hurt. Ironically, the more we attempt to control those things which we can’t control, the more life hurts. Yet like an addict, we continue to seek refuge in the very source of our problem. When our controlling nature contributes to our pain, we seek to control even more. Instead, we should embrace our humanity.

We have limitations. We can’t do it all. No matter how much we care or try, some things are beyond our ability. Other people deserve the right to make their own decisions. Many things are outside of our control.

We have imperfections. Even if we were able to control all things, we would mess up many of those things. In part, worrying is an overestimation not only of how much we can control but also how well we are at controlling things.

We have sorrows. While some hurts in life can be avoided, grief itself is a part of life. We must embrace the reality that life is going to hurt. We don’t have to seek out pain, but we can lean into unavoidable pain knowing that it is a key element of life. Trying to spend every second to avoid or prepare for sorrow doesn’t lessen our hurt; it compounds it.

I doubt I can fully overcome the occasional thought that the worst might have happened. But when those thoughts arise in my head, I can use them as a reminder that I’m attempting to be something other than human. These thoughts can be an opportunity to accept the many things I can’t control in order to focus on the few things I can.

5 Responses to I Regularly Assume My Wife Is Dead
  1. Kathryn Reply

    So nice to know I am NOT alone in this! I mentioned this article to my husband and he chuckled, “Oh, maybe they’re really fantasing?”
    .
    But I really did almost loose my husband in a car accident-a stormed knocked a big tree down right next to him as he sat in the car on a random driveway waiting for the storm to pass.
    .
    And as we live in Michigan, well, poor road conditions are a daily reality-either because of ice/snow, or potholes.

  2. J. Parker Reply

    Oh my goodness, I totally do this! And no, my husband doesn’t think this way. But I’ve long said that I’m a natural pessimist. I have this sense of doom at every corner and have to really work at believing that good things are just as likely to happen. I’m come a long way! (And have a ways to go.)

  3. Christy Reply

    I have also had the worry of losing my husband or one of my children. Good read.

  4. LT Reply

    I used to do this all the time. It’s triggered by stress. (Got that from my therapist at the time.)

  5. Paul Byerly Reply

    Five minutes late and my mind goes there. And I’m an optimist by nature.

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