Yeah, I know, everyone is fired up at the title and ready to tell me what an asshole I am. To those people, I implore you to read the rest of this post before making a judgement.
My (36M) wife's (33F) mother passed away 5 years ago from lung cancer. It was not a peaceful or easy death. Our lives understandably went on pause after the diagnosis and we both spent a lot of time off work helping care for her mother. My wife had a pretty typical showing of grief at the time, cycling through different stages. Same with our three kids.
After she passed, however, my wife got really bad. I totally understand this. I can't say I know exactly what she went through, because I haven't had a parent die, but I understand how devastated she was.
For months after she could barely function. I gently took over pretty much all the responsibilities in the household and with the kids. She had been attending grief counseling since the diagnosis and continued after the death.
None of this is the problem. I endeavored to be as supportive as possible. She cried on my shoulder every night for months and I just thought this was the "worse" of "for better or worse".
The problem is that after 5 years, she does not seem any better or more functional. She stopped grief counseling about 4 years ago and refused to go again, stating it would not help her and that nothing could.
About a month before any major holiday, she will have a major downturn. In bed half the day, crying all day, does not want to interact with the family, does not have the energy to do anything around the house.
This will go on every single day until about a week after the holiday ends. Every holiday is intense grief, just as much now as it was 5 years ago. October, November, December, and January (her mom's birthday month) every year are particularly bad.
I am essentially without my wife, and am a single parent to my three kids. All together, she is completely incapacitated by grief for about 6 months out of the year, and has been the past 5 years.
When I say incapacitated, I mean incapacitated. When she is in the depths of her grief she is completely incapable of intimacy with me or the kids. There is no cuddling, spending time with us, going on family outings. I don't have any physical intamcy for half the year. I've stopped asking her if she wants to talk about it because she can't get any words out between sobs if she tries.
What hurts the most is that the kids have stopped asking or being concerned. If they see their mom in bed when they get home, they just go about their day and might casually mention "oh, mom is sad today" if their siblings or I ask where she is. They don't really seek affection with her anymore, because they rarely get anything more than tears.
I've discussed this with therapists, my parents, friends, etc. and I know all the rebuttals people have for this, so let me preempt them:
-She is unwilling to go back to therapy for grief counseling or to see a doctor for depression. Yes, I know she's severely depressed. I can't force her to go to the doctor. I've tried so much.
-Yes, it really is just as intense as it was 5 years ago.
-No, I never tell her to "get over it" or blow her off. On my worst days I just give space and leave her be, most days I try to offer her some comfort. If you want to judge me for leaving her alone, whatever, but know that I feel like I essentially have caretaker fatigue at this point.
-No, she does not have a history of depression, but she does have ADHD. Don't know if that's relevant.
I feel like my wife died when her mom died. I would do anything to get her back, even a small piece of her, but she doesn't seem willing or able to move on past her mom's death. I feel awful for considering a divorce, but I don't know what else to do.
I’d make an ultimatum about getting help for sure. Her kids have also lost their mother.
This is the most impactful thing I’ve read so far in this (admittedly pretty new) thread.
She is devastated that her mom is gone. Imagine how her kids must feel that their mom isn’t even gone, just doesn’t want to be around them.
As a kid who “lost” their mom to illness.. she was on this earth, but not mentally present… And then “lost” their dad to his grief after his mom died shortly after….This was what I always wished he realized. He lost his mom. His wife was no longer mentally present.
But he had me, his daughter. I lost my mom, my grandmother, and then my dad because he refused to step up and instead sunk. It devastated our relationship and we are still distant, a decade later.
I also lost significant parenting as a child and felt orphaned even though my parents were alive. If she could only begin to see that her children are losing her, too, maybe she can get out of her head and get out of her loss to begin to pick herself up. I’d hope.
Edit: thank you to all of those who are leaving my comments about this. I never felt seen when I went through it. I felt neglected and abandoned through and through.
But as an adult reading your comments it gives me peace knowing that there are/were people who would have seen that occurring and thought it wasn’t right. I am feel comforted reading your replies ❤️ and I plan on responding to each of them.
Going through this definitely gives you a different perspective on life and grief. Don’t grieve so hard you lose yourself. Grieve in a way that includes the people you love and gives you both a chance to heal and grow together.
You should tell her that things are coming to an end, if she’s not willing to at least try.
This. I'm not normally a fan of ultimatums, but you may have to have a sit down on a "not sad" day.
I posted a few days ago, you can check my profile for that post. I just kind of threw that post together as a stream of consciousness vent on my break at work. I didn't go back and look at it until later because I just assumed it would get buried since I've never had anything I posted get any major attention.
And, honestly, I thought I was going to get eviscerated in the comments for being insensitive or uncaring. I was floored by the number of responses and really kind DMs I got and felt a little overwhelmed at the idea of responding to them all, so I figured I would post an update here.
A few people mentioned I should have her involuntarily admitted to a medical facility. I didn't mention in the original post, but I did ask our family doctor about that maybe a year ago. He told me that unless she is a threat to herself or others, it's unlikely to happen.
I looked this up myself as well and that appears to be true for the state we live in. I do agree that she needs medical treatment. I suspect that during her year of grief counseling after her mom's death that she was not honest with her counselor.
I have a distinctly sad memory of her coming home after one of her last sessions and telling me that her counselor said she probably wouldn't need to go much longer, then she went and laid down on the bed and cried.
I haven't been able to convince her to go back to counseling. However, I'm glad I posted to Reddit, because somehow I hadn't really considered that she might need more intensive treatment than just counseling.
I also saw one comment that scared the hell out of me. That she may do something drastic if I give her a divorce ultimatum. With those things in mind, I don't think doing that is the way to go.
Instead, I'm planning to write her a letter explaining to her how we need her back, and that we love her and care for her deeply. But she needs more help than we can provide alone, and tell her that she needs to go to the doctor and be honest about what she's been going through. Thank you for your advice everyone.
Good luck. Grief is such a fickle mistress. I hope everyone heals and moved forward. I worry I too may be like this about my mom when she is gone.
Goddarnit, this isn't an update!
By gum, it will be in 2 months!
Honestly, I don't think OP would be wrong for giving up after everything he's tried. It's a terrible situation and his wife clearly needs help, but that is only possible if she is open to it. Even if they could force her to go to treatment, it's unlikely to be as effective as needed if she is not willing to be helped. I hope they both get what they need, for their sake and for their kids.
I can see how much she loved her mom but it just really sucks that it’s preventing HER from being a good mom. This is definitely not what her mom would have wanted for her.
I wasn't planning to post again but got a lot of supportive messages asking for an update so here we go. My soon-to-be-ex wife has completely lost her mind completely.
After my last post I spent a couple of days writing the letter to her. In it I explained that the kids and I love her dearly, and that we're concerned for her. I outlined all the worrying behavior and told her that I believe she needs to seek additional medical care.
I explained that it sounded like she had complex grief (thank you everyone who pointed that out), and that the grief therapy she went to years ago was insufficient to help her get through it.
I did not say anything about potentially divorcing her, but did say that the kids can't continue to live in their current situation. It was a long letter and I don't really feel like transcribing it here.
I read the letter to her the same night I finished writing it after the kids had gone to bed. After I finished reading she just stared right through me (thousand yard stare) for probably 15 minutes, then finally stood up and started walking to the door.
I panicked and tried to stop her, asked her where she was going, can we talk about this, I'm concerned for your safety. She ROLLED HER EYES AT ME and said in the coldest voice I've ever heard her use: "I hope when your parents die someone doesn't tell you to get over it." After that I didn't try to stop her, I just let her go.
I was pissed off for maybe 5 minutes before the panic set back in. I legitimately thought she was going to end herself. I checked my phone and she had turned her location off. I called and texted probably 50 times over the next hour, begging her to at least let me know she was ok and that she wasn't going to do something drastic.
Right before I was about to call the police, I got a call from her phone. I answered immediately and before I could get much of anything in, a man's voice told me "she fine but she doesn't want to talk to you" and hung up.
I felt like I was having an out of body experience at the time. I had no idea what was going on. I almost called the cops anyway but I was disassociating hard and talked myself out of it. I kept calling her phone all night but no one picked up again. After about 2 AM it started going straight to voicemail. I barely slept that night.
When I woke up the next day she wasn't home. I took the kids to school/daycare (I normally do this and my wife is normally still asleep while I do, so thank god they didn't ask where mom was). I tried calling my wife's phone more all morning but still voicemail.
I called her office and asked if she was at work, and they told me she had called in sick. I called in sick to work as well and basically just sat on my couch, trying to get ahold of her, while being a nervous wreck.
I called my mom as well and asked if she could pick the kids up from school today and watch them overnight. I didn't tell her everything that was going on yet, just that something had come up that was urgent and I needed some help.
My wife walked in the door sometime after 4 PM. I tried to hug her and she shied away from me. I asked her where she had been, no response, just a blank stare. I asked her who had called me from her phone, no response, blank stare.
At this point I was frustrated and told her that if she didn't want to explain what was going on, she could get out. I regret saying it that way now but man was I frustrated. So she started talking, but it was like I was talking to a text-to-speech AI with her voice.
No emotion, totally flat, almost annoyed. She told me that she had gone to her friend John's (fake name) house. I had no idea who the fuck John was and asked her to explain further.
Over a two hour or so conversation where I had to pry details out of her, I got most of the story. She was answering like a lawyer - very basic answers, no details or context outside of exactly what I was asking her.
Basically, John is a coworker. I've met the dude once or twice at office party type events but never really talked to him. I never saw him hanging out with my wife or showing interest in her. But apparently over the last year or so, she has been spilling all her feelings about her grief over her mom's death to him, and he's been comforting her.
He had a parent die from cancer too so I guess she felt they had a connection she didn't have with me. After I read her the letter she says she realized that I "don't care about her or her mom's death" and went to John's house to talk/be comforted.
I flat out asked her if she was having an affair with him, and she told me no. I asked her why she never mentioned she was close friends with this unknown guy and she told me it was none of my business. I asked her if anything had happened between them while she was there and she says they "cuddled" and he "held her while she cried".
I asked to see her phone to check messages between them and she refused. I couldn't get much more detail out of her about the whole situation. So when she went to take a shower, I tried to check her phone. She had changed her passcode.
I grabbed her iPad, which still had my thumb print biometric signature in it, and checked there. I left the house with the iPad to look for evidence while she was in the shower. I did not immediately see any messages to or from a "John", but after digging briefly, I found it.
She had put him in as "Stacy" in her contacts, but it was obviously him. There were texts going back well over a year. A lot of her talking about her mom, a lot of him comforting her.
A lot of him telling her I don't really care about her, and that he would never treat her that way if they were married. All of her replies were in agreement. A lot of texts from her complaining about me. A lot of him trash talking me.
The night she left, she had texted him "forget it, I'm on my way over if the offer is still there" followed by an immediate "yes!" reply. Then the next morning, a text from her to him saying "if he asks, we just talked." I threw up out my car door in a Walmart parking lot for 20 minutes.
I came home and found her on the couch on her phone, seemingly unconcerned or unaware I had even left. I told her that I knew, and that she needed to leave. Again she just stared at me for a while, not responding, until I got aggravated and told her to get out of the house. She immediately got up, told me "John was right about you", and left.
I haven't seen her since. I told the kids she went to visit her parents. I don't know what to tell them, but I have to tell them something soon. I don't really even know what to do. Ostensibly I need to divorce her, but going through custody, child support, etc. is dizzying.
I feel paralyzed and haven't made a move yet. I know she's lost her mind and this is probably some kind of psychotic break but I just can't care anymore. I put on a brave, numb face to go to work, then for my kids at night, and then cry after they go to bed until I fall asleep. I feel like my life is essentially over.
I do feel like John took advantage of her vulnerability, but I don't even want to bother trying to get her to see that he's a predator. She chose this over her family that has stuck with her. I don't think I'll be posting any more updates or logging into this account anymore.
And you know that John isn't going to stick around once the novelty of the fling wears off.
He’s out the first time he has to deal with her lying in bed for two weeks. No way he lasts through her mom’s birthday month.
She doesn’t do that because she knows it won’t fly with him. I’m not callous, but taking 5 months off every year half a decade later? Yeah, she was exploiting her family and she’s going to get better real quick now.
This I actually agree with, but not for the reasons you stated. One thing fuels you through grief like nothing else, and that's anger/hate. See how she's spent half of the last 5 years unable to engage with her own family but suddenly has the energy to go to another house and be intimate? That's hate fueled energy. She's running off of hate towards her husband, even though her hate is delusion based.
It'll take you way farther than you think. I think hate is what got me through my daughter's death. It fueled me for years. But it catches up eventually, she might be okay through the separation, divorce, and custody, she'll probably even try to take everything, including the kids, out of spite, but when it's all settled, she's going to crash, really, really hard.
It'll only take one little thing to send her into that crash, one health scare, one big fight with the kids, one time she feels overwhelmed and there's no one there to help her, and that's all it will take.