My 74-year-old wife has recently been diagnosed with cancer that has spread. She is receiving a lot of medical attention and care. Unfortunately, it seems that this disease will ultimately take her life. My wife is a brave and courageous woman. She is also loved and respected by three generations. The thing is I’m not brave and I’m having trouble with the flood of thoughts and feelings involved in trying to get a handle on the situation. Basically, I’m a mess. Can you tell me how I can best help my wife to go through this part of her life? I don’t know what to do.
I’m grateful you’re reaching out and asking for support during this unimaginably difficult time in your life. You might not think you’re a brave man, however, admitting that you don’t feel brave and that you don’t know what to do might be one of the bravest things you can do at this time. Your wife needs you now more than ever.
First of all, it’s completely normal to experience a flood of thoughts and feelings when you’re losing your spouse. It’s like you’re watching your life flash before your eyes, but in slow motion. You’re experiencing the overwhelm that comes when we face something we don’t want to happen and are completely powerless to stop it. You’re not weak or broken for experiencing this flooding. It’s evidence of how important she is to you.
Even though this flooding may be normal, it still gets in the way of you being there for your wife. Your wife has a wonderful community of support from friends, family, and medical professionals. It’s time to build your community of support so you can support her. The first place I recommend you start is admitting to God that you don’t have what it takes to be brave right now.
You’re in good company with other great men in the scriptures who recognized their inadequacy when faced with insurmountable grief and loss. One of the most descriptive examples is Nephi’s admission that he was a “wretched man” in the aftermath of his father’s death.[i] He shared his sacred struggle with the world, and it gave him the strength to press forward. He recognized that his bravery and strength came from Heavenly Father’s power, not his own.
There are many false traditions, especially aimed at men, that teach that strength comes from “management of the creature…[prospering] according to [our] genius, and that [we conquer] according to [our] strength.”[ii] However, our true power comes from “the strength of the Lord.”[iii] We know that gifts like charity are bestowed when we pray for them.[iv] I believe the courage, bravery, and presence you seek will be bestowed on you as you ask for it. There are tremendous pressures on us as men to become “self-made” in every way, but this isn’t something we can generate without heavenly help.
A crisis is an opportunity for us to be our best selves. If you don’t know how to manage the feelings you’re experiencing, then this is the time to seek additional support. There are grief and loss groups you can attend where you can get support and community from others who know exactly what you’re feeling. This is a good time to seek individual professional counseling to better understand how to organize your experience so you can better show up for your wife. You might feel uncomfortable doing these things, but bravery is simply showing up when you’re afraid.
This is also an important time to open up to your children and other close family members about your own emotional struggles. You may believe that you’re supposed to maintain a stoic disposition at a time like this to hold everyone else together. However, this is a sweet and sacred time to let them be there for you so you can be there for your wife. They may believe you’re doing better than you really are. So, when you’re feeling low and depleted, ask if someone can sit with you and let them hear what this is like for you.
Don’t miss this sacred opportunity to let these sweet and tender emotions flow through you to your dear wife. She needs to know how much you love her, how her life has blessed you, and how you want to be there for her during this time. Your commitment to keep showing up every day with your presence, your voice, your tears, your awareness, and your touch will give your wife the comfort and security of knowing that she doesn’t have to do this alone.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[i] 2 Nephi 4:17
[ii] Alma 30:17
[iii] Mosiah 9:17 – I also recommend you read Elder Bednar’s talk by the same title: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/david-a-bednar/strength-lord/
[iv] Moroni 7:48