"It is more common than would be evident
on the surface."
Well, let me wave my little taboo flag.
At one point in my long marriage, my husband had a terrible
health scare. After gallbladder surgery, he suffered
life-threatening complications that sent him back to the
hospital for two months, followed by a three-month
convalescence. Eventually he recovered, but my anxiety over his
Our marriage was not in good shape,
either. And I remember worrying that maybe he would not survive.
I was not considering divorce. We had three young children, and
I was a stay-at-home mom. As wonky as this makes me sound, the
thought did float through my brain that death was possible, and
while not wished for, it would be one ending.
I found myself thinking that, despite
the dysfunction in our relationship, and how unfair I thought he
was, I should just try to love him really well because maybe he
didn't have long to live.
It sounds crazy now that I write it. (He
is alive and well and remarried, by the way.) I put it down to
magical thinking, which is a particularly female activity. It
goes something like this: I'm a good person, and fate, the
forces of the universe, will take care of my unhappiness for me.
Death of her spouse was not an outcome
Jennifer Elison hoped for in her difficult marriage, but she was
brave enough to write an article recently in Newsweek about how
she felt when it happened unexpectedly.
"I was in shock," she wrote of her
husband's death in a car accident at the age of 31. "But I was
also aware of a bewildering mix of sadness, anger and, as hard
as it was to admit, overwhelming relief."
The day before he died, she had asked
him for a divorce.
Death is a cleaner break than divorce.
It's psychological surgery. The person is gone from your life.
There is anguish over the loss, but it's different. Death is a
natural, final and no-fault parting in a way divorce will never
And it's easier to be a widow or widower
than a former wife or husband. You get real sympathy. If you're
a man, you will be the beneficiary of the Casserole Brigade, the
legion of single women who come to your door offering
But while the death wish sounds like the
product of a selfish mind - hey, you avoid the cost of expensive
lawyers - it is more likely the thought of a distressed one,
"It occurs as a fantasy around conflict
avoidance," Dr. Hamovitch says.
It is also passive: the stance of a
victim who feels helpless and trapped. "I used to think about
him dying a lot," confesses a friend of mine about her husband
of many years. "But when I faced divorce, and started taking
control of the problem, I stopped thinking about it." The same
was true for me.
Psychologists have a field day with the
death wish issue, if and when people are brave enough to admit
to it. "It is a primal expression of rage," says Barry Rich, a
therapist in Richmond Hill, Ont.
We tend to feel the strongest degree of
anger toward people with whom we are most intimate.
"I give patients permission to feel that
it's not taboo," says Cecil Fennell, a marriage therapist.
"People feel that if you wish it, it's almost as bad as doing
So, here's my advice.
Let's say you and your beloved are
drinking your morning coffee over the paper. One of you mentions
the reports on the ongoing investigation of Stacey Castor, the
American woman accused of administering fatal antifreeze to her
second husband. (She is suspected of killing her first husband
the same way.)
Don't react with false horror, as in, "I
can't believe people would do such a thing."
Rather, be honest. Say, "You know,
honey, I know this sounds weird, but once, I thought of sticking
a knife in your back."
"Really?" he might respond. "When?"
"Oh, a few years ago, when you were in
that obnoxious phase of acting like a master of the universe."
You take a sip of your latte. "You're much nicer now."
He looks up calmly from his paper. "
Well, now that you mention it, when you went on holiday with
your girlfriends in 2001, I hoped that a wave would sweep you
out to sea. I didn't want you to suffer," he says, as he returns
to reading the paper.
"But I thought it would be for the
"I was so glad when you came home. I
missed you terribly, and I realized I just needed a break from
you." He smiles, and passes you the business section.
"Maybe we should talk," you suggest.
"Sure," he says. He reaches across the
table to take your hand. "Want to go to the bistro tonight?"
"Great," you say. "I'll phone the