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8 Survival Tips for the Spouse of a Terminally Ill Person

The other day, I had the honor of interviewing Owen Stanley Surman, M.D., a practicing hospital psychiatrist known internationally for his work on psychiatric and ethical aspects of solid organ transplantation.

Following the death of his wife, Dr. Surman devoted six years to writer a memoir, The Wrong Side of an Illness: A Doctor’s Love Story, which includes a deeply personal and unique view of events both tragic and transcendent. He now lives in Boston with his new wife.

Question: What words of wisdom would you give the spouse of a person struggling with chronic illness or terminally ill?

Dr. Surman: Chronic illness and terminal illness have a pervasive impact on how we live our lives and in our sense of identity. Loss of a loved one affects the part of ourselves that has led us to think in terms of “we” vs. “I.”

7 Comments to
8 Survival Tips for the Spouse of a Terminally Ill Person

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  1. This is such a beautiful post. I want to bookmark it and have it with me always.

  2. Thank you Dr. Surman for your great words of wisdom. I am dating a man that lost his wife a year ago. She was the love of his life for almost 40 years and I encourage him to talk about her. She will always be a part of his life and I realize that. He will always love her and her memory. He now lives each day to the fullest and loves me. Life is truly a blessing and your personal thoughts have lifted me today. THANKS!

  3. Dr. Surman, thank you for expressing your feelings so well. I, too, lost the love of my life just 3 months ago. He was my world. Eight years passed from his first heart attack to when he had what appeared to be a slight stroke, aspirated, got double pneumonia, then sepsis. I didn’t know he was dying until the day he died. I appreciate how you stated that your wife lives on as a part of you. Yes, they live on in our hearts, in the things they taught us, the things we shared. It was a gift I had for almost 30 years. I won’t give it up because he is gone. Now I have to go about rebuilding my life. You are fortunate to have found a new wife that is so understanding.

  4. I don’t understand how people can move on and find another spouse. When my husband passes away I want to stay alone. No one can replace him, no one can compare to him. Also, I don’t want to go through this again…ever. I am tired of sitting around every day wondering how much longer is he going to suffer? How much longer do I not become a part of the outside world? Will I ever be the same? How will I recover losing him? I don’t think I want to recover, I want him to be a part of me forever. He is too young to has this happening to him. We had so many plans for the future when the girls are grown. They are 16 and 19 and I am already alone, even though he is still alive. Yes, friends and family come over for visits, but even those visits at times can be draining. I’m so tired, and he is so sick. I thought at times I have come to terms, but there are times like today where I am drain and wonder if this is all worth it.

    • My husband is dying from Miner’s Asthma (Black Lung Disease) and he is only 63. We have children and grandchildren and his young 10 year old grandson is so very close to his Pappy. Pappy is his world. George is my soul mate, the love of my life and I can’t even imagine life without him. How fast these 40 some years have gone by. I have had episodes of depersonalization because I can’t accept what is happening and don’t want to be me. I fully understand your feelings. I feel like life has stopped. All our plans for retirement are gone and I have to take day to day just to survive. I ask God and his Holy Mother, Mary, and all of heaven to be with us to see us through this. I am lost in so many ways and live in total fear every day.

  5. Does anyone suffer from sever anxiety whe watching your spouse during his last months? I am.

  6. After being a single nurse for 20 years I met a wonderful brilliant writer. Two weeks after the wedding he developed symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as Agency Orange related ALS. Now 9 months later he is paralyzed but for his facial muscles. Yes, I too cry at the drop of a hat. Hospice and 24 hour health care providers now help but the inevitable will be death. ALS usually does not affect your mental acuity but in this case it had so there is little adult conversation due to this plus the tracheostomy and ventilator. Ugh! We never even got to go on our honeymoon. It is a lonely existence but I cannot imagine what it is like for my husband.


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