Ask Team Practical: Marriage and Mortality

As I’m an only child, the issue of my parents’ mortality has always upset me, no matter how I try to confront it. Barring tragedies, it is likely that they will pre-decease me, and that I will be left alone. I’m currently living overseas and have enjoyed eight glorious, independent years here so far, really helping me “find myself” (though of course I thought I knew myself perfectly before I left!) and this experience has convinced me that I will be able to survive after my parents are gone. It’s been liberating and clarifying. My parents are in perfect health, and I couldn’t be happier with my life as it is at the moment.

Now that I’m lucky enough to have met my lovely boyfriend, everything is perfect, particularly as he’s willing to move here to be with me and will do so later this summer. Nothing could be more ideal and I know, overall, we would both like to be married to each other—in terms of what that means on an everyday basis, in terms of formalizing our feelings for and commitment to each other, and in society’s eyes. However, when I truly contemplate the idea of becoming engaged to him and marrying him, I get overwhelmed by the feeling that, although that would be the beginning of something truly life-enhancing, ANY BEGINNING NECESSITATES CONSIDERATION OF AN ENDING. I can’t imagine the amount of pain he and I would be willingly opening ourselves up to by becoming formally attached to each other and having to lose the one who dies first. The mere idea of it makes me want to run a mile.

Strangely, I have none of the same reaction to the idea of staying with him forever but without the formality and the ceremony of a wedding and marriage. I can’t work out why the formality of the arrangement should make such an impact on what I know will be equally painful either way for the one who’s left behind.

This must give you the impression that I’m rather morbid or depressive: nothing could be further from the truth. But I wonder if anyone else has grappled with this consideration? That they can’t contemplate a beginning without due consideration of the ending, and that makes the whole concept rather overwhelming? Perhaps it is more rooted in my “only child thing” that I’d thought—or perhaps recently having found a solid and cherished independence, I am having trouble with the concept of “re-encumbering” myself?


Dear Anonymous,

I’d venture a guess that this is something we all think about, whether only-children, or not.  This is the reason we all cry at Up. Love is touching. Loss is sad. But a long life of love, followed by that loss? Heartrending. It’s hard not to acknowledge the possibility of losing something you value so much, and really, we shouldn’t. Like you said, facing a beginning necessitates thinking about the end, and like Meg has said, it’s important to treat “marriage as the act of finality that it is.”

We can scoff at the overblown idea that’s regurgitated everywhere, “I can’t live without him/her.” Obviously that’s not close to true. But, if I’m honest, it sometimes feels that way. And if I’m really honest, it’s that feeling that made me decide to get married, to begin with. Of course I’d live, but it felt that my life wouldn’t be the same without him. And looking down the foggy tunnel of the future, I know that my life won’t be the same whenever it is that we’re forced to part. That very feeling that’s at the core of being joined to my partner is the same feeling that makes me terrified to think what I’d face without him.

You know, that’s how it goes with anything you cherish. To really love anything at all is risky, because there’s the chance (even the inevitability) that you’ll lose it. The risk only intensifies with the investment. So, of course the commitment of marriage will make these fears pop up. Your promise to dump everything you’ve got into making this work, your commitment to building something together, all means that when you do lose it, you’ll be giving up something even more valuable. Something invested with care and work and years. It makes the scary all the scarier.

So what do we do in the face of that fear?

Forfeit anything worthwhile in our lives, so we don’t have to endure the heartache of losing it? If that works out for you, let me know. But I would imagine that philosophy could lead to a pretty empty, solitary life.  Instead, we can use that fear to motivate us to appreciate what we’ve got while we’ve still got it.

So, yes. The inevitability of the end is what makes marriage terrifying. But knowing that this person will be there til the end, whatever form that end takes, is part of what also makes it powerful and beautiful. That’s part of what you’re promising. You are mine until the bitter end. And even, I will be there when you face the darkest of the dark.

Be reassured. This is all right in your face right now because of the enormity of decisions and steps forward and change, but it’s not going to be a constant fear throughout your marriage. Like other things, the precious, precariousness is most apparent when something is new (like the engagement ring I was afraid to wear at first, because I kept imagining it falling down the drain). But, reminders of this fear will pop up from time to time. When he takes maybe five minutes too long to run out for late night fast food, and you let your imagination wander. Or when Law and Order comes on (any series, any episode. Just be ready for it). In those moments, instead of letting fear swallow you, make it strengthen your resolve to value what you have right now.


Team Practical, did you find that the beginning of the marriage made you contemplate the end?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • erin b

    I don’t have any wisdom to add other than to sympathize and note that since I got married three weeks ago, I’ve started having nightmares that my husband has died. I never had such dreams even in the two and a half years we lived together prior to the wedding. We joke that not much has changed from married vs. non-married everyday life, but I feel like the commitment has increased the perception of risk should something happen to tear us apart.

  • A big YES to this. I’m the kinda girl who, when faced with these thoughts, “tries not to think about it”. But that doesn’t work every time. And when I’m really faced with it, it’s horrible, it’s petrifying, it paralyses me. But would I rather NOT be married to avoid that? No. Would not being married even manage to avoid that? Of course not.
    I think that’s what life is. It takes courage, so much courage. You have to feel the fear and do it anyway. May your courage give your love strength.

  • Lauren

    We talk about death alot! I’ve noticed I’ve really open about talking about death since my dad died three years ago at the age of 59. I find it easier to talk about it now. I think my husband is more “afraid” of death than I am, but we often talk about what we’d want done if one of us were to die first. Most of it is hilarious stuff. We are not religious at all. My main rule is “no bagpipes.”

    • Kate

      “No bagpipes” -too hilarious! Though I’d totally be down with bagpipes. And maybe go full Viking funeral with the burning boat.

    • Alexandra

      My future mother-in-law actually has a playlist labelled “Play at my funeral”. I have no idea offhand what’s on it, but it always amused me.

  • Kate

    Like yesterday’s post, divorce and tragedy are terrifying possibilities. But giving up a life with the person you love is the much more terrifying non-option.

  • I have these thoughts even when I don’t think about us getting married. We’re planning to spend the rest of our lives together, and we are getting married, but a few months ago, when we weren’t even engaged yet, I started having “the fear”. That every moment we were apart, something awful might happen to him and my happy world full of rainbows and unicorns (and fights, and boring things, but ultimately a positive experience) would crash down onto the sharp jagged rocks of harsh reality. That one of the other drivers on the road might have had one too many drinks that night. That a desperate soul might step out of the bushes with a knife during his nightly run. That his love of skydiving would lead him to an end similar to my grandfather’s airforce buddies whose parachutes failed (there weren’t many of them, but when you’re told that story when you’re 4 or 5, it sticks). And it still happens.

    I don’t have a lot of advice to cope. The world is a scary place. But we’ve talked about my anxieties- and he has promised not to go skydiving for a few years at least. I just keep trying to believe that nothing bad will happen, and so far, that belief has been correct.

    This is a lot longer than I expected (sorry) but I hope it helps. At least you’re not alone in worrying. :)

  • Jess

    So I’ve dealt with this in varying places over the last few years. And currently, about to be married, in experiencing something fairly close to what’s described above. I, too, am incredibly happy with my life right now, but I’ve come to see these sorts of thoughts as a low grade anxiety attack. Not that I’m having them at all, but when they become all consuming. I recently went on, and then came off of, hormonal birth control, and it was only when my anxiety was ratcheted up that I could see it for what it was. It happens in other areas of my life too….when I’m feeling unfulfilled in my life and like I’m not living up to what I should be, I’m more scared to fly on planes, but when I’m in a good place, it’s a bit scary, but manageable and not panic attack inducing.
    Which is all a long way of saying that I’ve found it helpful to treat these thoughts, when they get to be too much, a a symptom of anxiety, not something that’s intrinsically part of me and that I’ll never be able to handle. Even the idea that I could find a better way to deal with these feelings, or might be able to process them in time, feels comforting to me…knowing that I hopefully don’t have to be stuck in that upsetting thought loop for forever.
    Currently, I just moved in with my fiancé, just got accepted to grad school, just found the puppy we’re going to get, just bought a bunch of textbooks that could theoretically change my career path…everything is in flux, about to change, a natural place for anxiety to crop up, and when these type of thoughts get overwhelming for me (and they are today…my fiancé is at another big track/running event a week after everything that happened in Boston) I try to remind myself that alot of it is anxiety, and that today is a day I should take care of myself, not beat myself up for what I’m feeling.
    And that’s a really long run on sentence but I’m on my phone and can’t seem to edit it well…so we’re going with it!
    Hugs from over here!!

    • marbella

      Yup. I got to the stage where these thoughts were all consuming and totally paralysing recently. Therapy and medication has helped massively but it took getting to that stage for me to realise these were ‘intrusive’ thoughts that I can deal with in a manageable way, not something I would have to suffer through forever.

  • I have definitely thought about this more than just a couple of times. My husband is 10 years older than me, so I think it is likely that I’ll be the one left behind eventually. It’s made me even more conscious of the need to keep up my retirement savings (he’s a bit terrible at saving himself), but other than that I try not to think to hard on the emotional aspect of losing him first.

  • KB

    I just wanted to commiserate as a fellow only-child. I totally get the OP’s idea that it’s kind of rooted in our family dynamic – I also tend to think these kind of “morbid” thoughts for what feels like every once in a while, but is probably more often than my friends with siblings and/or large families. I vividly remember the first time I realized that my parents were going to die someday and I’d be alone (third grade, kitchen table, listening to Phantom of the Opera’s “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” with headphones – my father was absolutely baffled by the bawling and my explanation). It’s just an inherent loneliness that follows you around. So even though attaching yourself to someone seems like it would actually benefit you, you think it might have been better to have never loved anybody at all – that way, you won’t be disappointed in the end.

    But I think there’s a silver lining, kind of, in that only children also confront these nebulous concepts earlier than our peers. So I don’t really have an answer other than what I tend to do, which is look at it as more of a generational divide – I have my family of origin, which is very small and I don’t have any control over, but I have my new immediate family, which, even though I don’t control what will happen to them, I can control how much I expand it.

    • Catherine

      totally. dead-on. yes.

  • 39bride

    I think about it a lot. I lost a very large number of people in two short years when I was younger. It shattered my sense of safety and my ability to be in denial about the fact that we can theoretically lose anyone at any time. What has finally helped me is the reminder that we all ARE going to die and can’t keep that from happening. Since it’s inevitable, the real question is what we do with the time we have until then–I chose to stop worrying about the possible scenarios and instead make sure that I make so much of the time we have that it’s worth the inevitable loss at the end. It’s gonna hurt either way, so I choose to wring out as much good in the meantime as possible.

  • Catherine

    I am the exact same way!!! I am an only child and death has always been a huge fear and issue for me…Loss, oh my god, the thought of it, slays me. I used to freak out over time passing growing up- Literally over moments slipping away and I would cry…

    • Yes, the same for me. I’m incredibly nostalgic and sentimental, but had a hard time with this as a child. I used to cry on New Year’s Eve because another year was over, when I was like, 7.

  • Like the letter writer, I have a history of worrying about the inevitable death of people I love dearly. My parents are a generation older than most people who have kids my age, so I’ve always had that semi-rational fear, and I’ve irrationally been afraid of my little sister dying since we were toddlers (any other over-protective siblings not let their sisters walk next to rivers or within 100 feet of a railroad crossing? Just child-me?).

    Yet I never feared my husband dying while we were dating. Breaking up, sure, but not dying. It wasn’t until after we got engaged that those fears really started creeping in. We’ve been married just under a year, and it’s still a thing I’m trying to deal with in a positive, strengthening way. So far, it’s manifested itself in my wanting to ban adventure from our lives. Him: “What do you think about me learning to ride a motorcycle?” Me: “NO! NEVER!” Him: “I’d like to train for a long-distance hike.” Me: “No. There’s bears and you’ll die.”

    My older brother had a horrible skiing accident a couple weeks ago which reawakened the fear in a very awful way (and also added “skiing” to the NO NEVER list). I know my “flight” fear response from these potential dangers is natural, but I also know that being paralyzed by “what ifs” is no way to live a life. I’d like to be able to eventually look potential/eventual loss full in the face, grab my husband’s hand, and jump into adventure together, but it’s hard.

    Also I personally don’t want to be eaten by a bear, either.

    • as a person with a sibling, i have never really been afraid of my parents dying, but as a kid i was *petrified* about the idea of my brother dying, and kind of dwelled on it a lot (i think, for a kid, but i guess i don’t know what everyone else was thinking). but then…i was also about 18 before i realized that my big brother wasn’t a superhero.

      i think i’ve fully transferred that fear over to my wife (who is totally a superhero). only, i don’t really worry about terrible things happening to her (like i did with my brother), i just worry that she’s going to die before me when we’re old and wrinkly (cue: crying in the theater at “up”; most embarrassing moment of my life). my medical friends occasionally tell stories of husbands who sit in the hospital and sob for days, completely unable to speak or function – all i can ever think is “that’s going to be me”.

      related: the only thing that has ever made me capable of thinking about the above without panic and sobbing is the idea of going through it with a third partner in our relationship (something that may never happen, of course). i haven’t mentioned it in our discussions of the merits and difficulties of polyamory because i’m loathe to bring it up at all, but it is comforting.

  • I contemplate this a lot, and somehow have come to the opposite conclusion that I must marry my love as quickly as possible because each passing day brings us statistically closer to our ends and if one of us were to be tragically struck down before making that commitment to each other it would somehow be unbearable. I feel like I would take great comfort if I were to loose my spouse tragically in the fact that we shared some time, however short, as husband and wife. My greatest frustration in life is that my love doesn’t seem to be in as much of a hurry as I am to marry. I have to keep telling him “WHAT IF I DIE TOMORROW you insensitive jerk!” Haha, he’s not too concerned.

    • This is one of the reasons we eloped. To be married, if anything happened (we’d had a lot of craziness in the six months leading up to that decision). So that we could take care of each other in the event that either of us was incapacitated. To have as many decades, years, months, days and hours together as husband and wife as we could.

    • Sarah

      One of my friends lost her boyfriend suddenly. They’d been together for a few years, had dramatically altered their individual life plans to be together, had plans for a future together… and then one day he didn’t wake up. [sorry, I don’t mean to feed into everyone’s fears here]

      I’ve always wondered about the effect of labels there. Does marriage change how you mourn and process and continue on with life? Is there a difference, internally and socially, between being a 23-year old whose boyfriend died vs being a 23-year old widow?

      • Ashleyn

        This is something that terrifies me. I am in pre-engaged land and I am so scared that something might happen to my guy and either I wouldn’t be able to be with him and take care of him or that if he were gone, no one would understand how upset I would be because we weren’t married. It’s part and parcel of how I feel that I need to…not justify, maybe qualify? our relationship to others. Yes, he’s my boyfriend (not my fiance) but we moved across the country together to further his career. Yes, he’s my boyfriend but we live together and have lived together for three years and been together for over four. Yes, he’s my boyfriend but it’s serious. I feel like if something were to happen, it would be this but on a bigger scale. Everyone knows that if your boyfriend died you would be in mourning and upset for a long time – but how long do you get? If you weren’t married, that’s not as bad?

        I feel like I’m rambling, and I hope this makes sense.

  • Katherine

    “Your promise to dump everything you’ve got into making this work, your commitment to building something together, all means that when you do lose it, you’ll be giving up something even more valuable. Something invested with care and work and years. It makes the scary all the scarier.”

    THIS. It’s so scary…..but taking that chance is worth it a thousand-fold over when you know you’re in the relationship that you were meant to be in all along.

  • “This is the reason we all cry at Up.”

    True and hopefully funny story! When I took my (then five years old) daughter to see Up, she looked around during the first ten minutes and loudly whispered, “Mom! Why are all the grown ups crying?” Because, yes, every adult was SOBBING. Oh, Up!

    I worry about my parents/brother/fiance/child dying ALL THE TIME. Like, I don’t let it affect my day-to-day living, but I worry a lot. I keep selfishly claiming that I’m dying first, no arguments about it. Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with a lot of death over my 33 years and it never gets easier.

    • Mellie

      My fiancé and I have the shared childhood experience of our parents reading us the book “Love You Forever” and getting all choked up at the end when the kid is grown up and the roles have switched and he is taking care of his parent, while we were all like “sheesh, stop crying and read my bedtime story”. We agree that we are totally going to read this book to our kids and cry in our turn.

  • Martha

    Oh man, those first 5 minutes of Up are killer!

    I am not an only child, so I have never given the thought of being “alone” much thought. I have always known, through it all, that my siblings would be there for me when our parents eventually pass (they are quite young, so this should be a while).

    With regards to my fiance – I definitely agree with Liz. With all things you love there is the risk and inevitability that you will lose it. My fiance’s dog died recently and he was absolutely heartbroken – the the point where he claimed he would never get a dog again because it was too painful. While it was, I had to remind him that dogs just plain don’t outlive their owners (generally speaking) and to think of all the dogs we will have the privilege of loving during our lives.

    I read a quote once that said: “pray as if everything depends on God and act as if everything depends on you.” So, as Liz said, just love as if every day is your last. I know it’s cliche, but it certainly keeps you happier and leads to a more fulfilling life.

  • Lady K

    I really need to be better about waiting to read these tearjerkers till I get home. Ok…got the desk crying under control.

    I too have caught myself, especially as our wedding day creeps closer, thinking about the finality of our journey together. Sometimes it makes sense, like during the nights when I struggle to fall asleep and my brain wanders through every possible crazy or scary thought it can. And other times it catches me completely off guard. Like last week, after a particularly hectic day, he told me how upset he was that his new work schedule was leaving him tired and he’d had no time to exercise this week, or eat anything healthy. The whole time all I could think was, oh lord this lifestyle is going to kill him by the time he’s 50 and I won’t be able to handle losing him! But the truth is my rational brain knows that we actually both live pretty healthy and active lives. And I know this was really just his way of venting about his rough day.
    But I believe every person experiences these worries, whether few or numerous. And the closer my fiance and I get to legalizing a partnership that was already set on forever, I think the awareness of its end is always going to be there for me. But I also believe in Liz’s advice about morphing the fear of loss and appreciating what you have together right now. And just maybe, we’ll all be so lucky to have our partner with us at the bitter end when either of us has to “face the darkest of the dark.”

  • Nicole Marie

    Fantastic advice, I’ll definitely be passing this one on to the boyfriend! As far as I know, he doesn’t have any major fears about death (at least in terms of our relationship and future), but I know he does have major fears and issues about other kinds of loss, particularly divorce.

    I love how Liz’s advice always clearly and effectively responds to the asker’s specific questions and concerns while simultaneously addressing broader issues that most of the rest of us can apply in our own lives and relationships. Thank you!

  • Sara W

    I’ve noticed this kind of fear creeping in now that we’re married. Always the “what ifs”: What if he gets in a car accident? What if he has a heart attack (he’s only 35)? And like Cathi mentioned, “There’s bears and you’ll die!”
    But, I try to keep it in perspective that yes, we all die. And we are happy now and had better make the best of things, because you never know.
    Also: “But knowing that this person will be there til the end, whatever form that end takes, is part of what also makes it powerful and beautiful. That’s part of what you’re promising. You are mine until the bitter end. And even, I will be there when you face the darkest of the dark”
    GAH…The tears at my desk…

  • StillSmiling

    I also struggle with worrying- I blame it on my over active imagination. When C is late, my imagination can come up with four hundred terrible things that could have happened. But, I think (at least a part of) the real problem is often self-care. I’ve found that I have a lot harder time dealing with that anxiety when I’m not taking care of myself- when I’m tired, haven’t exercised enough, am hungry, etc.
    I have taken to seeking out a concrete action to take when I find myself feeling overwhelmed by my worry. Maybe I can’t do anything about the fact that C isn’t answering his phone, but I CAN make a healthy snack, or go for a run, get to bed early, or call up a friend to see if she wants to grab coffee.
    Worry comes with love. It just shows us how precious someone is. But I find I can treasure the people I love so much better when I am concentrating on taking care of myself well.
    Now, if only I manage to remember my own ideas here when I’m worried later…

  • Mallory

    In the past, I have found the same concerns paralyzing. The last several years as a number of my parents’ close friends have died for a host of reasons have brought these issues up and made me look and them and myself in a way that I had previously thoroughly, and successfully, avoided. As a result, what I’ve found helpful in reducing my anxiety is facing it, talking about it with my husband (who’s even more avoidant of the subject than myself) and I’ve become the post-child for Advanced Health Care Directives. I talk to my parents about it, the husband, friends, clients. Death is not something we can predict or avoid, but it is something we can be prepared for. The ability to take control of my hypothetical medical care provides me with the relief of knowing that even if tragedy strikes, I’ll know my partner’s wishes, and he will know mine.

  • Personally, I think this fear becomes present the moment we fall in love. It might feel bigger or stronger after an engagement or wedding, but just loving him, made me afraid to lose him. It also made it all the more imperative that I never let him go too. I doubt not getting married will allay the fear permanently for the OP but it might. However, it seems like this is the fear that loving each other brings and if you want to feel the love, you’ll have to pay with the fear. I know its cheesy, but I’ve always loved that little quote from the beginning of The Thorn Birds:

    “…for the best is only bought at the price of great pain…”

    That’s been my experience. I think its the human experience.

  • I don’t know that anyone says it better than C.S. Lewis on this subject:

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

    • Liz

      This is the quote I was thinking of the entire time.

  • Sandy

    My husband’s aunt is fading fast, suffering from a degenerative brain disease that has been diagnosed as Parkinson’s among other things. She and her husband have been married for more than 50 years and, as she is losing herself, it’s been both heartwarming and painful to watch them.

    On top of this, M’s mother and her other siblings live off drama and as the aunt is getting more and more ill, they keep creating these ideas that her husband is not taking care of her properly. After months of their berating him and threatening with Social Services, he finally consented to put her in a nursing home. Now, after just a week of things being okay, M’s mom and her siblings are considering suing for POA because they still think he’s not doing what is right for their sister.

    The situation has force my husband and I talk about not death but end-of-life care. We are creating wills and living wills to ensure that if, or when, that moment comes when we have to care for each other and make those decisions, we can do so without the drama.

  • Diane

    I got married last Saturday (wheeeee!) and it was beautiful and amazing and so filled with joy that I’ve just been kinda grinning continuously since then. We also live 4 hours apart and will for another 14 months so we spend a lot of time on the road. I don’t mind the drive for me but the minute but very real possibility that A could be killed sometimes takes hold of my consciousness and brings me face to face with the fear that things are “too good” right now and that this much joy must somehow lead to equally deep sorrow. Rationally, I know that the overwhelming likelihood is that we have many years to experience happiness and sorrows together. It’s not a feeling that I “can’t” live without how, it’s just that for awhile, I’m not sure I’d want to. I think about how I miss him during the week, when we’re apart, and even more if we have a weekend without seeing each other and then contemplate that ache that would be there if the time apart was forever. So yes, that fear is there, with the knowledge that one day we will likely be separated. On the other hand, to protect myself from that fear, I would also have to forgo this joy, this head-spinning, flowers-smell-sweeter, sun-shines-brighter, world-is-a-beautiful-place joy. And I want to live a life in which joy triumphs over fear.

  • Catcat

    “But knowing that this person will be there til the end, whatever form that end takes, is part of what also makes it powerful and beautiful. That’s part of what you’re promising. You are mine until the bitter end. And even, I will be there when you face the darkest of the dark.”

    I think I have something in my eye…

  • Hannah

    Similarly to what Kaitlin wrote above, I find the concept of marriage to somehow help with my fear of losing my fiance. It’s hard to explain, but death after marriage seems weirdly more bearable for me.
    I remember a friend of mine whose boyfriend was in the military describing her urgency to get married…how if anything happened to him, she wanted the documented realness of a marriage in her memories of him. Also, practically speaking, widows sadly tend to receive more support in the grieving process than unmarried partners, which may help in some small way.

    • marbella

      I used to think that it would be too, then I got married. I think now it was just a way to placate my brain. You can find another way to be fearful afterward.

  • This had funny timing. Last night I had dreams where my fiance was dying. I woke up anxious, jittery, and in need of a hug. I have contemplated the finality of being married a lot in the 13 months I’ve been engaged. There’s something really poignant and frightening and exhilarating about it all. And I think, for me, that it is the finality, the choice to love better, love more, love completely, that makes me so excited to be married.

  • I have this fear, too. There was a span of a few months right after our wedding in which I came across a bunch of articles about couples dealing with sudden death, with traumatic brain injuries, with Alzheimers, etc. I would get so worked up over each of them and worry about what would happen if my husband and I were in the same situation. But one day we were in the kitchen, making dinner (something so mundane) and I realized that no matter what, the time I’ve already had with him is worth so much more than any trauma or time spent apart. I wouldn’t wish we never met or never got married because that’s so meaningful to me, even if I knew we had some ridiculously bad stuff ahead. That doesn’t mean fears of death or illness aren’t scary, but for me it’s a way to come to terms with that fear.

  • Jennie

    As someone who had to be medicated for several years to deal with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks — I can totally relate to this post. Fear of death/loss can really ruin your life experience… It took not only medication, but also therapy, to help me get out of the pit I was in.

    However, I’ve come to realize that dealing with the fear itself is one thing, but learning how to really cherish and live in the moment is a totally different ball game. I guess because the fear is always lurking in the back of your mind, it’s hard to relax into the moment and really SEE your partner or SMELL the roses without thinking “How can I capture this moment forever? What am I missing? Should I be doing something else right now?” The only thing that’s been helping me with that is Tara Brach and her guided meditations. She’s written a couple books, but her free podcasts are amazing. If anyone else is trying to figure out how to seriously live in each moment, I recommend starting with her.

    • Catherine

      OOooo I’m going to look into this! I have similar issues as well and have been doing a lot of “inner work” lately. Also, mindfulness and realizing that they key isn’t to avoid and make yourself safe from death and change, but to accept uncertainty and know that whatever happens, “I will be okay.” I have to learn to take the threat and fear out of it, by saying “I can’t change mortality, but I can change how I embrace it”..things like that…

  • Amber

    This is probably the only thing that really changed for me after getting married, thinking about this. And the only way I can deal with it is to not think about it. Unfortunately it creeps in: seeing an old couple, driving by a cemetery, thinking about our grandmas.

    And this is how I end up crying at my desk.

  • Krystal

    This was definitely something I struggled with, both with my mom, growing up as an only child with an abusive stepfather, and then when I fell in love and realized I wanted to be with the man I ended up marrying. For me it was hardest up until we were actually married. The weeks leading up to our wedding had me up a night worried something would happen to him. Once we were married, while I still worry (every single time he’s driving somewhere without me my last words after ‘I love you’ are ‘Drive safe!’ – I’m a teensy bit paranoid I suppose), there was some part of my mind that relaxed a little because I felt like I did have a piece of forever. Just by being able to say, for the rest of my life, that he’s my husband, even if he’s not there. There is a permanence implied there, even if something were to happen to him, I would still identify myself around our love. I would be a widow, not just someone that lost someone they loved. As I’m writing this I’m realizing it doesn’t make a ton of sense, but nonetheless it’s how I feel. By committing our lives to each other, no matter what happens, something has changed. We will always be a part of each other’s life, even once one of us is gone.

  • Lydia

    So this is something I’ve been mulling recently, though for a different reason. A friend of a friend just lost his beautiful wife to cancer. We are all the same age, 32. She was way too young and she battled for 9 intense months before dying. Since then, I have had the wind knocked out of me thinking about how he’s dealing with her loss. I can’t imagine the weeks and months after something like this happens and it, like someone else said, paralyzes me. But it has meant that I am softer with my words to my husband, quicker with my hugs and try my hardest to find his annoying habits endearing. Because…you just never know what path life will take. And it’s so much better to fill whatever days you have with LOVE LOVE LOVE instead of fear fear fear.

    We can all get through anything, one day or one hour or one minute at a time. Even the worst thing we can imagine. That gives me a sort of peace.

  • Anon for this

    This hit home today. Issues of mortality have been present in my relationship with my fiance simple because of the manner of our meeting; we originally met two weeks after his prior fiancee had died suddenly in an accident. When we began dating, that experience made both of us so much more aware of the gift of the present that we have now.

    A few weeks ago my fiance went into the ICU for a medical issue that seems to have come out of nowhere and that nearly killed him. We’ve been told that he is lucky to have survived. He is out of the hospital now and in a slow recovery, and right now we don’t know what the future looks like, so I can’t even look ahead to some (hopefully) far distant time when I might lose him. Right now all I can do is be with him and be grateful for the time that we have together.

    The fear is real, it is very, very real, but I refuse to let it darken our time together.

    • Sarah

      Sending lots and lots of good wishes your way!

  • Hannah K

    The wonderful Marian Keyes wrote a book called ANYBODY OUT THERE? that is about a woman whose husband died unexpectedly in an accident and how she comes to cope. It’s a tearjerker (obv), but also ultimately kind of hopeful and reassuring. Maybe worth a read?

  • kaybee

    Funny, for a long time I felt this same way about the idea of having children. Like, how could it even possibly be worth having them if you have to risk the pain of having something terrible happening to them? For a long time I couldn’t figure out why people would bother. Then I met my fiance and realized that it’s scary to love something that much, but you can’t live your whole life in fear of the WHAT IF …. and that yes, it truly is worth it.

  • NTB

    I think that this is totally, completely normal. I am not an only child, but the fear of losing my parents used to make me cry on the spot. Literally, I would burst into tears.

    Now that I am married, the fear of losing my husband to a rare illness, heart attack, or some other tragedy almost consumes me. Just the other day, I told my husband that I can’t live without him, and that I would like to die first, please, so that I don’t have to endure a life without his warmth next to me in our bed, the feeling of waking up next to him in the morning, falling back asleep in each others arms (only on Sundays, because I have that whole work thing during the week).

    We live with so many ‘what ifs’ in our lives. It is hard to take those big leaps with so many uncertainties, and marriage is definitely one of those leaps. For 6 months before my wedding, I was so afraid of dying in a car accident and not being able to live out my wedding day that it was almost kind of paralyzing. I struggle with this still and I think one way to look at it is the way my mom always put it: anything worth having involves taking some risks, so do the best you can with what you know to make decisions and leave the rest up to God (universe.)

  • Not long after we moved into our very own apartment together, my then-boyfriend was diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed major surgery to have it removed. The possibility of losing him – to the tumor, on the table, to post-op complications – it felt very much like a physical blow. (Fun fact: collapsing when you get shocking news, not just a dramatic movie thing.)

    He came through it just fine, and we’re now married and planning for a child, but you bet we talk about how much we love each other many times a day, and we cherish every moment we have like the gift it is.

    I suppose the point is that life is short and precious and uncertain. Thinking about loss is only morbid if you don’t use it to motivate yourself to enjoy the time you have.

  • Lia

    My fiance’s mother recently passed away, after a very short but devastating battle with cancer. Watching his dad visit her every day and looking after her even when he knew the worst was going to happen was heartbreaking, but it also made me realise that I would much rather have my fiance by my side, and vice versa, whatever life (or death) throws at us. And I hope that it will make us treasure each other every day, because it has now really hit home for us how short and unpredictable life is.

  • Jessica

    Unfortunately, this is a fear that I have had to face recently. In March, my dear, sweet husband of 4 months passed away suddenly in a terrible accident. The weeks since have been a blur of physical and emotional pain, sadness, confusion, uncertainty, and anger. I have also felt peaceful, happy, and even hopeful as I have celebrated his life over and over again with our family and friends. I can say honestly that the one thing I have not felt since is fear, but before my his passing losing him was absolutely my biggest fear. The thought of losing him one day far into the future paralyzed me to the point that it would leave me incapable of thinking of anything else, and I thought for sure that if the day were ever to come that I lost him, I would immediately establish permanent reisidence in my bed. However, when that day did come, I surprised myself and everyone around me. Did I fall apart initially? YES. Do I still lose it when I think of a happy memory, see a photo of a place we traveled together, or hear a song that meant a lot to both of us? Absolutely, and I am aware that this is something that may never change. But there is something empowering about knowing that my greatest fear in this world has been realized, and yet I’m still here. I haven’t let it break me, I’m not living in denial, and I know with 100% certainty that nothing this world can throw at me will ever scare me as much as the fear I have already faced.

    • Elemjay

      Dear Jessica – I am very sorry for your loss.

    • MDBethann

      Jessica, hugs and prayers for you. You sound like an incredibly strong woman.

  • Meagan

    Ok, I never thought my little courtship with mortal thoughts arose from my only childness, but I thought more the older parent thing.

    Either way, I did lose my boyfriend (to a car accident) and then 11 years later, I married the second love of my life. On the first, I was young and was convinced that you can’t get married that young, so we were separated by distance, finishing school and waiting until we were the age that everyone told us we should be. I considered him my fiancé (pre-engaged wasn’t a thing then) and we had started planning a life together. When he died, he took my future with him and that was a whole other loss.

    After many years of mourning, anger, conversations with his parents and all around personally destructive behavior, I tried to think about how to start my life with a new person. Without comparing them, and more importantly saddling the new guy with sadness or insecurity about the old guy. First, my husband is super confident – in himself, in our love and his immortality. Not going to lie, it’s very reassuring.

    But holy moly the FEAR- like run out of a bookstore sobbing because a wedding book reminds me to get premarital doc which reminds me of wills and !!!!! Paralyzing horribly isolating fear- I just threw myself into hyper controlling everything but in retrospect, therapy was needed. Getting through the wedding wasn’t easy but I have good friends who held my hand until I could see husbands face and calm down.

    As for the question of losing bf vs husband, loss is loss. Everyone is different. I just can’t live in fear every day. I have to live my life expecting the best because let’s face it, being brave is the only way to get to the best parts of life. But remember this isn’t just about your partner, you have a role to play here too. You have to live your life because your partner needs you to be the person he/she fell in love with. Share your fears, talk a lot, get closer and if that doesn’t work, get thee to therapy! Learn to love the life you have whatever the path – I have to go, I’m about to quote Miley Cyrus :/ best wishes for a wonderful extended life together

  • Kat

    Fabulous reply Liz.
    Also, thank you for pointing out that these feelings are probably more universal than a only child thing. I’m an only child and have not felt afraid of my parents dying because I’d be left alone in the world (although the thought of them dying does horrify me), but I see a few only children above have had similar fears to the poster.

    However, thinking about my husband dying does freak me out. I’ve especially noticed these thoughts now I’m pregnant. Terrifying!

  • Tori

    Seriously, you’re my long lost only-child sister. Is that a thing? Can we make it a thing?
    I resonated with your fears–about childhood fears of losing parents graduating into adult fears of losing my partner. As an only-child growing up, being part of a pair (me and my mom) was integral to my sense of security. As a grown-up only-child, I find the idea of bonding myself to a new pair simultaneously the most comforting and terrifying thing I can imagine. I’m also recently engaged and I have nicknamed myself the morbid bride because this engagement, though brimming with love and so much joy, has also had me thinking an awful lot about death. Not just my partner’s death, but my own death. I’ve been feeling like what I’d casually called “adulthood” was really just a warm-up and that the “real” adulthood starts now. That’s left me with the feeling that a major part of my life–my young and single days– are behind me. This has resulted in me feeling like life is speeding by before my eyes–and inevitably made me think about the end of my own life (which hopefully won’t be for another 100 years. Hey, a girl can dream). I’m still working through all this myself so I don’t have any advice. I just wanted to say you’re definitely not alone in feeling this way!