This I believe: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I am a recent widow and a psychoanalyst. My husband died in October of last year. He was more than 21 years my senior and, from the time we became involved, almost 30 years ago, I worried about his dying. Loss and separation were always difficult for me. I could cry at airports watching total strangers hug good-bye. But I knew I would not turn away from this man who embraced life with tremendous strength and courage and who always, always cherished me. He learned to bake elaborate cakes for my birthdays, sat quietly for hours watching me create, and, as he lay dying, summoned the strength to make his voice heard one last time, proclaiming, “I love you Linda.”
Now my husband is no more. I have no one to hold me in the night; no one to quiet my concerns about a suicidal patient; no one to enthusiastically read every word I write. But not for one moment since his death, regardless of the pain, regardless of the endless flow of tears, have I regretted loving him and taking him into my life.
For over 35 years, first as a psychologist and then a psychoanalyst, I have listened to patients’ struggles – feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety, and often difficulties with relationships and intimacy. Psychoanalysts have come to understand that the relationship between patient and analyst provides the most crucial aspect of the therapeutic process, bringing to light the patient’s way of being in the world and leaving both parties forever changed.
And yet, patients often object: “Why should I get attached to you if I know it’s only going to end?” “This isn’t a real relationship.” “You can’t truly care about me.” I have responded to all these remarks over the years, often hearing in my mind, sometimes saying out loud, that which I emphatically believe: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” In one way or another all relationships end. People leave, they move on, they die, we die. The potential for loss is ever present.
Although it may not seem so, there are many similarities between therapy and marriage. In both, if there is a willingness to truly risk opening up and being vulnerable, there can be a blossoming of intense caring, respect, admiration, and love. To curtail that possibility, to hold oneself back, to deny oneself the pleasure of being intensely known, is to lead a constrained, restricted existence. There are so many people today who live isolated, alienated lives, cut off from both themselves and others. If they could get beyond their fears about impermanence, such individuals could greatlly benefit from an intense therapeutic relationship, using it as a springboard into a ricker, more fulfilling life, perhaps such as I was able to find with my husband.
In the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson:
“I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.”
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