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Ask Ellie: Death of a long-lost lover brings up buried feelings of loss

After acknowledging your feelings of loss, tuck them in the past and realize you did your best at the time

Dear Ellie: My boyhood crush was finally realized in 1992 and my girlfriend was what I’d always wanted — “Crazy love” that Willie Nelson called an “angel too close to the ground.”

Increasingly, alcohol became her dominant, defining experience. Things spiralled beyond control and I had to decide between being an enabler or informing her family of her dangerous activities.

I cared more that she lived than for the fate of the relationship. I hoped a family intervention could save her.

Then came death in the family and Christmas and the family had children to consider. I spoke to her once, years later, saying we’d spend an afternoon talking over the twenty years since we stopped seeing one another.

Two weeks ago, I learned of her sudden death. Since then, I’ve bounced between deeply heartfelt grief and memories of the hurt/harm her narcissistic, alcoholic behavior caused those who loved her. Many of her darkest secrets are known to me alone.

My grief is returning in ways much like our final, awful days together. She’s on my mind as much as when we were together.

Why does an ex, like me, have such feelings of loss for the second time? What can I do?

Still Grieving Years Later

The most-needed response to a sorrowfully-felt loss including past emotional pain, is putting one foot ahead of the other, moving forward in your own life, even while remembering past love and loss.

Thirty years ago, you were swept up with “Crazy Love,” not realizing in your youth that living it was too close to the song:

“If you had not have fallen

Then I would not have found you

Angel flying too close to the ground

And I patched up your broken wing…

And hung around awhile

Trying to keep your spirits up,

and your feet upon the ground.”

The songwriter understood reality: “broken-wing” angels fly away.

You lost her while trying to rescue her from alcoholism, seeking her family’s help while suffering the pain of her behaviour. Yet feelings of loss don’t just disappear.

You do the work after acknowledging them, by tucking them in the past for which you did your best at the time.

You loved, but she was already lost, then. You still have your same good heart, and years ahead to live and hopefully love again.

FEEDBACK regarding the woman who promised a troubled child a visit to Toronto if she “finished school, stopped acting out/fighting/harming herself” (April 2):

“It seems the trip is now planned.

“Her mother will be “vacationing” in Spain but it sounds like the girl will be entering a work camp. Why does she need to “earn” a trip to Niagara Falls by painting “her” room? She’s a guest. Why should she clean out a garage in a home she doesn’t live in?

“This is demeaning and won’t help this girl’s self-confidence/self-worth or give her the true understanding of family and unconditional love, all things she’s struggling with.

“Anytime my family went back to Northern Ireland to visit, or they visited us, everyone was welcomed and treated as family.

“We children had to clean up after ourselves but were never made to do home maintenance disguised as earning outings.

“To this woman: If you can’t welcome this girl into your home, surround her with unconditional love and allow her to be a child deserving of a two-week vacation, then perhaps you should decline being her host.”

FEEDBACK regarding a wife’s “Hurtful Humour” about her husband (April 2):

Reader: “The husband may be outwardly trying to cope, but what’s happening inside his head? His seeking advice should be setting off alarms.

“After 25 years of marriage a couple sometimes gets too comfortable with their behaviours (speaking from personal experience).

“How much longer can this husband “cope” with her jokes at his expense?

“I strongly suggest he seek counselling, individually and as a couple. The wife needs to fully understand how much she’s hurting him. If she refuses counselling, seek legal advice.

“I was the target of jokes and intimidation. One day I was considering how to “shut her up.” I left the house the next day.

“People question how someone could harm their spouse/child/parent. You don’t know how close anyone can come until you’re actually there. Unfortunately, some people don’t have the mental strength to recognize the danger.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

Whenever there’s been love in your life, its painful loss shouldn’t surprise. They’re hallmarks of what a life has been.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

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