Fast forward to last summer when Dana finally decided to leave the husband and move in with her mom. Things weren’t going well for her and I felt sorry for her. I had met her daughter, who is a sweet girl, many times, so I suggested that Matt invite her over to hang out with us, since he said she didn’t have many friends. He declined and something seemed off. He was texting back and forth with her a LOT more than usual, even when we were together, which I found rude. He started seeming more distant, and he said he was feeling like he needed more “space,” which I gave him.
The next weekend I attended his daughter’s sporting event with him and Dana was there. I soon discovered that Mark and Dana had apparently had a texting fight after we arrived because she was so upset that I was there. His daughter hugged me, his parents came and sat by me — it was obvious that there was a relationship of some sort between us, and she was furious. Mark admitted to me later that he had let her believe that I was still just a FWB. I was hurt, to say the least. He said she was so angry she wouldn’t speak to him, and suddenly things started making sense to me. I told him if he wanted to be with her to go be with her — I wasn’t willing to share. He said he didn’t want her, and we moved on. That was in September.
In November, he told me that Dana’s cancer, which had been in remission, had returned and it didn’t look good. A few weeks later, she went into a hospice. Last week she died.
I feel heartbroken for her three children. I feel bad that my boyfriend’s secrecy ruined what could have been a potential friendship between us. … And I am also so glad that she is dead. And I hate that part of me. It feels awful and ugly and jealous and bitter and hateful. I am so ashamed that I even have those feelings. Is this normal? Do you think there is anything I can do to change this? Or do I just accept that I am human and have ugly feelings sometimes? I would never voice these feelings to anyone, but it’s really making me feel bad about myself as a human being right now. I’m embarrassed to even send you this email actually. — Relieved But Guilty
First of all, yes, it is normal to have conflicting emotions and to have feelings and thoughts you know aren’t kind. As humans, we are all capable of enormous love and generosity as much as we’re capable of the “ugly” emotions you describe: jealousy, bitterness, and hate. It’s normal to feel beautiful and ugly feelings simultaneously — to feel deep sadness and regret while also feeling relief. I imagine family members of terminally sick patients might feel this way when their loved ones succumb to death — sadness over their own loss, but relief that their loved one is no longer suffering.
Of course, your relief isn’t for the release of anyone else’s pain and suffering; you’re simply grateful that you no longer have to worry about Dana posing a threat to you and your relationship. But the thing is, her death didn’t release you of that. Not really. Because she was an external force outside your relationship. She had nothing to do with you and Mark and your relationship with each other. If she was a threat, it was only because of doubts either you or Mark might have had (and maybe still do have). Those doubts — if they exist (and they must, if you feel such relief about another woman’s death) — don’t go away just because someone died.
Doubts have lives of their own and it’s our own thoughts that give them breath. If you want to kill the doubts you have, you have to change the patterns of your thoughts. The death of someone you’re jealous of won’t do that. Obviously. You have to talk to Mark. You have to share your thoughts with him. You have to let him know how much he hurt you, and how his relationship with Dana and the exclusion of you within that relationship and the secrecy made you feel disrespected and distrustful. Because it sounds like your trust was broken — or at least fractured — and someone else’s death isn’t going to heal the break. Only the two of you can create the healing your relationship needs.
You need to talk to Mark. These ugly feelings you hate having are just symptoms of a deeper hurt. They’ll probably dissipate over time, but, until you treat their real cause, true relief will continue to elude you.
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