**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a former client, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
Grief is arguably the most difficult emotion to process. Even more so when it is directed at a person who is still alive, this type of grief often arises when a loved one is living with an illness, addiction, or any other life crisis.
It can manifest in many forms, and the pain that comes with it can be overwhelming. For my client, "Leanne," grieving her husband of twenty years was a harrowing experience.
"Seeing him become someone I no longer recognized was brutal," she said. "It felt like I was slowly starting to lose him, yet he was still right in front of me."
Mutual friends introduced Leanne and her husband after college. "I was immediately smitten with him," she recalled. "He was the kindest, most loving man I had ever met."
They were married in an intimate ceremony surrounded by family and friends after dating for more than two years. "He said I was his soulmate, and I could see it in his eyes," Leanne said.
But when her husband started to climb the corporate ladder, everything changed. "The more money he made, the more unrecognizable he became," Leanne said as tears streaked her cheeks. "Power was his drug of choice. I felt like a stranger in my own home."
Leanne's husband couldn't see how his thirst for success was destroying their relationship. "He wanted to leave a legacy, but at what cost?" she said.
It was only when Leanne started to accept that her husband was different from the man she married two decades earlier—and not just in terms of success, but on a deeper level—that her grief began to subside. "I still loved him, but I had to let go of the person he used to be."
Today, Leanne is still married, but not to the same man. "He's been several different men since we met. And I haven't liked all of them. But I still love him, no matter what." She admits that her expectations played a big part in her initial grief and that coming to terms with the changes has been an essential part of her healing journey.
"Grieving for a living person is wild and confusing, but it is also surreal," Leanne said emphatically. "It's taught me that the pain of loss is valid—even when the person we love is still in our lives."
For Leanne, coming to terms with her husband's transformation has been freeing. "It took me a long time to realize that he wasn't the only one who changed —I changed too."
Some Personalities Evolve
Psychologists are still trying to figure out why some people undergo drastic personality changes over time while others remain relatively the same. We know that life experiences, genetics, and environment can all play a role.
A 2018 study on personality stability suggested: "that personality has a stable component across the life span, both at the trait level and at the profile level, and that personality is also malleable and people mature as they age."
It's important to remember that everyone evolves and changes in their own way. Grief is a natural emotion, but it doesn't have to be the only one we feel when someone we love evolves over time.
"Psychologists are divided on the question of whether personality is innately determined by your genes or shaped by experiences in early childhood, with many believing it’s probably a combination of both nature and nurture. By adulthood, however, personality is usually established and doesn’t change greatly after that. Still, some research has shown that major life events can nudge personality in particular directions..." —David Ludden Ph.D.
Acceptance and understanding can go a long way in helping us come to terms with this type of grief. Once Leanne was able to understand that accepting her husband's evolution was the only way forward, things shifted.
"We are allowed to grieve for who someone used to be," she said with a far-off look in her eyes.
Through her journey, Leanne has come to embrace the evolution of her husband and has found peace of mind.
"I'm grateful for the lessons I've learned," she said with a smile, "and I'm thankful that we were able to grow together despite our differences."
Leanne's story is an inspirational reminder that everything in life is impermanent and that resilience results from being brave enough to accept the unexpected.
Have you ever grieved a living person? How did you cope? Share your story in the comments. We'd love to hear from you!
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