advice: moving past mourning

QUESTION FROM A GREEK TRAGEDY READER: I have lost my heart, best friend, boyfriend, support system and voice of reason. I am 29 years old and I feel like I have lost my everything. I have to wake up one day at a time and start over. And it’s hard. I have survived stage 3 ovarian cancer and that situation takes a definite back seat to the pain I am in right now. Our love story was a classic one.

Tim and I met in kindergarten and have been friends ever since, we didn’t start dating until after college. His family is my family and vice vera. He moved to Boston to be with me. We did everything together cooked, cleaned, took walks, had inside jokes and spent every holiday together making each one more special than the next. I thought with all my heart I would be with him covered in wrinkles at the end. I was wrong.

Background story: It took Tim a year to get a job here in Boston. I was the sole source of income. Yes it was hard, yes I had to make sacrifices. But I thought it was worth it. I spent my mornings before work printing his resume out and prepping him for a job interviews. When he got a job I was over the moon happy and proud. Thinking things will be looking up as long as we had each other….no such luck…this is when things started to changed. He started picking me apart. Everything I said was wrong. I was walking on egg shells every time I stepped in our apartment. Then there was the excessive drinking and not coming home when he said he would. I told myself every relationship has up’s and downs and sometime you are not on the same page as one another. But is this normal – I would ask myself. After 5 years of not being able to talk about marriage and him becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the very thought of a future… took a toll on me. I am 29 years old. Gave 100% of me to this guy. And one night the unavoidable happened. He drunkenly broke up with me at our apartment. The kicker. Confirmed things with me over email the next day.

Now what? Yes, I have my incredible family and the best friends a girl could ask for in Boston. I just feel emotionally drained. How will things get better with my heart missing? I’m scared to actually have to start over again. Any advice you or your readers have for me I would really appreciate it. Thanks so much for your time !

Starting over in Boston

straight up advice

The doctor is: IN
Congratulations, woman! It’s an odd way to begin. Most people start with “sorry.” They tell you that “you’re better off,” whip out the “his loss,” then toss you a, “blessing in disguise.” And you want to yank out their vocal chords and feed them to the sea witch because no amount of “say” will make your pain go away. No matter what I tell you, what anyone tells you, you’re going to feel loss. All I can do is offer you a reminder, “Starting over in Boston.” And here it is: get used to it.

If you’re looking for comfort, if you want to feel better, dip into the Breakups & Breakthroughs section of There’s plenty in there, believe me, that will lift your spirits and remind you that you’re not alone in any of this. But for right now, I’m going to give it to you without the sanding sugar.

The anxiety you’re feeling comes with transience. The sooner you realize that almost everything is temporary, that there are no guarantees in life, that anything can be yanked away from us [our health, our children, our job, our life, limbs, marriage, best friend, home] without a moment’s notice, the better off you’ll be. I’m not asking or even implying that you become a cynic. Or even a realist. I’m just reminding you, in perhaps the harshest way possible, that you will deal with this for the rest of your life. And the sooner you accept this, that changes will be thrust upon you—the bad, the good, some of your choosing—the easier this process will be for you to return to your normal self. The self who’s not reminding herself to breathe and eat.

Here’s what’s hard: you can’t protect yourself from being hurt again. You can’t limit how much you love things, hoping it will hurt less if you love less. The fact is that you need to use this time in your life as a tool, an opportunity to see what you’re made of, a chance to prove to yourself that you can get through this.

Here’s how I handled it: shit shit shit shit nuggets. I hate my life. I hate that I now question every little thing wondering what I did wrong. But then, after my snot was dry, I realized that when we’re in pain we do our most growing. And I would deal with this type of heartache again, so the sooner I learned to just wade through it, not fight it, just live through it, the better off I’d be the next time. The easier it would become to loosen my grip and open my palms and accept what’s in front of me.

Am I making any sense at all? Change can suck. It’s hard. Learning to move through change, embracing it instead of resisting is what makes us successful in life. And the sooner you learn how to do this, the easier, the happier, the healthier you’ll be in this life.  The bullshit line about this being an opportunity isn’t actually bullshit. This is your chance to grow, to make your life easier down the road. This is the moment on which you will look back and say, “Thank God” and “It was then that I first started to learn the most important lesson of my life.”

 go ahead, ask

If you have questions or need advice on anything from where to eat to how to get over the bastard, just email your question to my advice email address. Am I a doctor? I don’t even play one on TV, but people keep asking, so I might as well air it and share it.



  1. I wish I could reach through this computer screen and slap you first open faced hand, then a back hand, 1940’s movie style.

    Which part of the relationship was good, exactly, the drunk part, or the part where you became his banker?

    You survived stage 3 cancer, and now you are crying over getting rid of stage 4 cancer?

    Your heart is not the only organ you are missing, you are missing a brain, a functioning brain…

    For my own sanity, and yours, I am not going to go on and on like the energizer bunny, good luck and good night, caller.

    1. If you don’t mind. I would like to have my say here. This is coming from my heart, brain and CLASS which I am afraid you are missing.

      You were not a part of my relationship to know the good,wonderful amazing parts. So take back your slap and listen. It’s much easier to judge when you are sitting infront of a computer.

      I wrote this for my OWN sanity- it was my first time ever writing in and I want to thank you for ruining this for me Helen.

      1. Amy – My heart hurts for you. I’m old enough to be your mother, so my words will be less prescient than others (as my own children tell me). Don’t let Helen’s response make you feel worse. She appears to be of the Operation Bootstrap, There-Are-Many-Fish-In-The-Sea school of intervention. You are precious and lovely. Tim’s loss. You will be more than ok. You are my hero. I’m in the Boston area and will be happy to tell you these words in person.

  2. Amy-I’m not sure what Helen has ruined for you. You wrote in knowing that everyone who reads SK has a chance to weigh in and some people are not going to be very nice. That’s the internet. So, truly, get over Helen’s input and start healing.

    She’s right about one thing: if you think this breakup is more serious than Stage 3 ovarian, talk to a few people I know who have had it. Oh, wait a minute, you can’t: they’re dead.

    So sugar, get a grip. You are ALIVE. You have come through a LETHAL disease. Don’t let this jerk take the life you were lucky to still be in. why would you give him that power?

    He is clearly an idiot. You presented him an open heart and a partnership and he clearly has something going on with him. So–do the crying we all do after breakups, but then, stop and go forward with your life. Date and enjoy the fact that there are really nice men out there. Pick some to go out with. And eventually, pick one to be in a relationship with.

    Those of us who have been through bad breakups (just about all of us, actually) feel your pain but we aren’t going to feel sorry for you. Because we know there is life on the other side of this. And there’s no way around it, only through it.

    So walk through it. Have your pity party. We all do. But try to cut it short. Because life is short. And you have a lot of living to do.

  3. Actually, contrary to Carol’s post, I do feel sorry for you. As a breast-cancer survivor, I have some sense of the suffering you have already been through, and as an old lady who remembers the pain of breakup, I know what that’s like too. First your body betrayed you, then your boyfriend did. But just as your body eventually rebounded from the assault of disease and treatment, so your heart will recover from the abandonment by your boyfriend. Despite your feelings of despair, I know you have the strength and resilience to get through this. You’ve shown that by surviving surgery and chemo (and radiation?). I wish I could carry your sadness a few steps for you so you could have some relief. But you will get there on your own. It just takes time. You’ve got those good friends and family members. Use them for support until you’re back on your feet. And know that even strangers are rooting for you.

  4. I was sad to read your story, of course. But, you know he was gone long before he actually left. Maybe he stayed (begrudgingly) because you had helped him get a job and because you were going through a lot with cancer too. Yes, that was kind of a nice thing and maybe having him around was a help to you. But, now he has gone and you are left without him. You’re going to be fine. You’ve been standing on your own two feet without him for awhile but haven’t given yourself full credit for it. It is hard to have someone you counted on leave you. I’m divorced from my best friend, I know how hard it is! Give yourself some time and space to be sad and angry too. But life is still there, all around you. Don’t miss out on too much of the really good stuff while you’re being sad and angry. It isn’t especially productive and you don’t get that time back. Start meeting other men, don’t wait until you are sure you are ready. Being ready is fluff. If you don’t want to be single, you’re ready to see what’s out there. Find out what Boston has to offer, where are the good places to meet the type of guy you want and then put yourself there and see who you meet. You’re just meeting then, you don’t have to commit to them, you don’t have to sleep with them or anything. Just date, get out and keep living.

  5. Please read this over and over again until it really sinks in:

    There is nothing wrong with you.

    There is nothing wrong with you.

    There is nothing wrong with you.

    Does everybody reading this agree with your choices and actions? No. But that’s okay.

    The way he feels about you is *his* shit–it has everything to do with him. Not you. Please don’t re-examine anything about yourself and ask what went wrong, or think ‘if i just did this differently, he’d be with me.’

    There is nothing wrong with you.

  6. Helen apparently has her own bitter story she’s not quite ready to share. We’ve all been hurt, used, taken for granted, but each time you move away – and eventually ahead – with class and style, everything else around you improves. Spewing vitriol at others pain as Helen has done is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

  7. Amy, I just want to say that as bad as it seems right now it will not always feel this way. I too am a cancer survivor and I am also a widow. I lost the love of my life who I grew up with when I was 25, then breast cancer came knockin at 31. Safe to say I had just about given up on a happy ending or ever finding love again. Long story short I dated during all of my chemo treatments and met my current husband at that time. We have been married now for 7 years.

    As a cancer survivor you surly know how short life is and also how strong and resilient you can be. Summon that strength now and move forward. It sounds like this person you knew all your life changed. And for the worse especially with drinking involved. As heartbreaking as this is over time the pain will lesson and you will move on.

    Most importantly you have your life, your health, family, and friends who will help you through. We all have a picture in our minds as to how our lives will be and sometimes that image changes but it doesn’t have to keep us from living!

  8. Hi Amy,

    Lots of valuable advice, here. I’ll try not to repeat what you have already heard.

    When you have truly deeply loved, it is because you have all the tools to love within you. You are the romantic genius, and you take that into every relationship you have, and out of every relationship you have. Tim may or may not have brought that magic or took that magic with him. What is important is that you still have it, and you can use it again.

    I am so sorry that you are feeling this sad. Be sad as long as you need to. Then rally!

  9. i really feel for you. i’m going through this now, but not with that full-on load of history that you have. As C. Martin says, to truly, deeply loved is only possible when you have the tools to love. Stephanie’s advice is also pretty much spot-on. we wade through each one of these experiences that come crashing into our lives. then we climb out having reached the other bank. I’m still stuck and am wondering how i will get through this with a hole whacked out of my chest. but the advice i read here in SK’s blog most often than not lift me up from my doldrums. every time i feel a small cry coming on (sadness overcomes me now and then, rather than anger or resentment) i go to this blog. its not instant joy, but i manage a sad smile, and hem in the tears. i know it will take time. But things can only get better. We really have no choice–joy and happiness is our only option. Chin up.

  10. I can (almost) top Amy’s story. I was dating a guy for two months. My family knew his family, so I thought there couldn’t be a more ideal dating relationship, no awkward online dating, I had an idea what he was about because of the common thread of our families having grownup together (I am in my upper 40’s, he was in his mid 60’s, he grew up w/my aunts and uncles). Boy was I wrong. We started going out. I thought there was chemistry, but every time I became playful or flirtatious he became extremely rigid. He would also repeatedly talk about his ex wives, which I found to be peculiar and somewhat of a turn off but I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was nervous and chatted about topics that he was familiar with. I dated him for one month in the spring. He was becoming more and more rigid, which I again attributed to new dating jitters. Dumb me. So I eventually put him on the carpet as to why he was so rigid and resistant to affection. His response was to blow up and abruptly discontinue seeing me. Fast forward two months later. I receive a voicemail message out of the blue from him to give him a call. Being the nice person that I am, I called him back, and the relationship started back up. We eventually became intimate. For the first month back with the guy everything seemed to be great. Intimacy still seemed to be a problem…He would not look into my eyes when we had sex, he never even uttered one word during sex!!! Yet four weeks into the second go round he whispered to me that he loved me. He never told me that he liked me, that he missed me, that he wanted to be with me, nothing. Again, I tip toed around him, thinking that he was just a shy and reserved person. And he continued to lament about his ex wives, stuff like, “oh, she used to do this,” “she used to say that,” ridiculous things. The turning point was when he barely gave me anything for my birthday. He brought me a pair of gloves that were five sizes too large for me and appeared to have been used and/or a re-gift scenario. Not even a birthday card!! I make good money and have all the material things in the world and then some, so it’s not about the gift but rather the lack of emotion and lack of thoughtfulness. Again, dumb me, I let this slide, because he has small children to support from his second marriage, and he was paying for an expensive resort in the Islands that we were going to in several weeks for a long weekend get away. Well, similar to other people who have posted, for me hewas a challenge, I was going to conquer this guy and make him mine gosh darn it. Well, we went on the vacation. We are now into month two of the relationship (second go round). We were only away for four days. I had never spent that much time with him (even though he lived five minutes away from me so in theory we could’ve seen each other more than the Friday night obligatory date he afforded me). Well, on the trip he drank probably four bottles of wine in three days, 30 ounces of Vodka straight up, 24 cans of beer, 12 of which were consumed in two hours while I was at the spa. He absconded with the empty beer cans, and before I left the beer was in the fridge and when I got done with the spa I was looking to have a can of beer but alas none were left. He was becoming more and more detached during the trip, and when I put him on the carpet, he blew up, accusing me of calling him boring. He also said that I should just go back with my ex boyfriend, and that’s it, he would take the next flight out. I started crying, and he eventually settled down, but it was not a good scenario. In the couple of weeks leading up to the trip he had a relapse of back pain from a prior back injury and alluded to having “Percocet” on hand just in case the back pain became unbearable. He also confided that he was in Xanax for anxiety, and took Ambien to sleep. His back pain seemed to be more and more intense. By the time we were ready to leave to return home he was lethargic and sleepy. His skin coloring didn’t look good, and he wasn’t eating or drinking water or anything other than massive amounts of caffeine, like 60 ounces of coffee a day while on vacation. Upon arrival to the airport back home, I asked him if I could bring him to the doctor, or if I could stay with him, because he didn’t seem right. He refused my help. I helped him into his house with hid luggage. We were going to his buddy’s 60th birthday party the following week, so he said we’d chat during the week to figure out what kind of gift we were getting the friend. Two days later I receive a phone call from his co-employee, he didn’t show up for work so his co-employee went over to his house to see what was up and they found him dead in his bed and the family said he had a heart attack. I know fhat it was a drug overdose. I legitimately take Xanax for mild anxiety, and after the fact I looked in my bottle to find 20 pills missing. Also he would meet up with weird people at weird times, and was always talking about different doctors he was seeing a/k/a doctor hopping. I feel sad for him that he died leaving behind two small children, however for me it was the best outcome, because of my co-dependency on him and the very unhealthy, totally one sided relationship. My fear is never being able to shake my propensity to want to seek out emotionally unavailable men. This has been a life long thing for me. I need to know how yo break this cycle. Help!

    1. Author

      Gosh, this is a terrible story, for everyone involved. I am deeply sorry to hear that you went through this. I think you hit the nail on the head when you called it a cycle that you need to break. You know you. If you’re inviting this cycle into your life of unavailable men it’s because it’s safe and familiar for you. It works for you on some level, it’s what you want for some reason. What would you have to deal with, stop avoiding, if you were to enter into a real relationship, where you couldn’t run?

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