"I'm Sorry" is not worth dying for

A colleague died a month ago in front of her ex-husband. Since their divorce three years ago, they had been playing a co-dependent game: he as baiter, she as baitee. Her friends told her to move on with her life. We cautioned her that John, an S.O.B. if ever there was one, would never admit he was wrong or say he was sorry. We also told her he wouldn't come back to her... especially not after he made love to and married the young woman she'd taken in like a daughter.

Marianne just couldn't let go. She had moved out of the house when she first learned of the affair between Melissa and John, leaving behind their two dogs and all her possessions except for a few suitcases filled with clothes and toiletries.

Over the next months she'd return to play with the dogs, and pick up more items. The following morning at work, she would be devastated. For the first few months, we supported her, listening to her tales of woe, and advising her on the best course of action.

But Marianne's need to see John and make him admit he was wrong, see the error of his ways, or feel sorry for her was greater than our sound advice. She began to develop a jaw ache that wouldn't go away, and that turned out to be an arthritic joint. Her sleep was off, and her back hurt all the time. Migraine headaches would immobilize her. Towards the end of her short life (she was 48 when she died) she was taking so many pills that she lost count. Her blood pressure was low, and she would come to work with bruises. "Oh, I fainted," she'd say lightly, but we cautioned her to see a doctor and reduce her medications. To us the fainting spells were worrisome.

Marianne knew how we felt about John, so she failed to tell us that she had made up with him and Melissa, and that the three of them were palling around. They had watched the superbowl together at John's house, and Marianne would frequently babysit the dogs when John and his child bride went on vacation. Had I known of this, I would have organized an intervention. There was something terribly unhealthy about the whole set up. John was a manipulative bastard, and anyone with a thimble full of sense could see right through his bluster. But not Marianne.

Marianne's last day of work was splendid. She attended a day-long meeting in which her contributions were creative and valued. She seemed to be in a good mood. When people said "Have a good weekend," they had no idea that it would be the last time they would see her.

Some time that night she drove to John's house and collapsed from an overdose of drugs. When I heard the news, I immediately knew that she didn't mean to kill herself. All of us who were close to the situation intuitively felt that John said or did something to trigger a response in her. My sense is that she went to him to be "rescued." But she miscalculated. Either she took more drugs than was wise, or she had counted on a faster response from John or the ambulance.

The fact that she didn't leave provisions or instructions for her beloved dog was an indication that she didn't mean to commit suicide, or that she had acted on the spur of the moment. That little pooch meant everything to her, and she had left her apartment with the lights blazing and the dog all alone. It would have taken her 20 minutes to drive to John's, so the drugs had a while to take effect.

It's been a month since Marianne was cremated. A new person sits at her desk doing her work. Her dog is with a new owner. Her furniture was donated to a poor single mother, and her clothes were shipped off to Good Will. John is still married to his Tootsie, and he's still an S.O.B.

For the rest of us, life has gone on, except for poor Marianne, who couldn't - wouldn't - let go of her hurt and anger. Nothing we said worked (seek counseling, stop seeing him, do something nice for yourself, help others.) In the end John didn't say the words Marianne wanted to hear, and I'm not sure they would have satisfied her even if she'd heard them. And, so, she gambled and lost everything that mattered.

If you are having difficulty letting go of your anger toward your ex spouse, seek help. Your friends are there to help you, but if your anger has taken over your life and your common sense, you probably need an expert's advice. I wish I'd been able to give Marianne the kind of advice she was willing to hear. To my way of thinking, wishing to hear 'I'm sorry' is not worth dying for.