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“Mark was a miracle and a miracle worker in my life,” says Wendy, her frown lines disappearing, her eyes brightening as they always do when she talks about her husband and their life together before cancer debilitated and ultimately killed him. Relaxed when he is being discussed in her therapy session, Wendy seems to find Mark’s memory soothing and stabilizing.
Before she met Mark at her sister’s wedding, Wendy was a nineteen-year-old college dropout, living with four other girls in a rough neighborhood, bartending until two in the morning, partying until dawn, and then sleeping all day. “Drinking, doing drugs, sleeping around”—Wendy lists the activities that consumed most of her time. “But everything fell into place after I met him,” she continues. “He made me believe in myself. Didn’t put up with my bullshit. Helped me see that my wild, crazy lifestyle was making me miserable.”
Your first reaction to a great loss like Wendy’s is likely to be shock or denial. You are literally blinded by the magnitude and repercussions of it. “This can’t be happening” is apt to be the first thought that pops into your mind, quickly followed by “I can’t deal with this. This pain is too much, too overwhelming.”
Instantly and automatically, unconscious defense mechanisms take action to protect you, often doing such a “good” job that you feel completely numb. And until you are psychologically ready to face it, you continue blocking out, minimizing, intellectualizing, or denying outright reality and the pain that comes with it. The trouble is that while you shut out painful emotions, you anesthetize all of your other feelings as well—including sexual ones. As Wendy put it, “After Mark was diagnosed, I didn’t feel anything for a while. Oh, I walked and talked, smiled, and even had sex if Mark was up to it. But I wasn’t really there. My body worked, but I wasn’t in it. I was like a zombie.” And zombies are not known for their high sex drives.

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