Monday, June 11, 2018

In Grief: Is Dad Dating Too Soon After Mother's Death?

[Reviewed and updated April 18, 2024]

I have a dead husband... I have a scarred heart. I am in a different place. Love after love will not feel the same. But that doesn't mean that it's not love.  ~ Janine Teague Eggers

A reader writes: My mother passed away last May and Dad started dating again three months after mom's death. He is now serious with a lady he met online. On the one hand, I am happy that he is happy again, as he was married to my mom for 45 years and it was a shock to everyone when she died five months after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. However, I am feeling neglected and ignored by my dad.
For example, on Sunday I went over to his house to bring him a Valentine’s day card and my tax info since he does my taxes. There was a newspaper in the driveway, mail in the mailbox from Saturday and one pissed off cat who wasn't being cared for. I realize that Dad has his own life now, but it would be nice to know if he is going away so I can take care of the cat or in case there was an emergency. It hurts that he rarely calls me and the only time that I talk to him is when I need money or I need him to fix something in my house. I am really hurt that he doesn't want to call me just to make sure that I'm okay. 

I’ve already tried talking to him about this, several times, and the answer is always, "I'll try to keep in better contact with you." I even told him that I would really like to go out to dinner with him and his girlfriend and he said, "We'll plan something soon," but this never materializes. Either I remind him too much of my mother and he doesn't want to be with me right now, or he feels that my brother and I can take care of ourselves because we're adults (I'm 40 and my brother is 38) and he can do whatever he wants. I don't know what to think. My Grief Counselor advised me to let him have his space and when he's ready, he'll call me, but I don't want to wait because I know that I have to take the initiative since he won't. I have a nine year old son who misses his grandfather and I want my father to be part of his life. I don't know what's going on and would appreciate any advice. The last time we talked, I told him that I was worried about him. He told me not to worry and that he would only call me for something important. I guess I was so used to my mom calling me once a week and now that she's gone, I need to adjust to not hearing from my dad. How would you handle this?

My response: I don't know your father, I don't know anything about his marriage to your mother, and I don't know how close the two of you were prior to your mother's death ~ but I think you are wise to follow the advice of your grief counselor. There could be so many reasons for your father's avoiding you right now, and they could run the gamut from guilt, shame, or embarrassment all the way to wanting to protect you from his feeling free for the first time in many years or his wanting to protect himself from what he thinks might be your disapproval. The point is that your father is the only one who can account for his behavior ~ we can only guess ~ and at this early point in his own grief, he may not know himself how to explain his own behavior. He is acting out of his own need, without regard to its effects on you or his grandson. Of course you miss him and you want him to be there for your son, but right now I suspect that he is so focused on what he thinks he needs that he's not even noticing the effect his behavior is having on you ~ or if he does notice, he does not want you to be reminding him.

You say that you got used to your mom calling you once a week and now that she’s gone, you need to adjust to not hearing from your dad. I wonder what would happen if, the next time you hear from him, you'd say something like this: "Dad, I know you have your own life to live, and I respect that ~ but I'm really missing how Mom would call me once a week, and now you're the only parent I have left and I miss you. Besides, when I don't hear from you, I worry. Could we agree on a regular time that you will call me (or I can call you) so I can have that connection to look forward to, and I'll know that you're okay? And can we agree on how often that would be? Would you be comfortable with that?"

I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for you ~ as if you've lost not one, but both of your parents ~ and you have my deepest sympathy. But I agree with your grief counselor. Your father's behavior indicates that he wants you to give him his space right now, and he feels no need to explain any further than that. The simple fact is that grief can make any one of us act in very strange and self-centered ways, and sometimes we can really try the patience of those who love us and want to be there for us. I feel for you, and I am so sorry for your pain.

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