Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery. ~ J.K. Rowling
A reader writes: I am having a really hard time coming to terms with my mother dating after my father's death, and how it has changed her. I am 34, her oldest of 5 kids, with 3 boys of my own, and after some recent events, I am truly worried about the future of this family and am at a loss of what to do.My father passed away almost a year ago now, at age 54. At the time of his diagnosis, we were told this was a non-terminal type of cancer, and he was expected to react well to treatments (which he did, at first). However, I found out later that he did get a terminal diagnosis, with less than 1 year life-expectancy, but chose not to tell the family. During this whole time, my mother was his primary care giver, taking him to treatment centers & appointments, hauling him and the wheelchair around, bathing him, at his every beck & call, and in the later months/weeks, feeding him and changing adult diapers. It was a 24/7 job, and rough time for her, to say the least. I cannot even begin to imagine what she went through during that time.
A few weeks after he passed away, my mom went to visit her sister for some much needed, and deserved, R & R. She certainly needed to get away from everything, take some time for introspection and where her life would lead her next, etc. She came back rejuvenated, started working again, and was going to group grief counseling. Over the next six months, all seemed to be going well, or as well as anyone could hope. She told me and my sisters that she "met a friend" who had lost his wife to cancer just the previous year. They had been meeting up and talking a lot for about a month, but she was worried about telling us about it. I was genuinely happy for her, so she would have someone to talk to who could empathize what she had been though and is still going through. What we didn't know is that they were actually dating and were more than just "friends," as she always put it.
It turns out that in the following months, she spent more and more time with him, almost every evening after work, and every weekend. She switched churches to go with him (even though we had almost grown up in this church), and was slowly alienating all of us. She went everywhere with him, and he was always with her. She brought him to any family get-togethers, or whenever she invited one of us out for lunch or just to meet somewhere, he was always there.
It's like she has literally filled the space that my father left with this new guy, and is clinging to him like her very existence depends on him. Every time I or any of my siblings have tried to call her, she is never home (no matter the day of week or time of day), and she was hardly ever there for us. Instead, she was out watching one of his bowling tournaments (usually out of state), camping, fishing, or other activities, with him. Always with him. Every single weekend and weekday night. It wasn't uncommon to get a call back from her the next day, saying she just got back from Texas and was staying at his house so couldn't reach me. This, from the woman whose family was everything to her, and would do anything for her children and grandchildren.
I completely understand that she needs to live her own life, experience new things, and be happy. But that should not be at the expense of everyone who loves her. After losing Dad, we needed her more than ever, but it feels like we lost both parents. After her being so attentive to Dad and unavailable to us a lot of the time during his illness (quite understandably), I was looking forward to "getting my mom back" after he died, and being able to spend some quality time together. That ended up not being the case.
I believe that when my parents received his terminal diagnosis, they had begun the preparations, and my mother had begun the grieving & acceptance process. By the time he died, she was ready to move on, leaving the rest of us in the dust behind, to pick up the pieces ourselves.
Before Thanksgiving, my sister and I decided to get together with her and all the siblings at my house for dinner (since we couldn't before), and talk to her about how we were feeling about everything. All 3 of us girls felt the same, but we didn't realize it until we started talking about it. We told her how we felt, that she seemed to be separated from the family, never without him by her side, and we had not been able to get her alone to spend time with her at all, which we so desperately needed. We tried to be as compassionate and sympathetic as we could, so it wouldn’t be an “us vs. her” scenario, but she immediately went on the defensive, saying that she can't let us tell her how to live her life, she is happy with this man, so can't we be happy for her, etc., and asked me point-blank to list when she has been unavailable, or has hurt us in any way. I was not about to go to that level and literally list out petty little things like phone calls on certain dates, etc. We tried to explain that we were still grieving Dad's loss, and we need to experience all of these "firsts" throughout the year without him, and experience that "empty space" in our lives in order to come to terms with it and accept it. By immediately filling that hole with someone else sitting in Dad's place, holding her hand, dancing with her at my brother's wedding, joining in ALL the family holidays and events, going on vacations, etc., she is not allowing us to experience that and grieve our father.
We mainly just wanted her to know how painful this is for us to see her with him all the time, and to understand that we were still grieving, still heavily depressed and missing our dad, and still trying to come to terms with this enormous hole he left behind. We understood that she has already accepted it and moved on, but we need our mother to help us through this. At the end of our "meeting," we were all in tears, and although it was very cathartic, she made us feel like we were being selfish and telling her what to do; she had put up a defensive wall and didn't really "hear" anything we had said. She still took him to family gatherings, spent most of her time secluded with him or always at his side, and spent hardly any time with us or her grandsons.
I've just completely given up on being able to depend on her for anything, or to be able to openly talk to her about anything. Then, just this morning, I got a mass text from her, stating she is taking a break from Facebook, email, and her cell phone, so if anyone wants to contact her, it will have to be at her work number during business hours. She has always been my best friend, someone I would rather spend time with than anyone in the world, other than my husband. She was always the most caring, generous person I’ve ever known, and never hesitated to help anyone in need. Two of my siblings are adopted and come from very turbulent backgrounds, but she took them in and became their mom. She helped out all of us kids through college (and beyond) in any way she could, and absolutely adores all 4 of her grandkids. But since meeting this new guy, she is not the same person. I just have no clue how to react to her now. We've each tried talking to her, we talked to her as a group, her cousin has talked to her, etc., but nothing ever seems to get through. I really don’t want to lose my mom, and I don’t want my kids to miss out on a wonderful grandma, but right now, that seems to be the case. Any advice on where to go from here?
My response: I'm so sorry this is happening to you and your family, and I can hear the pain in your words. But unless and until you have walked in your mother's shoes, my dear, you simply cannot know the impact of your father's prolonged illness and death on her ~ nor can you know, after so many months of caregiving and watching the quality of the life she had known with your dad slip away, what it must feel like for your mother to see herself being cared for and loved by another man ~ most especially by a man who also knows firsthand what it is like to lose his spouse to death. You describe your mother as an almost perfect mom, showering her children and grandchildren with all the love and attention she could possibly give to all of you. Clearly she has been giving, giving, giving to others in her family all of her life ~ and now, here comes someone who is taking care of her! Can you just imagine what that must feel like to her, after all she has been through?
All of that said, I certainly don’t want to diminish the pain and the grief that YOU are feeling in the wake of your father's death. You have every right to feel whatever you are feeling. Your feelings are just as valid, just as real as anyone else's. And so I encourage you to take that pain and grief to a place where you will be embraced by those who know and understand grief from the inside out. You're more than welcome to join our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, which include a forum for Loss of A Parent, and I hope you'll consider a few sessions with a qualified grief counselor, where the focus will be on you and your needs ~ not on your mom's.
I also want you to know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do about your mother's involvement with another man following the death of your dad. See, for example, Remarriage in Widowhood: How Soon Is Too Soon? and be sure to check out some of the Related Articles listed at the base, too.♥