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Dear Dr. Debra,

My 37-year-old son died in October of an unexpected heart condition.  It was a shock because hed always been healthy and athletic. I thought Id been doing better, but then co-worker passed away suddenly last week. And now I feel Ive taken a step back. My husband (not the father of my son) tells me I should get over being sad, and that I need to get on with my life. I really am trying. Im going to work every day and that helps me. But Im crying every night, although Im keeping it from my husband. I dont know what to do, so thats why Im writing you.

A suffering mother

Dear Suffering Mother,

My heart goes out to you about the death of your son. Im so sorry for your loss.

It sounds like neither you nor your husband understand the impact on you of losing your son. Your time of grief has been made more difficult by the expectation that somethings wrong with you because youre not moving on. The death of a child (no matter his or her age) is the most painful thing for anyone to experience in life. Its not something you get over ever. As the years go on, youll probably make peace with his death, but there will always be a part of you that misses him. 

You need to understand that youre in mourning. The loss of a loved one typically takes about three years to heal from. But everyone is different. Some people will need less time, some more. Also youll have good days and bad days. At other times, memories will pop up unexpectedly, causing you grief. Or, on holidays or other milestones events, youll deeply miss him. 

Im sure your husband means well when he tells you to move on.  Your pain distresses him. Its hard on a man to know his wife is hurting, and hes helpless to fix the situation for her. Hiding your feelings from him is not helping you, and will strain your marriage. You need to help him understand what he can do for you. Tell him that youd like him to hold you when you cry, or let you talk and share your memories of your son. Thank him when he does these things for you. If he knows hes helping, even if youre still sad, that will make him feel less powerless.

Heres some things he can say (over and over again.) (Insert endearments before or after each statement.) While they might sound trite when reading them, murmured in a loving tone by a supportive husband (while hes hugging you or holding your hand) makes them important statements.

I know you miss him.

Im so sorry youre grieving.

I miss him, too.

I know its hard.

I understand.

I suggest you and your husband have a few marital therapy sessions with a counselor who specializes in bereavement. This is a difficult time in your marriage and counseling can educate you both in grief and loss issues, give you a safe place to share your feelings, and help strengthen your marital bond.

I also suggest you find a grief counseling group, preferably one that has other parents whove lost a child. You need to be with people who understand what youre going through. With a group you can talk for months (years if need be) about your son, and others will be there to listen. You can find grief groups through local churches, hospitals, or mortuaries.

The internet is also a good source of education and support. In a brief search, I found several websites that could be helpful. Even though they might be addressing the loss of young children, many of the concepts still apply to your situation. Plus there is plenty of information on the death of an adult child, and how men and women grieve differently. There is also some good books on these sites that can educate you and help you cope.





I hope with the understanding youve received from this column, plus the support youll receive from the sources Ive suggested, that youll ease up on the negative expectations you have for yourself about your grief. Allow yourself to mourn.


Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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