Dear Dr. Debra,
My 37-year-old son died in October of an unexpected heart condition.
It was a shock because he’d always been healthy and athletic.
I thought I’d been doing better, but then co-worker passed away
suddenly last week. And now I feel I’ve 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. I’m
going to work every day and that helps me. But I’m crying every
night, although I’m keeping it from my husband. I don’t know what to
do, so that’s why I’m writing you.
A suffering mother
Dear Suffering Mother,
My heart goes out to you about the death of your son. I’m 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 something’s wrong with you because
you’re 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. It’s not something you get
over … ever. As the years
go on, you’ll probably make peace with his death, but there will
always be a part of you that misses him.
You need to understand that you’re 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 you’ll have good days and bad days. At other times, memories
will pop up unexpectedly, causing you grief. Or, on holidays or
other milestones events, you’ll deeply miss him.
I’m sure your husband means well when he tells you to move on.
Your pain distresses him. It’s hard on a man to know his wife
is hurting, and he’s 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 you’d 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 he’s helping, even if you’re still
sad, that will make him feel less powerless.
Here’s 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 he’s hugging you or holding your hand) makes them
“I know you miss him.”
“I’m so sorry you’re grieving.”
“I miss him, too.”
“I know it’s hard.”
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 who’ve lost a child. You need to be with
people who understand what you’re 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 you’ve received from this column, plus
the support you’ll receive from the sources I’ve suggested, that
you’ll ease up on the negative expectations you have for yourself
about your grief. Allow yourself to mourn.
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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