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JulieAnnaJones98

Coming To Terms With My Mother Dating After My Father's Death

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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. And I apologize in advance for writing such a long post here, but I just want to share a little background into my situation, as it all has a bearing on how I am dealing with (or not) all of this.

My father passed away almost a year ago now, on Jan. 16, 2014, at age 54. He had been diagnosed with metastatic adenoid cystic carcinoma 9 months earlier, but it had been spreading from a tumor on his neck to his spine & legs for quite some time. 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 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 image what she went through during that time.

A few weeks after he passed away, my mom went to visit her sister in Seattle 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 with my 2 younger sisters (they live in the same area). All seemed to be going well, or as well as anyone could hope. In June, my sister Ann had a beautiful baby girl (my mom's first granddaughter), and around the same time, she told us that she "met a friend" through her aunt, 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 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 wasn't going to visit her new granddaughter very much, switched churches to go with him (even though we had almost grown up in this church), and was slowly alienating all of us. I hadn't noticed it as much as my siblings, as I was out of town much of the summer with my own family, but I could immediately see this when we got back. She went everywhere with him, and he was always with her. She brought him to my son's birthday party, any family get-togethers, or whenever she invited one of us out for lunch or just to meet somewhere, he was always there. I invited her and my siblings over for dinner to celebrate/remember my dad's birthday, but we ended up not being able to because of the weather. But my mom said that "they" could come over, anyway, since he lives just about 20 miles away. Apparently, she had been staying with him for almost a week, after they had taken a 5-day cruise together. The exact same cruise she and my dad took for their anniversary just a few years earlier. She didn't even tell any of us she was going on this cruise until the day before she left. When they came over for dinner that night, she showed me her whole slideshow of pictures from the cruise, the portraits they got done together (same poses and backgrounds as with my dad), and told us all about how much fun they had. I tried to act happy for her, but it was extremely awkward and I really didn't know how to react at all. It's like she was just shoving all of this in my face and expecting me to be overjoyed for her.

It didn't really hit me until after that, but 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 they received his terminal diagnosis in April of 2013, they had begun the preparations, and she 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 whole 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 were planning a big family trip down to Houston to my gr-uncle's house for Thanksgiving - my family, siblings and their spouses, grandparents (mom's parents), aunts & uncles, and cousins. This was a family tradition ever since I could remember, but this would be our last trip, as my gr-uncle would be moving to a retirement community. We were really looking forward to finally getting Mom to ourselves for these 5 days, so we could just take it easy, play some games, go hiking in the woods, reminisce, etc. But then she told us that she wanted to bring him along, so she would have someone to share it with. That was a kick in the gut to all of us. Just made it sound like we weren't good enough, and she would be miserable there without him. She asked who she could take walks with and hold hands with while she was there. I answered, through my tears, "Your grandsons!" It was so painful to hear her say that, and just to know that's how she thought about it. 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 Thanksgiving, spent most of her time secluded with him or always at his side, and spent hardly any time with us or her grandsons.

He was there at her house on Christmas day for the family dinner, opening presents, etc., after telling us that he would not be there so we could all enjoy the time together, just with family. Turns out, she spent the night at his house Christmas Eve, then rushed home to start making dinner before anyone arrived. Her cousin had moved in with her after Dad died to keep her company, so she told me this before Christmas. Mom never did mention this to anyone, and was just keeping it a secret from everyone. If she thought there was nothing wrong with it, why all the secrecy??

For New Year's Eve, I wanted to try and keep some kind of "normalcy" and come over to her house like we usually did every year, to play games and watch movies, then make breakfast the next morning and spend the day together. This year, she said we were welcome to come over, but my aunt & uncle down the street were having a party we could go to, before spending the night at her house. That sounded great, so we came over to her house around 6 that evening, and he was there (of course), in the middle of replacing double-doors from the kitchen to the back porch, so the house was absolutely freezing, and we were secluded to a small space in the living room. My kids were freezing (with their coats on), starving (no food, and we couldn't go to the party until 9), so we ordered a pizza, which my husband had to go get. My youngest 2 usually go to bed around 7:30-ish, so had to put them to bed there (had the doors in, and house was warmer by that time, at least), then wait around to go to the party. My mom's cousin volunteered to stay at the house with the kids in bed. (We had planned to take them with us and lay them down there.) Once at the party, we had a lot of fun playing games and visiting, and finally got back to my mom's house around 2am. As my oldest is about to get in bed, she tells me that she is leaving with him and will spend the night at his house (over an hour away) so she can go to a bowling tournament with him the next morning, on New Year's Day. I was in complete and utter shock. I didn't even know what to say. I just kind of waived my hands in disbelief and walked away to get ready for bed. I went straight to bed, and didn't say another word to her. Earlier in the evening, we were talking about some things we could do with her the next day, like watch a movie, play some new games the kids got for Christmas, etc., so that whole time, she was basically lying straight to my face, knowing very well she wouldn’t be there at all, and just didn’t want to tell me. It took me a couple of hours to fall asleep, I was so mad. I was physically shaking and sick to my stomach. I got up with the kids, made pancakes for breakfast, visited with Aunt Cheryl (her cousin) some, and then we just went home. Not how I was expecting to spend this day. Oh, and the kicker? She's putting the house up for sale, so this was the last Christmas, New Year, etc. we'd spend in this house with her. That was basically the last straw for me. 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 (Jan. 2), 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. What an awesome way to start the new year, huh? 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. How am I supposed to believe anything she says, or if she is spending time with us because she really wants to, or just out of guilt? I still haven’t talked to her at all since NYE. Don’t know when I’ll be ready to again. My sisters have 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. Has anyone else been through a similar situation? Anyone have any advice on where to go from here?

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I want to say I am sorry for the loss of your dad and that you are hurting. You've come to a good place here, we have suffered losses and understand these situations.

You seem to feel your mom's seeing this man is a personal affront to you and your family and that she is doing something wrong against your dad. That is not the case. Your dad is gone. You kids have your own lives, whereas she is left alone to pick up the pieces of her life. Would you rather she stay home draw the curtains, pour over old photographs and cry all day? It is up to her to decide how best to create a life for her. I would imagine if the family embraced her new gentleman and got to know and appreciate him for who he is rather than feeling he is displacing your dad and resenting them for it, she might spend more time with the family, grandkids, etc. She's not going to be where she is made to feel uncomfortable.

Your mom IS a new person, your dad's death changed that. Once we are hit with a loss such as that, we are no longer the same person. I can't tell you how hard it is to lose your husband, harder than anything. She may be trying to avoid some grief, and fill a void that your dad left, but by the same token, as someone who was his caretaker, she watched him die little by little and cared for him and that is when her grieving began! It is called anticipatory grief and it jump starts the grief process, so that the grief process for her did not begin on the actual day he died, but beforehand.

You said yourself that you didn't notice these changes because you were away and busy...do you not understand that the juxtaposition is that she would be left alone in her grief, feeling every bit of the loss keenly. As it is, I dare say, the man she is seeing will not fully eliminate her grief...there is no way to circumvent it, she still has to deal with it, she still feels the loss of your dad, she probably chooses to deal with it privately, as is her right. You can't compare your loss with hers, they were different relationships...thus different losses. In the same way, you cannot compare the way you cope with grief to the way she does. Each person's grief journey is unique. It's affected by quality and length of relationship, personal coping skills, personality, etc.

Your mom might not be so afraid to talk to you kids if you would be less judgmental and more open to her, genuinely happy for her. Saying you are happy for someone should not be followed with a "but", which negates it, but should be happy...period.

It seems you have constructed a black and white view of the situation where it's all one way or another. The truth is, in life, there are many more shades of gray than black & white, and it's up to us to try to see from another's perspective. We aren't here to control someone else, or judge them, but to love and appreciate them for who they are and try to understand what they are going through.

Your mom's not telling you about spending the night with her man friend does not mean she thought it was wrong, it infers she didn't think it was your business...which it wasn't. That her roommate would "tell on her" was wrong and I wouldn't encourage her gossip, she'd talk about you behind your back too.

If you continue to have problems with your mom and the situation does not improve, I'd encourage you to see a grief counselor to help you through it. Meanwhile, I do hope you will continue to come here and post your feelings, it's important to know you are heard. Also, if you'd read other threads in loss of parent section, you might find some in similar situations and read the responses there.

My advice would be to embrace the both of them or you will lose your mom. I have a situation where someone close to me married someone I don't cotton to. Yet I have to continue to make effort if I want my loved one in my life. Sometimes that's just how it is. And if you give him a chance, you might just find him to be a lovely person. Ask yourself what you would think of him if you met him under different circumstances? The fact that he showed up on Christmas after telling you he wouldn't so that you could spend alone time with your mom, I would not have let slide...I would have said something to them right then and there. Of course, she probably would have left and it would have created a rift, but one is already there whether addressed or not. I would be respectful, polite, not "attack", but stick to the action that offends you and not nitpick but rather save it for the big stuff and let the small things go.

You kids are grownups, and it's not your place to run your mom's life. There's a limit how much she has to "be there" for you guys, you aren't children any more. Perhaps you could give it some thought and express to her what you feel you'd like her to "be there" for in you and your kids' lives. Give her a chance to respond and see if you can come to a mutual agreement about what is reasonable. But you need to give on your part too. To expect her to NOT date because you don't like it is unreasonable. It is your feeling, which is neither good nor bad, but you can't expect her to bow to your demands. It's okay to FEEL upset, that is part of the grieving...the part that isn't reasonable is in expecting HER to change her life to suit your feelings. Your feelings would probably best be aired with a grief counselor who can help you work through this muddle of grief. Please understand that you are grieving your dad too and that as such, it's coloring your perceptions and responses. We are very thin skinned when we are grieving. We can also be self-centered when we're grieving, which is part of what helps us focus on our grief and put the effort into it that we need to to get through it. It is a natural grief response but we also need to be aware of it as it can affect our relationships and judgment.

Good luck to all of you! Change is always challenging, but it is what shapes and molds us into the caring creatures we are.

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Dear Kay,

What a wise and wonderful letter you wrote! I think that probably many of us have experienced "kid ownership" after our spouses died or there was a divorce. My daughters did not want me to date again, much less marry again, and repeatedly told me "You will always be our mother, and we come first."

I think that as you so eloquently stated, we each respond to grief and loss in our own way, but nothing in that gives us the right to interfere with other family members' lives.

I think your advice about seeing a grief counselor is a good part of healing this situation.

Thank you for posting such a kindly and focused response.

And I hope you are doing well and healing.

*<twinkles>*

fae

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Thank you, fae. I have nothing on my agenda but resting the next three days before I make the big trek into the city (55 miles away) to get rechecked on my incisions, which I hope are doing okay. I've had a few pains that I don't know if they're phantom or if the ulcer is still there, time will tell. I'm not going to rush into treatment again, I'll give it time to see and tell.

I was hesitant to answer this poster's letter here as I knew what needed to be said but hated to say it for fear of making her feel like we don't understand. The truth is, we understand all too well, we have been both the children...and the spouse. My mom chose NOT to date after losing my dad 33 years ago, and she put a lot of pressure on us adult children to meet her emotional needs and be there for her all the time...that was a lot of role to fill when we had our own families to tend to. I used to travel to visit her every week, listen to her on the phone a couple times a week (or more), and there were six of us to spread it around, while only half of us actually did so. Had she sought some outside interests, it would have been easier on us. Having just lost her a few months ago, I can honestly say I don't regret any effort we expended, and yet at the time, it was hard to be stretched so thin. I have had friends who've lost a parent that experienced similar reactions to this poster and helped them through their times, I understood their feelings yet hoped they'd see their parent's feelings as well. It's a tough situation!

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My dear JulieAnna, I hope you are willing and able to give careful consideration to the responses you've received from Kay and Fae, two of our members who speak from a widow's perspective. Unless and until you have walked in your mother's shoes, 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, none of us wishes to diminish the pain and the grief that YOU are feeling in the wake of your father's death. Feel free to take that pain and grief here, where you will be embraced by each and every one of us, who know and understand grief from the inside out ~ and as Kay and Fae have mentioned, I too hope you'll consider a few sessions with a grief counselor, because the focus will be on you and your needs ~ not on your mom's. You have every right to feel whatever you are feeling, and no one here will judge you for that. Your feelings are just as valid, just as real as anyone else'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 of the post, too.

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Very good Marty, I remember that thread well, I just didn't remember what it was called. You are so good at calling up just the right thing at just the right time! It is so true, we are all entitled to our feelings, all of which are valid. I view it as an opportunity as what we do with them is what is truly life changing.

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