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Ask Ellie: To help widowed dad, sons must address their own loss

You’ve admirably focused on your father’s unbearable sorrow, but you two sons also need to address your own grief

Dear Ellie: My father’s suffering a terrible grief. My mother, 64, died of cancer 18 months ago. He still feels guilty that he didn’t urge her to see her doctor when her symptoms first started four years ago.

She said it was nothing serious, she was healthy and active. Besides, they were planning a month-long trip to Australia to see her relatives.

But within two months, she was rushed to hospital due to unbearable pain, and my father immediately said that he should’ve insisted on her getting examined from the start.

I’m their older son, 26, working and trying to ease my father’s mental anguish while grieving too. My younger brother, 22, has me as a buffer, so his sadness is less outward but I still worry about what he’s feeling inside.

My father attended grief counselling for several months, but his self-blame has kept him from accepting some things he’s been told, e.g., that loss gets easier after the first year passes (not for him, he bellowed through tears when he told me this).

He’s refused to take anti-depressant medication, asking “why should I go through this easily? Your mother didn’t have it easy.” He breaks my heart, but I try to stay strong for him.

His appetite has lessened, and he has trouble sleeping. My brother, who still lives at home, has to remind him that it’s time for dinner (mostly take-out). He’s also seen him sitting in the living room, staring vacantly at nothing, in the middle of the night.

How can I help my father pass through grief to a new normal?

Very Worried Son

Attend a few sessions yourself with a grief counsellor to learn the full scope of what your father’s experiencing, and help you recognize/manage your own grief. Try to bring your brother along to at least one session.

You’ve admirably focused on your father’s unbearable sorrow, but you two sons also need to come to terms with your loss.

Then, find a grief therapist for your father, which is someone trained to deal with the deeper issues of a grief that doesn’t ease.

There are many approaches to this kind of help, which sometimes involves rituals related to the deceased — e.g., acknowledging her birthday, lighting a candle on the anniversary of her death, packing up her clothing, etc.

I encourage readers who’ve experienced all-encompassing grief to write of their learning to accept the loss.

Reader’s commentary regarding a male letter-writer’s response to a young woman “terrified” if she says anything wrong to her boyfriend, “afraid of him and doesn’t know how to leave” (Jan. 5):

“The letter-writer makes the comment “People are allowed to be mad or angry… it seems like she has the issues, not her boyfriend.”

“My sister was in a relationship with a man who “was allowed to be mad or angry.” She often made excuses for him. She finally got out of the relationship but too late. He tracked her down and murdered her.

“I’m a man totally disgusted by the writer’s attempt to claim that fault lies with this frightened woman. No woman or man, should be in a relationship with a partner who terrifies them.

“Terror isn’t something you feel because you’re overreacting. If you’re scared of your partner and they cause you to cry, leave. Find support from family, friends, a professional organisation and move on as quickly as possible.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong about how you feel. Relationships are supposed to be mutually beneficial. If yours isn’t, move on before it’s too late.”

Feedback regarding the woman who stopped having sex with her husband (Jan. 4):

“After a period as a widower, I put my foot into the online dating scene. I had loved my wife totally, despite the fact that she lost interest in sex over the past years of our marriage.

“I was upfront when writing my dating site bio. Included in my list of interests was, “enjoying sex in a loving relationship.”

“I suspect that I didn’t hear from disinterested ladies who did not want such a thing, which is of course their right! I don’t think they are an uncommon example.

“Meanwhile, I did meet and now have a relationship with someone who’s also in her seventies, and with whom

I share many interests — including what I had hoped for.

“Being upfront is respectful and can prevent the frustrating situation this gentleman — and lady — are currently in.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

Grief counselling/therapy can be helpful over time.

Send relationship questions to [email protected].