My son died. How can I be expected to move on?

When grief goes on

>>Philip GalanesThe New York Times
Published : 6 August 2021, 06:47 AM
Updated : 6 August 2021, 06:47 AM

Q: My son died nine years ago from an opioid overdose. He was bipolar and trying to get on with his life after college, but he hit a rough patch, made some poor choices and was gone. I have gotten grief counselling, and I’m better. The problem is my stepchildren. In the middle of celebrations of big events in their lives — weddings, births, job promotions — I am often seized with grief that my son is not there and will never be doing these things. My habit has been to leave the events quietly and let my husband spend happy times with the kids. But recently, my stepdaughter told me that my sudden absences are casting a pall over their lives. They think it’s time for me to move beyond my grief. I am confused and hurt by this. Advice? — MOTHER

A: I’m sorry for the loss of your son. As you well know, without my telling you, grief takes its own shape and time. And the pain of some losses never disappears entirely. Count your stepchildren lucky that they seem to have been spared this knowledge so far.

Still, it sounds as if you may benefit from additional grief counselling or a support group. After nearly a decade of mourning your son, you may find it healing to work toward fuller participation in joyful occasions without losing yourself in sadness.

I can also see — and I bet you can too — that leaving your stepchildren’s parties may be hurtful to them. Instead of thinking of them as selfish or insensitive, can you take some consolation in how much they value your presence?

For the moment, tell them you are doing the best you can. (No one can ask more of you than that!) Then offer them a choice: You will stay at events for as long as you are able, or you will sit them out entirely if your leaving upsets them. It’s not a perfect solution, but it may be the best you can do for now.

Dining out without me

Q :A friend of mine messages me all the time for restaurant suggestions when he goes out to eat. But he never asks me to join. True to Social Q’s standards, I advise him gladly and without expectation. But it seems odd to me. Should I ask him about this? — M

A: You can, but only after you reframe the problem: Your friend clearly respects you (and your palate), as well as your judgment about dining out. That’s a compliment! He has also fallen into a lazy habit of using you as a go-to resource. (That happens.)

Help him break the habit in a way that doesn’t shame him. Say, “I’m flattered that you respect my opinion! Next time, let’s all go out together.” This may help reset your relationship and remind him that you are an actual person — not merely an aggregator of restaurant reviews.

So much for the nice party I planned!

Q: A dear friend and her husband are moving out of state in a few weeks. I offered to host a small going-away party for them, and they accepted. Now, three days before the party, my friend asked me to cancel it. She said she doesn’t have the bandwidth to help with the party, and she suggested that we all meet at a local bar instead. But I hadn’t asked for any help! I was excited to do this for her as a gesture of friendship. I am confused and hurt. How do I show up at the bar with a smile on my face? —  FRIEND

A: I understand how you feel. It’s not unheard-of, though, for good deeds to take surprising bounces. And here, where your friend is facing the daunting task of uprooting her life and starting over in a new place, she may be feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Try not to add to her burden.

Being at the centre of a small house party may feel more stressful to her than grabbing drinks at a local bar. (I’m sure your pal didn’t mean to insult you by suggesting you needed her help to give a party.) So, walk into the bar knowing that she feels close enough to you to tell you what she needs. You must be great friends for her to do that!

Still Swiping?

Q: Now that we are (sort of) able to date safely again, I have re-upped my profiles on the dating apps. I’ve gone out with this one guy three times, and we seem to have a great sexual and psychological connection. But his profile is still active on the app where we met. Can I ask him when he plans to take it down? — JULI

A: Not even close! Three dates are far too few to make any conclusive assessments about your connection — sexual, psychological or otherwise. Relationships are about sustaining and strengthening these early indications over time.

I get your impatience. But tamp it down. After you’ve been seeing this guy steadily for a few months, you may broach the subject of dating apps. (And do yourself a favour: Don’t torture yourself by clicking on his profile endlessly!)

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