Heather asks for advice: In November, it will be two years since my mother died after a prolonged illness. My father started dating a woman this summer. I supported him finding companionship. He and Mom were together for 35 years, so it had been a long time since he was alone. Unfortunately, I have not dealt well with the reality of his girlfriend. He wants to include her in all of our family gatherings and has told me that he expects me to become friends with her. My mom and I were very close before she got sick and got even closer during her illness, so this feels like a violation to me in so many ways. I have tried to explain to Dad that I am not comfortable with this but he seems to not care. I feel like I am alone in this, and it is very hard for me to be a grown up about it. Ever since we lost Mom, I have felt like I no longer belong in my family, and this just makes it worse. How do I deal with my father’s need to include his new girlfriend in all of our family activities?
John Pete, certified grief counselor and founder of MyGriefSpace.Net, responds: Hello Heather: Please accept my sincere condolences for the loss for your mother. What you are going through is understandably painful and confusing to you right now. While you want your father to find happiness and companionship, it also feels threatening to the memory of your mother, and an intrusion to your family unit as it was. It’s not unusual for unintended resentments to arise in situations such as yours, and it may be helpful to know that you do have some control over this situation.
You can continue to struggle against the choice your father has made, or you can seek ways to help yourself accept this new situation. First, it’s important not to view this new person as a replacement for your mother, because she is not now, nor will she ever be. So it’s important not to get caught up in a trap of constantly comparing the two or making them a nemesis of one another when one is living and one is not.
Your mother will always be your mother no matter what, and no matter who else comes into your life or your father’s life.
One way to help yourself adjust to this situation is to spend some one-on-one time with your father’s new girlfriend to get to know her better for who she is. Try to establish a friendship with her for her own qualities and so you can feel comfortable talking to her about the loss of your mother and your grief. This can open new lines of communication and reduce the threat you feel that she is somehow replacing your mother.
Two years is not nearly as long as many people might think when it relates to the loss of a loved one. So, please continue to allow yourself your grief, but also proactively seek the healing support from others and also through new experiences. If you can find it in your heart to open yourself up to get to know your father’s new girlfriend better and strive to establish a real friendship with her, then you will also open the opportunity to accept her as the individual she is, and not a replacement for your mother.
John Pete, GC-C