Question from Nancy: My new partner and I have experienced much joy since finding each other. Both of us have been previously married, and both of us have children. Mine are 21 and 25, while his are 24, 31 and 34. My partner and his children have not yet held a memorial for their wife/mother 4 years after her suicidal death. They have not removed her personal items from the home. They have told everyone she died of illness not suicide. I want to help us to become the couple we deserve to be, but this death hangs over – for me – each time I am at his home. I feel it is morally wrong to live such a lie – the wife/mother was an alcoholic and that too has been covered up to such an extent that it seems that was never an issue. But here we are at a new day. I love this man and want a future full of trust and truth, about now and the past. HOW do I help?
Dr. Norman Fried responds: Dear Nancy: There are many factors at play that are interfering with your partner’s healing process. I am happy to hear that you have found one another, but please remember that the journey through grief is different for everyone.
The suicide death of your partner’s first wife carries with it more than just the loss of her love and presence. It carries within it the feelings of survivor guilt; fear of his own personal responsibility for not stopping her suicide or fights that may have created greater depression for her; the trauma of loving again after so reckless and difficult his wife’s actions had been; the denial that he may have mastered through years of living with an alcoholic, etc.
I would explain to your partner how you feel, and I would suggest that his manner of grieving in this way is not helping any of his children…and it may begin to hurt your relationship with one another. I suggest that you lovingly and strongly guide him to a grief therapist who can help him distinguish his grief from other strong and deleterious feelings.
Forgiveness, understanding and change are the lessons that life is trying to teach your partner. But the relationship you have with each other requires an outside voice to put him on the healing track. Yours alone will be misperceived as resentment, hurt and disapproval. — Dr. Norman Fried
Dr. Norman J. Fried, Ph.D., is director of psycho-social services for the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Winthrop University on Long Island, New York. A clinical psychologist with graduate degrees from Emory University, he has also taught in the medical schools of New York University and St. John’s University, and has been a fellow in clinical and pediatric psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Fried is a Disaster Mental Health Specialist for The American Red Cross of Greater New York, and he has a private practice in grief and bereavement counseling on Long Island. He is married with three sons and lives in Roslyn, New York.
His website is www.normanfried.com.
Dr Fried appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” to discuss “Trauma and Bereavement in Children and Adolescents: Helping Our Families Grow After a Loss.” To hear Dr. Fried being interviewed on this show by Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley, click on the following link:Depression, grief, hope