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Grieving mother

Question

I lost my only two children this year. Kory aged 21, who died in March and Kyle aged 26 who died in October at home from his 14 month battle with cancer. Kory was a great shock, and he was due to deploy to Afghanistan in August, Kyle, we knew was terminally ill. My mother and father have not even bothered to contact me, although they showed up for both wakes and funerals, and barely acknowledged me. They did not bother to offer me any condolences at either wake or funeral. We were never very close but they were always invited to my home for the holidays, etc. and they live three miles from me. They talk about me in the community as if they have been in contact with me, and share info that they did not get from me. They have not called me, did not send flowers to the funeral , or even asked how I was. My friends tell me to let it go, and not to bother calling them to talk about it, but the hurt is so unbelievable that they would not even try to comfort their oldest daughter with this incredible loss. Should I carry on and pretend that it does not matter and ignore them for the rest of their natural lives (which is what I have been doing), or should I call them and have it out with them and let them know the unimaginable hurt that I feel by their lack of feelings towards me and the whole situation. My husband and I are still, and will be for a while, grieving.

Answer

Dear Karen,

My heart goes out to you.  You have suffered a terrible loss.  It is understandable that you would look to your parents to extend some kind of comfort during this time when you are in so much pain.  That’s what parents do, or that’s what we “should” be able to expect from them. You need support, but unfortunately, you are not getting it from your parents.  You say that you were never very close to them, so they have probably behaved this way before, although not to this extend under circumstances where you are most sensitive to it.  If they have not been loving and helpful to you in the past, it is not likely that they will start any time soon, even now. What “should be” and “what is” are two different things.  Yes, this hurts.  But you don’t have to let it cause you more suffering than you are already going through.  Your parents are who they are, and they may not be capable of handling this situation any differently than they have been.  And, in their way, they are grieving, too.

There are a few things you can do.  I don’t think pretending it doesn’t matter or ignoring them is going to help you feel any better about things.  It does matter to you.  Since you are the one who always does the inviting, you would have to be the one to reach out to your parents if you want to connect.  “Having it out with them” is not going to change their behavior; it might even make things worse between you.  But what would happen if you asked them for some support?  You could say: “I’m really struggling right now.  I could use your help.”  Give them tangible things that they could do, like help clean out a closet, make some calls, or run an errand.  They may not know what to do or say, and need some guidance or direction from you.  If your parents rise to the occasion and extend themselves to you, this may help you to start a new relationship with them.  And if they don’t, then you have the choice to either accept them as they are, and your relationship as it is – or if this is too painful, you can choose to not have them be a part of your life at all.  Let some time go by so that you can heal a little bit and think clearly before making any big decisions.

You can also focus on the love and support that you and your husband are getting from your friends.  Family is not limited to the people we share bloodlines with.  Those who care about you, who are there for you during the times when you need them most, those people are your family.  Be grateful for them.

And be good to yourself.  There is no timeline for grief.  Please know that I am thinking of you and sending love.

~Lissa