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17 Year Old Stepson Died Recently

QUESTION: My 17-year-old stepson died recently from a one-week illness. I still have his two brothers to look at and remind me of him. The two other boys are excited about the holidays but I don't want Christmas or anything else but for my baby to come back to me.

This Christmas will be a great period of transition for your family. It marks the first year without your stepson and a critical time for the four of you to come together in your sorrow.

Ask your wife to be more available to you through the holidays. Checking in by phone from work to see how you are doing, or setting up an appropriate time to call her could serve as your lifeline through this period. Friends and relatives should also be called upon for helping you through this first set of holidays after your stepson's death.

Though it will be difficult to rejoice, it is important that you continue the holiday traditions that have evolved in your family. But also consider taking some separate time on Christmas or Christmas Eve to remember your son. Perhaps each one of you could share a story about something he did or said, or a special time you had together that the others may not know about. Light a candle on Christmas Eve in his honor. Though he has left your home, he remains in your hearts forever. And the value of his life is indelibly imparted to each of you. It is through your sharing that he will be remembered.

Before I lost my father, I never truly understood what people meant when they said that those who have died "live on" in the living. Then, one day, about six months after my father had passed away, I felt the qualities of his that I most valued - his adventurousness, his sense of humor and affection - to be not a "part" of me, but ME. I realized at that moment that he was living through me by what had been imparted to me from being intimately connected to him in his lifetime. But I could never put into words that feeling I experienced while driving my car home from the grocery store that day.

Your pain is unique in at least three ways. As a parent, you had to bury your child. Though tragedy occurs, this is not one we expect in our lifetimes. We don't expect to outlive our children. And your son was a hair's breadth away from entering adulthood, with all the unfulfilled promise of his life immediately before him. And finally, you forged a very special relationship with a child who was not born from your body. Your love and connection to your stepson has deeply touched me as a reminder that parenting is a "calling" to serve more than it is a biological event.

It may be beneficial for you and your wife to meet other parents who have grieved the loss of a child. Hospitals and the mental-health agencies in your community usually have support groups for parents in your position. Sibling groups may also be available. And your other two boys would most likely gain from talking with other children going through a similar life tragedy.

Continue to reach out as you have here. And keep the spirit of the holidays alive for yourself, your wife and your two sons who remain in your life!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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