QUESTION: My husband and I have been
married two-and-a-half years, although we have been together for over
eight years. Last week my father-in-law passed away from a sudden
heart attack, and my husband rushed back home to be with his mother
and brother. I followed the next day after organizing the care of
our nine-month-old baby and our dog.
When I got there I didn't get a hug or anything
-- he wouldn't leave his mother's side for two minutes to talk to
me. I realize that he needs to be there for his mother to help her
get through it, but I need him too, and he can't (or won't) be there
for me. As of Wednesday he will have been gone for a week, and I really
miss him but I can't beg him to come home.
I believe he knows that I am hurting too, but
it feels like he is where he wants to be right now. I have to go through
all of the grieving and loneliness alone when his mother has a support
group like you wouldn't believe.
If you can offer any advice on how I can get
my husband back, I would greatly appreciate it. I am very lonely without
him and now I'm borderline angry about the whole thing.
ANSWER: The death of a parent is a once-in-a-lifetime
event. It is natural for your husband to be absorbed in his immediate
family at this time. This is a period during which your husband needs
your understanding. He has lost his father at a point where his own
fatherhood has just begun. Support him by putting his needs first.
Your father-in-law's death is recent and sudden. Abrupt
and unexpected loss compounds grief. Your husband is in shock, as
is his mother. Though you are also in mourning, it is unlikely that
your anguish is as intense as his.
Connect with your husband by asking him what he needs
from you now. Let him know that you are there for him in his time
of need. Ask him to share his thoughts and feelings, but do not expect
him to take care of you in the midst of his bereavement. Instead,
develop empathy for what he and his mother must be experiencing.
Do not mourn alone. Seek support of friends and reach
out to those who are not at the center of this family grief. Stay
connected to your husband and his mother through efforts to support
their grieving and share in their sorrow. Attend family rituals to
honor your father-in-law and become a part of the process of saying
your own personal farewell.
Though you are lonely for your husband, you are secure
in the knowledge that he cares for you and knows that you are hurting.
Delay gratifying your own needs at the expense of denying your husband
the time he needs to connect with the people who were closest to his
father. This does not mean that you should not reach out to your husband
. . . quite the contrary. He will no doubt want your comfort in the
days, weeks and months ahead.
Your jealousy of your mother-in-law is misplaced.
It is unrealistic that any amount of support could ease her pain in
the seven days following the traumatic loss of her husband. Your anger
may be a result of feeling abandoned yourself as a new mother. Perhaps
you have not yet found your own bearings after the life-changing event
of childbirth. Though your feelings are understandable, it is critical
that you grasp the enormity of your husband's journey through this
psychological transition between generations. His ability to complete
the grieving process will enrich the fatherhood he passes down to
his own children.
You may remember the self-absorption required of you
during labor. Realize that your husband is undergoing a labor of saying
"good-bye" rather than "hello." The ability to love increases over
the life span. Your husband's loss is the opportunity of a lifetime
for you to stretch beyond the usual dimensions. If you succeed, you
will have deepened your own capacity to love.