Marguerite Kelly on how to get past grief


(Hadley Hooper for the Washington Post)
March 19

Question: My mother was like Elizabeth Edwards but without, thank goodness, the cheating husband.

When my younger sister was killed in an automobile accident, Mom took massive doses of hormones just like Edwards did, and then she gave birth to my baby sister at the age of 47. Eighteen months later, however, my mother got a diagnosis of a virulent form of breast cancer and died six months after that.

I’m now 24, my baby sister is 4, and she looks so much like my mom that I want to cry every time I see her.

My father married again — this time to a woman who is only a couple of years older than I am. She has two small children, and she and my dad are expecting a child, but I’m not close to this family. They have no room for me in their small home or, it seems, in their hearts, and my sister hardly knows who I am.

My father says that he has moved on and that I have to move on, too. But somehow I can’t do that. Although I have a good job and good friends, I miss my mother; I miss my old room in our old house and I miss everything about the life we used to have.

I know that time will heal my sadness, but is there anything I can do to make time go a little faster? I tried going to a grief support group, but my situation was too unusual for me to get much solace from that experience.

Answer: Grief is tearing your heart apart right now because it usually hits harder in the second year than it does in the first year (or the third one). To deal with it better, you may need to have a pity party occasionally in memory of your mom and your sibling even if that makes you feel like a wuss. But don’t let that happen: It really is okay to curl into a ball, cry a while and remember all the good things that happened when your mom and your sister were still alive.

You also might write to them from time to time and tell them what’s going on in your life even though you’ll never mail these letters. This may seem like a goofy thing to do, but when you write to them you’ll feel as though they were listening to you again.

Look for a different grief support group, because these groups vary enormously. If that doesn’t work, then sign up for a few sessions with a therapist who specializes in grief. This should help to break down the barrier between you and your dad’s new family, and that’s something that should definitely be done. Your father needs you as much as you need him, for he has gone through at least as much as you did.

One day he had a wife and two daughters and the next day he had a wife and only one daughter. This caused your mom to go to great lengths to replace the daughter who died — as if any child could ever be replaced — and then your mother died, too, which left your dad with a toddler who needed him, a grown daughter who had pulled away from him and no one to weep with him or even ask him if he had a good day when he came home from work. He moved on to survive — not to shut you out. He has to feel that he’s welcome in your heart and your life before he dares to reach out to you.

To get closer to your dad, ask him if the two of you could go out to lunch once a week or whether you could bring dinner to his family every month or babysit for those three small children. His pregnant wife is probably tired and almost surely overwhelmed, so she’s bound to appreciate your cooking a meal for them occasionally or letting her get out to see a movie with your dad.

You’ll also appreciate this woman more if you think of her as your friend or as your dad’s wife, rather than your stepmother. It’s too soon to give her a name that sounds so much like mother.

8 Send questions about parenting
to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns.

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