QUESTION: Our son recently lost his life in Afghanistan. He had resided locally with his wife of 12 years and two children, ages 6 and 9. Now his wife wants to move back to her hometown in Colorado to be close to her family. We have a big house and my husband and I have asked her and the children to live with us but she doesn’t want to. She is a health professional and plans to continue working.
If she lived with us, we could help with the children. My husband and I believe she has to do what she wants to do, but at the same time she’ll be taking the only family we have left away from us.
We don’t want to be angry and upset over her decision, but it’s hard. How does one deal with this much loss at one time?
Dear Grieving Mother,
I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Losing a son or daughter to death has got to be one of the most wrenching experiences I can imagine. And now you are faced with the loss of your daughter-in-law and grandchildren through their expected move to Colorado. That is a lot to handle in such a short time.
It sounds as though you are trying to understand your daughter-in-law’s desire to move back to her hometown with her children but are struggling with your own loss and your desire to support her. One thing that may help you is to recognize that Colorado is not so far away that you cannot visit, phone, write and even Skype. I recognize that technological or written communication is not the same as a real visit, but it can help you to keep the connections stronger. Do make the effort to keep in contact in all the ways you can and encourage your family to keep in contact with you, too.
In addition, you can invite your daughter-in-law and/or grandchildren to come for visits during the summer and other school vacations. Those visits can help you stay close even though you are not living in the same town.
I also hope that you have a faith community to support you in your grief and friends who provide you with care and consolation. Please accept their prayers and expressions of concern for you. And there are grief support groups in most communities. I urge you to access these resources to help you cope with your losses.
Please know that I too am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers as you continue on your healing journey.
Dear Grieving Mom,
You have my condolences for your sacrifice and the sacrifice your son made in the service of our country. I cannot imagine how terrible that must feel, but I do understand the additional pain of seeing your grandchildren depart to another state. When I was your elder grandchild’s age, my younger brothers and I left California with my grandmother’s only son, my father, when the government transferred him to the east coast.
The way we kept in touch was through letter writing, tape-recorded messages and her annual Christmas visits. When I graduated high school, I returned to live with her while attending junior college.
In this day and age, you can do what we did better. You can have video chat sessions with your daughter-in-law and grandkids via computer every week. And you can text anytime. Colorado is only two hours by plane, and if her family is amenable, take that Christmas visit.
Have you considered moving there? See if you can have the kids come to stay with you in the summertime, and understand that circumstances always change, and grief always subsides.
For now, keep close to the Lord for comfort and trust that this world also brings happiness to balance grief. Focus on your blessings, and remember that God knows your situation, He loves you, and He hears your prayers in this life.
QUESTION: I’m married to a wonderful woman who has a 17-year-old daughter, her only child. We began dating when her daughter was 14 and married when she was 16. This is my first marriage.
My stepdaughter’s father wasn’t much of a role model, so I’ve tried to step in, although perhaps a little too late. Motivating this teenager is a challenge to her mother and me. She barely made it through high school and doesn’t want to go to college or attend a vocational school. All she does is stay in her room and play computer games and often stays overnight at a girlfriend’s home.
Although we’ve been in family therapy and done whatever we can to support her, this situation is upsetting family harmony. My wife and I don’t argue about it. We just discuss and discuss what we can and should do and end up with a big question mark. We’re hoping spiritual advice will help us help her.
– Unsuccessful Step Dad
Dear Step Dad,
I can appreciate that you have done everything you can think of. Your letter perfectly communicates your frustration, despair and concern. I can well understand the fear and doubt you and your wife have for your stepdaughter and her future. The solution is simple: Refuse to see her as a failure.
While each of us, including your stepdaughter, is responsible for our own life, the uncertainty of life renders us susceptible to the influence of others’ opinions, be they good or bad, positive or negative. If we accept those opinions, they can either help or hinder us.
Your daughter is still at an age where adult guidance, attitudes and opinions (whether spoken or unspoken) are accepted, believed in and acted upon. Children do pick up on our beliefs about them, more so since teenagers are exploring and trying to figure out who they are anyway. So parental beliefs, even unspoken negative beliefs and attitudes, do have an enormous impact on their self-perception. If a child sees a parent despair of them, what hope do they feel justified in having for themselves?
The same is even true of adults. I am reminded of Rev. Ike who once chastised some of the women in his congregation for saying to their husbands, “You old Devil” and then complain to him when their husbands began to act like the devil.
What you see, as well as what you say, is what you get according to Rev. Ike. In other words, what we see inside ourselves (in our mind – in our beliefs) reflects outside ourselves (into the world – into our experience) even into our experience with others. Why is this?
On a spiritual level, all creation comes out of thought. Thoughts have enormous hidden power. If we wish to change an unpleasant condition with someone, we need not bother trying to change them. We don’t need to. We need only to change ourselves. We do that by changing our own wrong thinking. The healing here lies in you seeing and believing in your daughter the opposite of how you see her now. So how do you do that?
Memorize and say this affirmation until you actually feel the truth of it, even though at first it may seem preposterous and even untrue: “My daughter is a good, kind, wonderful, and loving human being. Her life is energetic, productive, and filled with goodness and blessing. She finds her perfect place in this world, and it is wonderful.”
Whenever you find yourself thinking a negative thought about her, say this affirmation in its place. Do this everyday, as many times a day as you need to. Continue to do so until you and your wife believe this beyond all doubt. As you do, a miracle will begin to unfold.
Dear Unsuccessful Step-Dad,
First of all, your commitment and love for your wife and stepdaughter mean that you are an incredibly successful step-dad! Being a stepparent is complicated and hard with a few rewards thrown in here and there. It sounds like your relationship with your wife is strong and healthy and that is an incredible thing and probably the greatest example to your stepdaughter of negotiating and communicating in a relationship.
When it comes to our spiritual life, and I can tell you this from my own personal experience parenting teenagers with my husband who is their step-father, we are often raising our fists to the air saying, “Why, God, why?!” or “What, God, what!?” or “Help, God, help!?” Then we remember God is there for strength, to garner courage, or compassion, to help us make the most compassionate and loving decisions regarding our teenagers.
And then we set boundaries. We decide what our expectations are regarding grades, friends, money, chores, set the limits and boundaries and stick to them. We communicate these to our teenagers and the consequences when the expectations are not met, and then we hope for the best.
Peace to You,
St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church