QUESTION: After a 12-year marriage, my daughter is getting a divorce from a man who doesn’t work very hard at working. He’s lost job after job and doesn’t seem to be motivated to contribute to the family income. My daughter is well-educated and has a great income but that income has to be stretched because of her non-working husband who insists on purchasing high-end merchandise such as luxury cars.
Our challenge is his parents keep calling us and asking us to help them reconcile our children’s marriage. We’ve watched our daughter stress over finances far too long and we’re in favor of the divorce. They do not have any children. Our question is what can we say to his parents when they call? They’re very nice people and we don’t want to hurt their feelings.
~ About to be Ex-in-laws
Dear About to be Ex-in-laws,
This one is a toughie. When people get married, they usually say that they’ll stick together “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, etc….” But let’s face it: relationships, and especially marriage relationships, are hard work. And you should know that the person who is writing this is a once-divorced and once-remarried guy! (The same goes for my wife; I am not her first marriage partner either!) So both my wife and I know that marriage relationships involve hard work. And in our society, fights over money are one of the top points of conflict in marriages.
So … what to do? This is free advice and worth every penny(!), but I would say to the soon-to-be ex-in-laws something like this: “We love your son and we of course love our daughter and it breaks our hearts that they have decided to split. But they are both adults and they have apparently come to the conclusion that life apart is more tolerable than life together. We are as sad as you are, but we adults love them enough to respect their adult choices, no matter how tragic the break-up appears to us. Also, we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, nor is it our business! Again, we are sorry for both of them, but we adults have no right to tell our adult children what to do.”
I hope that helps. It is a toughie, and my heart goes out to all six of you, because I am sure everyone involved in this divorce is suffering in some way. May God’s grace and peace and forgiveness get all of you through this very human tragedy.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
Dear About to be Ex-in-laws,
This is so hard. Divorce is so hard, even when the circumstances seem to point in the direction of divorce being the best thing. And for your daughter, in this case, it is. We human beings are so complex, so complicated, and we enter into relationships with so much hope and expectation. I don’t know about your daughter, but I have had the experience of seeing the red flags early on in the dating part of the relationship and plunged into marriage anyway. Not consciously, but on some level thinking, “He’ll change. It will change. Everything will be okay. My love, care, concern, will some how be the catalyst for his change into someone more (fill in the blank).”
But years pass and we experience the powerlessness we have over other people. They don’t change but maybe we do, and begin to awaken to the idea that there’s another way and I can leave this relationship that is destructive to me, my financial, emotional and spiritual well being, and everything is going to be okay. Then all of the dynamics of the different familial relationships rise to the surface. Of course there is concern on the part of your son-in-law’s parents for their son and we are all so sensitive to the feelings of others, to their and our own detriment sometimes.
A simple reply could be helpful: “We are staying out of it. It’s their relationship and we trust our daughter is making the right decision for herself.”
It’s hard to stay out of our children’s lives, I know, but when I find myself trying to control, interfere or give advice to my young adult children I remember that they have a God of their own, and that God is watching over them and I will always be here to say, I love you and support you. And then I say the Serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
QUESTION: My husband of 55 years has cancer. After several rounds of chemo and radiation the cancer remains, and he is in great pain and discomfort. Doctors have told us there is nothing more they can do. I’ve been his willing and loving caretaker for the past three years. Now that the right to die legislation is in place in California, he wants to end his life. When I think about this, although I’m in tears over wonderful memories of what we’ve shared, I want to honor his request. Day-in and day-out, I am witness to his misery.
Our problem is our adult children who are totally against his choice. I believe this is his decision and not our kids’. Is there a way we can make them understand?
~ Disheartened Wife
Dear Disheartened Wife,
You are very compassionate and your husband is lucky to have you by his side and on his side. You are correct that the choice is up to your husband. You are also being fair in trying to gain the understanding of your children. My first suggestion is to ask them to meet with a therapist who specializes in end-of-life issues including you and your husband. It should not be a religious clergy because many will be dogmatically biased against your husband’s desire to end his pain. If your children are religious and want to consult a clergy on their own, encourage them to do what makes them feel comfortable. However, let them know you would greatly appreciate it if they would be respectful of your feelings and meet a neutral therapist as well.
According to the law, two doctors must agree about the patient’s medical diagnosis and mental competency. However, external or emotional factors, like depression, are excluded. While his main doctors can confirm his mental competency, talking to an outside therapist will enable you to evaluate and even treat any depression and confirm that his decision is not being improperly driven. Further, they can help you word an appeal to your children that they not force him to live through six months of pain instead of letting him die on his own terms in a respectful way. They can also confirm to your children that it is indeed his decision and not your influence on him.
As a humanist, I don’t believe in God or rely on unknowns like heaven to give comfort when someone dies. If you do, I completely respect that. I will tell how humanists deal with death in hopes it can help you as well. We know the mind is gone, so the person is gone. But what will comfort us after they are gone is the fact that our beloved will “live” on forever in other ways. Their positive acts, their goodness, the loving kindness they put into the world created endless ripples that have spread and will continue to permeate family, friends and all of humanity. Knowing smiles, laughter and all good in the world comes from the positive actions of those who have gone before, including our loved ones, assuages the pain of loss.
A final suggestion would be to set regular meetings with you, your husband and your adult children to talk about great memories and moments. Be sure to set a rule that you cannot discuss the end-of-life decision or anything contentious. Don’t talk about “after he is gone” either. Talk only about wonderful moments, past and present. This is the only life we know we have and we have to make the most of each moment because, whether you are diagnosed with a terminal illness or not, nobody is promised the next moment. These meetings will hopefully warm their hearts and open up a conversation that you can continue with the neutral therapist leading to them honoring your husband’s wishes.
Your children may never come around but, regardless, you must honor your husband’s desires first. He should listen to and respect input, but he should not leave the issue open for others to feel they can decide for him. His life is his own.
Joshua Lewis Berg, Humanist
Dear Disheartened Wife,
First of all, God bless you for being such a good caregiver to your husband. My heart goes out to you during these challenges you are experiencing.
The right to die law in California has brought the question of faith and freedom to the forefront for many people. The decision of your husband to choose to end his life is really based on his own personal philosophy. It is a soul question that each of us gets to ask ourself and one whose answer is rooted in our own nature and belief. It truly cannot be answered by anyone else.
It sounds as though both your husband’s decision and yours has been reached. The disagreement comes from your children who hold a different philosophy about ending one’s life. To that point, Religious Science is a spiritual philosophy that believes that God, Infinite Intelligence, is a universal presence that is everywhere present and that everyone is an expression of God. The principle idea is based on the belief that we are always at choice and everyone has personal freedom to make whatever choices they feel are best for their lives. Our choices set into motion the law of cause and effect – for every action there is a reaction – which then creates a new set of circumstances. Life is a gift and all of us get to choose how we will honor that gift.
When someone passes judgment, it is usually because one person thinks their way is better than the other persons’. In searching for the right words to say to your children, it’s important for them to understand that ultimately it is not their decision to make; they don’t have to agree with it, but it’s important that they honor the decision that their dad has made. To create a dialogue, some good questions to ask them to think about are, “Am I responding from love or from fear?” “Do I love my dad in this moment enough to honor his decision even though it goes against my personal philosophy and I will feel hurt as a result?” “Where is my focus – on my needs or my father’s?” These are tough questions to ask and answer, but in the end, if everyone is coming from love, there will be a peacefulness and a resolution to the situation.
No one can tell you, your husband or children what’s best in this situation. It is entirely up to each of you as to how you respond. That response is based on your own true and deep convictions. I encourage you to pray, respond with love and respect and listen to the guidance of Spirit.
Rev. Mary Morgan