I have friends who lost a 16-year-old son to suicide last year right before Christmas. I know that time heals, and it has been only eight months, but they continue to struggle to come to terms with this tragedy. They counsel and have attended different meetings arranged by other parents who have dealt with this type of loss [and] have arranged some new events that will fund scholarships in their son’s name. This last year was full of the “firsts” without him starting with the first New Year, all holidays and his birthday, which is also the father’s birthday. His car sits in the garage, with “wash me” written on it by the son. So many projects started, none finished … The reminders of this young man are everywhere, but they won’t leave their home because it was his home. Their strong faith and 6-year-old daughter are all they have left.
What can I do to help them? Love and prayers just never seem to be enough.
Alas, dear friend, you cannot fix this for them. They seem to be doing what they can to cope with this terrible and tragic loss: working with a counselor, learning from experiences of other families; finding ways to create memories of their son that celebrate his all-too-short life; relying on their faith and faith community as they ask “Why?” Maybe prayers are already being answered, as perhaps, tiny far-off lights appear at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.
You seem like the kind of friend who is not afraid of other people’s grief. This means that you will not shy away from saying the son’s name out loud in his family’s presence, and that you will remember to let them know that you are thinking of them on his birthday and the holidays. If your friends engage you in the difficult “Why?” questions, remember that you love them by being in the presence of their grief, not necessarily by coming up with answers.
Finally, as you know, eight months is nothing. Don’t worry about the house or the car. These things will be taken care of in their time. Just be there as a quiet and constant friend.
May God comfort this family and give them peace.
Pastor Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Chuch
Dear Concerned (and Loving) Friend,
First, keep your loving friendship going as you have outlined in your question. Your support is so invaluable even though you are not seeing immediate results. I lost a young relative (second cousin) to suicide, and the tragedy has brought my cousin (the father of the young boy) and my family close in the last 10 years. Whenever we have family gatherings now, my cousin reflects how important the outpouring of support was immediately after his son’s death. Special occasions, the holidays, and all the “firsts” call for family, friends and your friends’ faith community to work together in order to provide a unique support environment that will help ease their pain and bring them comfort in the aftermath of this untimely death. An example of such support may be inviting your friends to spend the holidays with you so that they are not alone at home being reminded of the absence of their son.
Special attention also needs to be given to their young daughter. While she may not be old enough to quite grasp the loss of her brother or feel as much pain as her parents, she still needs the loving support of close family and friends to help her get through this difficult time. Allowing her to be a child without having to be in a constant state of grief along would be very beneficial.
Second, please be sure to advise the parents to seek professional therapy from a licensed psychologist. Seeking clinical therapy during times of traumatic and unexpected loss is not a matter of weak mindedness and/or lack of faith. Modern psychological science has now advanced to offer proven methods of emotional healing that offer healthy families additional tools to recover from a painful loss. It should be viewed as one of the benefits of our modern life, similar to going to a dentist for a toothache.
Finally, finds ways to support the family’s ties to their strong faith and faith community. Since you are close friends, be the watchdog for the family’s multiple support needs. So in addition to the loving support that local friends are providing, make sure there is extended family support as well as professional help while their faith in God helps them heal.
Islamic Congregation of La Canada Flintridge
Recently, I received a call from a trusted friend who told me my wife is having an affair. We’ve been married for 15 years and have two teenagers and a child in grammar school. Our children are all active in sports and we go to all of their games together. We also do many things together as a family. I’m not certain how to go about getting to the bottom of this because, frankly, I’m baffled and have a difficult time believing this is true. I have to admit, I’m in a tailspin emotionally because everything seemed to be fine between us. I welcome any suggestions that would be helpful in keeping our family together.
Dear Frantic Dad,
Some of the most difficult things to believe unfortunately happen to be true. And the piece of us that is devastated almost always leans towards denial. So the first thing that needs to be done is: ask your wife. If she denies it, you may need to go a step further and investigate. Because another unfortunate fact about affairs is that the cheater often lies and the victim wants to believe. Then denial and lack of discovery go for months or years. You deserve the truth. Curiosity asks, if you have not yet confronted your wife, why? If the relationship is “fine” between you, why the hesitancy to confront and ask? This fact causes me even more concern than the idea that she may be cheating. Marriages in all walks of life, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, even levels of intimacy and friendship, can be susceptible to an affair.
Going to your mutual children’s games and doing things together as a family are not indicators of a happy or faithful marriage. Being baffled, not being certain how to get to the bottom of this, sound like forms of denial. And while it may seem harsh to hear, this resembles a “fear of finding out.”
The most ethical thing a professional or friend can do is to point out your fear, the tendency to deny, and encourage you to gather a level of emotional strength to not remain “baffled” or confused, but get out of your tailspin, take courage, take charge of your life and ask what you have the right to know! If she is innocent, you can confront the “trusting” friend together and be a united front. But if she is having an affair, hopefully you can discover reasons why the marriage is in this dangerous spot. Remember, you cannot force someone to give up an affair they do not want to give up nor can you pressure someone to stay married .
The conviction of which I speak to you comes from years of treating cheating spouses who lie and prolong the grieving and healing for their mate and themselves. However, you can also contribute to prolonged pain if you fail to believe something when all the signs are there.
So step up, get a support system and confront your wife. You may find it is a rumor. You may discover an affair and find healing through your wife’s repentance. Or you may be set free from someone who did not have your best interest at heart anymore. You are the man, the husband, the father of these children – and you have the right to know.
Kimberlie Zakarian, LMFT
Kimberlie Zakarian Therapy, Inc.
Dear Frantic Dad,
I know how painful and frightening this must be for you. The path forward for you is heart wrenching but simple. You need to talk openly and honestly with your wife. With the specifics you have from your trusted friend (if he/she didn’t give you specifics – who? – when? – how does he/she know? you need to get them), you need to go to your wife and just say, “So and so told me that you are such and such. Is it true?”
I could be wrong, but I get the sense that this kind of direct communication is not characteristic of you relationship with your wife. Even if it turns out that your friend is mistaken, this is probably something the two of you should work on. Many churches have marriage enrichment programs that could be of help to you.
However if your friend is right, then you have some hard choices to make and some rocky roads to travel. You need to decide what you want and what you can live with. I don’t know what the statistics are, but in my 30 years of pastoral experience, about half the couples that I have known who have faced infidelity continued their marriages and about half did not. The Gospel of Matthew recognized how deeply painful infidelity can be when it recall that Jesus taught that it was acceptable to divorce in such a situation.
Sometimes people unconsciously have affairs as a way to transition out of the marriages, but if both you and your wife want to try to heal your relationship you will need a lot of time and therapy with good therapist. The two of you have feelings of betrayal and hurt to work through. You will have trust to slowly rebuild. The both of you will have to face the disappointments, poor communication, unresolved conflicts, personality traits and family dynamics that lead you to this rupture and each of you will have to accept responsibility for your part in it. There are no guarantees that in the end your marriage will still survive. But some couples tell me that having done this kind of hard work in therapy they ended up with a better relationship than they had before.
No one can tell there is an easy, quick or certain answer to your situation. But know that whether you decide to end your marriage or work it, and whether your relationship ultimately survives or not, God is with you, loves you and can always bring new life out of situations that only feel like death and ending to us.
God Bless You,
Rev. Bryan Jones, Vicar
St. Lukes of the Mountains Episcopal Church