Advice

Carolyn Hax: Be water, not steel, in grief

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My stepdad was moved to end-of-life inpatient hospice care last night after seven years of debilitating terminal illness, and I’m going back to my hometown (several hundred miles) tomorrow morning. I had an opportunity to spend time with him just after we found out we were in the final months, but before his health deteriorated past a point of having a meaningful period of time together. He met my fiance, we talked through our remaining regrets, and I feel at peace with that end of things.

While I am already in the midst of this and have tried to prepare myself the best I can, I’m not sure I’m actually ready. Do you have any last-minute advice to steel myself for the emotional roller coaster that the next couple of weeks promise to be?

Grieving

I’m so sorry. If it’s any consolation, the steps you’ve taken to this point have been wise and loving and will serve you well, even when it doesn’t feel that way at all.

I have only one thing to add, in fact: Steel isn’t the substance I’d choose to emulate going into this. I suggest instead thinking of yourself as water. Just flow, and don’t be afraid to take the shape events dictate. You’ll hurt but you'll be OK.

Re: Greiving:

Rest, rest, rest. Your physical energy will take the same kind of hit that your emotional energy will, and you need to give in to that.

Anonymous

So true, and compassionate, thank you.

Dear Carolyn: My partner’s children (15 and 18) ignored my birthday for the second year in a row — even though we just hosted a large birthday party for one of them at our house. (They live mostly with the other parent, because of school location).

Our six-year relationship is generally good. I do not act parental or interfere, however they know they can rely upon my being there for them, sometimes in ways their parent is not. Am feeling hurt and cannot tell if it was deliberate rejection or just major unconsciousness. Ought I or their parent confront them about it?

Stepparent

No, please don’t. It never advances the cause of a thankless job to go around seeking thanks. Just keep investing in the things that matter to their well-being, with the understanding that their stability is your reward. (And a fine one at that.)

And, be proactive: “I’m taking everyone out to [favorite family treat here] for my birthday.” No veiled agenda or guilting! Shared, generalized joy beats waiting for joy to show up.

Re: Stepchildren: Many, many adolescent children are pretty oblivious about their parents’ birthdays, step- or otherwise. Considering the emotional lives of adults is just not on their radar at that age. If you want them to be involved somehow in acknowledging your birthday, you need to get your partner to do some of the orchestrating: “Hey, let’s do X next weekend to celebrate my birthday.” That’s assuming you can find a time when everyone is free — if they are anything like my teenagers, they are busy.

Anonymous

Sounds right, thanks.

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