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BEL MOONEY: My son is so sad, my husband so distant. I can’t cope

by Elijah
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BEL MOONEY: You can't go on like this. The first step should be to sit down formally, as if for a proper meeting, with your son and her husband, and calmly and clearly tell them exactly how you feel.

Dear Bel,

I’m not suicidal. I really don’t want to kill myself. But how I wish it were all over!

Sometimes I just long to be lying in a warm, comfortable bed, surrounded by my nearest and dearest, listening to them chatting quietly and then gradually drifting away into eternal calm and stillness.

My husband and I are 70 years old, married for over 40 years, and have four children and five close grandchildren. That brings both the joy and the hard work that our children expect of us.

I think my husband has Asperger’s; he is very insular and introverted. If I write a list of jobs, he will carry them out, but there is no list and nothing is done. But he is very different with our grandchildren, playing fools and singing.

I still work part time. I should retire, but going to work is my escape. My husband is semi-retired and works in a consultancy, but he locks himself in the study of his house for long hours. We move forward in silent satisfaction.

Last year my son’s marriage failed. She stayed with the house and the children. She returned home, broken and depressed. She had given up a well-paying job that allowed her to spend more time with her children so that her wife could develop her career.

So now he has little chance of getting a house. He is very sad and our quiet and boring life (which suits us) must be torture for him.

Just when we thought things had hit rock bottom, they gave him a dog, bought for his children after he left. But he bites and barks, they have lost interest and his ex won’t keep him.

He is almost a year old and small but not trained. He won’t be left alone in a room and the nights are horrible. We all ended up yelling at each other. My son is crying because of the havoc he has caused. When the dog is good, he is adorable. But how long can we survive the toxic atmosphere my depressed son and manic dog have caused?

I don’t know what to do. I know I have to move on: a homemaker and a peacemaker. Caring for everyone but feeling devastated and depressed.

Between a small, crowded house, a husband who doesn’t see what’s going on except to get angry and yell (he never has solutions or ideas), a heartbroken and depressed son, and a dog who will one day be absolutely charming (but not yet)… I desperately long for peace, quiet and tranquility.

I know there is no other solution than to gird my waist, grit my teeth, smile and move on.

But I would appreciate your words of calm, wisdom and encouragement and the promise of a sunnier tomorrow.


BEL MOONEY: You can’t go on like this. The first step should be to sit down formally, as if for a proper meeting, with your son and her husband, and calmly and clearly tell them exactly how you feel.

First, I am so sorry for your son and the pain he has had to endure. The emotional turmoil at the end of a marriage is enormous and can seem endless.

The feeling of failure and loss can bring down the mood, and all you can do is reassure your child that it will get better with time.

You could benefit from counseling. I hope he and his ex have custody resolved so that he has enough access to his children.

His longest letter explains how, after moving, he bought the little dog (in response to his children’s pleas) because “he thought it would give them concentration.” A bad idea. Her ex probably had no interest in the animal and it takes an involved adult to train and care for a dog.

Dogs bark and bite for a reason, sensing emotional distress around them, so this poor pet must be unhappy and needs to be trained urgently. Then he/she will calm down and bring a lot of joy to the whole family (to you, especially, I dare to predict), which is why it should be the first priority.

Dog trainers usually teach classes regularly. Have you searched locally? Since her husband really enjoys visits from her grandchildren, could this be something she could add to her research list? Yes, you need to instruct him, but why shouldn’t he help you? Reassuring him that a sweet, playful puppy will please all the grandchildren could be good motivation. This must be attended to.

Thinking of the day

“I wish it had not had to have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see those times. But that’s not for them to decide. The only thing we have to decide is what to do with the time we are given.’

from The Fellowship of the Ring (chapter 2) by JRR Tolkien

It may seem unfair that I started with your son and the dog, instead of focusing on your tiredness and longing for peace. But of course, separating them will help your own life enormously, right?

You are the type of woman whose life is dominated by the need to give, give, give, but who doesn’t receive enough consideration in return. The family must begin to observe their needs, as well as their own.

You get tired of taking care of your grandchildren, tolerate your husband’s lack of help, and “always smile and do my best to hide my own feelings and make sure everyone else is okay.”

You cry in the bathroom so no one can see you and you endure the chaos, until you burst and start screaming. It’s not good for you or your poor son.

You can not continue that way. The first step should be to sit down formally, as if you were going to a proper meeting, with your son and her husband, and calmly and clearly tell them exactly how you feel. They need to know it, just like their other children. You must plan how to improve things, starting with the dog. If you continue to feel so anxious, frustrated and stressed, there is a danger that you will suffer some type of nervous breakdown. And what good would that do to all of them?

I completely understand the lonely feeling of not being able to be upset and show weakness.

I also understand your longing for peace. But you need to stop smiling and being too easy to exploit. Let those who love you know.

Why am I such a crybaby nowadays?

Dear Bel,

This may seem like a trivial problem, but in the last five years (I’m in my mid-60s) I’ve become a terrible fool. The movies, the music, the plays, everything turned me on. I cry at weddings and I cry at funerals even when the person isn’t very connected to me.

I even cry when I think that someone famous, whom I held in high esteem, like George Michael, has died. Reading things can also irritate me.

It’s getting embarrassing and I don’t know how to stop it. I do not understand it either. I wasn’t like that until recently.

I didn’t cry once when my father died when I was young, and I only cried once over my cancer diagnosis a decade ago. I am still under the care of an oncologist but the cancer, thank the Lord, is not active at this time.

I’m not generally a pessimist and I have a lot to be grateful for, so why have I become such a whiny crybaby and what can be done?


This email seems very sensible to me. I have yet to meet a sensitive human being who doesn’t think there’s a lot to cry about these days. But why do I specify “these days”?

War and suffering are eternal; But right now non-stop news and online content means it’s hard to escape events that break your heart or drive you crazy, which could lead to other kinds of tears.

So, just as big events that we can’t control have always been emotional, so have important milestones in individual lives: births, marriages, deaths. You cry at weddings and funerals because you feel intensely involved with human life and death and you identify with the feelings of those around you.

Contact bel

Bel answers readers’ questions about emotional and relationship issues each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5hy, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

Names are changed to protect identities.

Bel reads all the letters but regrets that she cannot correspond personally.

Movies, books, and music can act on emotions because they express versions of universal suffering, so the tears we can shed are much more than the story, the words, or the melody. Those tears of compassion are for the human condition that, of course, we all share.

These are the lacrimae rerum which means “the tears of things.” It comes from Virgil’s great poem, The Aeneid, when the hero is inspired to reflect on the Trojan War that forced him to flee, and on the deaths of family and friends, the mortal fates that always touch the heart.

I feel like you’re feeling the passing of the years. Plus, being diagnosed with cancer ten years ago must have been a shock, and every year you are faced with an underlying worry.

This week our hearts and prayers must be with the King as he faces the treatment with his usual sense of courage and steadfast duty.

There’s a lot to be sad about, so is it any wonder you feel it so deeply? I can’t read Oscar Wilde’s stories aloud to my granddaughter without starting to cry. Try it, The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant – too moving and beautiful for words.

By now you will realize that I do not want you to be cured of this disease. There are so many things in life that ‘take the heart by surprise and open it’ (to use a beautiful phrase from Seamus Heaney) and there is nothing ‘shameful’ about crying out of compassion or joy.

And finally… The best advice we can give ourselves

You’re probably a lot more sensible than me, but I know I spend way too much time chatting with people on Facebook. To be honest, I’m one of those who complains that social media is a bad thing and then happily wastes time on the only platform I use.

The good side of Facebook is having fascinating and fun exchanges with interesting people, some of whom I know in real life.

The downside is having small fights with people I don’t know at all, but who are on my “friends” list. Why bother? I mean, you wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and start an argument or discussion, right?

However, on social media we can all be a little frank. I’m not talking about “trolling” (which is horrible and causes a lot of damage, especially to people you know who are just as vulnerable as any of your attackers), but rather being much sharper or angrier than you would be in real life.

Recently, a reader, Susan W, expressed a helpful thought: “My late father used to say, ‘Just because you don’t agree with me doesn’t mean I’m wrong.'” ‘Who can argue with that?’

Susan wondered (kindly and constructively) whether, given that I worked through two weeks of illness, stuck in bed with a bad chest infection, I should now try to take it easy. I hope you weren’t suggesting retirement, because I can’t stand the thought! Once a writer. . .

But she asked me a great question: ‘Since you give advice, what would you tell yourself to do?’

I instantly texted back: ‘Take a deep breath. Try to relax. Don’t take life so seriously. Work harder than ever. Don’t get angry about things.

I spontaneously came up with five very useful tips for me and probably for some of you too.

So I’m grateful to Susan (and her late father) and think it’s a good exercise for everyone. Without thinking too much about it, what are five concise pieces of advice you would give yourself?

Let me know.

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