At the beginning of March, my son called to tell us that he and his wife were getting a divorce.
They were always in love, which is why it was such a shock. Our daughter-in-law (let’s call her D) and I spoke on the phone, we were teary-eyed and dumbfounded.
There appears to be a woman in his business who lost her husband a couple of months ago and they’ve had feelings for each other for a few years.
My son said they haven’t done anything yet! She realizes that she helped break up the marriage and doesn’t care. What woman would do this two months after her husband died?
D tried to suggest couples counseling, but he said no. She thinks he’s going through a midlife crisis and we agree. He thought he could stay at home sleeping separately, but now he’s renting an apartment.
Eight years ago, he tried to run his own company, but got into debt. It was paying off, over in a couple of months, which would have meant a lot to them as a family.
Our son is visible but has a rough streak. He taught his kids to call me “old woman” – a “joke” which I don’t find funny, but disrespectful. He meant not wanting to spend Christmas with them.
It was left to D to explain to their children why he was gone. They were very upset. At Easter we spent some time with D and the kids which was great. She told us she would never forbid us to see our grandchildren.
My husband apologized to her for our son’s actions and she said, “It’s not your fault.”
What makes everything worse is the fact that my husband has prostate cancer, diagnosed in October 2017. It metastasized last year. . . But after more treatment I still suffer from it.
Being away from our son is very upsetting. D tells him that he should visit his father while he can, and if he doesn’t he will regret it. How do I access it?
This week, Bill Mooney helps a woman reach her son, who has a ‘rough streak’
My sympathies are with you for reasons more complex and private than I can write here.
Your full letter reveals that you have already experienced your daughter’s divorce and she is now living at home with her son pending the purchase of an apartment.
So you’ve been through an emotional roller coaster once, and now you’re getting through it again. Your son’s debt problems must have caused you great anxiety. Yes, we moms put up with a lot of dark nights of the soul on grown up kids and just want to be happy.
But as I’ve said so much on this page, we can’t run their lives for them, feel responsible for their mistakes, or pick up the pieces when they fall. We can do our best – but that’s it.
idea of the day
There were all those rough, tangible, everyday, easily avoidable matters; But one cannot only think of those, as Mma Ramotswe thought, or spend one’s time weeping – and the cruelty will go on.
So the little things came into their own: small acts of helping others, if one could; Small ways to make one’s life better: acts of love, acts of tea, and acts of laughter.
Clever people might laugh at such simplicity, but she asked herself, what was their solution?
(From The Good Husband Of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith)
Your husband apologized to your poor daughter-in-law because he felt responsible for the devastation your son caused – and I know what that sounds like.
But we must be reasonable and realize that the sins of children cannot be borne on the shoulders of their parents – even if they feel heavy.
It was completely unacceptable for your son to teach his children a disrespectful nickname for you.
Maybe he didn’t want you for Christmas because his mind was too full of the other woman to make an effort for you.
He didn’t even have the courage and kindness to explain to his children why he had abandoned them and hurt their mother. You obviously feel all of this criticism, too.
But of course he should pay attention to his sick father. It’s sad and shocking that he keeps his distance – probably because he knows you judge his actions and feel shame. He can no more face the two people who gave him life than he could face his own children. How can they bear to look at themselves in the mirror?
Right now, caring for your sick spouse should take priority over everything else. A proper old letter might ‘reach’ your selfish son, telling him he might not have a father for much longer and asking if he would like to live the rest of his life regretting his actions.
Do you have an old photo of the two of them in happier times that you can slip into the envelope to fool his conscience?
It can work, so try. And time with your gracious daughter-in-law and grandkids is a priority. I wish you all the strength you need.
He just won’t cope if you die first
My husband and I have been happily married for 39 years, and we have no children. I am 73 years old and he is 10 years older. We are both in reasonably good health.
Here’s my unusual problem: I’m terrified of dying first, because it won’t be able to handle on its own. It has become a bit forgetful and disoriented – although I think it’s not bad enough to seek medical advice.
Like me, he has a great sense of humour, youthful outlook and an excellent conversationalist. We have a lovely family and friends and an interesting social life.
We have given power of attorney to my brother and my brother’s wife, which is a comforting thing, but I am still afraid of leaving him a widow.
These days I see everything: papers, appointments, medications (he takes a lot and has been known to forget); social events, ticket bookings, vacations, dog walks (he’s waiting for knee surgery so he can’t walk far); All the cooking, shopping and most of the housework.
I’m not complaining – I do everything because I love him, and I know he’s not physically or (I hate to say this) mentally capable. Sometimes he seems distant and not with him, though other times he’s just fine.
Because we have no children, once one of us dies, there will be no one to take care of the other. I know that I can manage on my own, but my beloved husband will not be able to, and that scares me.
The shed, the workshop and the riding mower are his favorite things so he couldn’t bear to go home – and it’s not fair to expect family members to take care of him.
Do you think my fear is irrational?
Your touching letter is indeed unusual on this page, and yet you express an age-old concern.
When I was at university I studied medieval Scottish poetry which was intransitive in Latin, with Timur Mortis holding me back along the way. It means, “The fear of death bothers me” — even at the age of 21 I understood its meaning.
At the time, my first husband and I used to whisper to each other in awe that the goodbye had to be the last. The richer life gets through love, the sadder it is to imagine it coming to an end.
But here you add another layer of importance. Because when you love someone deeply, your natural fears about dying are made worse by that very love. The self-centered thought, “I don’t want to die” turns into the selfless, “I can’t imagine my beloved suffering without me.” Is this “illogical”? of course not.
More from Bill Mooney for the Daily Mail…
Your post is an example of reason and emotion all rolled into one – and it certainly spoke to me.
The American farmer and poet Wendell Berry wrote a beautiful poem (part of a series called The Saturday Poems) about an old couple sitting on the porch in friendly silence after dinner, knowing each other well, yet unable to know the impossible. . . “Which one goes first through the dark doorway, tender / good night, and who sits a while alone.”
This terrible question mark is the core of all our lives and your message. And as so often these days – I find myself so sympathetic I admit there is nothing I can say. How can I write any kind of answer to the pain of love and the fear of death in one solution?
You do a lot to keep your good life with your spouse happy, busy, efficient, and sometimes it must be tiring. Setting up powers of attorney is a reasonable but sad process (we did the same) that forces you to look ahead, no matter how much you don’t want to.
I might suggest some mindfulness exercises (information on this, like everything else, is available online) but as an intelligent person as you know him well it would be wise to live in the present as much as possible. Try suggesting meditation to relax someone whose mind is like a beehive. . .
your husband is older, and men live shorter lives than women; You may draw a conclusion from that point which I do not wish to make. For now, all you can do is rejoice that your dear husband is enjoying this ‘shed, workshop, and mower’ and make sure he works on his upper body strength (get him some weights — seriously) in preparation for knee surgery.
Could you invest in a mobility scooter to take out with you? Most of all, Elizabeth, make sure you take plenty of time to keep yourself as healthy and comfortable as possible.
When your thoughts make you panic, I want you to take a deep breath and focus your eyes and mind on something tangible like the shape of a cloud, the smell of a flower, or a beautiful piece of music that you love. What matters in the end – where does it all lead? Butterflies’ lives are short, but they achieve their goal and are beautiful.
And finally… there are two sides to every story
This column started life in June 2007 and since then I’m happy to say I’ve only had two or three complaints. The last one arose after I included a message from someone complaining bitterly about a family member.
I have now heard from C, the sister of that accused person, telling me that the author of the letter is a “narcissistic” liar, and expressing her outrage that the letter was printed. Her grief in two emails upset me greatly, too.
Bill answers readers’ questions about emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, the Daily Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email email@example.com.
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bell reads all of the letters but regrets not being able to enter into a personal correspondence.
Of course, in replying to any letter, I have but one side of the story, but I fear the alternative (checking every fact) would be quite impossible. There is no choice but to take the letters at face value.
C writes, “Inadvertently, I became part of the malicious behavior, when I typed the message.”
I’m glad she understands that I can’t control who tells or doesn’t tell the truth. But I care deeply about the feelings of everyone who reads this page and would hate to inadvertently cause pain.
C says, ‘. . . Where it failed dramatically is not doing enough to protect my brother’s identity. Simply changing the author’s name does not anonymize the message.
Here I admit that she is right. I had to do more to hide the message.
I often change as many facts as possible, but this time I didn’t. It can be a good balance, because if you change everything, the original character becomes almost unoriginal.
But in this case I think I’m at fault – and I’m so sorry for that. If anyone knows someone who appears on this page, they should know that family issues can be toxic, C.
It always bothers me when people ask if the messages on this page are “real”.
My response is that I have been writing novels, but I no longer need to. It would be much easier to make everything up, when a complex reality would be so problematic.