Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Mourning Daughter

Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the mourning daughter.

Danny: obviously this is so hard and so complicated but I do feel sympathy for both the LW and their father here

to me the most crucial detail here is that he’s 76

Nicole: Right. Do they have any concerns about his mental state? Because if not, this is actually … very common.

Older widowers often remarry quickly

Danny: I do think they have grounds to say that he introduced the two of them/asked them to go on vacation together too soon, and that they need a little more time before they’re ready to get together again, all three of them

Nicole: Yes!!

Danny: but I also just think, he does not have a lot of years left

Nicole: Absolutely

Danny: And if he doesn’t want to be alone, if he wants companionship, it makes a lot of sense that he would start seeing someone he already knew and liked

and I do want that for him! It’s just so different, mourning a partner and mourning a parent

Nicole: And the OP can easily make that about themselves, not judgmentally: “I need some more time before I’m ready to see you and Margaret together, who seems lovely.”

Danny: Right—“What you are doing is understandable, and it’s also hard for me”

Ask for what you need—maybe that’s a few months where you only get together with your dad one-on-one for a meal or a phone call

and you can acknowledge her—ask how she’s doing, tell your dad to say hi from you, whatever you feel comfortable with—but then just focus on your relationship with one another

Nicole: Yes!!

And then, when you do feel prepared to try again, bring your A-game

Danny: but I don’t actually know what he would or wouldn’t counsel a 76-year-old client to do after losing a beloved spouse of 50+ years

Nicole: ask about Margaret’s interests and life, be friendly

Danny: yes, it’s definitely okay to bring this up, you do not have to hide this from him, but you also don’t need to say “As a therapist you should or shouldn’t do X”

Nicole: Ultimately, it’s happened. You cannot actually do anything about it.

Danny: right. And that’s so hard! i can imagine if I were in the OP’s situation I would feel torn and devastated in a lot of ways. It’s so hard to think of our parents as individuals, especially when they were happily married for a long time

Nicole: so you can be weird around your dad for his remaining years because he could have waited longer, or try to get on board. But yes, I’m sure it’s very hard for the OP, and that some grief counseling wouldn’t be a bad idea

Danny: yes

and it’s also possible that he both really loved, and loves your mother, AND he wants to in some ways keep his grief and loneliness at a distance by getting into a new relationship very quickly

but again, he’s an old man and that’s understandable—I get why that’s uniquely painful for you as his daughter, but I can also imagine what he’s facing is very difficult in a way that it just isn’t for you

I think a grief counselor is a great idea because there just may be a limit to how much your dad will be able to help you deal with your own sadness and bereavement

Nicole: More men, especially as they age, don’t have the same complex friendship networks that a lot of (though not all, obviously) women do; they often rely a lot on their romantic partner as their primary source of emotional support. Plus a lot of your friends are dying,

sometimes your own independence gets limited, etc

Danny: I don’t even think it’s necessary to try to justify this with general demographic trends that may or may not be the case here—somebody in their late 70s will necessarily have a different relationship to time than someone in their 30s/40s/50s

Nicole: Yes

Danny: the average life expectancy for an american man is somewhere around 78

that doesn’t mean he’s going to die in two years but it also means that he doesn’t have a lot of two-month periods left

Nicole: oh my lord let’s go make him some casseroles

Danny: and i’m sorry, i feel like i’m being hard on this letter writer

like “Your dad is going to die soon too, so just swallow your pain and be happy for him”

Nicole: No, you’re being nicer than me.

Danny: I really, really understand why this hurts, and you’re not in the wrong for feeling this way

Nicole: You are being more open to her feelings

I should be more aware of her own grief

Danny: basically I would encourage her to seek out a therapist and friends and a journal and long walks and other outlets to share her deepest sorrows with

because she deserves a lot of outlets to mourn her mother in/through/with

Nicole: Absolutely

Danny: and to figure out how to set gentle but necessary boundaries with her dad’s new relationship so that she can get to a place where she can comfortably be in a room with the both of them