Moving On In New Ways
anonymous Asks ...
My mom died last year and my dad took it really hard. He decided to go and see Angkor Wat a few months ago as this is something he had always wanted to do but my mom had been sick for a long time and unable to travel so he was not able to. My sister and I were really encouraging him to go since he had been so depressed since mom died. He extended his visit there and we were all happy that he was having a good time. Now he says he has met a Cambodian woman and he is going to get remarried. She is 26 and he is 67. I am worried that he is not thinking clearly. He has only known her for a couple of months so this is a concern, as is the huge age difference. I don’t mean to sound insensitive either, but I can’t help but wonder why a woman in her 20s would want to marry such an older man if not for his money?
This is very unlike the man I know to do something so rash. I am worried he is mentally ill or suffering from some sort of extreme grief reaction. I am traveling over next week to talk to him and to meet his fiancé. I would like to know what signs I should be looking for that might indicate that he is not making decisions of a sound mind – I wonder if he might need to talk to someone or take some medication or something?
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
Anonymous presents a situation that is a little different than many but carries some threads that are important for children when one of their parents die. So how would I respond to someone who is in a situation such as she describes?
The first thing that I would suggest to someone who is dealing with similar questions is to examine yourself. In a situation like this, it is common to be concerned about the health and happiness of a parent and also to wonder what the basis of a new relationship is. Self-examination, however, should yield some other motivations in a response. These motivations may be primary motivators or may be weaker influences. Are you ready to see your father involved with someone else besides your mother? Where are you at in your own grief process? What role have you had with your father during your mother's illness and after her death? What connection or thoughts do you have with respect to your father's money? These questions are not meant to make you think poorly of yourself but rather to be more realistic about all of the reasons why you are reacting the way you are.
Generally the time period right after a death is not a good time period to make major decisions. The length of time before good decisions can be made, until we are ready to be able to respond to situations rather than simply as part of a grief reaction. Some have suggested that this period is a year, but it can also be altered depending on a person's social and cultural situation. In the case where the spouse's sickness was prolonged, anticipatory grief may make some decisions come earlier.
In cases such as the one described, the widow or widower has gone to a site that has particular spiritual significance. I do not know if your father practices Hinduism, Buddhism or some other religious practice. It is possible that visiting a place of religious significance, such as the temples your father went to, may impact on one's spirituality including one's understanding of vocation and an understanding of relationships. This may also have an impact on what commonality your father and his fiance may have with each other.
In terms of her motivation, there are many reasons why she may be interested in marrying an older man. Money is one of them but there are many that are good reasons as well as many that are cautions. This is something to keep an open mind about and to really feel out when you are there.
When you are considering how someone is responding when they are in a situation like this questioner raises, there are a number of things you could watch out for:
- does the thinking patterns of your parent make sense (which is not the same as do you agree with it)?
- does your parent have reasons that explain why they are making big decisions?
- what sort of interactions happen between your parent and his/her fiance?
- how is your parent now dealing with the death of your other parent?
- how is your parent's new life related to your parent's old life (including the hopes they had not been able to live out)?
- what is the mood of your parent? (look both at how they look as well as what they indicate in what they say and do)
- how is your parent able to do basic mental tasks (know their current situation, short term memory, long term memory,...)
As you move forward, your parent may need to talk to someone (and there is always the possibility that a psychiatrist would recommend medication). I am not familiar with the mental health profession where he is at, but you would want to make sure someone you use is credible. It might also be that there are things you need to work out between you and your father. A licensed marriage and family therapist should be able to help you work through these types of issues.
I wish anyone in this type of situation well on their path to wholeness and peace.