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A Parent's Remarriage

May 9, 2009 | by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski

A daughter, whose mother died, resents her father's remarriage and his sudden zest for life.

A reader asks:

My beloved mother passed away at the age of 57 (I was 38) after battling lung cancer. My parents met each other when they were very young, married and were happily together for 45 years. They lived a simple life, never buying much or doing much because my father never wanted to and my mother was a martyr who never pushed him to do what she really wanted.

My father was heartbroken when she passed away, but five months after her death, he began dating Bonnie. I was pregnant with my third son. I had gone through many years of infertility problems, and now I had another difficult pregnancy during my mother's illness.

He began pushing his friend on me and my siblings. I didn't want to meet her. I was grieving for my mother and I couldn't do it. Finally, he pressed me to meet her. It was so uncomfortable as he laughed and joked with her in front of me. They would go on trips together.

I began to think about the life my mother lived with him and I resented him for living it up with Bonnie in a way he wouldn't with my mother. If my mother wanted something, she couldn't just buy it. When Mom was sick, crying in pain, he said to wait for the cheap drugstore to get her medicine (which took 5 days). I went to the hospital pharmacy, with my young son when I should have been in bed. I would not let her suffer one second, as she would have done for me!

I stayed at her house from 9:00am to 9:00pm every day and night, shopping for them, cleaning, and taking care of her, which was my honor to do. It was time I am grateful to have spent with her. I took her to the hospital five days a week for five weeks for her radiation treatments because she needed help and support and someone to talk to doctors and nurses with daily problems. My father went a few times, and when he did, he sat and talked with other families about small talk.

He finally married Bonnie. They bought a beautiful new house, new car, and have traveled extensively. They eat out in the best restaurants and go to plays. My mother had two insurance policies totaling over $60,000. She would turn over in her grave knowing it was spent on his second wife.

I know it's not fair to resent him "living" when my mother is gone, but to "live it up" is unacceptable to me. I've heard him say to people that Bonnie is "the love of his life."

The bottom line is: I don't talk to him anymore. I did not attend his wedding and I've never seen his new house. I never want to go there and see my mother's personal things used by her.

I have chosen to go on with my life and spend my time on my wonderful husband and three beautiful boys. I've heard people say that "life is short" and I should talk to him. But I feel, especially after losing my mother so young, that because "life is short," I shouldn't waste time on him.

My question is this: Based on the commandment "honor your mother and father," am I wrong to not forgive him and talk to him?

Rebbetzin Faige responds:

Your pain and torment is gripping. It is always devastating to lose a mother. Your mother's untimely passing and incurring the loss so prematurely in your own life exacerbate this situation. Worst of all, are your feelings that your mother could have had a better life.

You do not indicate whether grieving counseling was sought. Even these couple of years later, I would think that those professionally trained to walk a person thought the many stages of grieving could still help you gain insight, perspective, and take the edge off your massive sorrow.

Here are some points to consider as they relate to your father:

(1)  My experience, supported by many studies, shows that men are at a far greater loss and unable to cope when widowed than women. They don't seem to have the same resilience, the same capacity to pull themselves together and re-embrace life in a reasonable way.

Men are at a far greater loss and unable to cope when widowed than women.

Often, the result is that in desperation, and on the rebound, they grab at whatever straw, no matter how inappropriate it might be, to attain relief. That same desperation, born in part by the experience of helplessly watching death take its toll, shakes them to the core -- so much so that, ironically, they might even do a total turnabout.

Surprisingly, they often let go of the very beliefs that previously held them hostage and limited their ability to fully enjoy life.

A case in point would be my friend Dr. Larry, a noted physician, who was a workaholic. His wife Judy, was a beautiful and brilliant women who was obsessed with the well being of her husband and three children. She was a hyper-compulsive individual who worried about her family all the time. She became ill and battled cancer valiantly for seven years.

Dr. Larry was devoted and caring, but throughout all the years of her illness, he never missed a day's work. Judy understood and would have it no other way. Predictably, not too long after her death at 52, Dr. Larry married a woman with two children. Lo and behold, he immediately took early retirement, moved to a quiet country estate with his new family and took up gardening, reading, and a relaxed mode of living. I was incredulous.

I called him on some pretense, hoping for an explanation for this bizarre change in behavior that to me felt like a total betrayal of his wife.

He did explain. He told me of his terrible loneliness following Judy's death. He affirmed emphatically that he had loved Judy totally and completely. Then he met Ann. She was the complete opposite of Judy. She was fun loving where Judy was intense. She was optimistic where Judy lived in constant fear of something awful happening to her family. Judy had an air of heaviness and Ann was light-hearted and a ray of sunshine.

He told me that he made a conscious decision that having lived with the imminence of his wife's death so long, he wanted the remaining years of his life to be as joyful as they could be. In a sense, the combination of confronting mortality with Anne's life-affirming personality liberated him, allowing him to make the most of his present situation.

Then he added a concluding statement that really touched me and gave me a window of insight that might benefit you as well. He said that despite the much-needed consolation and his new lease on life that he found with his present wife, without question he would have preferred to live out his remaining years with his first wife Judy had he had the option.

Oftentimes the startling accommodations that are made in the second marriage that, in retrospect, appear to have been impossible the first time around, are in fact more a product of "necessity is the mother of invention" and also one born of insecurity. In a first marriage, the shared years of having and raising children, with all the good and the bad, forge a relationship of such oneness that the couple in a misguided way take each other for granted and take the liberties they wouldn't dare risk in the more fragile second marriage.

Your father's new life is not necessary a value judgment or even a better replacement for his life with your mother.

The second time around, there is a basic instinct that kicks in and dictates that they must open themselves up to a new way of thinking if they are to survive. In the end, the concessions made of necessity may in fact result in a better life as one sheds old confining and limiting habits.

The point for you to consider is that your father's new life is not necessary a value judgment, a condemnation, or even a better replacement for his life with your mother. More constructively, you might view it as a different season in his life that requires changes and accommodations.

(2)  You state that your parents lived happily for 45 years. Then you follow it up with the injustices, i.e. the miserliness and the lack of sensitivity on her father's part. No one can condone this behavior. But I think it might be instructive to recognize that in a marriage of many years' duration, both spouses must bear the responsibility of the nature and quality of that relationship. "Nobody can do to you what you won't allow them to do" goes the saying. Implicit in that statement is that somehow the life they had together worked for both of them. It was a product of who they were and what they needed from each other.

Projecting onto your mother a life of deprivation and the lack of the full joy she might have had, based on the life your father has today, is simply subjecting yourself to unjustifiable and unnecessary punishment and heartache.

(3)  You mention your father's insensitivity in the hospital, manifested in his infrequent visits and his passing the time by talking to other families. Here, as well, I would urge you, my dear reader, to invoke a more charitable approach. People react to crisis and misfortune in different ways. Some fall apart, others withdraw. Your father may have assumed a denial position, conducting business as usual in an effort to convince himself that life was normal. Remember that, by your own description, your father was heartbroken after your mother died.

(4) Another issue for you to confront is that in large measure your pain is due to the fact that your mother's passing came at a difficult time in your own life, when you needed her nurturing and support. You probably wished that your father would have stepped in to somewhat fill the terrible void in your life. Instead, he found "the love of his life," leaving you feeling totally abandoned.

Most certainly, if he hadn't been so focused on himself and breaking out of his own grief and pain, he might have been more sensitive to your and your family's needs. The survival instinct doesn't always bring out the best in people.

(5)  I also want you to consider the flip side of your situation. Over the years, I have seen situations where the grief-stricken father did not embrace life, and in addition to everything else the children had to contend with, they were saddled with the burden of a non-functioning, depressed parent. There is that silver lining in your cloud. Your father has a life and you don't have to worry about his well being.

(6)  Your heartwarming account of what you did for your mother is inspiring. Be sure that every bit of it will always be a source of comfort to you. Nobody will ever take that away from you, and God will bless you for it.

(7)  Finally, your specific questions. I would advise you to work very hard to find within yourself the ability to reinstate a relationship with your father. It will require a great deal of strength. You will need to let go; to set aside your formidable resentments, and based on the above-mentioned points, make a decision to think charitably and interpret events in the most positive way possible.

In thick or thin, as difficult as it may be, we do our utmost to accord honor to our parents.

Ultimately, in taking this position, you will be the greatest beneficiary. You will be liberated from the necessity of constantly finding negative stuff to support your denying the relationship. And make no mistake in thinking that you are taking up your mother's cause. Your mother, of blessed memory, a current resident in the world of truth, most certainly does not take pleasure in this fractured relationship. Her soul will enjoy greater peace on high if there is peace in her family here below.

Moreover, you will grant your children the privilege of having a grandfather. And, perhaps most significantly, when your children grow up, you will have given them the greatest gift of all, a precious legacy -- a lesson in life -- namely, that in thick or thin, in gladness or great disappointment, as difficult as it may be, we do our utmost to accord honor to our parents. It may be the hardest work you will ever have to do, but "commensurate with the difficulty is the reward". Good luck.

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