BEL MOONEY: How can I help my son cope with his dad’s death?


Dear Bel,

Twenty-nine years ago, I left my husband and three sons for another man. We married and are still together. The guilt stays with me; no doubt my selfish act affected them all.

When I fell for Ed, Will and I had been married for 21 years, with faults on both sides. The divorce was difficult. I saw the boys regularly, my middle son came to live with us a year later. My eldest was off travelling the world. The youngest, Tom, probably found it most difficult.

Thought of the day 

You’ve been fooled into thinking

That the finishin’ end is at hand.

Yet there’s no one to beat you,

No one t’defeat you,

‘Cept the thought of yourself feeling bad.

From To Ramona (1964) by Bob Dylan, who turned 80 on May 24

Move to 2008. My eldest (a young father) died of cancer; my youngest (then 29) had a breakdown and came to live with us. My husband Ed and I supported him during mental illness. Eventually, Tom improved — and now has a partner and a house.

By then my relationship with my ex was good. Then last year came the phone call to say Will had passed away suddenly overnight.

Tom, now 41, has found this incredibly hard. We’ve suggested counselling; I’ve told him I’m here and love him. But I developed a feeling he had a real problem with Ed. His partner suggested as much.

I recently visited, told him how lovely it was to see them both, then asked: ‘Do you have a problem with Ed?’ It all came out: he can’t be in the same room with him.

He seems to think that if 29 years ago Will and I had stayed together, I may have been able to save him. He suggested my husband would be pleased Will is dead. Ed is a very gentle caring man, but maybe Tom knows something about Ed that I don’t.

Do I tell Ed, about the situation — since Tom says he now won’t see him?

I have no excuse for following my heart and leaving my children — and expect you to give me a blunt comment about that.

But, in the end, Will and I did get on, although we were both lost after the death of our eldest son.

I love my husband and need advice on how to handle this situation.

PAMELA 

This week Bel advises a woman who left her husband and three sons and 25 years ago and is still plagued by guilt 

Your original letter was much longer, with details I won’t print in order to protect your family.

You expect me to judge you harshly for leaving your three boys, but I’ll just make the point that there are always consequences.

Our most dramatic life-decisions reverberate for ever; you’re perfectly aware that the long-term effects of your passionate love affair are still being felt, 29 years on.

You are now caught between your feelings for the lover you married and your love for your youngest son — just as you were when Tom was 12 and had to be told that Mum’s bags were packed and she wasn’t coming back. The three boys then had to endure their father Will’s bitterness for years. A heavy burden indeed.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

You have borne permanent guilt, observed your youngest son’s problems unfold over the years, and endured the terrible agony of your eldest son’s death, which left two children fatherless. I expect there have been times when you have thought yourself ‘punished’ for leaving your family. Such thoughts are inevitable — and cruel.

But when Tom had his breakdown, he came to you. With Ed, you cared for him. Your middle son loved you enough to choose to live with you a year after you left.

No more ‘blunt comments’ are coming from me, Pamela.

What to do? Tom seems to have sown seeds of doubt about Ed in your mind, which feel unfair.

Yes, he blames his stepfather for seducing you away from your family, still resents you for leaving, and imagines (with a degree of desperation) that had you remained at home, then his Dad wouldn’t have died suddenly. But he is still grieving and the only way he can make sense of his feelings is to lash out at you and Ed, holding you responsible for his father’s death.

It’s terribly sad and you have no choice but to explain it all to your husband and try to help him through the hurt he will inevitably feel.

I wouldn’t try to force Tom to visit you or insist Ed accompanies you there. It’s too soon.

But you can visit Tom and his partner alone (kind Ed can hardly object) and use the visit(s) to talk through everything, and make sure his partner understands that in time it will be good for Tom (never mind for you) to heal this sad rift.

Will’s death will almost certainly have opened in Tom the wounds of his brother’s death, too, but grief does change over time.

Be patient with him, work towards reconciliation and forgiveness — and you can do much to heal your own heart along the way.

Are my husband and friend having an affair?

Dear Bel,

My husband and I have been married for 20 years, together for 22 — my third marriage, his second. At 67, he’s eight years younger. Over ten years ago, I worked at an evening theatre event which my husband and my friend Sally were attending.

We agreed he’d drop her home and I’d make my own way as I had to help clear up. When I arrived home, he wasn’t back, but arrived soon afterwards. When I asked what kept him, he said: ‘We didn’t leave until x o’clock and then I dropped Sally off.’ But I’d spotted them leaving 90 minutes earlier than he said.

I’ve always wondered if anything happened. He often pops out for something or other (like DIY), saying he won’t be long. When it turns into two hours or more, I wonder if he’s dropped in on Sally, who lives alone.

We no longer have a sex life, but get on well. Now this issue is eating me up. My husband’s not a confider and I wouldn’t trust my ‘friend’ to tell me the truth. How do I broach this after burying it for so long? I can’t rest.

MARY 

Why now? What’s prompted this new angst? Why is Sally your friend . . . and then your ‘friend’? If you had been really suspicious at the time, you certainly would have asked why he dawdled and then lied.

Forgive me, but there’s something quite odd about this new obsession. Is it just possible that you are turning a light-hearted flirtation into a full-on affair?

But suppose you are right and something did happen that night, after the theatre event? If you read my reply to ‘Helen’ (right), you’ll realise I’m a great believer in keeping what’s past past and left well alone — unless it’s ruining the present. Which suddenly you’re allowing it to do. Supposing your husband and your friend had a tipsy kiss that night ten years ago? Does it matter now?

Maybe you two were going through a bad patch and he felt like unburdening himself. No big crime.

But if he really has been having an affair with your friend for ten years, that’s a very different issue. You could ask Sally’s advice, confiding in her that you think he is seeing somebody and what should you do? Her response might be interesting.

Or (of course) be resolute and ask him outright. Above all, ask yourself what will be the best outcome for your marriage and for your own well-being. 

I think I’ve found my father’s love child online

Dear Bel,

Both my parents were serial philanderers. My late mother always believed that a friend’s daughter was my dad’s child.

The married lady had trouble conceiving, but became pregnant when Mum thought Dad was seeing her.

Now in her 50s, the daughter, Diane, has come up on my Facebook feed. With both parents dead, she lives in the States. My father, at 88, is still alive in a care home. Diane is the image of him!

She may have had a very happy childhood, so I’d never want to destroy happy memories.

I’d want to know my real dad and I’d hate to discover the truth when it’s too late. What should I do?

HELEN

Two questions about the past today leave me wondering if we overestimate the value of ‘the truth’.

Do some people insist on telling what they call ‘the truth’, knowing they will inflict hurt on others?

It’s intriguing to know exactly why this stranger has just popped up on your Facebook feed.

Were you searching for her, to delve into an old family secret? I don’t believe you can tell from a photograph that she actually is your father’s child. Nor do I think any good can come from her knowing that her late mother was unfaithful to the man she called dad all her life.

If you reveal your suspicion, you will surely make this woman unhappy.

Do you really want her to cross the Atlantic to visit your frail father, or would this be a way of punishing him for his transgressions? I think you need to be scrupulously honest about your motivation before you decide what to do.

If it were me, I would keep quiet.

And finally… Bask in the joy of past summers

Each night we’ve lit our woodburner and I’ve given thanks for my treasured stash of cashmere jumpers (some quite moth-eaten, so I’m glad I learned darning at my Nan’s knee).

Friends are bewailing ‘the coldest May ever’ — yet the centuries-old wisdom of ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’ proves that this allegedly merry month has often been extremely chilly. My summer ‘clouts’ are still in the bed-base but may be dug out next week.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

In the meantime, as I write this, I’m cold and fed up. Yes, yes, I know I’m always advising coming to terms with events and making the best of things. But it’s hard sometimes.

By contrast, do you remember last year? It’s as if the malevolent fate that dealt us all the horrible punishment of Covid relented a bit and provided wonderful weather, just so that we could experience our solitude, longing and fear in balmy gardens or parks.

I’m summoning up the memory in a determined effort to count my blessings, because the sun did make lockdown easier to bear. But I’m not really convincing myself.

The last time we went away was May 2019 and (for various reasons) there will be no holiday this year either — except (hopefully) a few days exploring Kent in September.

I feel wistful to think of lovely holidays in France and Italy when the children were younger, the fuchsia hedges of Ireland, adventures on Devon’s River Dart, the open landscape of America, the Rhine . . .

And further back to the 1950s, England’s wonderful north-west coast with sand dunes begging to be rolled down as we shrieked with laughter. Mum’s delicious ham sandwiches. Fish ’n’ chips in Blackpool. Buckets and spades and penny-slot machines on the pier.

There . . . I’ve managed to cheer myself up! Instead of feeling gloomy (it’s raining again as I write), I’ve summoned up the Ghost of Summers Past and basked in her jollity. Let’s raise a hopeful glass to June.

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