Dear Family Advisor

I'm wondering if my daughter has any feelings!

Last updated: Aug 23, 2011

cold heart

I recently lost my only son, who was also my youngest child. He wasn't even 30. Of course I'm devastated. Right after he died, my oldest daughter came to visit. I guess she was trying to help, but she seemed incredibly selfish and uncaring. All she could think about was when she was hungry and when she was tired of visitors coming to wish me well. Just last week she said to me, "You've got to get on with your life -- you're acting even worse than when Dad died."

This daughter is single, has no children of her own, and has never wanted any. I'm beginning to wonder if there's something wrong with her feelings, or if I'm the one who's not normal.

My heart breaks for you over the loss of your son. As a mother, I believe there's nothing more heartbreaking than to lose a child. You're still in shock and will be for quite a while -- and no, there's nothing wrong with you or how you're reacting.

I know you love your daughter, but what you're experiencing as a mother is profound -- in many ways, much more so than what a sibling might experience. I know from watching a friend go through a similar tragic experience that your reaction is absolutely normal. Actually, normal isn't really a good word to use, because grief takes you to the most not normal place there can ever be. Nothing is "normal" about losing your child. And grief is the closest we ever come to losing our grip on reality.

You have an extremely long road to walk, and I hope you find dear friends, good doctors, and a therapist to help you heal. You may need to use antidepressants or medication for anxiety for a time. If you do, I urge you to couple medication with therapy. You need to avoid simply becoming a zombie. Feeling all this and working through your grief, while painful, is necessary, and I believe that talking to a bereavement counselor is crucial now. You may also find healing through joining or remaining active with a church, synagogue, or other spiritual community.

In regard to your daughter, I hope that you can simply "love what is," as author Byron Katie puts it. It won't do any good for you to lose yet another child, even symbolically. In her book Loving What Is, Katie reminds us that we invite pain when we try to force people or life to fit into our image of what they should be. I know your daughter's words and attitude don't make any sense to you, but some really good people are lousy under stress -- and she has her own healing to do, even if it doesn't look like it.

Try to view her words and attitude from a different perspective: She doesn't know how to care for you, how to love you, how to feel the loss of her brother. And while it's true that people grieve differently, I suspect that something is blocking her emotions and her ability to empathize with you. She really doesn't know how. Being aware of that allows you to love her right where she is, not as she "should" be. Yes, you may have to protect your heart and love her from a healthy emotional distance, and that's sad. But you can't allow her to mess with your head and heart right now.

You need calm. You need support. You need people who will help you get to a place of peace. Your daughter might not be capable of being there for you, so surround yourself with nurturing caregivers who can walk this path of grieving and healing with you.