Tragically, my 19-year-old son died unexpectedly last year. It was — and still is — a difficult journey. I have regular counselling and support from a couple of good friends, my partner and ex-husband.
Thought of the day
In some way I may later understand,
I hear the singing of the summer grass.
And love, I find, has no considered end.
From Into The Hour by Elizabeth Jennings (English poet, 1926-2001)
I’d like to think I’m a mother who’s never gone to sleep on an argument and gave my four adult children unconditional love. But my own childhood wasn’t the happiest.
My father worked very hard, so it was really my mother who brought me up — and I was frequently chastised. Later, our relationship was good and bad — but I was always the one who had to apologise.
Mum is a depressed woman who puts on a mask for everyone except Dad and me. She’s never said sorry in her life and revels in being the ‘victim’. But she has been a good grandmother.
The night before my son died our family was at the hospital and I was praying, believing he would survive. But my mother told me he was going to die and brought up the fact that I had never liked her.
So it became all about her. My father removed her. At the funeral she took centre stage. In the months following, I had to support her when I needed her to support me.
A family incident months ago has resulted in us falling out. I have written pleasant texts since, asking how they are, but the response is cold.
My father texts but I think he just wants a quiet life — zero conflict. Again I am faced with saying sorry — when I’m not. I’ve had no support, no love and it’s all about her.
My father says I must consider her as an elderly woman but she was exactly the same at 40! She’s told me she feels sorry for me and I need help to deal with my attitude towards her.
She says she’s helped me in every way over my son’s death and wants an apology. Narcissistic tendencies? I do not know how to move on.
This week Bel advises a reader who is struggling to understand why her mum can't say sorry
You have had to endure what most people consider the worst of all bereavements — that of a beloved child — and I can only offer my deepest condolences.
It is good to know you have regular counselling and plenty of support, and I just hope your strength gradually grows alongside that undying love for your son. At the same time, I want to point out that you suffered such a terrible loss really quite recently, and the extraordinary stress of this year — I mean, of course, the effects of Covid-19 on all our lives — must have added to the weight of your spirits.
Therefore, I urge you to be gentle on yourself for a while, and think of what you most need, and try to relax.
Of course, brooding about your mother will not help that process — which is why I suggest that, just for now, you ‘park’ this problem. Your mother has shown the same self-centred personality traits all her life, so she will not change now. The question is, whether you yourself can change.
You have always been the one to ‘make up’ — to apologise even when she was in the wrong. In terms of giving you the love and support you offered your own children, your mother has failed you all her life.
Again, that reality is unlikely to change now. But she is waiting for you to give in, as you always did.
I suggest you don’t. Not for a while. In the meantime, perhaps read about narcissism (a good book for the general reader is All About Me by Simon Crompton), just to put a little necessary steel in your spine. The more you can find ‘explanations’ for your mother’s behaviour, the less (I hope and trust) you will be vulnerable to hurt: a case of forewarned is forearmed. You have a family to consider, a life to live and a son to mourn. Do you need to worry about this selfish old lady?
I suggest you continue with the cheery/matter-of-fact texts to both your mother and father, and send the odd chatty email, but avoid all explanation or confrontation.
Will he ever stop to ask about my life?
My ‘boyfriend’ (we are in our 70s) doesn’t seem to be able to stop talking about his past life, but never stops to hear any stories about my own. I know a lot about him, but what does he know about me?
It feels as though he’s not interested enough to ask and listen. I have mentioned the fact I can’t get a word in edgeways to the point where I have to put my hand up to speak. I can get so frustrated I shout. He’s then quiet for a while, but soon starts repeating stuff.
He has a heart of gold and will do any (practical) thing for me. He assumes we’ll get married, but hasn’t actually asked and I’d like to be able to say yes when he does.
But he frustrates me so much. So — apart from gaffer tape — how else can I stop his constant talking about himself? How to get him to show a bit of interest in me?
My first thought was a tolerant one along the lines of, ‘Well, we all have our flaws’ — and that plenty of older people would be happy to have a companion with a ‘heart of gold’.
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Then I reflected that the man you describe would drive anyone crazy! He might well be kind and devoted, but a person who yatters endlessly about themself is just selfish.
What can you do? Perhaps devise a game of 25 questions — telling him this is non-negotiable and since he won’t stop talking about himself, you might as well have some fun.
The questions are for both of you to answer and should range from current things (like ‘my favourite tipple’) to facts from the past (‘Where did I go to school?’).
You each have to answer the questions (you could do half one night, half the next), writing down the answers, then ‘marking’ them. I’m hoping it might be a small, sharp shock if he realises he knows little. Or you might discover he knows more than you think.
Many of us know somebody who fits your description, always turning the conversation back to himself/herself. You can love them . . . but for how long? Do you want to spend the rest of your days with such a man?
Some people have no choice — but for you it may turn out to be a very big ‘ask’.
I lost my husband, but yearn for a baby
My late husband died four years ago and I hate my life now. We were trying for a baby when he died. I was nearly 40 at the time and he was 45, but he died of a heart attack two months after having his vasectomy reversed.
Now I’m thinking of having a baby with a sperm donor and saying the baby is my late husband’s sperm, so it is his baby.
I see families and single mothers and feel envious. I could be having nice times with my child. I think people will be saying it’s a shame I don’t have a baby and wish I’d taken the sperm donor route just after he died.
But I have been grieving. I’ve been told I am still fertile and consulted an IVF clinic regarding a sperm donor and they said I could visit them to discuss it, but it’s ten months since I contacted them and I have done nothing. I am 44 and know women my age have babies, so it’s not impossible. I feel that I need help to deal with this, as it’s on my mind constantly and I don’t know what to do.
Your email came in April — I replied directly to you advising you to search the internet for facts, personal stories of sperm donors and counselling. It was the middle of lockdown, therefore it would only have been possible for you to look online, but I hope you did.
You probably found the websites of the London Woman’s Clinic and the Manchester Fertility Clinic. But I must stress I am not advocating these specifically, just suggesting you find out as much as you can.
The most important thing now is for you to think carefully about what you really want. You’ve had four years in which to act, and yet you haven’t — and so (respectfully) I wonder whether grief for your late husband is the only reason. That ten months following your call to the IVF clinic is surely significant. Why did you not make an appointment?
Four years ago you endured great anxiety (about your late husband’s ability to father a child) and huge grief when he died. Since then you seem to have locked yourself into a fantasy about a family, which is now leading you to ‘hate’ your life.
It really doesn’t sound as if you are committed to the idea of motherhood. No one can advise you what to do until you have made face-to-face counselling a priority — which can be on a video call.
The website of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has a list of therapists and that’s where you should begin. And remember you could still work to allow needy children into your life.
And finally... Why I won’t sugar-coat my advice
Last week’s extraordinary, upsetting main letter from ‘James’ drew a large response from readers appalled by the way he is treated and wishing for him to break free.
But it is vital to understand that when somebody’s very soul is so totally hammered by events and actions (past and present) it’s so hard to find the will and courage to act.
Difficult, but not impossible. That’s why I suggested a course of action for James and informed him that coercive control was outlawed in 2015.
Still, two or three readers accused me of writing an ‘appalling’ reply and ‘victim-shaming.’ One suggested I might be ‘ashamed’ of telling James that he must capitulate no longer but act.
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 [email protected]
A pseudonym will be used if you wish.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
I have two points here. The first is this: if you disagree with something I’ve written, you are entitled to say so. But is it too much to ask for politeness?
As human as those who write to this column, I do my best.
In the middle of lockdown, I replied tartly to a very rude email from a reader who insulted the writer of a letter on my page. My protective indignation was justified, but I should have thought twice about how I expressed it. And so should all of us.
Second: I’m not in the business of dispensing what the writer Rosamond Lehmann called ‘that clucking, indulgent pity whereby all mankind is castrated and dignity and humanity diminished to its swaddling-bands’.
I will not accept everybody must remain a ’victim’ — beaten by what happened in their past. I could write, ‘Oh poor you, how awful, I’m so sorry’ all the time. But I won’t. Sometimes some caring ‘tough love’ is exactly what is needed.
I’m glad to report that I’ve heard back from James — and also from a concerned family member who told me more and praised my ‘perfect reply’.
With dignity, James tells me, ‘I am grateful’, vows to put a first step in place and promises to keep in touch. I admire him — and hope he does.