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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - February 2012

It could be you ....




Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.




A friend has just been widowed

 A friend of ours has just been widowed. Her husband of many decades had been in hospital for some months and so his death was not a surprise, but nonetheless very upsetting.
Both she and her husband had children from first marriages, all of whom were school children when our friends met, but they had none together. The hardest thing for her to come to terms with at present is the worry that she might lose contact with her stepdaughter, who she is deeply fond of and who has been most supportive in the past months and following her father’s death.

It is often the most natural thing, after some years, to look upon your step-children as part of your family, even adult ones. I would hate for my own step-children to lose contact if I were without my husband. The pain of bereavement is something that every remaining spouse has to get through, but in the case of the step-parent the complications can mount.

In the case of adult step-children, only your own efforts are in your control. It is then up to the person you are contacting to respond. Some will happily do that but others will quietly get on with their own lives and not keep in touch. The link in the chain will have been lost with the death of their parent. Sometimes it is too painful a reminder of happier times for them to maintain contact with their parent’s husband or wife and sometimes they will have too much on their minds which is more pressing. When the son or daughter has not normally been a natural communicator with their own parent, things do get a little more tricky. In some families there is a tendency to bear a grudge against a parent who left the family home when they were small, or with a new wife or partner for ‘taking him/her away from us’ – occasionally mistakenly. One would hope that those feelings, natural though they are, after a year or two, would ease or be resolved and that there would be a gradual rebuilding of the child/parent relationship including a slow acceptance of the new person in their parent’s life.

This doesn’t mean to say that one should be passive and let go if that is not what you wish. The grandchildren especially might have built a strong bond over the years that would be wrong to break. I have noticed how close my husband is to my own grandchildren and I certainly feel a strong bond with his. They all seem to feel it is completely natural to have an extended rank of grandparents and are totally open and loving to every one of us. So, it is important for grandchildren to try and keep the lines of communication open. They can be helped with the loss of a grandparent enormously if they are able to stay in touch with his or her spouse.

Contact between step-children and step-parents is natural for many who have regularly exchanged letters or cards at Christmas and on birthdays. With email it is even easier to keep in touch. (Though there is a recent report which says younger people are no longer using email to contact friends, texting on their mobile/cell phone and various social networking sites are more popluar; Facebook and Twitter being the obvious ones.) But, all the same, to send greetings to them regularly in the way you always have is the best thing you can do. If, on reflection, the contact was always through their parent, try to remember how often. Tell them how fond you are of them, how important they are to you, and that you really hope not to lose touch. Let them know that an email or call from them occasionally would be most welcome, reassuring and appreciated. Ask them what they feel they would prefer, once the mourning period is over. Find out if they would like more contact while they are coming to terms with their parental loss or less. Suggest you call or email them in a week or two – or whatever seems appropriate - and maintain your side of the connection, sending cards for birthdays etc and invitations to visit as often as was normal before. This can always be adjusted as time goes on and everyone has settled down. This, for the widow or widower, will be a matter of finding a new normality, as your life will have changed enormously with the death of your spouse.

Remember that, although your own need for contact with them in the early weeks could be through your need to connect in some way your lost partner, your own memories will always be the mainstay of your progress through grief and healing after such a loss.

Our friend had spent some time before her husband died living in their home alone. All this time she was worrying, missing him and feeling lonely. No amount of attention, from even the most attentive and loving of children, can stop those feelings. It feels so awful to know that one has to go through all of them rather than finding a way around. They cannot be avoided. But even when one knows there will be an inevitable end point, the shock, when it happens cannot be lessened. I suggested that she be kind to herself and, like a kind mother (her internal parent!), allow herself to grieve. To feel so wretched and so lonely, to cry, to feel wakeful at night and all of the other things associated with great loss, are all, in these circumstances, normal. She needs to be watchful that she tries to eat and drink, little and often, even if not very hungry. She will use up energy grieving even if she feels she has done nothing but sit and stare all day - that too is 'normal'.

Our friend replied that she has been thinking about how often she was in touch with her stepchildren and realized that they usually contacted their father and that her own children have managed to get back to their own routines quite easily. She can understand the difference between their situation and her own and sees this as a healthy move for them. She added that on recollection, in the time she has spent caring for her husband she has started to grieve but feels she has neglected some of her friends and relatives due to time and energy constraints. Now she can see that, in time, she can look forward to catching up with them in a relaxed way.

It sounds as though she is working through her grief in an open and healthy way also. And she is already seeing how life can take on a new and different pattern and still be worthwhile.



You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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