Tell Me About It: I feel everything in my life has been a lie – my mother is dating and says her love for my (late) father was like that for a brother
My father died two years ago. He was in his mid-60s and had suffered from a chronic health condition throughout his whole life, a condition which I have inherited, although to a lesser severity. His death was expected, however, nonetheless as his son and only child I was devastated and experienced extreme grief for several months.
I am currently single, but I was not alone, I had my mother, we have always been a close family and myself and her suffered our loss together. Just before Christmas she told me she was dating a man who lives in our town. He is someone I know of but not very well. I do know, however, that he has been a bachelor his whole life and is quite well respected in the area. I was quietly unhappy about this announcement but I did understand that she has many years left and has every right to choose how she lives her life and who she spends her time with.
A couple of months ago I met my uncle for a few pints. After one too many he told me my mother had dated this new man throughout her late teenage years and that she was heartbroken when he finished with her in order to emigrate for a number of years to find work abroad. I was very upset to hear this information and did not mention it to her for a few weeks. When I asked her about it, she was upfront and honest. She told me this man was the love of her life and there was never a time she did not love him. She said her love for my father was almost like that for an older brother. She said my father always knew he was not her first choice of husband and accepted this. She said that while she never had a physical affair with this man at any stage during her marriage, she had spent considerable time with him in the latter years of my dad’s life.
I have not spoken to her since that conversation, I feel that everything in my life has been a lie, I believe that myself and my father deserved more. I no longer feel grief, I just feel angry and I do not know how I can ever face her again. I have considered giving her the ultimatum of me or her boyfriend.
You have discovered that relationships are complex and often have an integrity to them that is hard to understand from the outside. Your mother has told you that your father was aware that her heart was not completely his and yet he chose to have a life and a family with her that appears to have been very successful. His love for your mother was such that he was able to be generous and expansive in his care for her and it appears that this extended to you and your family life was secure and encompassing.
Your grief is a testament to that huge loss, and with grief comes anger at the untimely death, so it may currently be difficult to separate out fully what your anger is about. Not speaking to your mother can only complicate and exacerbate your situation. You need her to help you understand more about your view of her love and devotion to you, as you currently suspect that you got less than she could have offered.
There is a danger that you are suffering because of something that is not true. As our thoughts generally have a negative bias, it is likely that yours about your mother will tend in this direction. Without anyone to challenge these thoughts, you may arrive at a very negative conclusion that could be completely wrong. What you do know is that when you ask your mother questions, she will be forthright, and this offers you the best opportunity to get a more complete story of your family’s history. Your suggestion of an ultimatum demonstrates just how much you need to know that she loves you unconditionally and the importance of this should not be underestimated – prioritise this and be brave enough to engage with her about it, but issuing an ultimatum is a very drastic step from which there may be no return.
Of course, love works both ways and she too deserves to be loved and understood in a way that goes beyond her role as your mother. Of course, this is hugely difficult, and it may take a long time for you both to find the old, easy closeness but it is definitely worth pursuing. The starting point is to resume communication immediately, commit to the long haul of having each other’s back and then slowly discover each other in a more mature way. You will need to get to know your mum’s boyfriend, but that can happen over time so that your grief process is allowed to unfold.
Your Dad’s legacy of unconditional love and support needs to be understood as a choice he made in full awareness and acknowledged as a source of great strength. Be compassionate with yourself also, allow yourself some time to process your grief and shock but then engage with your family so that its heritage of closeness and support is not lost but leaned into in this time of change.