“My son has shut down emotionally after the death of his mother.”
Dear Annie,I have three teenage sons, 18, 15 and 13. My wife died a little while ago in a road accident and I need advice my eldest son and youngest talk openly but the middle one shuts himself in his room and ignores me. He also swears at me telling me to f*** off etc -- I'm really worried about him as he won't talk to me at all anymore. My eldest son is leaving to university soon and I know he and the middle son have talked -- I have tried being affectionate towards the middle son, ruffling his hair and hugging him like his mother used to, but the only person he will accept any kind of affection from is his brother. He never comes home on time and I know he drinks sometimes at the weekends. I would be happy for any advice...
Dear Sad Dad,
I'm so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you and your boys. You are personally dealing with so much right now. I admire you for trying to do everything you can to help your family piece your lives together again.
I think the first best thing you can do is to give yourself permission not to be "super dad." You're a human being and you're hurting terribly right now. Before you can help your sons you need to help their dad. That means getting yourself to a grief counselor, on your own... Because you need someone with whom you can talk "openly and honestly" about your tragic loss.
As for your three sons... People deal with loss in their own way. It's a very a good thing that your eldest and your youngest sons "talk openly" about what's happened and how they're feeling. It's also very good that your middle son is able to talk with his older brother. But you cannot assume that any of the boys would not benefit from some time with a counselor... After all, the death of a parent is a life-altering experience, especially for an adolescent child.
My own father died suddenly when I was 15. I was not able to talk about it (or about him for quite a while). And like your middle son, I too rejected any adult attempts at affection. Your son's reaction is not uncommon. He is probably rejecting tenderness because he's hurting so much... Accepting your affection makes him feel vulnerable and frankly, he's afraid that if he lets down his guard he will be overwhelmed with his sadness. Don't take his rejection personally. But don't withdraw from him either. Make yourself available for him on HIS terms.
My best advice for you is to seek some professional help for yourself and for your boys. Grief counseling is definitely in order. I'd strongly suggest that you get in touch with a grief counselor who has experience working with teens and with families.
You have all been impacted by your wife's death. One way you can honor her memory is by giving all three of your boys the benefit of a dad who is taking care of himself. And set up a family session with a counselor...
I would also suggest that when you're ready, that you resume some of the "normal" family activities you've enjoyed together in the past. Prepare meals, visit with people you care about. Your life can't be just about grieving. Your sons can honor their mother's memory in many ways... Carrying on some of her holiday traditions may be one way. With professional help you can begin the healing process... And then, in time, when you're ready, little by little, you can begin to move forward again, as a family.
I wish you well. I hope this helps.
Please write to me any time. I care about you and your family.