Q: My husband battled several health problems the last two years. My entire identity became wrapped up in caring for him. Now that the struggle is over, I feel empty and lost as well as grieved. I honestly don't know where to turn or what to do next.
Jim: I'm sorry to hear of your loss. The death of any loved one is difficult, especially when the survivor has been the primary caregiver.
You can take a proactive approach to mourning -- but be gentle and patient with yourself and the process. While grief is never "fully done" there are some essential aspects of growing and becoming well again. Pace yourself and reach out for safe and helpful relationships. Caring people can help tremendously as you face the following four essentials in your journey:
Accept the reality of the loss. It's helpful to spend time with friends and loved ones openly talking about the deceased person or the circumstances surrounding the death.
Experience the pain of grief. The only way to overcome grief is to move with and through it daily as the feelings ebb and flow. Fully experiencing the pain -- most often through tears or some form of expression -- provides genuine relief.
Adjust to an environment in which your loved one is missing. Much of your routine needs to now be recalibrated. Consider getting a pet if you don't have one. Nature, music, worship and regularly scheduled calls to close friends can be practical helps.
Invest the emotional energy you have in healthy and life-giving relationships. The goal is not to forget your loved one; it's to reach the point where you can remember and honor without being halted in your own living.
Again, the important thing is to allow yourself time and space to grieve and grow. I wish you the best.
Q: I got married because I was in love with my (now) wife. I wasn't figuring on her parents and siblings becoming a major part of my life as well. What are my relational obligations to my in-laws?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Whatever the specifics of your situation, I think it's unfortunate that you feel this way. I know you are hurting. But I'm also aware that your experience is fairly common.
Like it or not, your wife's family is connected to her -- and now also you. When you married, you became part of another family with its own set of values and expectations. Loving your wife means respecting those expectations about time with her family -- within limits, of course. Expectations need to be discussed so that you can work together to discover solutions that you both feel good about.
The old saying "good fences make good neighbors" may apply. You and your wife need to agree upon and establish reasonable boundaries. Once those limits are communicated clearly, you must stand together in enforcing them.
Here are three things that "honoring" your in-laws does NOT mean:
It doesn't require that you ignore your own feelings, desires, preferences and needs in order to "do things their way."
It doesn't mean that you must permit them to disrespect, control or manipulate you for their own selfish ends.
It doesn't entail "obeying" all their "parental" requests or requirements -- which, in some instances and with some in-laws, may get pretty crazy.
Really, this isn't so much an in-law problem as a marital problem. Before the situation escalates any further, I encourage you and your wife to speak together with a qualified therapist. You can start by calling our counseling department for a free consultation at 1-855-771-HELP (4357). Bottom line: You both need to agree that your marriage is the priority -- and you are a team.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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