Distant Daughter
May 9, 2014

Dear Theo, Are there generational approaches to grieving?? My dad died abruptly this summer, and Mom lives several states away from any of us kids. Whenever I call, and ask, "How are you," she is "fine," and only wants to talk about me and the grandkids. I know she has friends and a busy life, but... well, I'm worried about her, and don't know how to show it if she is "fine."

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So sorry for your loss, Distant Daughter. It's always hard to lose a parent, but a sudden death brings its own particular sorrows. May God console you and give you peace.

You named it, I think. There are indeed generational differences when it comes to how we grieve. Many people of the WWII “greatest generation,” for example, were brought up to take things in stride and  keep a stiff upper lip. For them there's no sense talking about your feelings. Things happen, you deal with them, and you go on. Exploring what's going on inside the soul and psyche just seems like a waste of good energy to them.

This doesn't mean that people of a different generational sensibility aren't feeling sad or lonely, just that they don't want to share that with anyone. Is this healthy? It might be, it might not be, but there's no way to know for sure. Your Mom is far away, and she isn't about to let you know! All you can go on is the fact that she seems to be doing okay, seeing her friends, carrying on with her busy life. It could well be that she really is fine.

I don't know which generation you belong to, but mine got processing our feelings drilled into us. As a result, people like me (and maybe you?) sometimes get over-worried about those who don't explore them. We may think something's wrong when it isn't. There's always a chance she might be repressing her grief or dealing with it in unhealthy ways, of course. I don't think it's wrong of you to keep watching for signs of that--if she goes silent, or radically changes her usual habits and patterns, etc. It's not bad to keep asking her how she's doing either. Who knows? Maybe someday, sooner or later, she'll be ready to tell you.

Although she doesn't want to talk about her feelings about the death of your Dad, at least not right now, her refusal may not extend to simply talking about your Dad. She may welcome casual conversation about him, offhand remembrances, references to when you did this or that with him, questions about him only she may have the answers to—always keeping the conversation light and natural. Anything that seems planned or ponderous might meet with resistance. Don't ask her how she feels, ask her about her husband and your father. See if that goes better.

If you continue to be really worried about her, maybe you could ask one of her friends how they think she's doing. But that could bring problems of its own. If your Mom really is fine, dealing with you Dad's death in her own way, she might not take kindly to your checking up on her!

Maybe the best thing you can do is pray for her. Tell her you're thinking of her, remembering her in your prayers, thanking God for your Dad's life and love, etc. Keep in close contact. Respect her reluctance to process her feelings. By all means, tell her what she wants to know—how you and the grandkids are! Try to make your dad a normal topic of conversation between you. (You didn't say how you are doing, but this could help you too.)

Bless you!

Theo

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