HI CAROLYN: My father passed away a few months ago, and I’ve been having difficulties with my mother ever since. Our relationship has become strained as a result of our different grieving styles (hers — jetting off to Paris, buying a new luxury car, having substantial cosmetic surgery). Although I understand we all deal with death in our own unique ways, I can’t seem to grasp this as a mourning period for her. Although I’m an adult and on my own for the most part, I still feel, well, abandoned and sometimes like I’ve lost both parents.
DEAR SMARTING: I am sorry about your father. I am sorry, too, that you are alone in your grief.
But if you want your mom back, you’re going to have to stop judging her. Unless your mom stood you up to go to Paris, bought the car with your money or had surgery to erase any family resemblance, she really hasn’t hurt you.
You do claim to understand that people grieve in different ways, but you’ll crack a tooth if you clench any harder when you say it. Clearly, you think the widow is being excessively merry, dishonoring your dad’s memory and, therefore, unsettling you, I imagine profoundly. And I can see how you’d see that.
I also suspect, though, given the clenching, that you’ve thrown Paris in her new face — which would have made her defensive when you really just wanted support. To tell her that you feel alone, the best words are, “Mom, I feel alone.”
Unfortunately, it’s also not up to you to decide what memory your mom is supposed to honor. Not only will she grieve in her own way — and self-indulgence is hardly abnormal — but she’s also mourning a man you don’t fully know. Where you saw Daddy, she saw a husband, and those are two different things.
Look through her eyes and ask her to look through yours. You might see why she’d be trying to outrun her grief, or even feeling a kind of release.
Or you might see a selfish, insensitive woman, and that would present you with a choice: Either accept Mom as she is — or let go and grieve for her, too.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.