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BEL MOONEY: Why do I feel guilty about my toxic late husband? 

Dear Bel,

My late husband and I parted acrimoniously in 2017, after a long history of his drinking and domestic violence. When some of his financial misdeeds first came to light, his violence towards me only escalated.

He couldn’t stop drinking, and that’s what ultimately ended a long marriage. He’d also racked up ludicrous debts. Eighteen months later, he died suddenly from an alcohol-related illness. My three children had not seen him for months.

Thought of the day

I play it cool, and dig all jive,

That’s the reason I stay alive.

My motto, as I live and learn,

Is dig and be dug,

In return.

From Motto by Langston Hughes, African-American poet (February 1, 1902-1967).

My problem concerns my ex-husband’s parents. While I can understand his mother’s anger towards me and her deep sadness over her loss, the children and I have found it hard to deal with their nastiness.

They totally stripped his flat of all possessions, which they refused to return. No one has contacted the children, despite the fact that some cousins came to our house the weekend after his death.

Since his passing I have been through his bank statements and found very high credit card spending — as much as £10,000 in one month. He also put a car purchase on the mortgage without telling me. I feel very sad at his death, but I’m also angry that I am left with these bad memories.

I feel most of my marriage was a complete sham — given that much of what he did financially is a complete mystery to me and led to suffering for the children, both when he was alive and now. They know his shortcomings but still love him — and I respect that.

I’d be very grateful for advice as I am racked by feelings of guilt complicated by anger. This is very hard on the children, especially given the estrangement from their paternal family.

JASMEEN

This week Bel advises a reader who is racked with feelings of guilt and anger towards her late ex-husband, after a long history of his drinking and domestic violence

You have had so much to contend with — and, without going into detail, I suspect some of the customs and expectations within your particular cultural tradition might have made things worse for you.

That said, this devastating and confusing cocktail of grief, guilt, disappointment and rage is not uncommon, and knows no national or cultural boundaries.

Your mention of ‘guilt’ is interesting — given that most women would think such a toxic marriage had to be ended. I suspect you held out for quite a long time, in spite of your husband’s behaviour, because you believed in the institution of marriage. Did you also fear the shame of separation?

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

Many of us invest a huge amount of energy, hope, expectation and pride in our marriages — quite apart from the love, which (ideally) kicks the whole thing off. It is hard and painful to acknowledge the end of all that.

In addition, you had to bear the knowledge that your husband’s family was furious with you for shaming him in public (by choosing to end the marriage) — an anger that was later compounded by shock and grief when he died.

It seems ironic, as well as tragic, that your husband has left the two women who mattered most in his life (his mother and you) each afflicted by a similar mixture of anger, grief and shame.

Of course, his mother blames you for ending the marriage. But, deep down, perhaps she is also mortified by her son for the behaviour which led to that outcome.

Such a feeling would be hard, if not impossible, for her to admit. Because of that, her anger with you is redoubled — and somehow your poor children have been made to pay the price as well.

What can you do? Only move forward with your children, doing the best for them — and never criticising their father in their hearing.

I admire your respect for their love. As time passes, it might be good for you to get in touch with one or two of their favourite cousins, explaining that you respect their whole family and dearly wish your children to be a part of it.

I have no idea of the ages of your children, but if they are old enough, the impetus could come from them. Slowly, slowly, some contact with members of their paternal family might be re-established.

If it is not, then I hope you have ample support from your family and friends. Your long nightmare of a marriage is over, and I trust you have the means to re-create a stable family life free from stress and financial worry.

Try to put your bad memories in an imaginary box and close the lid. You could even write a letter to your late husband, explaining how you feel, but wishing him peace, then burn it and watch the smoke drift away, quietly glad that you have your own future now.

I yearn to be in my daughters’ lives

Dear Bel,

I am 79, widowed with two daughters and four grandchildren. My husband’s death was quite sudden, and I admit I did not cope very well with the loss. We had been married 54 years.

My elder daughter (for reasons known only to herself) decided to sever all ties with me, so I lost not just my husband but my daughter as well. My younger daughter leads a very busy life and, last time we spoke on the phone, she said: ‘I’m busy this weekend. Hope the morphine helps!’

I’m housebound, needing replacement hips and knees. The morphine is for the chronic pain of arthritis.

Her next contact was an email, advising me of a ‘helping hands’ company — where you pay a stranger to help you get in and out of the bath. I try not to think what would happen if I had a stroke or dementia, and take my hat off to the 600 people a day, who (according to Carers UK) leave their jobs because of their caring role.

That email was in November. Since then, Christmas and New Year passed . . . and still I’ve not heard from my daughters. How many other lonely pensioners had cheese and biscuits for Christmas dinner? So which is worse — chronic pain or loneliness? Neither. It’s the feeling there is nobody who cares.

The sad thing is things can never be the same again. I will never forget Christmas 2019. It is still with me. Now my message to my daughters is this: I don’t want to take over your lives — I just long to be a part of them.

LEONORA

Even though I understand how complicated and stressful family life can be, I simply do not understand this cutting off of the old.

I’m not sentimental, nor do I deny some people can become extremely difficult as they age. It’s just that (unless abuse is involved), I believe in the golden rule of treating others as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

Here, we glimpse just one side of a triangle — the other two in shadow. It could be that your elder daughter perceives neglect by a mother too focused on her husband, and the younger might complain of too many demands from a grieving mother, until she simply had to step back. Who knows what the truth is?

You recognise your elder daughter must have had reasons to sever contact with you after the death of her father — and I can’t help wondering whether, in your heart, painful though it may be, you do have an inkling why. Some actions seem mysterious and yet can, with effort and pain, generally be traced back to a source that may be long distant.

It sounds as if you might have had a breakdown after your husband’s death, and are still reeling to find yourself alone. Whatever the family dynamics were — Was your late husband close to your daughters? Were you involved with those four grandchildren . . . or not? — you are left having to face cruel isolation when in such poor health.

The immediate issue is surely what you can do to make your life better.

Obviously, the first thing would be to somehow have regular contact with your daughters. I fear you may have focused so much on the younger (given your estrangement from the elder) that she is rendered inadequate by guilt. We are all ‘busy’, after all. But your throwaway remark about carers, and your irritated dismissal of her suggestion about the ‘helping hands’ company, suggest that you are angry as well as sad.

If your younger daughter has picked this up, she will be all the less likely to visit. I’m not condoning — I’m explaining.

Your letter is handwritten, indicating limited access to the internet (despite that email). Therefore, I suggest you first call Essex County Council Adult Social Care, on 0345 603 7630 (8.45am to 5pm), to organise a care needs assessment. Then Basildon Community Transport Services (01268 465 858) may be able to help you feel less isolated. And why not get in touch with Age UK Befrienders (01268 525 353) to see if they can help?

I can almost hear you protesting that you want your daughters’ attention, not that of others. But please realise that the kindness of strangers can be a glorious force for goodness — and even make up for family neglect.

If you can put some services in place to help, you will have something to tell your younger daughter about.

You could write her a bravely cheerful (yes, I know . . . but try) letter saying how much you would love to be in touch with her sister again, and can she help?

If you feel that there are things to explain, then do so, always remember that it is far better to explain than complain, and to approach rather than reproach. Many families forget how to talk to each other, but it’s never too late to start.

And if any readers in Essex are interested in volunteering, go to Age UK’s Home Befriender. Maybe you can help ‘Leonora’.

And finally… How I broke my addiction to Facebook

It might have been the angel that did it. Or perhaps the pile of handwritten readers’ letters and cards it was among — all speaking directly to me with problems and thoughts and good wishes.

But one day I realised that if I was to continue being true to the kind person they addressed, I had to give up a totally addictive habit that made me mean. I’m talking about Facebook.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

It was a frosty day when I started on the package forwarded by our lovely Edwina in the office. Warm wishes dating back to Christmas touched me deeply, especially the little card which said: ‘Thank you for your column, hope you enjoy this angel.’

No name. The little bead charm sat in my palm, meant (I know) to bring me luck.

I’d been engaged with my habitual pointless activity of obsessively checking Facebook and squabbling with bitter, ‘woke’ folk who seem to hate what I hold dear — like our country and Monarchy. Angry, I posted something unkind (so easy to do) which I deleted immediately. But I felt sorry — and tarnished by it all.

And there was that anonymous reader’s sweet little gift in my hand, twinkling and telling me to stop — for the sake of my soul. The point is, I’m forever telling you that you can take control of your own lives, yet there I was, in the grip of a stupid fixation. I’ve never been addicted to anything before, so it had to stop.

So far, it’s more than two weeks — and I have more time to enjoy life peacefully, without forever feeling I have to post a comment or a photograph online. Such a release!

The angel (thank you, dear reader) is now pinned to my headboard and February is the time for planting seeds. I’m so grateful for this seed of independence and hope you might try it, too.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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