I’m 72 with three adult children. One, David, was born with severe disability. I gave up my job to look after him until he was 15, with my supportive, loving husband to help.
After our son went into special care (15 years ago), my husband and I had heart attacks due to stress and grief. Tragically, my husband didn’t survive.
Two years later, my eldest son, Sam, met a girl from a different part of England. Glad to see him happy, I offered them our converted loft, where they stayed for four years rent-free.
I welcomed their decision to marry, but wanted his brother there; he, however, went along with his fiancee Gemma’s decision not to invite David.
For three months I pleaded. It was only when I threatened not to come that they allowed David to attend. With carers present, he was no trouble.
Gemma not respecting our sacred family values marked a new chapter in our family life. My daughter, Sally, and I felt marginalised and Sam’s contact with poor David was severed.
Progressively, Gemma alienated Sam’s friends, too. Then she didn’t like London despite having a good job — and started talking about a move back to her home town.
Last year, I was diagnosed with lung cancer and endured gruelling treatment. It was a lonely journey intensified by Covid isolation. My son didn’t exert himself to help and his wife didn’t ring me once.
Although my daughter lives with me and tries to help, clinical depression doesn’t allow her to function well. In this difficult time my son and his wife finally decided they would move back to her old area. They have no children, but want an even bigger house than the three-bedroom one I helped buy.
I feel very hurt, despite my son’s reassurances he’ll make a three-hour journey in an emergency. Why can’t their decision be postponed to when I am better and not suffering from side-effects of cancer treatment?
I was once a strong person, but no longer. Polish by birth, although I’ve lived here for over 40 years, I’m still attached to the culture where looking after the elderly is natural. My son calls me an emotional freak who hasn’t adjusted to modernity where children lead independent lives away from elderly/sick parents.
Well, I am financially independent and buy all the services that help me get along. What hurts most is the lack of respect and affection from a son who’s totally given in to his wife’s plans. We had some counselling but it didn’t help much.
Recently, after a disagreement, Sam blocked me and Sally on social media, so in case of emergency there is no contact. Am I a selfish old woman?
This week Bel answers a question from a woman who questions why her son always takes his wife’s side
Your unhappy letter raises a problem which increasingly affects millions of families, and will become more acute as people live for much longer while young people are used to moving around with ease.
You mention your Polish culture; those family values I too have always associated with Eastern Europe, but (who knows?) life might also be changing there.
Thought of the day
All things pass / A sunrise does not last all morning / All things pass / A cloudburst does not last all day / All things pass / Nor a sunset all night / All things pass / What always changes? / Earth . . . sky . . . thunder . . . mountain . . . water . . . wind . . . fire . . . lake / These change/ And if these do not last / Do man’s visions last?
Lao-Tzu (Chinese poet and philosopher, sixth century BC)
The world whirls onwards and it’s easy for us to feel left behind. Love for the ‘sacred’ is not always shared.
I feel immense sympathy for this predicament, as well as for the sadness of your life: caring for David all those years, losing your husband, then witnessing your daughter’s ongoing depression.
Like you, I would have been upset if my daughter-in-law-to-be had shown so little empathy towards my severely disabled son.
But (to be fair) we might realise many people are terrified of acute disability and comprehend her anxiety that he might shout out or otherwise disrupt things. Still, my heart understands why you were desperate to have him present at your eldest son’s wedding.
On the other hand, your three-month battle over the issue ending up in a form of emotional blackmail (let’s be honest) ensured your relationship with Gemma would never be good.
Wars between mothers and daughters-in-law are sadly very common. Family counselling can help — or not, as you have found.
But the scenario you describe — where the wife’s goal seems to be to corral her husband for herself and herself alone is all too common. So is the mutual resentment that seems to doom all hope of balance, let alone reconciliation.
At the end of your unedited email you ask me to ‘retain all the original names given in my letter’. This request is so unusual it raises an uncomfortable question about the depth of your anger with the couple and whether you want things to be better — or to burn all bridges by naming and shaming.
I have chosen to change the names because, in truth, I want to save you from yourself.
It’s hard to know what you can do now to mend this sad situation, since harsh words have led to your son distancing himself on social media. But try not to make it worse. Surely you still have email and telephone contact details?
Some fortitude is required to get your relationship back on any sort of track — so please don’t collude in writing Sam out of your life.
I understand why you can’t accept his attitude, but most sons will ultimately side with their wives — and there’s little to be done about it.
Vulnerable, confused and frightened as you are, you need to lean on others, as you’ve started to do with a network of paid help. What about friends? I trust you’ve done everything to seek treatment for your daughter and perhaps it would distract you from Sam and Gemma if you were to make that a priority now. Consult your doctor about mental health services in your area and look at the website for MIND (mind.org.uk).
I am sorry equally for your bewildered hurt and your anger, but I beg you not to make it worse by continuing to express feelings which will only shore up the couple’s decision to leave.
Must I tell the truth about an old flame?
Having welcomed our first grandchild, celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and my 60th birthday, 2021 has been a pretty good year for me — well, until now.
A few weeks back, I had a message from a very old boyfriend who’d found me on Facebook.
I’m ashamed to say that when I was younger I had many on-off relationships and one-night stands, but when I met my husband-to-be something clicked — wow, this was different.
A couple of weeks after we met, he went away on a business trip. After yet another phone call from my on-off boyfriend I decided to meet him and finish it for good, telling him I’d met someone else.
I did so, but not before stupidly having sex with him one last time. When my now husband got back from his trip, I realised just how much I had fallen for him — and so (fearing he would dump me) did not tell him about my mistake. And never did.
Then all these years later, my old boyfriend reappears via Facebook, suggesting we could meet up. I have no idea how he found me, as he would not have known my married name — and I haven’t blocked him, as it might prompt him to try to find my husband.
He’s already made comments like: ‘Did you ever tell your husband what happened? Hope he doesn’t find out, ha ha.’
I’m terrified he might try to message my husband. Even my best friend would be horrified if I told her about this.
Should I tell my husband after all these years? I would really appreciate it if you could give me some advice, as I’m worrying myself to death.
Your story seems pretty harmless and it mystifies me that your ‘best friend would be horrified’ by it — your offence is hardly heinous.
Over 35 years ago, you had farewell sex with a guy you weren’t in love with — and you couldn’t possibly have known you’d end up spending your life with the new man who had the ‘wow’ factor we call love.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
I’ve always believed in selective honesty and understand why you didn’t confess.
The time to have done so would have been before your marriage, but you felt anxious and ashamed, so kept shtum.
Perhaps your instinct whispered that the man you love would have been sexually possessive and angry.
I understand that — and fear that, if it was true, it might be worse now and he will feel betrayed that you kept the secret for so long.
But no wonder you dumped your old boyfriend (OB); you must have known he would always be a horrible person — as demonstrated by his unpleasant messages on Facebook now. There are two ways forward with this problem and I can only tell you what I’d do. Some will disapprove, but I still wouldn’t be honest . . . yet.
My strategy would be to write (pleasantly and calmly) to OB, saying: ‘Gosh . . . such a long time . . . wild youth long gone etc . . . and of course I told husband years ago and it’s all water under the bridge . . . and I hope you are thriving and happy, but we can’t possibly meet up because, between ourselves, awful ill health and family issues . . . no details because too sad to disclose . . . goodbye and stay well.’
Something like that. If he persists, I’d suggest sadly, but still calmly, that all this is upsetting, so you’d better block each other.
If he happens to message your husband (unlikely, I reckon), I would then casually dismiss OB as a crank you once knew who carried a torch and didn’t like being cold-shouldered. You never mentioned him because he didn’t matter then — and still doesn’t.
And finally… Coping with the agony of suicide
Last week’s letter from ‘Lynne’ about the terrible grief of her family after her nephew’s suicide prompted understandable sympathy from readers.
The Samaritans record that in 2020 in England the male suicide rate was 15.3 per 100,000 (compared with the female rate of 4.9 per 100,000) and men aged 45-49 continue to have the highest suicide rate (23.8 per 100,000). Why men?
My instinct suggests women are more likely to confide in each other. To find out more, visit samaritans.org.
I can also recommend the late Lewis Wolpert’s book Malignant Sadness for valuable insights.
A couple of readers asked for more websites. Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (uksobs.org) has a national helpline (0300 111 5065) and support groups.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
Papyrus (papyrus-uk.org) is a charity dedicated to the prevention of young (under 35) suicides, and their ‘hopeline’ is 0800 068 4141.
Patricia Thomas MBE told me about a new organisation she helped launch this year, Suicide Bereaved Community (suicidebereaved.org).
She wrote: ‘Our intention is to offer an additional dimension of support for those who are longer-term bereaved and do not need the level of provision of the early months/years — regular counselling/group meetings — but still want a way to “touch base” with others who understand, as need arises.
‘After a suicide bereavement you move along “with” rather than “from” — it recedes but never goes away — and carry a measure of vulnerability.’
Fiona wrote movingly, telling me her feelings on the ninth anniversary of her son’s suicide. ‘What has helped me most is learning to focus, not on his tragic death, but on the wonderful 28 years when this gorgeous, funny, impulsive and big-hearted man was in my life.
‘Nothing can ever take that treasure from me. I feel I have “moved on” and taken him with me, because I could not have done so without him.’