Question

My husband and his then-girlfriend had a baby when they were teenagers. They placed this child for adoption and their teenage relationship didn’t last long after that and they broke up. Forty years later, this daughter contacted my husband, they met, we met, we get along, she and her husband come to family gatherings, and it’s all been good. My husband was recently diagnosed with stage four liver cancer and we are now in the throes of everything that comes with that. I had to leave home for a brief time because my mother was dying and while I was away, his daughter called him to say that her biological mother, “wants the three of them to meet up.” My husband agreed that it would be alright, although he was bewildered by the request.

I, on the other hand, felt a degree of anger over the plan. I felt disrespected by the request because my input was not considered, nor my feelings. She also timed it so I wasn’t in town. I suspected the daughter wanted a selfie of the three of them for her feature wall (which is a large and rather narcissistic display of self-portraits she has collected over the years). I’m trying not to hang on to my annoyance of what I consider some manipulative and not totally truthful behavior on the part of the daughter. It seemed like she was determined to have the selfie before my husband passed away and that was her focus and goal as opposed to how we might feel about such an unwanted and uncomfortable meet-up. I don’t know how to respond.

Answer

I can see why you’re struggling on several levels with this painful situation. First of all, I’m terribly sorry you’re losing your husband to cancer. It’s hard enough to make decisions about your future when facing a terminal disease without having to deal with additional family drama. There’s no doubt you didn’t plan to spend your final weeks and months of your husband’s life like this. Let’s talk about how you can handle this and reclaim some peace.

His daughter might very well be struggling with losing her father and wanting to hold on to some semblance of biological family connectedness that never was. I know the primal longings for biological parents is real for many children who lose contact with them. While I certainly have compassion for her losses, her way of handling this was certainly immature and inconsiderate.

Likewise, your husband is also in a vulnerable position of facing the end of his life and reconciling all of his relationships and life decisions, which certainly include his ex-girlfriend and their daughter. He likely feels caught in the middle and doesn’t know how to respond to either side. Since he agreed to go, it might important to slow things down to better understand what this whole situation meant to him. You might discover that he agreed to it out of a desire to make peace with his past. He may have wanted to be there for his daughter since he wasn’t able to be there for her as she grew up. Or, it could simply be that he felt ambushed and didn’t have time to fully process it. Instead of becoming reactive and angry, see what this meant for him and understand better why he agreed to it.

It seems that you’re mostly upset that this daughter took advantage of an opening during a terribly difficult time in your lives. And, of course, it’s upsetting that she would orchestrate these individuals to make it look like something it never was. To reclaim your peace, it’s important to seriously consider if addressing this will matter to your relationships with your husband and his daughter.

If you and your husband are united in your feelings about what happened, then you could both approach his daughter and let her know that this was insensitive and hurtful. If you need her to dispose of the photo, then you can certainly make that request. Otherwise, it may be enough to communicate with her the impact this had on both of you and give her a chance to respond. Sometimes when people are grieving, they can become so narrow in their focus that they’re unaware of how their actions impact those around them. Everyone is struggling right now, so giving everyone the benefit of the doubt right now can help. You don’t need to accuse her or criticize her, but you can let her know how difficult this was for both of you.

Of course, if you and your husband aren’t united in this approach, then it’s more important for you and him to work things out between you. You want to have peace with him in his final days on earth, so make your relationship resolution the priority.

After you work things out with your husband, you may determine that you have nothing more to say to his daughter and ex-girlfriend. You may, as the old saying goes, “suck out the venom instead of chasing the snake.” Regardless of how you handle this, make sure you don’t let this painful event become the outlet for the pain, grief, and powerless you feel over losing your husband. It’s common to distract ourselves in our grief so we don’t have to sit with the vulnerable and overwhelming feelings of loss. Anger and resentment are common distractions that keep you from feeling the softer feelings you and your husband both need to share with each other. You both need this time with each other, and it would be a tragedy to stay focused on this event in the final days of his life.

If you need to handle it, then handle it quickly and kindly so you can get back to the tenderness and care you both need from each other.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. You can receive 15% off by entering the code MERIDIAN at checkout. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

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