My husband’s father committed murder/suicide less than a month into our marriage. His father lived in a different state. We flew my husband out the day that his father died and I followed the next day. I stayed there for about a week to help/mourn/be there but I had to return due to obligations with work and school. I did not want to leave and separating from my husband was very difficult so soon after our marriage and his father’s shocking death. My husband decided he wanted to stay longer because he is very worried about his sisters.

My husband, his sisters, and I are all very close in age. His youngest sister is in a long-term relationship and is very close to her boyfriends parents. She also has many other loving friends in their hometown. His middle sister has a very loving and supportive group of friends. His mother (not his father’s wife) also lives close to both sisters.

My father also died three years ago so this event brought up a lot of emotions for me. Although I did have my mother and other friends near by when I flew back, no one here knew my father-in-law and do not really understand the type of grieving we were going through. Not many people can say they know someone who committed a murder suicide! I loved my father-in-law and was so grateful to have him around after the death of my father and looked forward to him being in our life when we had grandchildren.

I feel like my husband and I should be going through this together but he just says he knows we’ll be fine and that he needs to be there for his sisters. I feel guilty about my feelings and am worried that I am not being supportive enough. I obviously recognize that he is in shock and grieving and I want to be there for him but its very difficult when we are so far apart. In the meantime his youngest sister has gone back to work and his other sister has moved back to their hometown to find a job and be close to friends. From what I see they are moving on and do not necessarily need my husband as much as he thinks they do.

I’m not comparing my loss to his, but I do feel like he is completely ignoring my grief and and our needs as newlyweds because of his intense worry for his sisters. I too, am grieving the death of my father-in-law, but feel guilty that I want and need my husband in this time. I am struggling with my husband’s choice to stay in his home state for so long and leave me alone on the other side of the country. Am I right to feel this way?

A: I think you are right to be concerned. Your husband seems to be leaning on the idea that his sisters need him when it may be that he is needing them. They seem to have started the path back to regular life. Your husband seems stuck. I wonder if he understands that feelings of shame and anger as well as grief and loss are normal at a time like this. He may be having great difficulty reconciling his father’s violent death with the father he knew. Since he is the only male child, he may be scared that there is something in the male line that he will “inherit.” It’s unlikely, of course. But such feelings aren’t rational. They are born of grief and fear. He may think that only his sisters, who grew up in the same family and who knew his father as he did, can truly get what he is going through.

You didn’t mention how long the two of you have been apart but since his sisters seem to be reclaiming their lives, it’s time he did as well. It may be that one block is that your husband thinks that being with you will add your grief to his and that he will be overwhelmed by it. He may be afraid that you will be offended if he asks you to give him some space for awhile. Your job is to tell him that you understand that everyone grieves differently. Reassure him that you will take his lead about what to talk about and how much to talk about it. Let him know that it will be enough for now to just have him home so that you can quietly support each other.

If, when he gets home, the two of you can’t find a way to move forward without hurting each other, it might help you to see a grief counselor for a few sessions. You’re right that few of your friends will be able to really get what you’re going thorugh. A counselor who specializes in loss will. Some support and specific suggestions about how to move forward may be what you both need.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Aug 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Death of an in-law and confused at my role as wife. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/18/death-of-an-in-law-and-confused-at-my-role-as-wife/