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How Do You Manage Joyful and Devastating Events Simultaneously?

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My husband’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer right after my sister got engaged. She is getting married overseas next month, and we already bought tickets to go there. I want my husband to come to the wedding, and I understand his ambivalence, but I want him there. How do I handle the situation? Am I being selfish if I ask him to come with me? – Rochel in NYC

That is certainly a complicated situation that needs to be handled carefully. Don’t judge yourself or call yourself selfish because you want your husband to be with you and experience an important event with you. I imagine that the prospect of taking a big trip together and watching your sister get married was exciting for both of you before he received such devastating news. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where no one gets what they want or had expected.

I think you are right to question pushing the issue of him coming with you. He needs to make the decision on his own, because it is one that cannot be taken back. I am sure your husband has multiple reasons for being ambivalent about leaving the country. You have probably already addressed the concern about his mother dying while you are away, but there are other potentially longer lasting concerns that he might not have verbalized or even recognized. For example, simply missing time with someone who you know is not going to be around for much longer. You have to let him have the option of spending that time with his mother.

If your husband does decide to go with you, you should be aware that he may have difficulty detaching from the situation and really being present at the wedding. Weddings are emotional events. One can’t help but to remember other weddings and family gatherings, and to think about those that may happen in the future. For your husband this means thinking about the weddings and events that his mother will never attend. If he goes with you, it could be somewhat painful for both of you to consider such devastating ideas. If he decides not to go, try to remember the many happy events that your husband will experience with you in the future. Also remember that your support goes both ways. He has probably had thoughts about you staying home to be with him instead of going to the wedding. He is showing support by not pressuring you to stay, as you are showing your support by not pressuring him to go.

Try to be open and honest with your husband as you consider your options. Listen for hints about what he is trying to convey even if he isn’t articulating it clearly. When dealing with death and loss, some people need to escape for some time while others need to remain as close and involved as possible. Dealing with death is very personal and can be confusing. You might decide to go your separate ways for the week to avoid any feelings of resentment that could come from forcing each other to do something that doesn’t feel right. There really is no right answer, and your struggle with the issue is understandable and appropriate.

Jaime Black

Jaime earned her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Yeshiva University. She currently works in a private practice in NYC doing psychotherapy and career counseling. In addition to providing general psychological services, Jaime has extensive experience working with individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum. She lives in Hartsdale. (Advice given in Ask Jaime is not intended to be a substitute for individual psychotherapy.)


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