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Q&A with Geoff: Why didn’t I properly grieve my daughter’s suicide?

q&a with geoff Nov 16, 2022

Question

Several years ago, my teenage daughter took her life on Thanksgiving. I was devastated, heartbroken and traumatized.

Just months before I found out about my husband’s betrayals and 30-year pornography use. I was alone in my suffering without support from the one person I wanted support from. He was still in denial about his issues and angry with me for finding out.

As difficult as my daughter’s death was, I was angrier and more distraught with my husband for his neglect of me and his other children and for his selfishness. Our daughter’s death didn’t seem to affect him.

I still grieved for my daughter over the course of months and years but why was so much more of my thoughts and trauma focused on my husband? Should my daughter’s death have been more prevalent in my thoughts?

Answer

I’m heartbroken to hear of the trauma, loss and betrayal you’ve experienced in your family. Learning about your husband’s decades-long secret sexual life is disorienting enough without the additional and unthinkable shock of losing your daughter to suicide. Your dilemma about where to direct your grief is understandable as you try to sort through the rolling sea of emotions. 

You’re wondering why your attention was more focused on your husband rather than your daughter. It’s easy to automatically assume that with something as traumatic and sudden as a child’s suicide, any concerns you had about your marriage would be sidelined while you deal with the loss of your daughter. However, that’s not how our primary attachments work.

Our primary attachments are the relationships we count on when things go wrong. They’re supposed to be firm and steady during the ever-changing landscape of life. If our secure base moves out from under us, we enter a terrifying free-fall state that leaves us feeling defenseless. Even though you are bonded to your daughter and your other children, they are not your primary attachment. 

Your husband is your primary attachment. In other words, you don’t need your children to be there for you the same way you need your husband to be there for you. Losing your daughter is a significant loss, but when you have a secure base, you can more easily regain your emotional balance. On the other hand, losing your secure base makes it difficult to gain that balance so you can properly grieve the loss of your daughter. 

Before your daughter passed away, you had your secure base ripped out from under you when your husband’s secret life was revealed. From what you’ve written, it doesn’t sound like he was actively working to restore trust and security for you in the aftermath of the discovery. Consequently, you were likely trying to find stability in your marriage and personal life when your daughter took her life.

You had active and unresolved trauma with what you believed was the secure base of your marriage when your daughter passed away. Again, when you’re already in a traumatic free-fall and then lose your daughter, your natural reflex is going to turn toward seeking a solid foundation with your husband. 

Your anger toward him wasn’t a distraction from the death of your daughter. It was an instinctive protest of the abandonment you experienced when he revealed a life of secrecy and deception. Our priority, when lost in the wilderness, is to stop and build shelter. Our priority when experiencing a relational crisis is to stop and look for the shelter of our primary attachment.

When we’re little and we experience a crisis, we run to our parents. When we’re married, we run to our spouse. If our parent or our spouse are not a safe attachment for us, we protest through withdrawing, yelling, criticizing and so on. We need shelter and protection when we’re exposed to the brutalities of life.  

If you don’t have the security of a safe relationship with your husband, then make sure you build a strong connection with others who can provide that for you. There’s an old Irish proverb that says, “We are the shelter of each other.”

Find community in a church, in volunteer work, with extended family members, old friends, or support groups for those who have been betrayed. Many people turn to God or their Higher Power to find shelter and comfort in the face of betrayal. You have options for support and I encourage you to rely on them to help you regain your emotional balance. 

There’s no wrong way to grieve the death of your daughter. You’re also grieving the losses in your marriage. It’s a lot to grieve all at the same time, especially when you experienced a serious betrayal from your husband that left you exposed and vulnerable in the moment when you needed him the most. I hope you can be gentle on yourself as you continue to grieve all of these losses. 

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