My daughter's mother died....

The question is below, but first a little background, I have a thirteen (almost 14) year old daughter. Her mother and I were married; but we divorced almost 12 years ago. My ex and I had managed to forge a good friendship over the years, we shared custody of our daughter and lived only a few miles apart.

Last week I had my daughter for the weekend. Her mom thought she had some sort of “flu bug”. My daughter decided to stay with me and go to school from my house so she didn’t get sick. Last Sunday evening, my daughter remembered that she needed something from her mom’s house, so we drove over there to get it.

The lights were out, so I waited in the car, figuring my ex was already asleep. My daughter returned to the car in a panic a short time after entering, telling me that, “something was wrong with mom”. The look on my daughters face told me that it was serious. I entered the house and discovered that her mom was dead. It appears that the cause was medical in nature, but we are still waiting for the autopsy reports.

My daughter was already visiting a counselor, (her favorite uncle died 15 months ago), and she will continue to see the counselor. She is obviously sad and has good moments and bad moments, and I know that it will take some time for her to cope.

I was hoping that there may be some fellow dopers that have some experience with this. I have been in the public safety field for over twenty years and I know what to watch for as far as depression and things like that, what I am hoping for is some insight and a little advice on what the next several years will bring. My parents are still alive as are my new wife’s parents. I can only imagine what it is like to loose a parent but to loose a parent at thirteen is beyond anything I can imagine.

Any and all help will be greatly appreciated.

Wow. I have no advice, I just wanted to say I’m sorry you and your daughter are going through this. Take care.

No advice here either, just sympathy and support. You sound very level headed. Just tell your daughter “I love you and we’re going to get through this together.”

Sorry about this.

Since the OP is looking for advice, this is better suited to IMHO than GQ.

General Questions Moderator

Aw man. That is really sad. :frowning:
One thing I would suggest: Make sure it’s clear to your daughter that you’re willing to talk about your ex and memories about what she was like.
As someone who lost both parents fairly young (though not as young as your daughter sadly has lost her mom), I’ve noticed that a lot of times, people are reluctant to say anything about the person who died - maybe because they are afraid of stirring up bad memories? However, most likely this loss is something that is going to be present to one degree or another for the rest of your daughter’s life, so it’s not like if you don’t say anything it will go away.
My dad died almost 10 years ago, and even though it’s not something that constantly makes me feel sad, it’s always in the back of my mind. Losing my mom a few years later was harder in some ways because mom was so emotionally invested in certain milestones of my life. I will never completely get over the sadness of knowing that mom missed out on my wedding and will never meet my children.
Let your daughter be angry if she is angry about this. I remember being very angry and bitter for a while about the unfairness of losing parents younger than most, and being angry at those who complain about their healthy parents when they should be thankful to have them. Losing a parent at 13 really isn’t fair. A teenager needs her mom more than ever.
You may also want to watch for any signs of guilt. She might feel like it’s her fault in some way that she wasn’t there when her mom was sick and that if only she had been there she could have saved mom. That’s something you may want to gently approach with her.
I do find that it gives some comfort to hear people share memories about my folks though. In a way, that keeps them alive for me. I’ve also noticed that it is very common for loved ones of a person who died to fear that they will “forget” the person or some aspect of who the deceased was. That’s why I encourage you to be very open to your daughter if she gives any indication of wanting to talk about her mom. Right now, it may be too painful for her, but as time goes by holding on to the good memories will become more important.

I’m really sorry, Emergency911; that’s a terrible thing to have happened, and I really feel for both your daughter and you.

lavenderviolet’s post has just about everything I was about to say. I lost my mom to cancer when I was 19, and my father after an accidental fall about 18 years later (in 2003). My experiences with and reactions to these losses were very different, both because of my age and the different ways they died–and lived.

I would echo and emphasize lavenderviolet’s suggestion to be on the lookout for grief. Kids are known for ‘magical thinking’, believing that their actions or behaviors or even mere thoughts can somehow impact others despite not really having any direct effect. I was the only member of my family not to travel with my mom to the Bahamas for this experimental treatment, staying behind (with my parents’ approval) because I was directing a musical that summer. I had no idea that my mom’s situation was dire (though looking back as an adult, I can’t believe how oblivious I was) and that our goodbye before she left would be the last time I’d see her. She died over in the Bahamas and after the numb shock of learning the news, I went straight from depression to guilt for being so selfish and blind as to not having gone with the rest of my family. I spent years punishing myself for not just my being away from her during her last weeks, but all the little spats we’d ever had, particularly during her illness. I thought I hadn’t been a good enough daughter to see that she was dying, or to treat her better when she was alive, and even harbored the (now obviously ridiculous) notion that if I’d been with her she somehow wouldn’t have died.

There’s really no way to prevent this guilt from happening; it’s really natural and an unfortunate part of the grieving process. But you can alleviate it by addressing the cause of her death (once you find out what it was) as factually as possible, explaining that it wasn’t preventable, and even reassuring her that her mom would never ever want her to feel responsible in any way; depending on the cause of death (and your ex-wife’s personality) you might go so far as to tell her that her mother would likely have wanted to avoid having her daughter there to experience what would have been a terrifying situation. Moms and dads want to protect their children and she wouldn’t have wanted her daughter there.

(When my mom died, she did so after my father left her hospital room to finally get some sleep, and when my sister had fallen asleep in her chair at the hospital; afterward, they felt on some level that Mom was waiting for her family to not be around in order to finally go of the pain she was experiencing. Pragmatically I doubt that’s true, but I sure hope it is–and I know it does give them comfort from the guilt they felt for not being present when she actually died.)

I also second most strongly the advice to make it clear to your daughter that she can talk about her mom, and whatever her feelings are, they’re perfectly natural and she shouldn’t be ashamed in any way, even if there are some “bad” thoughts in there (like anger toward her mom or having fleeting thoughts of not wanting to deal with relatives at the funeral or wanting to watch TV or text or whatever normal 13-year-old activities she wants to take part in).

After my mom died and my father met and grew attached to another woman about a year later, it became extremely difficult to talk about Mom to him, mostly because his girlfriend was a jealous, callow bitch and didn’t like to discuss the past or even “allow” him to spend time alone with us. (I put scare quotes around “allow” because my father was an adult, and if he’d wanted to put his foot down about seeing us, he certainly could have. I think he felt guilty about moving on and also he was one of those old school dads who thought not talking about someone you missed would help you move on with your life.) My sisters and I spoke to each other about our mom, but I know all of us felt hurt and frustrated by our father’s reticence on the subject of the woman he’d loved and spent 36 years with. It was like our years with her were no longer significant.

In addition to the feelings about her death I was also mourning her life to a degree–my mom had lingering depression and guilt after the death of my brother and I never really grokked that until I was an adult and was able to look over her life and how clearly unhappy and angry with herself she was. She never forgave herself and never let herself move on from his death. I spent years feeling as if I were betraying her memory by moving on with my own life in a way she never could.

So my point is, your daughter may well want to talk about her mom, and ask you questions, and she needs to be not just reassured but encouraged to discuss whatever she wants to about her mom.

I might add that in addition to one-on-one therapy, the most help I received was with an ongoing group session for people who’d lost their loved ones. Hearing all the others’ experiences really helped me understand how common my own feelings were, and also by helping to reassure them that they weren’t responsible for their loved ones’ deaths, I eventually started to realize that my advice applied to me as well.

Anyway. Basically, listen to lavenderviolet. And maybe it might help if you spoke with a grief counsellor as well, not just about your daughter, but about any of your own feelings and reactions to all this.

Oh yipe I almost forgot: you might want to look for the book Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman. It’s an amazingly powerful and touching book that looks into the many ways girls and women react to the loss of their mothers.

Please let us know how you’re all doing, if you can.

Besides what lavenderviolet and choie have already said (which are GREAT answers), I would like to add that you try to make sure that your daughter has an older female substitute–aunt, grandmother, older, cousin, close family friend, even your wife maybe–who she can to go for all those female questions that will come up that her mother is now not around to help her with. You know, bodily functions (female AND male), medical issues, dating, makeup, etc. or when she just needs a motherly hug.

Good advice already. I’d like just to add that I found my husband’s body, and I know that having pictures of him all around so that I could remind myself of what he looked like alive ended up being very comforting to me, to kind of override that last image. I’m not generally a huge one for photographs, but in the weeks following his death, they became more important than they had been.

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Your feelings are probably complicated as well. You get to grieve, too, even though you were split up and you might feel like it’s all about your daughter.

This is more of a long-term suggestion, but 14 years old is already a difficult time in someone’s life, and with the added chaos that this will bring to your daughter’s life you might want to consider trying to provide her with options related to things that she has full control over. It’s really hard to feel like life is just spinning by, and there’s nothing you can do to point it in a direction you want it to go.

Let her paint her bedroom black and purple or fluorescent green or whatever, if that’s what she wants. Let her decide certain activities, or certain foods or whatever. Let her express herself, as long as what she’s doing is safe…and perhaps go with a “nothing permanent” rule with regards to body modification, but letting her wear crazy clothes or shave her head or whatever won’t hurt her in the long run and might help her feel like she has control over something in her life. Your daughter might not need anything this extreme, but perhaps be prepared if she does start to do something "weird’ like this.

If she’s an active child, enrolling her in sports might be a good thing - there are all kinds of sports out there beyond the big ones that she might enjoy. I wish I had discovered rowing/paddling as a teenager, or perhaps she’d like archery or tennis or something else; again a sport might give her focus and discipline and be an outlet for her emotions and give her some element of control.

I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’m so sorry that your daughter is going through this. You sound like a good man, and I wish you both well. Good luck!

I’m sorry for your loss.

Take things from your ex’s house and make various boxes of stuff to give to your daughter throughout her life so that she can still feel that her mom is there in some way. Like a box of cake pans, mixing bowls, etc to give her when she moves out on her own or wants to learn how to cook. Something blue for her to pin inside her wedding dress. A pair of her mom’s earrings to give her to wear at her graduation. A box of her mom’s favorite little things for her 18th birthday. Don’t tell her what you have. As her life unfolds, give her something “from” her mom at each stage.

How is her relationship with your current wife? It’s possible that at some point–possibly months or years from now–she’ll direct a lot of her anger in that direction. It’s totally irrational, but pretty normal: for one thing, she may start to feel guilty if she feels affection towards your current wife, as if she is being disloyal to her mother’s memory. She may also be hypersensitive to any perceived sign that your wife is trying to “replace” her mom. She may lash out at your wife because that’s “safe”–she can’t risk alienating you, her only parent. She may see your wife as competition or as a threat, however irrational that is.

I think it’d be a good idea for you and your wife to talk about these possibilities, and find a way to manage your own emotional responses if these things happen. You’ve got to be ready to find a role in these things: you can’t be in the middle, and looking like you are taking sides will escalate things. The two of you may want to find a good counselor you can talk to as needed over the next five years or so.

From my own experience: your wife should be prepared for the “you’re not my mother!” yell. The answer I gave began “No, I’m not…”

Thank you all for the replies. If anyone else wishes to add, please continue to do so.
While not trying to speak ill of my ex, she was the jealous type and was very jealous of my new wife. She had a habit of telling our daughter that she didn’t have to listen to my new wife. My daughter knew better, but would object every now and then, but I knew she had to “ride the fence” so to speak and we were able to keep things civil.

Without her mothers jealous influence, I do expect that to get better, but I also realize that my daughter may fight it due to guilt.

Again, thanks to all the well wishes and help.

I am so sorry for your loss. One thing that you might want to do is follow tha autopsy results. If cause of death is some underlying congenital factor, you might want to get your daughter screened. You will also have to be super careful as to what you do with your exs estate which I presume will come mostly to your daughter, Might be best to put mist of it in a trust. I know one man whose ex wife died in an accident and he did nit sell the house, he put it on rent and used the money for a trust. Beat speak to a lawyer about it.

Great idea. And OP, I’m so sorry for you and your daughter’s loss.

Not just guilt, but also resentment: she may very well spend a lot of time being angry at your wife for not being the one that died–basically, “If I had to lose a parent, why couldn’t it be you?!?”. It’s not rational, but it’s pretty normal. You and your wife need to have a plan to handle this sort of thing in a way that doesn’t drive the two of you apart, but also doesn’t leave your daughter with the idea that she comes a distant second behind your wife–because that means she doesn’t come first for anyone. This is not going to be easy, and it will be an ongoing thing for years.

LurkerInNJ, that’s a beautiful idea. I wish someone had done that for me, and I hope Emergency911 will do it for his daughter.

I tried to do something similar for my little brother. We were teenagers when our mom died, and he didn’t really get to go through her things the way I did (and I didn’t get to go through her things the way her mother and sister did), but I saved some knickknacks and Christmas ornaments for when he was older and had his own place. I’ve also tried to make it clear that if I have something of hers he’d like to have, he can always ask me. There are really only a handful of things I’m super-attached to, and the rest I’m absolutely willing to let him have because he kind of got shafted.

I also agree 100% with the previous advice of making sure your daughter knows it’s okay to talk to you about her mom and memories she has of her. It’s kind of awkward with my dad, but I can tell he really tries, and that means a lot to me. And my stepmom has a standing offer to visit my mom’s grave with me anytime I want. That also means a lot to me.

I don’t know what the burial plans are, but my mom was cremated. A small amount of her ashes are in a memorial marker in a cemetery, the rest were scattered by my aunt and grandmother. My brother and I weren’t invited to the scattering of our mom’s ashes, and no one asked if we wanted to save part of them for ourselves. I wish we’d had those options.

It was years before I dealt with my mom’s death. Don’t be surprised if your daughter seems to be coping well for a few years and then all of a sudden starts truly grieving. Or if she gets panicky when she can’t get a hold of you - after all, you’re the only parent she has left. She’ll miss her mom more keenly at the expected events - prom, graduation, wedding - but also at ones you may not expect - going to visit potential colleges, dress shopping for the prom or her wedding, getting her first “adult” job, looking for her first house.

Anyway, this got longer than I intended. This is going to be hard for all of you, and I wish you luck (and much patience!). You and your family will be in my thoughts.

Emergency911 sorry about the difficult situation for you daughter and yourself.

About your daughter’s mother’s stuff:

The idea of taking some of that stuff and presenting it to daughter later as a surprise is a nice sentiment but has problems. Unless the stuff was willed to you then it isn’t yours. The stuff is likely all daughters through will or probate.

Your daughter had a lifetime with her mother, even with joint custody, you may not know what decoration/dish/jewelry that she valued. If she notices something missing she will wonder where it is. Maybe an explanation that you were saving it for her, and not stealing it to keep it from her, will work but maybe not during this early time while she is unsettled.

i assume that daughter will live with you full time now. i assume she will bring all her stuff (including young childhood stuff) that she had at her mom’s to your house. i would suggest allowing her to bring even an equal amount of her mother’s stuff to have for later in her life. she might want a comfy chair that she used, dishes and cookware, adult sized clothes that she would use later. so you might find a way to store a major amount of stuff for her in one place or another.

wish you guys the best that could be had.

I keep thinking about how lonely your daughter is going to be in her grief: if my mother passed, my dad and my siblings would share that pain: we could support and comfort each other. For your daughter, her pain is unique: no one is hurting right now the way she is–you may be hurting for her, but your not grieving the death of your ex in the same way she is and she’s old enough to see that. Teens often feel alienated and like no one else in the world understands their pain: how awful it is that in this case, that’s true. You’ll have to work very hard to find a way to make sure she feels supported, but not let that lonely grief develop into a persecution complex: it’s really good that grief is normally shared because supporting each other gives us perspective. Constantly being the object of pity without ever having the role of the comforter is not good for the psyche, and in fact strikes me as a recipe for depression. You will have to find a balance between comforting her but not making her feel like her grief defines her, the Poor Motherless Girl.

Very true, though hopefully the executor should certainly be willing to work with you and your daughter to save stuff that has sentimental value. Obviously stuff that is explicitly willed somewhere other than your daughter would be covered by the will. Everything else should be inventoried as appropriate, then made available to the heir(s) prior to being sold or otherwise disposed of. At that point, if you have permission, you could try to put some things aside. Other relatives on the mother’s side might have some ideas on what she might treasure.

My deepest sympathies to your daughter (and to you as well, you and your ex were friends as well as co-parents).