Dear Coleen: My husband's shut himself off from us since his dad died

Dear Coleen

My husband’s father died a year ago and he still hasn’t recovered from it. In fact, he doesn’t have much interest in anything – he’s put on weight and all the joy has gone from our lives. It’s affecting the entire family.

We have two teenage children and I worry about them, as their dad has changed from the fun-loving person he used to be. I’ve tried on many occasions to discuss it with him, but he’s very closed off. He’s never been great at sharing how he feels.

However, it’s got to the point where enough is enough – I hope that doesn’t sound harsh. I can’t go on like this and it seems so unfair that the kids are walking on eggshells around him and have to see their dad so joyless.

Of course I understand how bereft he feels – I’ve lost people close to me – and he must miss his dad terribly as they were very close. It was especially hard for him, as he’s an only child and his father had a long illness, which was painful to watch. I want to help my husband, but I really don’t know how.

Coleen says

He sounds depressed and, at the risk of stereotyping the male sex, men generally find it harder to accept help. If you can get him to see his GP, I think that would be a good thing. I’m sure he would also benefit from bereavement counselling (visit, but you can’t force someone to do any of this. You can lead him there and hope he recognises that he can be helped.

And when you’re talking to him, don’t let him off the hook – tell him you need to talk about this honestly and how you’re going to tackle it as a family. Is his mum still around? Perhaps she could talk to him and remind him that his dad wouldn’t want to see him suffering like this.

I’ve said many times that grief is so different for everyone and there’s no timescale on it. And while you can understand it, it’s very hard to live with if the bereaved person isn’t moving on. It’s hard on everyone.

Maybe he also needs a bit of a reality check – to be reminded that his kids are still here and they need him, but he’s not seeing it. And explain that while you empathise with his pain, it’s not going to bring his father back, and his dad would hate to think of his son being so unhappy and missing out on life’s joys.

You can’t expect him to just jump up one day and be fine, but start slowly – encourage him to come out and do things with you and the kids, or ask him to help with various things that are distracting. Gradually, those moments where he feels himself again will get longer and it will get easier.


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