Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Step-Parent's Grief

I received the following article from one of our moms who felt that the message needed to be shared and I agree. Step-parents - whether they be moms or dads - are often overlooked during the grieving process. I'm not saying it is done intentionally - but most people have a difficult enough time dealing with the "natural parents" of a child who has died, so it may be even harder for them to comprehend the pain that a step-parent may be experiencing...

My husband Dan and I have been married for a little more than 14 years. Prior to our marriage and creating our wonderful blended family, Dan and I had been neighbors for 20 years. I had recently divorced and Dan's beloved wife Irene of 25+ years died of breast cancer in Nov. 1993. During our 20 years as neighbors, the 4 of us were such close friends sharing holidays, vacations, our children's accomplishments and his 2 boys and my 3 sons, had truly grown up together..

I've never doubted how broken Dan's heart was when Bobby died 2 years ago or since.. Dan has shared my grief every step of this journey - his love for Bobby was real and deep.. But when I read Menna's story, I was sure that during this journey, that Dan probably felt the same way she did.. I hope it has helped give me new insight into the grief of other step-parents... Cherie Houston

A Step-parent’s grief ~ by Menna

I knew my stepson for the last two thirds of his life. He kept in touch with his father and me on a regular basis although he never lived with us. After he died, differences in the grieving process seemed small, as the knowledge I have of my stepson’s early life arises from memories which my husband has related to me. My sense of loss for this period is ‘second-hand’ and contained within my imagination.

I never knew my husband without his son and daughter. So, as far as I was concerned, his children were part of him. I could see his likeness in them. Therefore, when my stepson died I felt as if part of my husband had also been permanently removed. I soon became afraid that the whole of my husband would be lost and I felt panicky if I was away from him for very long. I could see how much my husband was affected by his loss and how much he seemed to have aged.

I was now grieving the loss of my stepson and the loss of the husband I knew. People often asked me how my husband was doing, but did not enquire so much about me. I found this question very difficult to answer because my loss was different to his. Eventually, I tried to think how I was managing, and then told people that was how my husband was doing. Many seemed to think I would be strong for my husband, but it was as if they didn’t know that I was devastated too.

I feel I am perhaps in a similar position to spouses of people diagnosed with a long term illness, or of a person sent to prison. My life has changed because of the crisis in my loved ones life. We are married and operate as a unit, not as individuals.


  1. I know this was posted a long time ago, but I just lost my beloved stepdaughter a month ago. I have an odd situation. I haven't been married to her dad for almost 20 years, but she and I were still very close. My husband of 15 years loved her, too. It does hurt to have even close friends act like we should be fine, because she wasn't "really" our kid. Yes, I want to tell them, she was. Your column has helped me understand that we are not alone.

  2. My husband and I have been married 18 years. His son was 11 when we married, his real mother absent from his life. I was his mom. "Our" son died in Aug 2013 with his gf in an accident. My husband and I had been having trouble prior to this and seeing marraige counselor to help make things work. I always felt he was very negative in nature and it was difficult living with him after suffering grief myself when all my immediate family members died in a span of three years. My husband, who was a negative Nathan before is now becoming someone I cannot emotionally handle. I know I am suppose to be his rock, but how can I be a rock when I myself am devestated by the loss of my son too. I am hurt by the death of my family. Its been four months and my husband still cries every morning, every couple hours and shows no patience for anything and is constantly in a foul mood. I have to be the one who tries to smile, create a sense of well being and be positive. We have a five year old daughter! Its not good for her to see her father crying all the time and always angry. I told him, you have to have to try to grieve in private more as to not affect her so much. He told me I didnt understand, would never understand and stormed out of the house mad at me yet again. On the outside I appear to be handling this well...but on the inside I feel like I cant take another day of it and often think of ending my life. If I suffer from such deep secret depression, how can I ever get through it with someone who feels I will never understand. I know it was his biological son, but I loved him too..and as stated, Ive lost my brother, mother and father..boom boom boom..and now "my" son. This aint my first rodeo. I cry every day, multiple times a day thinking of him, but I do it in private or try to cope with the loss. What am I going to do?

  3. Today, the grandmother of my step son (not the term I like to use for him at all), said, I was hoping that my daughter (my stepson's biological mother) and his father (my husband), would get together and support each other since he (my stepson) was their son, their flesh and blood. Those words cut like a knife, somehow that statement, indicated to me, that their grief would be more important, and I couldn't possibly comprehend the depth of pain and sorrow of a loss like this.
    In my experience, 6 months down the track since loosing our son, A 'step parent's' grief is really overlooked and seen to be lesser than the biological parents. I have known him half of is life, taken care of him for 5 of those years. In retrospect, I understand only now, that I was truly trying to adopt him into my life, as my own son. He was a part of me like my own biological children. The surviving siblings grief, my husbands grief and my own grief is almost too much to bear. Life seems to go on around me, yet I struggle daily to cope with these changes and the impact it's having on all of our lives. Step parents feel the loss, the pain and deep sorrow of loosing a child too. Being reminded daily and singled out as one that 'should' be okay is frustrating and adds to the pain that already exists. Instead of asking how the biological parent is, share a kind word of comfort, with the step parent "BEFORE" asking about the biological parent's wellbeing. It makes a difference, we cease to feel invisible on this journey.