Ask Amy: I’ve told them they need therapy, and they refuse to do it. What now?

Ask Amy: I’ve told them they need therapy, and they refuse to do it. What now?

Dear Amy: Although I totally understand your enthusiasm for therapy to address a variety of issues, what do you do when this is simply not an option?

I have friends who need therapy for all sorts of personal and relationship struggles, and they simply refuse.

My parents’ marriage is now under heavy strain, but both have told me they would be “mortified to air their dirty laundry to a total stranger.”

No matter what I try to say or do, there’s just no budging anywhere.

Any ideas?

 Frustrated Helper

Dear Frustrated: Therapy has proved a transformative experience in my own life (and many others), and one reason is because working with a therapist is the ultimate safe space to “air the dirty laundry.”

A good therapist builds trust with clients, and working on personal problems with a clinician helps to keep one’s dirty laundry where it belongs – in the hamper (so to speak) of one’s own life, versus involving family members who can’t necessarily be helpful because of their own intertwined relationships.

The burden for you is this: Accepting your own powerlessness to help people who need and also reject your help.

There are also alternatives to therapy. Books, online seminars, and decoding the wisdom of poets can help people who are motivated toward change.

Dear Amy: My husband and I lost our only son, who was 27 and died by suicide.

This happened almost three years ago. We remain traumatized and grief-stricken. We do not have a large family, so support was important to help us cope with this tragedy.

My in-laws live out of state, and they did nothing to acknowledge this tragic death, nor did their children (they are successful adults, both working full time in their respective careers).

Last month, after three years, my in-laws told us they would be stopping in our city for a few hours on their way to a summer vacation, and they wanted to go to our son’s gravesite while they were here.

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Once they arrived, they made no acknowledgment of his death, and instead talked about their recent acquisitions (a Mercedes, a beach house, and a boat) and how excited they were about having these things.

I understand that we live in a grief-illiterate society, and that people don’t know what to say, but this behavior was bizarre, hurtful, insensitive, and another stunning blow to our loss process.

Support, especially for a traumatic “out of order” death, is vital to help SOS (survivors of suicide loss) parents cope, and they offered none.

I wish there was a way to express how insensitive and cruel their behavior was, but I don’t know how to go about it.

Any suggestions?

Grieving Mother

Dear Grieving: I’m so profoundly sorry.

My own family has suffered – and continues to grieve over – the loss of a young person to suicide. This loss changes you and other family members, alters your relationships and perceptions, and basically seems to throw a filter over most interactions.

You are so right that we are a “grief-illiterate” society, but even when words fail, deeds count.

I take it that these in-laws didn’t attend a service, didn’t call you, didn’t send a card. Then, upon seeing you three years later, they don’t seem to have even inquired about how you are getting on (asking how survivors are doing is at least an acknowledgment of their loss). And did they go to his gravesite? You don’t say.

You wonder how to respond to this callous disregard?

Write a letter. Pour out your feelings. “I know more about your new boat than you know about how we are coping with our terrible loss.”

Send it. Or don’t send it. You likely understand that nothing you say will affect their perspective or behavior. But standing up on behalf of yourself and your son’s memory might be a way for you to reclaim an experience of parenting that you need to have.

Trauma and grief counseling will help you to move through this bereavement and profound change in your life. Associate with those people who love and support you; leave the others to play with their new toys.

Dear Amy: I gotta know: Regarding your published letters, do you ever stop, sit back and marvel at the absence of common sense prevalent in our citizenship?


Dear Kevin: I don’t have a lock on common sense, but I am aware that the lack of it in others keeps this column entertaining.

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You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.