Orla Barry: Dad is dating my aunt

Unhappy family
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My mother passed away nine months ago and my dad has started dating my aunt, my mum's sister.

I can't believe he could do this and it has upset the entire family.

Initially I thought she was just being a good friend and helping him out around the house after mum passed, but it turns out that she spends half her time there.

She is my mum's youngest sister and was married once but separated years ago.

She has one daughter who mentioned to me that she was spending a lot of time around my dad.

None of us live at home and when I told my siblings, they were shocked but not as angry as I am.

Our mother was sick for about five years before she died. She was a wonderful, gentle, kind woman.

She even invited this same aunt to live with us for a while when she was struggling financially years ago.

I was still living at home and I found her annoying and sarcastic.

My mum never seemed to find her irritating and stood up for her.

In fact I can remember my father asking when my aunt was going to move out and my mum saying whenever she was ready.

When mum got sick, my aunt moved back in for a while. I know it was a comfort to them that she was there but now I'm wondering if this was always her plan.

The house has stayed more or less the same since mum passed.

I don't want anything to change but about two months ago I noticed some pictures had been moved.

I went ballistic and asked dad who had been moving stuff and he said it was my aunt. This was before I knew they were even together.

I told him she had no right to move anything in our house without asking us first.

Now I feel like she is trying to move herself into my mum's place.

When I confronted dad a few weeks ago about this relationship, he was really uncomfortable. That's when I knew it was true.

I lost my temper and told him mum would be heartbroken if she were around.

He got very upset and said he misses mum terribly and he's just trying to muddle through. They were together since school.

I felt bad but said well maybe he should muddle through without starting a relationship with mum's sister.

I don't think he even knows what he's doing. Sometimes he stares off into space for minutes and doesn't even notice us.

I think we should tell my aunt to back off.

Everyone is talking about them in the local area and the rest of my mum's family and dad's family are appalled.

My oldest brother is the only one who says they should be left alone and thinks this woman might be good for dad.

The last year has been immensely difficult for you and your father.

Losing a mother or losing a spouse are two of the most traumatic experiences a person goes through and the grieving process is going to take time and a great deal of patience.

It may be true that your father doesn't know what he is doing. It may also be true that your aunt is taking advantage.

But they are both adults and ultimately can decide for themselves whether they wish to date or not.

Starting a relationship with a relative of your spouse is probably less shocking and unusual than you think.

This is a woman who knew both your parents intimately and who may well be a reminder to your dad of your mum.

Right now, he is coming to terms with the fact that this woman who was so long a part of his life is no longer around.

It takes a long time as I'm sure you know to accept that the person has gone.

If having a friend there who helps you get through that works for him, then he is lucky.

While you argue that this woman was sarcastic and irritating, there must also be a gentle side to her if she spent that period of time looking after your mother.

Would it make you feel any better if the woman was a complete stranger?

Then you might worry that your father is trying to forget your mother.

Being with your aunt means that the connection to your mother will always be very strong.

Your parents were together since they were in school, which makes me think your father may have had only one serious relationship in his life.

Sometimes if a spouse dies relatively young, it does make the remaining partner think about whether they should have a new relationship in their remaining years.

While it's not necessarily fun for the children, your father also deserves a chance, if he wants it, to experience love again.

I understand that nine months is a very short time and maybe right now he doesn't quite know what he is doing.

It is also likely he began grieving some time back as your mother's illness worsened.

Down the road though, consider how you would feel about him starting a relationship with someone else.

Accepting a new person into your father's life is probably always going to be difficult.

He is not, however, looking to replace your mother but just trying find a little bit of happiness or comfort. Men do appear to embark on new relationships after the death of a spouse quicker than women. Part of it perhaps is sexual.

However, for many, companionship is ultimately most important.

Women tend to share their emotions more openly with friends so a new relationship is not about finding someone to share that sense of loss with.

Often women will take time to recover from their grief before contemplating dating someone new.

Men can use the dating process as a way of coming to terms with their loss.

Ultimately everyone's reaction to grief differs and there is no right or wrong way to handle it.

You say everyone in the area and the family are talking about it.

I say let them talk. They will soon get bored.

At this stage all you need to concern yourself with is how you and your dad cope with the loss of your mum.

For you, everything in the house needs to stay the same but remember you don't live there.

Your father is constantly surrounded by memories of your mother at every turn.

It is within his rights to change features of his home if he wishes.

Judging from your anger, I imagine your aunt is well aware of your disapproval.

Right now, you need to consider what is best for your father.

If her presence is helping him through, is it fair to demand that she leaves?

If she does become a more permanent part of his life, don't allow your antipathy towards her destroy your relationship with your father.

You have no idea what your mother would make of this arrangement but you can be sure she would be upset about a rift between you and your father.

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