As the session continued, it became evident that she wasn't emotionally prepared to work toward the forgiveness she felt obligated to offer John. She simply couldn't do it, and didn't feel bad about it. Tracy's last words to me on the issue were, "He made a bad mistake, and I guess he has to suffer the consequences. Why should I be the one who has to do all the work?" At this point, it became clear that our therapy focus was going to be preparing Tracy to die while keeping the rift in her family manageable, rather than finding a way to heal her relationship with her husband in the short time she had left.
Shortly after this conversation, the decline in her health began to accelerate. Each week, she developed a serious new symptom, requiring more frequent blood transfusions and hospital care. Through it all, John was by her side. During her final week, I saw her one last time. After she thanked me for the help I'd given, we shared a tearful goodbye. She died two days later, surrounded by her husband, their children, and her closest friends.
A Family in Shambles
The week after her funeral, at John's request, I met with him and their three children. Although I frequently meet with family members after the death of their loved ones, this was a particularly difficult session for me to anticipate, since I knew that there was going to be an elephant in the room with us--one that John and the kids didn't know I knew about. I wasn't completely sure what the purpose of the family meeting would be or what direction it might take.
Not surprisingly, just as he was dedicated to Tracy in life, John was now shepherding their clan through grief. Meeting privately with John prior to the family session, before I mentioned my meeting with Tracy, he disclosed their separation, talking about his guilt over his affair, as well as his anger at being exiled from his home during her final illness. Although he was relieved to know that Tracy had attempted to work through this issue with me privately, he was distraught at his wife's inability to forgive him. His own lingering guilt about his long-ago affair was almost overshadowing his grief for his wife. I asked John what would ease his guilt and his pain. He said that it would help if his children could have a relationship with his daughter.