When John and I met individually in this session, it proved to be one of our most intense meetings. When I asked him what the past two weeks had been like, he became teary eyed. It wasn't because he missed Tracy, even though he did miss her terribly--he was crying out of love for Bobby. I can see why she loved this kid so much, he told me. When I asked him directly about bringing his other daughter into the family, his answer surprised me. I can do that on my own. I need to focus on the family Tracy and I built together. I owe it to her.
As the session continued, we explored John's guilt toward Tracy. I disclosed to him that Tracy had tried to work this through in therapy but had been unable to genuinely forgive him. He didn't sound surprised. I don't know if I can ever forgive myself, he said. Sensing that a breakthrough moment was at hand, I encouraged him to continue, using his earlier comment about owing it to her as fuel. If you can't forgive yourself and she couldn't forgive you, you're pretty much stuck. If you're so weighed down with this heavy burden, how can you ever possibly make it up to her, and to the family?
In this moment, after spending more time with Bobby during the past two weeks, the answer seemed obvious. John had already articulated it, but now he knew it deeply, and so did I. I have to focus on the family Tracy and I built together. I have to be a better father and grandfather. I could almost feel the burden lift off him as the elephant of his guilt left the room.
For John, the better he felt about his ability to meet Bobby's emotional needs, the less anger and guilt he experienced about his complex relationship with Tracy. He reported that he'd been largely absent from Bobby's life before Tracy's illness, but now felt that nurturing a relationship with his grandson allowed him to atone for his past mistakes in his marriage. In many ways, Bobby had become a receptacle for the love he bore Tracy. In caring for Bobby, John was able to continue loving Tracy, while finding a sense of forgiveness after her death that had eluded him while she was alive.