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Ask Amy

Widower worries about grief, healing

Q. I am (now) a single dad of three teens, ages 13, 14 and 16. Their mom died suddenly last winter.

On the surface the kids seem to be handling it. They tell me they are all right, but I feel they are trying to protect me, because whenever I try to talk to them about their mother, I break down crying.

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Should I continue to press the issue or leave it alone for now? Am I doing them harm by showing my emotions?

A. Even though it can be shocking for a child to see a parent break down, what you are actually demonstrating is that it is OK to cry, certainly when you have something very real and potent to cry about. However, it’s also important for your kids to see you start to heal.

Each member of your family will express this loss differently. One child might shut down, while another would get anxious, angry, or simply want to flee. Deal with your children individually to gain insight about how each is doing — through everyday activities — not always prompting them to discuss this heavy and painful topic.

You need to be gentle with yourself and your loved ones, to get help when you need it, and to have compassionate and caring people in your corner. If possible, attend a grief support group with your kids (your local hospital or hospice center can connect you with local resources). If you can’t persuade your children to participate, attend these sessions (or private sessions with a therapist) on your own. You will also be demonstrating to your children the utility of seeking outside help when they need it.

The best part about displaying your authentic feelings in front of your children is that through time they will see you start to recover. They will be part of this process and if you huddle and muddle through this more or less together, your family relationship could strengthen in positive ways.

A book you should have at your house is, “The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends,” by Helen Fitzgerald (2000, Touchstone).

Q. I have a good friend who has recently divorced after a drawn-out ordeal.

She spent the past nine months getting back into the dating scene — or trying to. She is on several dating websites and has had friends set her up with people, and has had some OK experiences. But she is 49 and wants to date 40-year-olds.

Any guy in the 50 to 60 age group she dismisses as being “too old.” She is very nice and fairly attractive but not a 10. She keeps saying “something is wrong with me” because she cannot attract the younger men she finds attractive.

All of her friends have nicely tried to tell her she needs to broaden her age range for acceptable guys. It seems that most guys that are divorced or single are looking for women younger than them. We are all sick of the woe-is-me attitude that she brings, and I am about to give up on trying to help her.

A. Your friend is applying the same superficial standards to other people that she doesn’t want applied to herself. She will continue to flounder until she approaches this process with an open mind and heart. Her desperation and negativity are not attractive.

I think you should definitely stop trying to help her to date men. What you should offer instead is female friendship and an attitude adjustment.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@tribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @askingamy or “like” her on Facebook.

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