Saturday, November 4, 2017

Parenting Pointers: Stepparents and Grieving

Tami Reeves has been a caregiver her entire life, known as a nurturer who puts herself last. At a young age, she began caring for her younger siblings as well as her deaf parents, serving as their link to the hearing world. As an adult, Tami continued to care for others as a pediatric and trauma nurse. But at the age of 44, she took on a role that would change her life.

When Tami met the love of her life, Eric, she made an alarming discovery: he was still married. Eric’s wife, Gaye, was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Tami would soon commit herself to not only caring for Gaye, but also an emotional support system for the grieving family. 

“If you told me twenty years ago that I would become ‘the other woman’ I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” Reeves explains in her moving new memoir, Bleeding Hearts: A True Story of Alzheimer’s Family, and the Other Woman, Second Edition. “But it was crystal clear that Eric was looking for a partner not to replace his beautiful wife, but to share the rest of his life with. There is just so much pain and so many victims Alzheimer’s disease claims. And the caregiver in me just took over.”

I had a chance to interview Tami to learn more.

How can widowed parents start the conversation about a new marriage after the death of their spouse?
          Sharing reasons for “moving on” and looking to get married, before there is a new partner could ease the children into accepting the thought, well before it happens -regardless of the ages of the children. Talking about the possibility of a new partner and getting feedback from the children help them feel that they are involved in the union, and not just spectators. Also, explaining to the children that the marriage is not just between the bride and groom, but that it is the joining of two families (regardless of other children) to become one. is paramount for the beginning of a less tumultuous experience.  

What do stepparents need to do to reassure the kids that they aren't trying to replace the deceased parent?
          Talking to the children about the deceased parent and embracing who they are to the family is key. I feel a stepparent’s duty is to find out as much about the deceased parent as possible and celebrating who they were with and for the children. Keeping family photos of the deceased parent on display, share in watching old videos with the children to help them see that you embrace that parent and are not out to replace them.

What do stepparents and parents need to do to help children grieve?
          Encouraging the children to talk openly about their parent and their pain can prove to be most helpful in the grief process. Children need to feel that they can express their pain in any way then need to. Whether its acting out in a store or telling you how much they hate you. The stepparent needs to be prepared and patient during difficult times and to accept whatever the child needs to verbalize or act out. Encouraging them to feel their pain. Going through photo albums with the children and letting them share with you the fond memories will not only be a bonding moment for the parent or stepparent, but might open conversation and help the children deal with their grief.

Tami Reeves, RN, worked as a pediatric and trauma nurse for several years. As a CODA (child of deaf adults), she has been a caregiver all her life—responsible for her siblings and parents at a very young age. When she met her now husband, she played a crucial role in his healing process, helping to care for his wife, Gaye, who became diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in her late 40s. Tami is currently working to establish the Gaye L. Reeves Foundation in her memory to help families of Alzheimer’s victims, providing support and raising awareness for the suffering that loved ones of patients endure. Tami currently resides in Germany with her husband, Eric.
For more information, visit You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @Alzheimerspouse  
Bleeding Hearts is available for purchase on Amazon and through other booksellers.

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