You must be exhausted!
Thirty years ago I was teaching a teen class. Two of the boys in the class had lost their fathers to black lung disease from coal mining. I asked them what it felt like to lose their fathers, and one of them said, “I felt like nothing. I was nothing.” The other boy agreed. The boy who agreed with him started drinking and never recovered from alcoholism.
Your son is ten years old now. Part of him is still stuck at being abandoned by his father at 5 years old.
I would say something like: “So, now that your father is gone, you feel worthless now?” Then just wait silently.
This is the difference between a counselor and a family member. A counselor will go ahead and say the painful thing that they are feeling, and sit with it. The family member will contradict the painful thing they are feeling. When you contradict the painful feeling, then the child has to argue with you to get his point across. And then the family member won’t listen, they just keep negating what he is feeling. And he ends up feeling more worthless.
It is very very difficult to listen without arguing. That’s what play therapy is all about. A child will play a game where someone gets killed or eaten or jailed. The professional therapist will join right in and gleefully enjoy the maiming or annihilation of the villain. The family member will want to rush in with forgiveness and gentleness for the villain. Not therapeutic for the child. Once the villain is completely dead and destroyed and dismembered, then sometimes I ask, “Shall we put him back together? Take him to the hospital? Call an ambulance?” If they say No, then it is No.
At the heart of play therapy is putting yourself in the child’s shoes. What is the child feeling? Angry, scared and abandoned.
You might say one day: “When your father died, I was worried that no man would ever love me again. I would be alone for the rest of my life. Do you feel that way? That nobody like your dad is ever going to see you as important again?”
When you suggest things to him, he’s going to get sarcastic with you. “Mom, that’s stupid! Why would you say that? That’s stupid!” Because he is ashamed for his feelings. Then is your chance to say in his voice, “Yeah, Mom, you’re so ignorant. You don’t know anything. You’re so stupid that maybe they should just come and take you away next time they pick up the trash!” Keep going until he laughs. “I’ve never met a Mom as stupid as you are. If you look up the definition of Stupid on the internet, they have a picture of you, Mom.” Taking his viewpoint, and voicing it for him, especially when it disagrees with your viewpoint, is hugely gratifying to an angry child.
You could also play the game: What if Dad were still alive? If Dad were still alive what activities would he do with you? Would he sit and eat dinner with you? Would he tell his favorite joke? Would he play football with you? Wrestle with you?
You could watch movies about children dealing with parents who have died. My favorite is Millions.
Take him to the cemetery to put something on the grave. Ask him if he wants to take something to leave on the grave. Give him some time to think. Your son will pick out his favorite possession, very expensive, irreplaceable, or something he made himself, and leave it on the grave. Don’t argue with him. Let him leave his favorite possession on the grave. Or maybe he doesn’t like that idea. Maybe he doesn’t want to visit the grave. Instead pick out something that Dad liked to do, and suggest that the two of you do that thing in memory of Dad. If Dad liked to make pancakes, then every Sunday morning, it’s Dad-pancake time.
In the same vein, ask your son to think of a project to do in memory of his Dad. Let’s say Dad liked to put up shelves. We’re going to learn how to put up shelves. We’re going to watch YouTube videos, and we’re going to use Dad’s tools to put up a couple of sets of shelves. Let your son do the fun parts of putting up the shelves. If he says it's not as good as Dad's shelves, then say, "Well, when your dad was ten years old, this is what his shelves looked like." You are reassuring him that he is going to be as competent and as strong as his dad was.
Create a memory shelf of his dad. Maybe it is in his room, maybe it is in the living room. Photo of Dad hugging his son. A couple of Dad’s things. A photo book of Dad and son together.
The suggestion is to help him express the verboten aspects of grief: fear of abandonment, anger at abandonment, fear of loss of identity, fear of loss of power. And then structure the grief in constructive ways: good memories of a loving father who treated his son as important.