I've never experienced this kind of grief.
May 17, 2010 12:19 PM   Subscribe

How do I help my boyfriend through a death in his family? (Longish, apologies)

I called my boyfriend yesterday evening to congratulate him on a new job, and noticed he sounded a little distracted. He said he was writing an email to his sister (an ocean and a continent away). Some small talk later, he was barely even responding, so I asked again and he revealed that the email was to inform his sister that his uncle died. I promptly ended the conversation to let him do what he needs to do.

We have not spoken since, although I sent him two texts in the meanwhile: one to tell him that I'm here if he needs to talk, which he responded with that he's okay, but he's worried about his aunt but doesn't really know how to help. Second (subsequent) text was to list a few basic ideas of what he could do even while being broke, which he replied with a brief thanks.

I've had deaths in the family (aunt, grandfather), although I am not close to my extended family (save for my cousins). One particular death happened when I was in a pretty shitty time of my life, so although in retrospect I was being a horrible niece/granddaughter, at the time I didn't even do much to help the rest of the family, and never really felt grief. So while I know some basic steps to support someone that I know (most of which I got from AskMefi), I've never put them into practice, and most certainly don't know how to help anyone involved when the death is even further removed from me.

I have met the boyfriend's nuclear family, but not his (very large) extended family, so I am unable to directly do anything. Said boyfriend is much closer to his family in general than I am to mine, although I'm not sure how close he was to said aunt/uncle/cousins and how much he is grieving. I'm unsure of how to help, or whether I should attempt to.

Relevant data: we are both in our early twenties, both students, both pretty broke. Haven't fought, communication usually pretty frank. We have been together for a year (in fact, the one-year mark is this weekend). As far as I'm concerned, all plans, expectations of celebrations, and whatnot is foregone unless Boyfriend explicitly tells me otherwise; grief trumps far, far over celebration. I don't want to bring up the subject unless he does, since I've already written that text; I figure everyone grieves in their own way, and he'll talk to me if he wants to but I'm not going to make him if he doesn't want to. If he needs something from me, I hope that he'll tell me.

What else can I do, hive mind? Also, what else might I expect from the boyfriend's side in the coming days? Again, I've never really grieved a death (attended and cried at funerals, yes, but not extended grief), so I don't know what to expect. Knowing that will help so that I can understand that 'hey, he's grieving' and not get upset that he forgot to call because he was spending time with his cousins or something. (Well, I'd obviously understand that one, but the gist is there.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's been one day? Leave him alone for a bit. He'll call you later and he'll probably just want to hang out.
posted by Think_Long at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2010

This is a good opportunity to make some supportive gesture. Maybe tomorrow send him a note and ask if he wants you to come over with dinner? You don't need to pressure him to talk about anything, just being there will do wonders.

Let him tell you that he'd rather be alone, instead of assuming it.
posted by hermitosis at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with hermitosis. Maybe make him a little lunchbox/dinnerbox and leave it at his door with a card, telling him you'll be there at the blink of an eye if he wants to hang out. Make sure he knows you care!
posted by Tarumba at 12:50 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Relevant past question. In asking that, I found a number of great past questions about how to support people in their grief, so you might peruse the archives.

One thought on your texts. It sounds like you very actively want to help and to do something. You might also work on just being there and hearing his difficult feelings. So for example, you gave him suggestions about how to support his aunt, but was he asking for suggestions or was he expressing a difficult emotion? An alternative response would've been "I know -- it's so hard to watch someone you love go through such pain and not know how you could possibly ease it for them" -- first really hearing the emotion there, before maybe then moving on to "are you looking for suggestions about actual steps you could take to help her?" or maybe even positioning yourself as part of who will carry out those suggestions, "I'd be happy to help you come up with some suggestions and figure out something we could do for her." I imagine that these approaches are already in your repertoire, since you sound very emotionally aware and thoughtful. Good luck, and I'm sorry for his loss.
posted by salvia at 1:12 PM on May 17, 2010

what else might I expect from the boyfriend's side in the coming days?

Without trying to sound blunt: the unexpected. He could react in any number of ways, which may or may not look sufficient, insufficient or crazy in your eyes. Let him know that you're there for whatever he feels and (this is often particularly important, I've noticed, when dealing with male reactions to death) that whatever he feels is okay.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:14 PM on May 17, 2010

It seems to me that you might be a little too worried about being presumptuous and a little hesitant to communicate with him. Go ahead and communicate--ask him if he wants to cancel plans or if it would be better to go ahead with him--call him as often as you usually do--communicate. Ask him what he needs from you. If he needs space, give it to him, but don't assume that's what he needs.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:43 PM on May 17, 2010

Have you called him? My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago and, for me, it was nice to actually talk to people that I usually communicated with via text or IM. I also wanted to be with my family and close friends. If he doesn't want to talk, he'll probably let you know.
posted by Kris10_b at 3:02 AM on May 18, 2010

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