How can I show my boyfriend my love/support on our 5th anniversary - only a couple days after his father's death?
January 17, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

How can I show my boyfriend my love/support on our 5th anniversary - only a couple days after his father's death?

My boyfriend's father died this morning after a week long struggle with an unexpected illness. It's been an awful experience, and we all are hurting badly. My boyfriend is only 27, and has been forced to do a lot of growing up this week and make a lot of tough, crappy decisions. I'm trying to do my best to be supportive and helpful to him and his family in their time of need, but I'm finding myself emotionally messed up too from all of this.

On top of all this, Tuesday will be our 5th year anniversary. I don't plan on making any kind of big deal out of it right now - it doesn't seem appropriate anymore. But I would like to try to do something nice to show him my support. What can I do that might cheer him up and show him that I love him? What have others done for you in your time of grieving?

(Looking for more than "just be there for him" type answers - I have been and continue to be there for him. Annon because the BF is a MeFite too.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Don't even mention your anniversary. Have a "5 year and one month" anniversary in February. You can show him you love him by being there for him. I'm assuming you live together if you've been together for five years, so it should be easy. Keep the house clean, keep him fed. Don't ask much of him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:01 AM on January 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

It will be helpful to him for you to let go of the expectation that you are going to be able to do anything to "cheer him up", his process is his process. roomthreeseventeen put it well, take care of the simple stuff that he's liable to neglect as he's focused elsewhere, and, this may be a longer process than either of you anticipate, cut him some slack, don't impose any artificial timelines on his grief.
posted by HuronBob at 8:07 AM on January 17, 2011

This isn't the right time for things to be about You or Us. Let the anniversary quietly and gracefully slide.
posted by mhoye at 8:13 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

His attention will probably be focused on his mother for a while (especially if he's one of the older siblings). If you can do stuff like prepare a few easy-to-reheat meals for her, it'll go a long way towards easing his worries. In regards to "just be there for him", one aspect is just enjoying the fun little distractions in life. A quiet, happy moment can be like an oasis during times like these.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:15 AM on January 17, 2011

I don't know, when my pops died I was a shambles. We think about mortality and continuity, our relationships and our futures.

Had I a girlfriend at the time who said something as simple as "it's been five years, lets make it 50" I would have melted.
posted by Max Power at 8:22 AM on January 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

If I were in his position, the anniversary gift I'd most want would be total, unmitigated, genuine permission to ignore the anniversary and celebrate it another time, since he's so overwhelmed right now that he can't possibly pay attention to a relationshippy celebration. No matter what you might do to recognize the anniversary, he would thus feel pressured to reciprocate, even if you were to say a polite "oh you don't have to do anything."

Annon because the BF is a MeFite too.

I hate to break this to you, but if he does check the AskMetafilter homepage and sees a post by someone whose 27-year-old boyfriend's dad died this morning, 2 days before the 5-year anniversary of your relationship ... he's going to know it's by you.

posted by John Cohen at 8:38 AM on January 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

I hate to break this to you, but if he does check the AskMetafilter homepage and sees a post by someone whose 27-year-old boyfriend's dad died this morning, 2 days before the 5-year anniversary of your relationship ... he's going to know it's by you.

I thought that too, but I think it's equally possible that Anon is ok with the BF seeing this, and just wants to protect his privacy right now.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:50 AM on January 17, 2011

I would say show him in a low-key way that you remember, which is a way of showing him you're thinking of him, but definitely genuinely mean that you don't need HIM to do anything. (We are not big anniversary people so for us that's easy but if you're big anniversary people that may be a bit trickier.)

Personally, just to give an example, I'd probably make his favorite dinner and pick up a treat he particularly liked (my hubs is a candy hound) and tuck that in his briefcase. Neither one of this is a big gesture, but both show I'm thinking of him and care for him. If he mentioned it I'd say, "I remembered today was our fifth anniversary and I wanted to make your favorite because I love you so much and it's such a rough time, it was a little way I could do something nice for you. But I'm not much in a celebratory mood either, so I thought we could put off celebrating for a month or two."

(And I'd also offer to do anything mundane for his family that you could do -- driving people to and from the airport? Taking mom a lasagna? Doing some grocery shopping for her? Arranging flights for people? In-laws can be SO important at times like these, because they're someone who's grieving with you and understands, but typically not quite so bowled over by grief, so it's someone who can cope with the mundane details of life without feeling like an outsider is intruding on your grief. And honestly? Part of the support you provide him is that it has emotionally messed you up too. You're inside his grief and that makes a big difference.)

And if he's remotely in the mood, have sex. Loving, comfy couple sex is a huge way of coping with death and feeling connected.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:51 AM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

This reminds me of a previous Ask MetaFilter question that was posted a little less than a year ago by someone far less understanding of her significant other's grief. The death of a close friend of the S.O. and a close family member's hospitalization for a stroke coincided with this asker's anniversary, and the asker became upset with the S.O. for a number of reasons related to conflicting funeral/anniversary plans, insecurity, etc. Understandably, things got a bit rocky from there. (These are a couple of other questions along these lines I remember reading, too.)

Long story short, you sound very understanding, much more so than that asker, and I think you'll probably do the right thing. Just keep in mind that it is completely not about you at this point, even if you also knew his father and are also grieving. This is a person he's known his whole life—one of the pillars of his existence—who has died. Make sure you make it clear to him that you know this, and do not get upset if he doesn't want to celebrate or even acknowledge the anniversary. Don't get upset if he changes plans or grows forgetful or otherwise gets a little flaky right now. He may say he still wants to celebrate, but not actually want to. He may not know what he wants at all right now.

Moreover, this is his thing, his grief—and he may want to kind of "own" that, in some sense. So give him as much space as he needs, while letting him know that you're available to talk (or more important, listen) if need be. Attend the funeral and any family events with him if he wants you to—just being there by his side and doing the expected things according to protocol can be important in times like this—and make sure to offer your condolences to all of his family members. Say yes to any requests that you can reasonably accommodate. Don't complain if any part of the proceedings turns out to be difficult. Offer to help with anything that needs doing—but don't be surprised if you're turned down. Families often draw themselves tighter in the aftermath of a death.

And above all, don't press things—don't give him X amount of time and then start bugging him about celebrating, or get upset if he still doesn't feel like celebrating even a month or two months or whenever from now. It's going to take him some time to come to terms with this. I know people who've had a beloved parent die when they were in their twenties who took the better part of a decade to really recover from the shock and strain of feeling like now they're an adult, now they're on their own, now they're expected to make the types of decisions about burial plans and disbursal of funds and objects and houses and cars that they never imagined they would have to make so soon.

If he seems upset right now, well, he should be—and that has nothing to do with you. So remember: Don't make it about you. Don't let any existing insecurities you have about the relationship make you needy in his time of need. Grieve, but keep yourself strong and together for him. I think I picked up this concept here on the green at some point: In some relationships, the couple has a spoken or unspoken agreement that only one person is "off-duty" at a time, whether due to illness, grief, etc. During that period, it's the significant other's job to take up the slack, clean the house, do the chores, etc. If you can handle it, I would say make that your M.O. for the next couple of months. Just make sure that if you do so, also take regular "me time" to yourself (or with friends) to grieve, rest, and even laugh, so that you come back to the relationship refreshed and ready to continue to support your partner. If you find yourself getting resentful at any point or for any reason, think it through—don't lash out on impulse. Think hard before confronting him about any issues that arise—lashes can cut to the core if they come from someone trusted at a time when he's already wounded. As someone in one of the threads linked above pointed out, a sort of terrible clarity can come over a young person when a parent dies. Any trouble can be too much trouble—so keep your wits about you.

Good luck! As difficult as this time is, if you stick together through it, you may come out of it all with an even stronger bond, as your S.O. will know he can rely on you to be an adult and keep it together through tough times. (Not that that's why you should be there for him, because you think you'll get something out of it, but it's sort of the light at the end of the tunnel.)

By the way, if you need some reading material during the next couple of months to help you better understand the nature of grief and how one copes with it (or doesn't), I'd suggest reading Joan Didion's autobiographical The Year of Magical Thinking, about dealing with her husband's death at the same time as her daughter was hospitalized for a severe illness. It's a tear-jerker, so I'd suggest waiting until the immediate situation with the funeral, wakes, etc. has passed to read it. But as someone who'd never really dealt with the death of a close family member myself, I found it instructive and cathartic to read in the midst of helping my now-fiancé deal with the illness and death of multiple older family members in the past few years.
posted by limeonaire at 9:22 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

hi anon,

I just went thru this with my fiance - he is 31, and over Christmas we lost his vital, healthy, loving father to a sudden, unexpected illness.

As re: the anniversary stuff? Let it go. If he mentions it, follow his lead. I can imagine, having just seen this process up close and personal with my own guy, that he is absolutely OVERWHELMED with grief right now, and the last thing he needs is to deal with conflicting emotional stuff.

In our case, we completely ignored Christmas and New Year's celebrations. Trying to be cheery or "distract" ourselves with them would have felt completely false and hollow, so we didn't even try, we just treated it like any other day and soldiered on with memorial planning and stuff.

If he thinks about your anniversary at all, he may quite likely express guilt, and frame it as "feeling like a bad boyfriend" for forgetting, or something like that. Please be forgiving and supportive and tell him it is OKAY, please don't be guilty, you are in this with him.

One thing I did for my fiance, that he said was extremely helpful at the time: I was the one who made all those horrible, extremely difficult and sad phone calls to family and friends to notify them of my fiance's dad's passing. It was desperately hard, and unpleasant, but I was the only one who could make it through the call without completely breaking down, so I did it. That's the kind of stuff you do.

It's also okay for you to be sad with him. Part of the process is helping him grieve by letting him grieve in his own time, and in his own way. My fiance is in the process of putting together a memorial multimedia kit for the family - and it's really difficult for him to do, half the time he just sits there in front of the computer with tears streaming down, listening to his dad's podcasts. It's okay, he NEEDS to do this. One of the hardest things for me is to just let him be, and let him deal, because it's what he needs.

Everyone's grief is different, and it's going to take him a long time to come to terms with this.

If it helps at all, I sent my guy a snippet from President Obama's speech last Thursday in re: the Tucson tragedy. It was very helpful for my guy, and hopefully it will strike a chord with yours:

"...that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past.

Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others."

Best of luck, and much love to you. Take care of both of you.

Last but not least, please hug your guy, and tell him how much he means to you.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:36 AM on January 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

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