Supporting boyfriend through grief
August 30, 2013 11:34 AM   Subscribe

This past month, my boyfriend lost his job. Yesterday, his good friend lost his battle with cancer. How can I best support him during this?

We have been dating for a little over 6 months. I'm 25 F and he's 30, if that matters. I love him to pieces, but don't know at all how to support him right now. He's been spending most of his time with his friend's family. I have only met the deceased friend once, so I haven't been a part of that process.

I've brought him food, cleaned his house and generally tried to make things easier for him, while trying not to ask for anything. Since we are relatively new, I'm not 100% sure how to love him best during this really difficult time. Any tips or anecdotes would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Be prepared for swings in his moods and his need for attention and distance. If you're happy with your relationship now, just let him determine how his grief will shake out. Be supportive, but don't push your supportiveness on him, or insist that you need to be there for him when he wants some alone time.
posted by xingcat at 11:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you're doing exactly the right things - just being there and generally doing tasks that he is going to be too flipped out to do right now.

People all handle grief very, very differently. Some get stoic, some get really emotional, some will go through a roller coaster of emotion, some will repress for a while, some may even feel relieved and then feel guilty that they feel relieved and know? It's really, really different for everyone. So another thing to do is just to remember that he may really, really not be himself for the next month or so, so if he says something way harsh, cut him a little more slack than you usually would.

But you're doing fine from what I can see, generally Being Supportive. Be there to listen if he feels like talking, be willing to drop the subject if he doesn't and just wants you to be the person he can talk about goofy shit with instead of always being serious - roll with what he seems to need most.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Definitely keep doing what you're doing. Doing small, considerate, make life easier things for him without making a big deal of it is best I think. I know sometimes people's inclination is to rush to a grieving person's side and do for them what THEY would want others to do for them in that situation, without ever considering that maybe the grieving person processes things differently. You're letting him grieve in his own way, and that is best.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is be something of a refuge, a place he can go when he wants to disengage from the grief and the sadness. A distraction. And maybe try to maintain some semblance of normalcy. I know when Sad Things have happened to me in the past, I've always appreciated the friend who gave me the space to behave normally and not have the sad thing be the focus of my life if only for the afternoon. They didn't coddle or go excessively out of their way to be extra nice to me. They just acted normally and treated me and talked to me the way they always do. It seriously helped tremendously to have a "normal zone". Everyone else was so sad and it was so consuming. Time with them was a bit of a breather before throwing myself back in to the wall of emotion and sadness. Maybe he doesn't want that from you, but he might. I don't know. I know when a friend of my fiance's died suddenly (heart attack at age 42, no warning signs) a couple of weeks ago what he needed from me was to keep things light. He needed to be able to think and talk about the good times with his friend, not dwell on the sadness, and I allowed him that. We talked and joked, he told me the crazy stories of the insane things they did when they were younger, we had a beer in his honour. He couldn't go to the funeral, but I think he processed and handled it in a way that felt right for him, and it was how his friend would have wanted it. The day after his friend's sudden death he unearthed an email he had sent my fiance years ago saying how he hated funerals and how they just weren't his scene. He felt good about mourning his friend exactly in the way he would have wanted it.

Just listen to him, pay attention to what he is and isn't asking for, and try to give him what he wants. If he wants distance, give him that distance. If he wants to cry at you and talk about his feelings, be that person for him to talk to. If he wants to go to an amusement park and pretend like none of this is going on, that is okay too. I wouldn't talk about the death unless he brings it up first.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you're fine. You don't want to smother someone.

Go out and live your life, and check in with him periodically. I'm sure that he doesn't want to think of you sitting around waiting for him while he does what he needs to do.

Hopefully he'll call or text you, and you can take your cues from there.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:04 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're on the right track, and the advice given so-far is spot on. I was unemployed (by choice) when my mom died (unexpectedly) and I was a little over 6 months into a new relationship. Handling all that change at once is HARD. For me, it took a long time to really process and deal with it. (I still am - this all happened a little over a year ago.) It's helped that my boyfriend is still very willing to talk about this stuff with me. If your boyfriend and his friend were very close, it might be hard to deal for the first time with certain events or times of year without him. Grief stuff can be complicated, unstable, and unexpected. Make space for your boyfriend if he wants to talk about his friend as time goes by. Don't force him or anything but let him know it's ok. Keep in mind that loss is something that has to be lived with, not just something that happens and is then recovered from after a certain period of time. Be interested and, if it seems important to your boyfriend, try to get to know his friend a little bit through shared memories and stories.

I have less insight on how to help him with the unemployment stuff. The little things you've been doing sound great. The way you asked this question, and the fact that you asked it, shows a lot of caring and consideration.
posted by norrington at 12:27 PM on August 30, 2013

When my wife died I liked to have people around, just to not feel lonely, even though I didn't want to talk about it much. Just having someone else in the house was nice.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:03 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was your age and dating someone for about a month or two, his father was killed in a workplace accident -- so, unexpected and shocking. I was at a complete loss as to what to do or how to help.

I found a book called How Can I Help?, Stories and Reflections on Service, by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. I have found it incredibly helpful over time, although it doesn't address the specific question that you and I are/were asking. But it may help you frame some of the issues.

It also completely changed my life and led me directly to a handful of things that are central to who I am today, almost 30 years later. So of course I recommend it.

But also, to add, many years later, the founder of Zen Hospice said something that is so true and so perfect that I wish it were on billboards everywhere: It's not service unless both people are being served.

Which is to say, in your situation, do what's right for you both, as you understand it, and be true to yourself and your relationship, as I think you already are, in considering what to offer and how to offer it. It is almost unavoidable that we get back far more than we give when we open our hearts in compassion with another person, not because they are so grateful or that they respond in kind, but because the act of caring is itself so nurturing and rewarding.
posted by janey47 at 1:16 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

« Older Adding a photo to my work Gmail signature?   |   Fry Me Twice Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.