How to cope with a spouse's abusive parent's suicide?
April 26, 2016 12:17 AM   Subscribe

My beloved spouse's extremely abusive [estranged] father killed himself about a month ago. They're having a hard time coping, and me too. I don't know how to support them and to cope with their limited functional ability in our relationship and in life in general. I'm looking for resources to help me with this.

Spousey's disabled, and has some mental illness things going on. So this is impacting them really, really harshly, and it's causing some rifts because I don't know what to do. Apparently I've been expecting "normality" from them, and I guess I can see that even though I wasn't doing it on purpose at all.

The issues at hand:
a] Trying to figure out how to deal with my own emotionfeels regarding the current changes in my relationship, and how to respectfully communicate my own needs such as not feeling ignored.
b] How do I help my partner through this? They spent two weeks two states away cleaning up the father's apartment and dealing with the estate, and are a wreck, and I literally don't know what to do.

I already do most of the cooking, both because I love it and because they have a hard time with it. But ... what else can I do?

What are some good resources that talk about helping people through this? Are there support groups, both in person [I live in Olympia, WA] and online?

I literally don't know where to start and we're both really overwhelmed.
posted by gloraelin to Human Relations (7 answers total)
Step one, call a crisis line. Here's one I found in WA. If you feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start, the best thing you can do is ask for help. People on a crisis line can help you process what you're going through and connect you to local resources.

Step two. Comfort in, dump out. I understand it is difficult but you need to find sources of support beyond your partner to have your needs met in the immediate future. A support group, a therapist, a trusted friend. Your emotional processing has to go outwards. You may find you don't have much capacity for this in your life; it may be that your partner is your primary source of emotional support. You have to find a way now, you have to look beyond.

Your role as a partner during a crisis is to relieve as many burdens from your partner's life as you can. That means you come to them with solutions, not problems. If you have a problem that you are tired or stressed out, you cannot bring that to your partner right now, because that is going to add to their load. You need to deal with your own tiredness and stress on your own, and then come back to your partner and help them deal with theirs. Always be either giving or neutral. If you have needs that your partner would normally be meeting, you have to set them aside right now.

Doing the cooking is great. Keep them fed and rested, make the environment comfortable and clean. Handle the grocery shopping and whatever life errands are around. Basically, the best thing to do is make your home into a nest, and make it clear that they can just crash and not move for as long as they need. Imagine they have the flu and are too sick to walk; that's the level of caring that's required right now. Reassure them that you've got everything under control and they can drop their burdens and just be, for as long as they need to. And do what you have to do to make that happen.

This crisis is going to be a huge burden on them and a huge burden on you. It is going to be a big challenge. It is not easy to care for someone in this way. So the most important, most vital piece is that you resource yourself. You need support to do this. Please reach out wherever you can. Best wishes.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:02 AM on April 26, 2016 [9 favorites]

A crisis line can be an invaluable help. However, the link given is for King County. Here's the link to the Thurston County Crisis Clinic:

Their telephone number is 360-586-2800. They answer the phone 24 hours a day. I've known people who have worked there, and they are say wonderful things about it. You can call them right now; they'll listen, and they'll refer you to people and resources that can help you.

From personal knowledge, I know that suicide of a family member (or even a suicide attempt) is unbelievably upsetting. It's like a personal magnitude 10 earthquake. But time passes and the pain recedes. Wishing you the very best.
posted by kestralwing at 1:16 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like things in your life were already in crisis a and now even more trauma has been piled on. Something about your description of your partner twigged me that their behaviour right now is not only unhealthy, but possibly abusive/controlling and maybe it has been a long time since they have treated you kindly. If so, if you have been running on fumes for a while and feel you need a break from caring for them then it is perfectly fine to take that break and expect other people to step up. If your partner has a limited support system, that is on them for not having developed one through the years, but doesn't then require you to burn yourself out. You have to put your own oxygen mask on. Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 3:40 AM on April 26, 2016

My spousey is actually quite supportive, it's only been since the death that things have been like this. The issue isn't necessarily that we don't have community support, it's that we've been in literal survival mode for a month and are only now trying to get back into "life" again. They only got back from out of town on Thursday and things came to a head on Saturday.

I'm planning on talking to my therapist for resources on Wednesday, and I'm going to be contacting some friends tomorr-- er, today, as well.

The crisis line is a really good idea and I'll actually call them today too. Thank gods for having three days off before I work again, after tonight.
posted by gloraelin at 3:44 AM on April 26, 2016

My apologies. Your work may have an EAP that will give you resources as well. Do let your wider community know you both need support right now while you are still in crisis mode.
posted by saucysault at 5:27 AM on April 26, 2016

I lot of the roughest edges of these conflicts can be smoothed by better communication and far less expectation of mind reading. It's not fair - and not productive - for them to expect you to know what to do (like both literally know how things should be right now, and also guess how to interact with them in a way they find acceptable), or for you to expect you to know exactly how to do all this.

One thing you two might need to discuss is how crisis mode is nowhere near over yet. They just got back from cleaning up, it'll be months before you're not at least at Level Orange.

I know this may be outside your financial grasp, but if you have any ability to engage either an actual intensive outpatient program or put together an ad hoc treatment arrangement that is daily or nearly so, that might be a good idea. There's only so much you can do, even if you are a qualified mental health professional, since they are your partner. They maybe need to not put the entire burden of managing their feelings on you, since the burden of managing so much of the day-to-day seems to already be on you. You can't fix their feelings, and you need help, and step one is maybe getting your partner into a reliable ongoing help situation to free up some internal resources to get your own help.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:07 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

It may be helpful to know that when an estranged and/or abusive parent dies, the person generally has to mourn not only the parent as the parent actually was, but also the death of the possibility of the relationship ever getting better. The process can be really complicated and messy.

Victoria Hospice has some good general brochures on grief (scroll down to "Bereavement"), including grief after suicide.

You could also contact your local hospice or Survivors of Suicide support group (it's for loved ones left behind, or even non-loved ones left behind). They may have other resources and support groups that could help.
posted by lazuli at 10:19 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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