Struggling friend of the bereaved
July 24, 2021 6:48 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to support a longtime friend who very suddenly lost his young wife. However, I'm struggling to navigate my role. Looking for tips from those who've been there as well as any recommended articles, online groups, etc. I can't commit to regular meetings, but I'd like to find a place where I can talk about my own concerns and frustrations, like the one below the fold.

A very long-time (and long-distance) friend very suddenly lost his wife, who was in her 40's.

I'm glad my friend is reaching out to people, including me, but I'm starting to feel like I'm in over my head, especially considering how often he texts/calls after drinking.

Last night I set a boundary in conversation (I was offended by the way he was talking about women ) and got triggered when I felt he crossed it. I shot off something about how not all women exist for him to discuss why he will/won't hook up with them. (For the record, he's not usually like that, but grief and drinking have brought that out.)

He got really upset and was kind of mean and doesn't want to talk to me now.

This is all especially hard because due to the drinking, I'm not sure how much he remembers about the actual conversation, just the texts before and after.

I sent what i thought was a nice and caring reply, but he had already decided the situation was too volatile. I feel like there was a central misunderstanding that I'm missing, but clearly he's triggered now and doesn't want to talk.

I'm still here for him but am over my head as far as things like boundaries and addressing conflict that may arise. I'm his friend, but I'm also still human and can't put that aside all the time we're in contact, especially when he's drinking and difficult.

I am only looking for support idea for myself, not things to suggest to him.

I felt really awful about the whole thing today, even knowing i did my best in my reply and also by respecting his need for space.

I'm in way over my head and would love guidance, books, group recs, etc but I'm not finding a lot specifically for friends. I can't commit to anything with meetings, and nothing with religious context.

Thank you.
posted by mermaidcafe to Human Relations (5 answers total)
I've been in over my head with friends a couple times, at which point, I suggested that they talk to a professional. In both cases, they did.
posted by aniola at 7:32 PM on July 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Give him a week or so, assuming he doesn't call you back in a couple days, and then you reach out and say you're sorry there was a disagreement and you want to be there for him and can the two of you talk - sober - and work it out?

Probably a better boundary would be not to talk when he's been drinking, and yes you should encourage him to queue up a professional. This is pretty much up there on the top of the list for therapy-worthy live events.

It's not your job to get training to help him. I just recently ended up down a well of TED talks on loss, mostly spousal, and I assume all the speakers have books you could read that will give you some insight. But you don't have to do his grieving for him, and you absolutely can and should hold him to basic standards of behavior and self-care. It might mean you give him more chances or leeway than a friend who hasn't just had a serious loss but you're not obligated to endorse self-harm.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:45 PM on July 24, 2021 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: Btw, I and others have suggested therapy, support groups, etc, but he’s been resistant so far. Right now I’m figuring out my own place here, and I have my own therapist (who’s on vacation).
posted by mermaidcafe at 8:29 PM on July 24, 2021

Best answer: I started drinking heavily after a loss (and stayed there for years…. I don’t know that my friends could’ve done anything different to help me until I was ready tho).
Definitely refuse to talk to him if he’s drunk. You can let him down gently (“I know you’re hurting but this is not a productive state of mind for a chat” rather than “I refuse to talk to you when you’re drunk!!!”) and reach out when he’s more likely to be sober (unless he insulted you. You don’t need to take that.)

Good luck, I know it is hard to stand by as someone else chooses to self-destruct. I was very lucky that my friends stuck with me when I was insufferable.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:46 AM on July 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

As far as the central misunderstanding, I'm wondering if it might be that he lost his wife, and is probably feeling some sort of survivor guilt or thinking he wasn't a good husband to her (normal feelings to have, even if it's not at all true).

Being told that the way he's talking about women is unacceptable (even if it really is unacceptable) could make those feelings worse, because that's more evidence that he probably wasn't good enough to his late wife, a woman (even if he was).

I totally support you in not listening to people when they talk about women only as interesting to hook up with or not. Even though this guy isn't normally like that, he is like that when he's unable to be his best self. It's ok if you're not the person to listen to him at those times.

There are other things you can do as a friend. Maybe you can send him photos and links to shared interests, or invite him to outdoors activities, or I don't know, anything else besides deep conversations in post-drinks texts and calls.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 6:48 AM on July 25, 2021

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