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How to Support Boyfriend Grieving Loss of Sister


LIZ1983

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Hi! This is going to be a long one... I am seeking advice on being supportive to my boyfriend of 4 years (he is 50 years old), who lost his older sister (55) a little over 2 years ago. It sounds crazy to say, but I don't even know how his sister died. He won't speak of it. I can speculate that she may have committed suicide, because leading up to that point, there was a big blow up between his sister and mother...he was stuck in the middle and told me she ruined every holiday or event and he was over it. A few days later, he texted me and said "my sister passed away. I can't speak of it, I will never be able to speak of it...please don't ask me any questions about it. I will never be the same again." I have respected his wishes and have never asked him any questions. I feel that if he wants to talk about it, he will. I never met her, but from what he told me, it sounded as if she had mental issues. The only thing his mother has ever mentioned is "it is harder on him, than me, because he is the one who found her."

He has her house, which he pays a mortgage on, but won't stay in but refuses to sell...he has her car parked in the garage at the house...all of her belongings still in the same place she left them. He goes through periods where he seems fine, although he doesn't sleep well at all. I have suggested counseling, to which he immediately says no. I live 2 hours away from him. When he stays with me, usually once a month for 2 weeks at a time, things are wonderful. 

My problem is, when he goes "home," (he stays with his 83 year old mother because he can't bear to be in his sister's house),he goes silent on me for sometimes weeks at a time. He doesn't respond to texts, doesn't answer the phone, etc. I have tried my very best to be understanding of the situation, but I am getting to the point where I just don't get it...I know everyone grieves differently, but this seems so extreme to me. We have a wonderful relationship otherwise. I have expressed to him how it makes me feel when he does this, but it keeps happening. He texted me the other day and said "I think about my sister every day, but the last 2 weeks have been hell for me. I will never be the same."

My Dad died when I was 12 years old, so it's not as though I have never experienced loss. My Mom told me that the 2nd year after my Dad died was the hardest for her, because the first year, she was just going through the motions to get through it, but the second year, it was so final.

Can anyone please give me some advice on how to handle this, before I throw in the towel? Should I just accept that this is how my life is going to be? I love him with all of my heart, but I'm starting to feel as though I am grieving him. I get that he is never going to be the same, but how can I be there for someone who doesn't let me be? 

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You are right, everyone does grieve differently, but it doesn't sound like he is doing anything to process or aid his grief, he is stuck in it.  I wish he would go for counseling, but people can't be forced to take action.  You alone have to decide how much you can take of this.  I think you are one understanding person to have hung in there under the circumstances this long.  I have often heard people say their second year was worse than the first, at least in the first year we have the benefit of a protecting layer of shock, support, etc. but people go back to their lives and expect you to move on or be over it.  That doesn't happen.  All we can do is learn to adjust and cope with the changes it means for our lives.  

I am so sorry you and your BF are caught in this.  My heart goes out to both of you.  Your suspicions of suicide may be right, or perhaps murder?  IDK.  Whatever it was, it was very traumatic for him and I don't know at what point he'll be ready to face it, if ever.  

12 hours ago, LIZ1983 said:

I get that he is never going to be the same, but how can I be there for someone who doesn't let me be? 

This is a question for him.  And he may not have an answer.

https://www.griefhealingblog.com/2014/08/grief-understanding-process.html
http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2016/11/in-grief-being-there-for-someone-in.html

He needs help tremendously, a grief counselor that is trained in grief to help him would be a great start, but if he refuses to try it...he may feel unable to talk about the pain but it will continue to sizzle inside of him if he does not begin to let it out and express him, it doesn't magically disappear of it's own accord.  Kudos to you for being there for him, I hope things work out for you both.

 

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Thank you so very much for your insight! I am honestly not trying to make this about me. I am so worried about him, but frustrated at the same time, because you're absolutely right...he isn't doing anything to work through his grief. I think by acting like everything is fine and keeping himself extra busy with work and projects, he has been able to push it down, but as we all know, grief will find you! 

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Kay said it best, as usual, but I did want to mention the following angle that you may or may not have considered: his response is a typical guy response.  Understandable but ultimately not helpful as grief will not be denied.  Sometimes it's easier for guys to tap into anger which is a more familiar emotion than sadness/grief.  That trained counselor that Kay mentions may be able to use that avenue to help him feel his way through this.  And that's just it, he has to feel his way through, and there's no way through but through.  It occurs to me that he may also be transferring some of his grief onto you so that you are the one who channels it away, because it has to go somewhere.  That's unfair to you, but it often happens.  Us guys aren't exactly encouraged to show emotion and we often get smacked down early in life for doing so.  🙁  So you learn not to.

Hoping he finds his way through safely.

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Thank you, Kieran. That is a very good point that I really didn't consider, especially the transfer of grief. I am younger than he is (38), and I have 2 sons, 9 and 5. I try to be very conscious of letting them show their emotions, because I do know how common it is to shut it down with males. 

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Thank you, Kay. That article was very helpful. I can relate to that as well, because I am often thought of as cold or emotionless, which is quite far from the truth! Do you think I should continue to respect his wishes and not ask him questions about it, or do you think that I have hindered him by not talking about it with him? I think I am just so afraid of him having a bad reaction, that I just keep quiet. 

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You know this man better than we do, Liz, so you might do well to follow your own best instincts ~ but I do think it helps to do some reading on the topic so you'll better understand his reactions. I'm hoping one or more of the articles listed in this post may be helpful to you: Helping Another in Grief: Suggested Resources

If in your reading you come across something that you think might benefit him, you might print it out and invite him to read it. This can be a safer and less direct way to open a dialogue. You can say something like this: "I came across this article and it made me think of you. Just thought you might like to read it, too."

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Marty, great idea. I am so glad I found this group. I have been struggling with this for so long and I honestly didn't know what to do. You guys have been so helpful. I do know the holidays are hard for everyone, but especially when grieving. I think I reached my limit, because it has just been happening more and I've tried talking with him about how it makes me feel when he just goes silent. I told him I would be more than understanding if he would just tell me he needs some space. I also understand, though, that by his non-responsiveness, he is saying that. It is just hurtful. I asked him specifically not to wait until Christmas Eve to come to my house, and yet he texted me yesterday after ignoring my texts for a couple days and said he would be here today. I asked what time and said that if he took another day to respond to that, I would be very upset, and that's exactly what he did. I texted him that at 10:03AM yesterday. He texted me back at 7:30AM today and said "I really fell asleep." So, now I'm just supposed to act like everything is fine and dandy when he shows up. It gets exhausting. Anyway. I'm sorry to go off on a tangent. I think I've been holding it inside for so long, that I just need to get it out. 

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It also may be that "getting it out" is enabling you to look at this relationship more objectively ~ that's what happens when we expose our innermost thoughts to the light of day, and take the risk of sharing those thoughts "out loud" with others, as you have done here.

I agree with you: It must be exhausting for you to be with someone who treats you this way, with so little regard for how YOU are feeling in the face of it. I am reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt's words: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent . . . 

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I think you're right. I have allowed it because of his loss, but I don't think that is an excuse to act the way he is. It is baffling, because otherwise, he is very thoughtful and caring. I have a lot of thinking to do. I don't feel as though I am expecting too much, but I guess I needed to get some outside perspective from people who are also grieving to see if there's something I am just missing here.

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18 hours ago, LIZ1983 said:

I can't speak of it, I will never be able to speak of it...please don't ask me any questions about it.

Clearly he wants / needs to avoid anything that reminds him of whatever circumstances surrounded his sister's death. When he makes a statement like this, you might respond by gently asking him: "What do you think would happen if you did speak of it?"

Unfortunately you cannot "make" someone talk to you or agree to see a counselor, but you might be able to explore a bit with him what is behind his reluctance to talk about this with you.

Short of that, you might share one or more of these articles with him:

Are You Reluctant to Seek Counseling for Grief?

Finding Grief Support That Is Right for You

Note that each of these articles includes links to several additional resources. And before you invite your man to read any of them, make sure that you read them first, so you'll know exactly why you're recommending them! ❤️

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20 hours ago, MartyT said:

It also may be that "getting it out" is enabling you to look at this relationship more objectively

More and more you are beginning to feel dissatisfaction with this relationship "as is."  And rightly so!  We're human, we have needs, and it's understandable we don't want to be ignored by our SO, especially with an indefinite period of time, we see no end in sight or sign of improvement to spur us on!

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