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Fiance Can't Cope


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My fiance's mother passed this year in March, he was very much a momma's boy, and right now during christmas time he is falling into a depression i cant help. I lost my dad 5 yrs ago and i know how he feels, he never really greived, as i didnt, but i had to go to grave site alone and finally let it all out and i think thats what he needs to do. He was tryin to stay strong for his kids and everyone and was too busy to greive and now its hitting him like a ton of bricks. Am i right that he needs to spend some time alone at grave site? Its affecting his everyday life, his work and our relationship. He wants to get married on what would have been her birthday this coming june but i dont think thats a good idea until he can get past christmas. He wont talk about it to me, he emails me and tells me he is dreaming of her everynight and wakes up and gets no sleep, he feels like he is loosing his mind. His oldest daughter is getting married Saturday and he dont even want to attend the funeral. I know I cant force him to greive, i have told him i am by his side and that his Dr can help, but he just ignores it all. Any Ideas?

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Dear Rebecca,

I'm so sorry to learn of the difficulties your fiance is having since the death of his mother, but I want to applaud you for wanting to better understand what he may be going through so you can offer appropriate support.

As you may know, a person in mourning can look awfully "crazy" to the rest of us, especially a few months after the death has happened, when that first wave of shock and disbelief wears off, and especially at this time of year, when it seems as if all the rest of the world is expected to be making merry. Sorrow can look a lot like "depression," but more often than not, what you're seeing is a very normal reaction to losing a loved one.

From what you've stated in your message, it seems clear that your fiance is aware that he is having a problem with his grief, but since he isn't the one who is posting in this forum asking for help, it's difficult for me to evaluate this situation. I don't know your fiance and I don't know how he sees his own circumstances. Nevertheless, I will offer to you what I can.

First, it's important to recognize that everyone grieves differently according to their age, gender, personality, culture, value system, past experience with loss, and available support. Grieving differs among members of the same family, as each person’s relationship with and attachment to the deceased family member varies. How anyone reacts to a death depends on how they’ve responded to other crises in their life; on what was lost when this death happened (not only the life of the person who died, but certain aspects of their own lives as well: their way of life; who they were in their relationship with that person and who they planned to be; their hopes and dreams for the future); on who died (spouse, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, relative, friend or other; how they lived together and what that person meant to them); on the person’s role in their family; on when the death occurred (at what point in their life cycle: theirs as well as that of the person who died); and on how (the circumstances surrounding the death, and how the death occurred).

Also, when evaluating someone else's grief as normal or abnormal, we need to keep in mind that, although certain patterns and reactions are universal and fairly predictable, everyone's grief is as unique to that individual as his or her fingerprints. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is no specific time frame.

Some folks experience grief in primarily emotional ways, having all sorts of feelings such as anger, guilt, sadness or loneliness. Others react in physical ways, feeling a need to keep busy as a way of handling the unpleasant feelings of grief. Neither way is right or wrong; they are just different from each other. In general (and please understand that I am only generalizing here) men express their grief in a masculine rather than in a feminine way, which often leads women to assume that they are not grieving at all. For example, a woman may take a man's silence as a sign of disinterest or lack of concern. Used to being in the role of strong protector and capable provider, a man may be afraid to share his grief for fear of embarrassment or of giving others the impression he is weak or otherwise incapable of "handling it". Your fiance's responses aren't necessarily unhealthy; they may be perfectly understandable and normal under the circumstances in which he finds himself.

If you feel comfortable in doing so, you can gently inquire whether your fiance thinks he is making any progress in coming to terms with this particular loss, and if not, has he ever considered talking to someone about it and the effect it may be having on him now.

I also think it would be helpful for you yourself to learn all you can about normal grief and what resources are "out there" and available. I don't know where you live, but I can tell you that most cities and towns have all sorts of places and people waiting to help with grief. You might consider calling your local library, mental health association, mortuary, church, synagogue or mosque to see what other resources are available. Many organizations nowadays offer bereavement support groups (at no cost) as well as individual bereavement counseling.

I think what's important here is not that you try to assume the role of grief counselor yourself, but rather that you make yourself aware of what bereavement resources are available, so you're armed with that information when you approach your fiance on the subject. Whether he decides to take advantage of those resources is really up to him, but certainly you can go so far as to help him find out what and where they are.

You might also try spending some more time on the various pages of my Grief Healing Web site, especially on my Articles and Books page. Scroll down the page till you come to the section labeled "Articles by Marty Related to Human Loss and Grieving" and follow the directions there. See also the articles listed on my Links page. You might also be interested in Tom Golden's WebHealing site, which focuses on male grief. Tom's book Swallowed By a Snake is excellent. Another outstanding book on this topic is Men Don't Cry . . . Women Do: Transcending Gender Stereotypes of Grief, by Terry Martin and Ken Doka. (These links will take you to Amazon's online description and reviews of each book. You are under no obligation to buy, and both books should be available through your local library. If they're not, you might ask your librarian to order them for you.) Take a look, too, at my site's Helping Someone Who's Grieving page.

I've also written an on-line e-mail course which you might consider ordering for your fiance; you can get a sense of it at The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey. Another alternative is to take the course yourself. Just knowing what normal grief looks like, knowing what to expect and knowing how to manage the typical reactions to it can be very, very helpful for you. Then, if and when the timing seems right, you can gently offer to share with your fiance some of the resources you yourself have discovered and explored (so you'll know why you're recommending them.)

You might try printing out some of the articles that you find (or lessons in my course as they come to you via e-mail) and giving them to your fiance to read, along with a gentle comment such as, "I found this interesting article that shed some light on something I've been wondering about -- I thought maybe you'd be interested in it, too. Maybe we can talk about it together, after you've had a chance to read it."

Be aware, however, that your fiance may not be open to or ready for your offers to help -- especially if he does not see that there is a problem here that requires your intervention in the first place.

I don't know if what I've said offers you much help, Rebecca. Unfortunately, I don't think you can "fix" this for your fiance, but you certainly can learn more about it yourself so at least you can understand better what may be going on with him. You'll also be in a better position to encourage him to find the help that is available to him should he choose to seek it.

I know it's difficult when you want to do something to make things better for someone you love, and you're not certain if they want or even need your help. Unfortunately, as a counselor I cannot force my help or unsolicited advice onto a person who does not seek it directly. As a matter of fact, I cannot force my ideas onto anyone who seeks my help, because all I would get in return is resistance. I simply cannot "make" someone else do what I think is best, regardless of how "right" I think I may be.

Whatever you do, please know that I am thinking of you and your fiance, and I hope you'll find the help you both deserve.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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