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Can Anyone Help Me Understand

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Well - this might seem strange to some of you. I'm not the person who lost someone - my SO is. He seems to be having an extremly tuff time with things. I'm here to try to understand more of what he is going through and what I can do (if anything) to support him through this time in his life. I appreciate the previlage of reading you words here - I hope the insite help me. SO seems so angry right now. A lot of that anger seems directed at me. Does anyone have any advice on what can I do? I want to be there for him. But often end up in a huge fight with him instead. Any advice you have would be helpful.


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Dear Lost,

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

As I'm sure you 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. 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's not clear to me whether your SO has even acknowledged to you (or even to himself) that he is having a problem with his grief. Aside from his being angry, I’m not sure if he has opened up to you or to anyone else about what is bothering him. Since that is the case, and since he isn't the one who is posting in this forum asking for help, it becomes very difficult for me to evaluate this situation. I don't know your SO and I don't know how he sees his own circumstances. Nevertheless, I will offer to you what I can.

For starters, I can tell you is 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, it's extremely important 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 know 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 SO'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 SO 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 SO 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. You might also be interested in Tom Golden's WebHealing site, which focuses on male grief. Tom's book Swallowed By a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing is excellent.

I've also written an on-line e-mail course which you might consider taking yourself; you can get a sense of it at The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey. 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 SO some of the resources you yourself have discovered and explored (so you'll know why you're recommending them.)

You might also print out some of the articles that you find (or lessons in my course as they come to you via e-mail) and give them to your SO 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 perhaps 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 SO 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, my friend. As I said, I don't think you can fix this for your SO, 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 SO, and I hope you'll find the help you both deserve.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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  • 2 years later...

Dear Marty T,

Thank you for sharing the above information it is very helpful when others ask questions others help with posting information to help them... This helps others who might be afraid to ask the same question... Thanks again and God Bless You Shelley

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Marty gave you a wealth of information, so I have little to add, except that I sympathize with you on tryng to deal with his anger. Since my dad has died my mom has seemed to take out her anger on me, and I just can't understand why. We have always been so very close and I am taking care of her (I live with her) and yet, she treats me like everything is my fault sometimes. I swear, she almost blames me if it rains! Or just gets angry at something that happens and then starts acting angry toward me (when I had nothing to do with it!). It's very hard to cope with and very hurtful. I don't think she means to do it, but just can't seem to control herself. Just wanted you to know that someone else that is dealing with the anger issue. Good luck. Just hang in there as best as you can. I, too, think it is wonderful of you to care enough to seek advice on how to help your SO. He's lucky to have you.

Hugs to you and him,


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