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Can Grief Kill Love?

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In advance, please let me apologize if I am posting inappropriately or in the wrong place. I have not lost either parent, but am in love with someone who is in the process of it. There is no clear place on the forum to post a question like this, but I am hoping that you can share your perspectives anyway to help me understand better.

I was engaged to, and am still very close with and still love, a man who is in the process of losing his mother to cancer, and his father has also had a series of near-fatal heart attacks.

The backstory, as briefly as I can summarize it:

A year and a half ago, I met an amazing man. At almost 40 years old he had never married, and according to family and friends, had never been serious about a woman. As a doctor he spent most of his time in his profession, developing his hobbies, travel, etc. He and I fell hard for each other. After an incredibly sweet courtship he proposed marriage, was actively planning for us to have children, etc. I, however, was still healing from a divorce and was terrified. However, I love him very much and just after I agreed to go forward with him in marriage, his mother developed cancer and his father started having serial heart attacks. It was too much for him to handle all at once, he said. He subsequently went into clinical depression but worked very hard and got out of it in a few months, but he broke off the romantic part of our relationship some months after his mother fell ill. Both parents are still extremely sick and could pass at any moment, so the situation is ongoing.

He told me that although he "doesn't love me anymore", he desperately wants to "stay friends" and stay connected. I am still in love with him. Our lives are still closely intertwined and neither one of us seems to let go. We have developed a pattern in which we draw close and spend amazing time together (no physical intimacy but deep emotional intimacy). When we talk or see each other he pours his heart out to me, talking about the pain of suffering and loss and how he's struggling to deal and make sense of everything. It is incredibly harrowing for him to cope with the grief, and he is actively reviewing everything in his belief system and his life. I listen as best as I can and offer my support. But afterward he seems to panic and withdraw from me, distancing himself for a time, although he always comes back. Our relationship has progressed closer again, slightly and at a snail's pace. I must mention that he has gone out on dates with a woman he works with, but family members assure me that it's incredibly casual and means nothing. They counsel me to have time and patience. I haven't dated anyone else and am not interested, and have focused on healing myself from my divorce.

There are two things I would appreciate help with understanding. First of all, of course, is how to be the best friend I can to him, independent of our romantic state. I have read a lot on the topic of supporting a loved one through loss but I would still like any advice you could give me. And then, is it reasonable to think that his grief has caused, or at least contributed, to his emotional distancing from me? It has been extremely painful and difficult to understand why something that seemed so special and so good fell apart, yet we obviously still have such strong bonds to each other.

Thank you,


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Your post could have been written by me. My story is much like yours...my fiance of one year broke up with me while he was caretaking his dying mother. No explanation given except months later he told me he snapped, he was sleep deprived, he couldn't handle it. It's been 15 months since he broke up with me and we never resumed romantic involvement, although we have remained friends. We talk on the phone about every other day but we don't spend time together. He has both turned to me, and withdrawn, turned to me, then withdrawn, as you said. I don't know what your outcome will be, but it certainly sounds familiar.

My only advice is to not hope for more than what is currently given. If you want marriage and children, you'd be best off looking elsewhere for that, because it's a very real probability that he may never be able to give you more than he currently does. If you can accept friendship with him without it setting you back or hurting you emotionally, then that's great...if not, recognize that and cut him loose. It's hard in the short term, but in the long run, sometimes it's the only thing you can do for yourself. If you have been able to accept things as is, in all honesty, and want to continue friendship with him with NO EXPECTATION WHATSOEEVER, then that is fine too. Not everyone can do that. The worst thing you can do is tell him you're okay being friends and then secretly hoping for more. There's no guarantee it'll ever change.

I have been through grief, I've lost my father, my dear sweet mother-in-law, my nephew, my niece, and hardest of all, my husband. I never shut anyone out in any of that process. And yet there are enough stories on here like yours and mine with our fiances breaking up with us while going through the loss of their mothers, that there must be some validity to it...this must be a way that some people experience their grief. While most of us seem to reach out to others, some tend to withdraw, and at the very least, are emotionally bankrupt and have nothing to offer anyone else while they are attempting to grapple with this huge loss in their life. I have wondered, however, if there wasn't something more to it...are these all people that have commitment phobias and the loss of their parent pushes them over the edge to the point where they can no longer do what they thought they could...and they cannot follow through with marriage of their own? I don't know, but it does make one wonder.

One thing I can tell you is this is his problem and not something you have caused. He could have been engaged to anyone and still would have broken up with them when he went through grief...that is my firm belief. You did nothing to cause it and you can do nothing to fix it. All you can do is decide for yourself what boundaries you have, what you will and will not go through and accept, and you must place yourself first in your life...not an easy thing if you're the type of person that wants to take care of other people. But it will be necessary for your growth and healing and continued life. You can still be there for him if you think that's the best thing for you, but in a more limited capacity...not as fiance, but as friend.

You asked what you can do to help him...you can't change his circumstances, but you can be there for him. You can listen, you can lend a fresh perspective, you can care. Some who have shared their similar stories here tried to "help" their XF and were faulted for it. It's a hard place to be in because you can be lashed out at rather than appreciated for your efforts. Remember, you are vulnerable and hurting too, because he is not the only one grieving here, you are too...you are grieving him, your relationship with him, your hopes and plans and dreams for the future. Don't neglect yourself in your efforts to help him. It will be important for you to reconnect with old friends, to spend time with others, do not put your life on call for him, work on developing your life. Sign up for a class, join a group, volunteer for a cause, but do not let your life become inward or totally centered around him and his needs. Get out, keep busy, stay in touch with family and friends, go on a trip, try something new. All of these things will aid you in your healing process.

Good luck, feel free to continue coming back here. If you read the posts in "Loss of Love Relationship" you will see many stories like yours, and yes, this is just the right place to post, it was created for anyone who has lost a love relationship that doesn't fit in the other categories such as spouse, parent, child, friend, sibling, etc.

Here is my story if you care to read it...


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Dear Kay,

Thank you so much for your sweet, quick, and heartfelt response. I have started reading your story, but it's so heartbreaking I can only do it in small pieces. I suppose that all things work out in the way that they are meant to but I am so sorry you suffered and went through something so harrowing. In some ways our stories are similar, in some they are different, but neither one is easy and I feel for yours. I am glad you are in a much better place now. You are incredibly articulate and I feel so happy that you responded to my post.

My fiance and I actually broke up last February so this is not a fresh pain. While you say that I was in no way responsible for his choices, and that is absolutely true, I am not blameless by any means. I felt like this was off-topic for the bereavement forums but when he and I met, I was suffering acutely from the loss of my marriage - not a physical death but an emotional one. I was hurting, scared, and didn't trust. I did my share of things to sabotage and drive him away in order to get space. I am aware that this doesn't justify his own hurtful actions, but I freely own up that I did hurt and scare him. I guess in a way it's rather funny that I asked this question: can grief cause a person to harm a relationship? Um, yes. I have progressed since that time, though, and no longer need to push him away, although I still appreciate and can live in the space and quiet. People hurt each other sometimes and we let each other down, but I like to think that everyone does the best they can at any time...

The situation is also complicated in that we are from separate countries/cultures. I am currently living in his country - I've been here about six months. I had a bad experience with an employment contract falling through and was ready to go home, when he surprised me by asking me to consider staying here, even moving to the beautiful place where he lives (knowing I love it here). He did this because here, he said, I could really tackle the emotional healing I need to do. He knows me very very well and he spoke some pretty serious truths about me in a way that I was able to hear. I agreed that he had a point about many things, and I have stayed in-country. He's been helping me to make a home here, although I rarely see him due to his workaholic schedule and his mother being six hours to the south.

My primary focus right now is definitely on myself. Things do seem to be going well for me here, just as he predicted; I have found new employment in just a few short weeks and am making friends and settling in. I am finally, two and a half years after my separation, starting to process out some of my pain and get at my own issues. My focus is definitely not on helping him in the codependent sense, but truly as someone who has no idea what to say when he expresses the magnitude of his pain. I know this feeling is common and it's good to hear that I'm doing ok with just listening, caring, and being around from time to time.

The hardest thing for me is acceptance that this is where we are now. I really struggle with the concept that things have changed. Your words are wise and I know things are as they are, but hope is dying really, really hard. I've almost given up trying to kill it and am now just trying to accept the hope in myself, too. If that makes any sense whatsoever.


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Everyone's situation is unique, and yet there is some commonality in this section as well. Most people may do the best they can, but some do not...my ex-husband was a con man that deliberately used and discarded me in the worst way...thankfully, those are in the minority. I was recovering from that situation, just a few months out, when I met Jim, and he went above and beyond trying to earn my trust, and that is why I had such a difficult time with his handling things the way he did. I don't think he set out to hurt me, in fact, it's possible he wanted to break off with me sooner and just didn't know how to go about it. I am someone who values honesty...give it to me like a man, and I will deal with it, but lie to me, and I really have a hard time with that. I am totally okay with it all now...like I say, I don't agree with how he handled things, but I am past all of that now. We talk quite frequently, and I still think he's a wonderful person, just not marriage material.

Being in another country and going through this has got to complicate things further. I think if you can completely accept just being friends, you can have a wonderful friendship. Who knows what tomorrow holds, but the key is in not hoping for something that is not being offered, but rather accepting things as they actually are.

I wish you the best in your continued journey...I am sorry things didn't work out for the two of you as you'd hoped, but it sounds like he is a really good person...my Jim is too. Good luck!


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