My grieving partner is pushing me away
Usually when someone dies those close to him or her will feel intense emotions that can often unsettle their own personal relationships. Grief, or the emotions felt due to a loss, can be particularly hard to cope with for both the bereaved and those who are trying to be supportive. Thankfully, with mutual respect and patience, relationships can withstand and even sometimes grow stronger due to grief.
What Is Grief?
Generally speaking, grief is an emotional response to the death of a loved one. Very often grief is equated to sadness, though it is not always so simple. Instead, grief often involves a progression of different emotions and reactions that include shock and/or numbness, anxiety, anger, and sadness. It may take days, weeks or even years for someone who is grieving to cycle through all of these stages and some people never experience all of these emotions due to a particular loss or experience some emotions related to one loss but different emotions due to another. This is perfectly normal. There is no set itinerary for grief, though if there is a distinct lack of emotional response, or an emotional response so overwhelming that it begins to affect a person s employment, education, or personal relationships then it may be best to consult a counsellor.
How Death Affects Relationships
Grief can take a toll on relationships because it is primarily an individual experience. Partners can try to understand someone else grief but they can never experience it or take on the burden themselves.
Is it normal to push someone away when grieving?
Grief can have a number of effects on relationships. Partners may grow closer as they need each other for support or realise that they would like to spend more time together. However, partners may also grow apart if the grieving individual retreats into him or herself, his or her partner loses patience with grief or a combination. Intimate relationships may also experience a slow period if the grieving individual does not feel like becoming physically close to others. Finally, some relationships may not experience any changes if grief is not intense, if it is fleeting or if partners are able to give and receive support in an open and efficient manner.
Supporting Others Through Grief
Perhaps the greatest mistake someone attempting to comfort or console another can make is to insist on how the other must be feeling. Instead, friends and relatives of the bereaved should be patient with whatever emotions the individual may be feeling without deciding whether these emotions are right or appropriate. Talking about how each person is feeling often helps everyone stay on the same page and understand more about what others are going through, and scheduling activities that the bereaved enjoy may help him or her to experience positive emotions. If more than one person is experiencing grief at the same time, it may be that allowing each to experience their own grief without feeling that they must make the other feel better helps all involved. However, throughout grief, physical affection, tokens of love and affection, and reminders that others will always be there for the bereaved will likely always be appreciated.
Grief is often a solitary, unique experience. Others will never be able to understand exactly how the bereaved is feeling, so patience with whatever may come will help all relationships stay strong. If it is believed that grief is interfering with the bereaved life then counseling may be in order.
How to Help My Sister Get Over the Death of Husband?
My sister has just lost her husband – it was a sudden unexpected death he was 55 and died in his sleep.
My sister has no children only me and I don’t know what to do for the best to help. She and her husband were very much on their own and wanted to be that way. Just wanted some advice really.
(H.M, 15 March 2009)
It can be very hard to watch the ones we love suffer a loss as devastating as the death of a spouse. Your concern about your sister, and your desire to help her, are both admirable. As her sibling, you probably have a good idea of how your sister likes to live her life and you can use this information as a segue to discuss your sister’s current needs.
Very often the bereaved will not be able to answer a question as broad as “how can I help?” or “what do you need?” Instead, it can be up to loved ones to try to figure out what they can do to ease the burden. For example, if you know that your brother-in-law was the cook in their household then you might tell your sister that you’d like to bring some frozen dinners by, or suggest that the two of you attend a cookery course to get out of the house.
It may well be that you need to turn these suggestions around and make it sound like she would be doing you a favour in order for her to accept. This might be from pride, it might be because she doesn’t realise she needs help or it might be that she doesn’t even have the energy to spare figuring out her own schedule. Whatever the case, offering something specific is a good way to start.
Now, however, is not the time to discuss the fact that your sister does not have children and that you believe that you are all she has. Your sister obviously realises that she no longer has her own family, and if she wants to discuss this with you then chances are she will.
If your sister seems exceptionally low and you are worried about her then you might consider telling her this, using specific examples where appropriate. Sometimes people do not realise what their actions are conveying to others, and sometimes the bereaved need someone else to observe their behavior before they realise it themselves. If you feel that professional help is needed, such as the services of a member of the clergy or a trained bereavement counselor, then finding out information and discussing it with your sister will let her know that you care.
But remember, you can not force help on adults who do not want it. The best you can do is to help your sister in the ways that she asks, or continue to suggest ways that you would like to help. Over time it’s likely that you’ll both work out what part you will each play in each other’s futures.
Coping with Multiple Deaths
It s hard enough to cope with one death, but when multiple deaths occur at the same time or in close succession it can be downright overwhelming. When many deaths occur at the same time it may be under traumatic or accidental circumstances, and the shock of the surrounding events can lead to even greater grief. Family and friends can be invaluable for an individual trying to cope with the death of more than one loved one, but ultimately the individual alone will need to work through his or her grief in order to truly survive the trauma.
Family and Friends of the Bereaved
Family and friends of the bereaved may be suffering themselves, but pulling together to get through the days, weeks, and months after the initial loss(es) is important. Helping each other to arrange funerals and/or memorials, sorting through the estates of the deceased, organising child care and meals, and keeping an eye on each other to make sure that everyone is eating and sleeping is a safety net that many individuals need following the deaths of more than one loved one. If it seems that one individual is not coping as well, such as by turning to drink or drugs, violence or anger, or an inability to care for themselves or their dependents, then organising grief counseling and/or therapy immediately may be a good idea.
Surviving the Losses of Multiple Deaths
Ultimately, surviving more than one death at a time is something that each individual will need to do for him or herself. This can be even harder if one of the deaths (or more) was accidental or traumatic given the sudden and painful nature of the event(s). Allowing themselves time to grieve for each person, and recognising that grieving for multiple losses will take longer than for just one loss, is a good way for bereaved individuals to begin exploring their grief. Putting off other things for a while may even be necessary in order to grieve properly. However, individuals who begin to lose interest in life, who feel that they are being punished for something through the death of others, who find themselves feeling out of control with rage or who turn to drink or drugs to mask the pain must be honest with themselves about their behaviors. Getting help to work through their emotions, whatever they may be, is imperative.
The death of more than one loved one is a unique trauma for every individual who experiences it. However, each person who must cope with more than one death will already know inside themselves how they can best cope. If these coping mechanisms are destructive, then seeking professional help to find others is important. Family and friends can be invaluable at this time, so allowing them to help may be a way for everyone to work through their grief. If, however, a family member or friend begins to impede someone else s grief process then discussing how this has happened and what each would like to do about it may help everyone stay on the same page during a difficult time.
Coping With Other People s Grief
Everybody experiences grief differently so knowing how to respond to other people s grief can be difficult, especially if you’re also dealing with your own. Practical issues around bereavement mean that you can t always give people as much space as you might like to. How can you figure out the best course of action? How can you provide support without exhausting your own resources?
As well as responding differently to grief, people feel it to different degrees, and not always in the ways, you d expect. Sometimes people quite close to a deceased person are not severely affected – they may, for instance, have had more time to adjust to death than was expected. Others who are not that close may feel a deep loss. It can be damaging to expect grief from people and make them feel bad if they’re coping, but its equally important to look out for unexpected grief.
If you are the person closest to the deceased, accepting that other people may be grieving as much as you are can be hard. It can feel like an intrusion into your private space. These feelings are natural and nothing to be ashamed of, but try to remember that those people can t control their feelings either. It will be easier all round if you can support each other.
Some people who are grieving want to pour out their distress to anyone who will listen whereas others try to avoid the subject completely. At each extreme, it can be difficult to make sure they’re saying what they really need to say. Lots of talking can itself be a form of obfuscation.
Pushing people who are resistant to talking about grief can be risky, but so can leaving them alone. Generally, the best course of action is to let them know you’re there for them and then give them space but gently remind them every now and again that you are concerned. Grief can lead to depression and low self-esteem so there s a risk that such people will otherwise end up feeling they have no one to turn to.
Most people find it easier to face their own grief when not overwhelmed by yours, so try not to get too emotional in conversations of this sort. If you can approach the subject in a matter-of-fact way it will usually make it easier for them and less exhausting for you.
In any situation where you have strong feelings, it can be confusing to have to deal with people who express theirs in a different way. You may be tempted to think they’re insincere, that they’re showing off their grief or that they’re being aloof. If you want to communicate effectively and avoid conflict, its important not to project your own feelings and perspectives onto them.
As you are probably aware, there are several stages of grief. People pass through these at different rates. What s more, our experiences of grief can be complicated by losses we have experienced in the past, coincidental depression or anxiety, and other major events that may be happening in our lives.
Rather than being a barrier to understanding, these differences mean that we have different strengths, so we are more able to support each other through our particular difficulties.
When Grief is Hidden
Some people don t show their grief at all. Coping with other people s apparent lack of feelings when you’re hurting intensely can be very difficult, even if they are trying to be helpful to you. It may also leave you worried that they are secretly hurting but unable to communicate it and therefore unable to get any support.
Some people hide their grief even from themselves, so suggesting that you know how they really feel can be counter-productive. It can be more useful to approach the situation hypothetically. If you say that if they were feeling bad you would always be ready to help them, you can give them what they need to cope or to seek help should they decide its right for them to do so.
Coping with other people s grief – even if you’re not supporting them directly – can be an exhausting and frustrating experience. It s especially tough when you too are missing somebody, so it’s important that you create space and support structures for yourself. Remember that you’ll be less help to people in the long term if you damage yourself by taking on too much in the short term.
When looking out for others its important to remember that you matter too. Try to show yourself the same kindness. You deserve it.