Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.
Posted: November 26, 2013 by Jeff Guenther
Suffering the loss of a loved one is heartbreaking. Grieving a death is one of the most stressful and depressing times in a person’s life. Everyone deals with loss in a different way. Sometimes you go through the classic five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But often we don’t go through all the stages in a linear fashion and sometimes we don’t go through some of the stages at all. Most therapists don’t subscribe to the rigidity of the five stages. We now know that grief and loss are extremely unpredictable and may be experienced in a multitude of ways.
Grief can be really confusing, especially when trying to comfort and support a partner who has experienced a loss. Watching the person you love so much going through such a hard time is difficult and feelings of helplessness are common.
When a couple comes into my office and one of the partners has experienced a recent loss, my typical response is to tell the other partner that they should just be there for them. I know it sounds really vague but really all you can do is just be there. So just be there.
Being by your grieving partners side is accepting that they may not know what they want. They are having a really hard time trying to figure out what they need or want from you. Be sensitive to that. Let them be completely devastated if they need to be. Make sure they can feel you there, but don’t have expectations that they’ll be reactive to your presence. They just may need to sit by you in silence. It might seem to you that you’re doing absolutely nothing, but you are providing a lot of comfort just sitting next to them and maybe holding their hand.
Remember that grief isn’t polite or docile. It can be rejecting and mean. Brace for that and do your best not to take it personally. The anger and confusion need to come out and it’s not uncommon for you to be the target. Don’t let it get out of control or violent, but if they need to yell or scream or cry uncontrollably, let them.
Grief can last a long time. Are you committed enough to go through this with your partner? It’ll probably be very frustrating for you at times but these are the events that build relationships. Remember that it’s not about you, it’s about them. There will be a time in the future that you will need this support from them and being together during the worst of times is ultimately very bonding.
Make sure to let your suffering partner know that you understand how much they are hurting and that it is okay that they don’t know what they need. How could they know with the amount of pain they are going through? Again, be prepared to be pushed away and try to just stay present. If you’re not sure if you should go to the funeral or the memorial service, go.
Eventually the grief will subside and you will get back to your regular routine. In time you’ll appreciate how you came together as a couple in the face of loss and tragedy and understand each other on a deeper level. If either of you become to overwhelmed with the process be sure to check in with a counselor or therapist to receive some professional guidance during this tough time.