Losing a parent comes as close to a universal experience as it gets, but that doesn’t mean each of us is truly prepared. If it happens to your significant other, you may not know how to help them deal with grief and coping, but that is one of your duties as a partner. This is how you can be there for a partner whose parents have died.
Know that grief looks different every day
There are “stages” of grief as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969: denial, anger, negotiations, depression and acceptance. Self-help books also often say some form of the phrase “grief is not linear”. Taken together, you can expect all of this to add up to a confusing amount of time as your partner goes through these stages, sometimes several times a day.
Remember that there is no wrong way to grieve and it is your job to deal with it
Know that everything they do and how they react is normal. There is no single pattern of grief, and your response to a parent’s death may depend on a number of factors, all of which you are not aware of. Your relationship with this parent as a child, your existing relationship, the nature of your death, and your mental state can all play a role.
Even if their grief looks different than you would express yours, don’t discredit them. Wake up every day to meet them where they are and give them unconditional support. Ann Sano, a 25-year-old New Yorker whose mother died at the age of 13, said, “I still don’t know how to deal with this. I make jokes that are probably uncomfortable for people, but it’s my way of healing. “
If your partner is taking an approach that you find disturbing or uncomfortable, perhaps joking or aloof, remember that there is no wrong way to grieve and it is your job to roll around with it and be there if that seems like it unaffected behavior ceases.
Make it clear again and again that you are there for them and that you are on this journey together.
Conversely, if your partner is in an “angry” phase, work extra hard not to give in to them when they attack you. If you find yourself in a “depression” phase, understand and do not try to force them back to normal. The normality that they are used to is over and they have to learn to find their way around without these parents, no matter what kind of relationship they had, and it takes a lot of time.
Expect that your partner might be aloof for a while too. Sano told Lifehacker that her mother’s death created a “void” that led her to turn down help from anyone, including potential friends. She is in a happy relationship now, she added, but that took time.
What this all boils down to is the fact that you need to be ready to evolve in accordance with them and you need to understand. Tell them that you are doing your best to understand them and that you know they are having a hard time. Make it clear again and again that you are there for them and that you are on this journey together.
Patience is most important
Sano said her biggest piece of advice to anyone helping a partner if a parent dies is “patient”.
“Patience is literally the key to being there for someone who is grieving,” she added. “Sometimes I just want to sit in a car for hours and cry in silence. Sometimes my fear prevails. Sometimes I get jealous when I see others with their mothers. All I can say is, ‘Be patient with us.’ We went through hell and back. We may need a second, a minute, an hour or a day, but we will recover, so please be patient with us and understand that we are only human and don’t want to be rude, quiet, sad, angry. or whatever we feel. “
Listen to your partner
Your partner may be completely silent about his dead parents or he may bring them up – often. It might seem like all they’re talking about now is death. If so, that’s fine. Try not to get tired of the subject; Your partner is hurt and needs you to listen. Remember that one day you will be in this position too and you want someone to listen to you.
Don’t think of every emotional outburst as something that needs to be stopped.
“It’s hard to say how a partner can be supportive because knowing what kind of support a person needs when they’re in grief isn’t always easy,” warned Meaghan McGoldrick, a 30-year-old New Yorker who has both parents lost and founded an annual benefit concert, Cancer cannot kill loveto honor them. “Grief is not linear, which makes the support process just as rocky. But the best way a partner can be there – or at least what works for my partner and me – is to start listening and feeling. Listen to your partner when they’re having a tough day or just want to tell a 40-minute story about their loved one that has nothing to do with anything. “
If they show interest in counseling or say something that sets off alarm bells in your head, don’t fire them. This is a very difficult time and you may not be thinking clearly. You have to take on an additional level of rationality for a while.
There are times when they won’t tell you how they are feeling. You have to ask.
Make her cry too. It may feel natural to jump in and try to get them out, but allowing them to feel and express even their saddest emotions is critical to their healing. Don’t look at every emotional outburst as something that needs to be stopped. Sure, when they cry, get them some ice cream or hug them, but don’t pull out all the stops to finish the phrase. You have to let it out.
There are times when they won’t tell you how they are feeling. You have to ask. Ask how they are doing and what they need, both in the immediate aftermath of death and on particularly difficult days, such as their first parentless family vacation or their parents’ birthday. Some people have a hard time asking what they need, so make this part a little easier by reminding them that you are there for them.
Put in work
After a parent dies, your partner is unlikely to become their normal you anymore. Dishes can pile up. Messages can go unanswered. Show that you are by their side by stepping in and making some of this work easier. Tidying up, making and bringing food, and acting as a barrier between them and well-meaning but invasive people.
Every family situation is different, but it is not unreasonable to assume that you were also close to this parent and feel your own grief. Don’t ignore this sadness.
You will get a lot of messages and calls. Retelling the story to people at different levels of acquaintance or taking on a composite facade is exhausting, so intervene if you can, if they seem open to it. You can be a great advocate for them by making sure cliché platitudes and curious questions don’t get through and the house stays intact while they devote the time they would normally spend on grief, funeral plans, and healing.
“After these signs, feel that you may not need advice or ‘things are getting easier’. At some point it becomes easier to know when they only need one ear and when to stay in the other room while they do the movements. Sometimes a drink doesn’t hurt, ”advised McGoldrick.
The grief doesn’t stop after the funeral flowers and casseroles stop rolling either. This will be hard for a long time and the pain will never really go away. As the partner of a grieving person, you will always be in service somehow, so prepare for the long haul.
“Having my boyfriend now for anniversaries, birthdays, or just hard days in general is a huge help as we do activities to keep my mind occupied,” said Sano. “We make sure that we also visit my mother on these special days. It warms my heart when he says goodbye to my mother’s stone and kisses it. I think it gives me a sense of relief and happiness to know that he loves her as much as I do. The days when it happens to be difficult, he and I take these days one after the other because my emptiness still triggers my anxiety attacks and now he only helps to talk me out of everything I’m going through at this moment. “
Acknowledge your own grief
Every family situation is different, but it is not unreasonable to assume that you were also close to this parent and feel your own grief. Don’t ignore this sadness, even if it may feel like your partner’s sadness is more legitimate and deserves immediate attention. Your pain is important too, and if you push it away you will have difficulty healing and you will not be as good a partner as you could be.
Talk to your partner about the dead parent if they seem open to it. Share your own fond memories, maybe at the first time you met or the moment you knew the parents recognized you as a partner for their child. Tell them stories about the parents they may not even know, moments you and the parents shared in the room without them. You can work together on this healing journey. Don’t discredit your own feelings here.
If you have to cry, be it because of the loss or because you saw someone you love so upset, cry. Being open and honest with your feelings is a better way of honoring the deceased than allowing their death to tear your life apart. You have to be strong to be there for your child, so please do them their right by doing this as best you can.