How to support a grieving partner…
Over the years I’ve written many blog posts on a whole variety of topics, however, there’s one topic I find harder than any other and that’s the topic of grief.
When you make a long-term commitment to someone you understand that inevitably your lives will change as the years go on, that there will be hard times, along with good times and of course, the completely indifferent day to day life. What I never anticipated was the day I’d have to call my (now) husband and tell him that his father has cancer. He passed away six weeks later and during those six weeks, our world was turned upside down.
I thought I was a sensitive, reasonably aware person but suddenly I learnt more about life, love, friendship, compassion and seizing the moment in six weeks than I had in 32 years.
In other words, enjoy yourself now.
Firstly, you need to understand that there’s no rulebook, no one size fits all and no such thing as a quick fix. I can’t tell you the right things to say, but I can tell you to say what you feel. If you are blessed with the opportunity, I’d strongly advise to thank people, share memories and to tell that person how much of an impact they made on you rather than sit next to them wallowing in sadness over the fact they are dying.
I would advise against forcing your partner to talk, there’s nothing worse than being nagged when you need to be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes it’s just sitting together in silence and staring into the distance, reaching out and holding their hand without saying a word or quietly going the extra mile. I didn’t get up early and go to the gym or stay at work late, I was there, present and supportive even though sometimes I felt completely uncertain about how to read the situation and often completely helpless.
Without a shadow of doubt, the process is stressful, others will be experiencing emotions such as frustration, anger or the need to shut themselves away. The natural reaction can be to take this personally, the most important thing to remember that if you are the person closest, all you can do is try your hardest to be patient. Please remember that no one is perfect, we all experience such different emotions and different timescales. There are times when all you can do is just try your hardest to understand and be prepared for grief to resurface when you least expect it.
Maybe once in a while, you should watch the sunset together, not Netflix
What to do if you feel helpless? – Think what you can do to help, often it’s just the mundane things like going to collect a prescription, helping with the food shop, I prepared meals for people, I sent texts every day, planned future events so we had something to look forward too. But most importantly, I was there and I was happy to listen.
My partner has pushed me away, what can I do? – Whilst I’m not a professional and each situation is personal, all I can advise is to ask your partner what they DON’T need, rather than what they do and read the situation from there. It could mean that they just need a day or two of space, or if you can take the time to read between the lines you might realise that they need you there more than ever.
My partner doesn’t want to talk about it – Forcing someone to talk when they aren’t ready means you might encounter conflict and/or negativity. There are times when you just need to let that person process the situation independently. It might be on a long car drive when the subject changes and they open up, or it could be the odd comment or a shared memory that opens the conversation.
Should I suggest professional help? – Whilst I’m a huge advocate of seeking professional help, it’s not the natural or comfortable route for everyone. For example, It could be considered insensitive to suggest help within the first week, a suggestion would be to explain that it’s easier to talk things over with someone who is outside of the situation. But I’d firmly recommend having this conversation in a time frame/situation that is most comfortable for your partner.
You matter too – Take time out, talk to a friend, look after yourself and remember you can’t pour from an empty cup.
There is often sunshine after the rain, this tragic situation gave us a closer bond as a couple, I also got to form a much closer connection to his mother and I really felt like part of the family. It was the emotional, raw and beautiful time that we got engaged. I’ll never forget my father in law giving me permission to ask Graeme to marry me, I proved to Graeme that I’d stand by him whatever comes our way and as a person, I found out that I was stronger than I realized.
Take each day as it comes, live a little slower, listen a little harder and hold each other a little longer.