How can we best support our partner through serious grief?

Hi SS Community, I’ve missed you the last couple of weeks!

I want to ask for any advice or personal experience you have, since this is new to me and it’s been such a hard time. I have been supporting my husband and sister-in-law through the recent passing of their father, who was their hero. My husband was particularly close to him, and they even ran the family business together for many years. When we first started formally dating 10 years ago, I loved that he talked about his love and respect for his dad so much, and quickly introduced me to him. I was so nervous his dad might not like me, but immediately he was so welcoming and affectionate, and suddenly I was courted by both of them. My husband would visit his dad EVERY DAY on his lunch break for an hour, bring him groceries or lunch, and each week his dad sent him home with a bottle of wine-for me! Every time I saw his dad, he would say, “HEY, where’s my KISS?!”. He was a sweet old man, and they both captured my heart with their humor and their capacity to love.

Although the last few years were difficult, because we wanted to move him into independent or assisted living, there was never any love lost and we did not want to force him into anything. It was tough, it put strain on their relationship and ours. We spent so much time and money and energy into helping him live ‘independently’. Relationships can be complicated, older people start to totally lose their filter, and say things that don’t come across well, but they’re struggling to connect the dots and maintain their way of life. Since I went through this with my Nana, and I volunteered at a senior’s home, I understood how hard this was for Pops, too.

My father-in-law passed on April 2nd, 2022 in the arms of his loving girlfriend. He was in the hospital since the end of November with various health issues that created a snowball effect that mounted over time. Since I am not working, I visited him 3-4 times a week, as did his daughter and girlfriend. We spent as much time with him as we could, so he was positive and strong, and he kept bouncing back from every setback like a beast. In late February he was finally moved into a nursing home, as he had lost all mobility with the exception of eating. He was NOT happy there. A few weeks later, he got Pneumonia for the second time, and took a turn for the worst. He was moved to palliative care, and he fought so hard to stay for his kids, but at 85 he was worn out from fighting so hard for so long. We spent his last few days with him, so he had all of us there and his Opera music playing, though it was the hardest thing for all of us to be there every day it was precious time.

I have been taking on most of the administrative tasks, as much as possible to help them, and trying not to push talking, just letting him talk and being careful to listen more than speak. He is not interested in counselling, and I think he is coping well considering, but like his dad he is often TOO tough, and hides his pain. Any advice or experience on this topic that you ladies have is appreciated! My parents are young, so I cannot relate, though losing my Nana was pretty close because she was like a second mum. Still, I had a simple and perfect relationship with her, she was ready to go, and I still had my parents, so it is not the same. He is not close with his mother, who divorced his father before we got together, so that makes it worse…

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Oh man, I do not envy your husband for that loss. Nor do I envy you. I looked after my mom who passed away a year and a half ago. That grief does not go away quickly. I cry regularly, but those moments are finally being mixed with happy moments. Sounds to me as though you’re doing everything right. I have three pieces of advice: 1) As long as your husband is functioning and moving along with his life - then he’s healthy and coping well even if he’s down and has retreated (somewhat) into himself 2) sometimes bringing up the person who’s passed away and going over the occasional good memory is healing for the people left behind. Those memories keep the person alive to some degree. However, you’re right not to bring him up often, maybe just when a happy thought occurs to you 3) This is the most important - that grief really takes time to pass. It’s not likely to just take a few months given how close they were. It wouldn’t surprise me if it took a few years though the intensity will lessen. So sorry for your loss and the hurt you must be carrying for your husband.

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It’s so hard when the partner in pain does well t hide that pain. I haven’t been through this situation yet but I have seen it just recently through my father in law who lost his mother during covid and in a far away country so he could not be there for her passing. He is stoic as well - I believe he is still in pain from the loss but I also feel helpless not being able to do much to help him ease the pain. The only thing I could do is listen to his stories of her and share in the photographs and memories. I know this is hard for you too as you were close also to your husband’s dad. Seeing someone close to you go through the hard stages of end of life is not easy especially as their personality and mind changes. There’s a sense of relief in a way to not seeing them suffer and the relief of being a constant caregiver which in itself is gruelling. But none of that is going to take away the real pain of the loss.

The closest I have come to this type of loss in recent years is the death of one of my best friends, and in the aftermath, my husband just held me, lots of hugs and listening and wiping away tears. There wasn’t really much he could say or do but just simply BE there. Listen.

It sounds like you’ve taken on a lot already and I am sure his family are appreciative of that. From what you’ve said, you’re doing all the right things to support him. He will talk and open up if he needs to and when he’s ready.

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What a painful situation to be in, though it sounds like you and your husband are managing, and set yourselves up to manage in the aftermath of “Pops” passing away, by spending the time with him that you did.

I don’t have much advice to give, this is more of a moral support-note. Your father in law was lucky to have your love, and it sounds like he never questioned your devotion to him, nor that of his son.

My husband lost his dad 20 years ago, and he’s very much okay, though he talks about his dad daily, and yesterday we actually talked about how much his father’s death, splintered his family, and that his mom never got over it. She still mopes around, and I think considers her life over, which is a tragedy.

Your husband being “tough” is, well, tough! Does he talk about his dad, much? Is he organically mentioning him from time-to-time, if so, what happens after he says his name or refers to him? Does he catch himself, and look sort of startled and then sad, or is there a lack of realizing he’s mentioned him at all? Sorry to be so inquisitive. I’ve just found that when a death happens to a loved one, often the grieving person, when they start to heal, start talking more about their loved one, and the pivotal moments are when it dawns on them that they’re doing it, and in doing so, what happens to them?

I think being careful to let him speak is one of the kindest and easiest ways to let him open up on his terms. Which is part of why I hazard giving any sort of advice; the thing I have found to be most useful in every situation of emotional fraught that I’ve experience has been to just listen, sincerely and empathetically.

Your husband is so lucky to have you, as was his dad. It’s so clear that you all loved and celebrated each other, and even in your post, you’ve introduced a host of strangers to a wonderful man, who we otherwise wouldn’t have known existed. :hearts:

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Thank you for sharing @KatherineH, and I am sorry you went through that, I can only imagine how hard that was and still is. I appreciate your advice, and I think these are good things to keep in mind. I think a loss like this changes people and changes our lives, but we can still find ways to honor loved ones memory, which I have been trying to help him do. Placing special photos, artwork, and momentos around the house, so we can look, talk, and remember him.

Thanks @Kimber and yes, he is talking about his dad when he thinks of a memory, or things his dad was good at, and shares stories, even if just a brief one, so he is talking through things in his own time. I am encouraging him to talk a bit more, or to distract himself less, because keeping busy and not talking about something doesn’t help us heal, it delays processing. I’m hoping to go with him to his dad’s house today, to help him and his sister get more done, and hoping he’ll talk more. He likes talking to his sister which is good, because they’re not that close but they’re going through this together, so she can understand and validate things. He admits that he gets choked up talking, so he doesn’t want to talk to much, but I keep gently reminding him that this is part of the process, to talk and crumble a bit, rather than try to bottle up those feelings. It’s all part of life, but it is the hardest part of life losing loved ones, so I’m just trying to be present and sit through the sadness. Sometimes I think there are no words, and even just sitting with someone through the discomfort, is showing your love for them. We can’t always fix things, we can’t always make someone smile, sometimes we just need to be there, so that is what I am doing. That and making him really good dinners, which does certainly cheer him up!

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I saw this little poem today too…

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He is so lucky to have you. I choked up reading your message. His heartache won’t go away any time soon, maybe it never will, but it sounds like you’re gently helping him navigate healthy ways to approach loss and grief and ultimately, healing. I hope you’re taking care of your precious self, as well. Hopefully cooking him those wonderful meals is something you’re also enjoying!

I think that’s a great idea. Good for you for having the compassion and insight to have these little conversation starters!

Thanks everyone! I love that poem @ModLila :sparkling_heart:

I was feeling run down, physically and emotionally, so after my mom went back home I went for a massage on Friday, and had an uplifting day with friends hiking on Saturday. The sun was out, and I cranked up some good music. I was also able to help my husband and his sister more, after filling my cup. Then yesterday, I hit a wall. My friend’s boyfriend was missing for a week, and was found dead. My parents had to put a second family dog down, after losing the first in November. I spent all day applying for 2 jobs, but I’m feeling so frustrated not working for the first time in my life, spending hours on applications that half the time nobody looks at…

Well, that was my vent for today :upside_down_face: but it is a beautiful sunny day, and it is a NEW day. I started my day with my weekly Diversity & Inclusion group discussion meeting, which always makes me happy, and I am going to soak up the sun today, and talk to some friends. I am SO grateful to be alive, and have my loving family and friends, so onward and upward.

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Your hike looked beautiful from the other day. It’s so important to take care of yourself as you can have caregiver burnout. So sorry to hear about your parents’ doggie having to be put down. It’s so hard to see pets at their end of life and they are such a part of our family.

Yes to day is a new day. Acknowledge your grief and your frustrations and it sounds like you have a plan and mindset to move past it today and for the week. The struggle to stay “Happy” in difficult times is real, and it sounds like you’re keeping a good attitude and turning to your network of support to get through it.

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