Helping Your partner through Grief: 5 Important Things to Know
Being an empath, I make a living through heartache. Yes, sounds like a dream job, I know. Experiencing grief can be anything from uncomfortable to completely debilitating for you and the people you care about. On the upside, anytime you experience heartache, something amazing is happening to you. Your heart, mind, and body are processing out the old information —the loss and how things were— to create space for new information and experiences to come in.
Heartache is Heart opening
Everyone grieves in their own way: First and foremost, every person will find their way through the process of grief and mourning.
It’s true that there are stages of grief but they’re not necessarily linear—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance may occur for some and not for others. For instance, if your partner lost their job, it’s not uncommon to immediately move into remedy mode and begin looking for a new one. Once that’s been accomplished, they begin to feel the anger or frustration linked to the loss. Some people will immediately feel the emotional loss and others may save it until a time and place when they feel safe to express those emotions. Your goal isn’t to force them to feel but offer them a safe place to feel whatever it is they feel—including everything from sarcastic irreverence towards their loss to extreme anger or sadness. Remember—what they feel isn’t about you no matter how it appears.
It’s Good to Stay Connected: A partner who is grieving needs to know they’re not losing you as well.
Grief can make or break a relationship. It’s important to be clear about how you feel and any limitations you may have. You don’t have to be good at tolerating a person’s emotionalism to find a way to support your grieving partner. It’s good to reach out without the expectation of response and important to be clear on what you can and can’t do. Your partner needs you there so be honest. It’s okay to be uncomfortable with tears or anger—what’s important is that you stay engaged and be honest about your discomfort. Ask what your partner needs from you when they have those emotions. Some folks are huggers and others aren’t—be willing to say, “I don’t know what to do when you get so upset, but I love you and I’m here.” Most people are grateful for the opportunity to offer some direction.
Do the Mundane Things: Grieving takes a lot of energy.
The energy you’d use to; clean the house, wash the car, do the laundry, shine the shoes, or make meals. Doing these things for your partner can be an enormous help and consistent reassurance of your presence to their grief. It’s always good to let your partner know that you’ll be doing these things and giving them the opportunity for special requests. Loss can make a person feel like their world is breaking apart. You don’t want to make them feel as if you’re taking over their world but offering your service in it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About It: Or not talk about it—as the case may be.
Unfortunately, it’s common for people to be uncomfortable with death. Talking about it can make a person reflect on their own mortality or fear of loss. Get over it. Your partner’s grief is not about you and it’s a time in the relationship to set aside, to the best of your ability, your own issues and focus on what they need. Let your partner lead the conversations where they want them to go. Keep in mind that you may be the only safe place for a person having to set aside their own needs for the one who is dying. In grief, there are circles of support. If the loss is a death, there are those who support the one dying, and then those who support the one’s supporting the dying, and then those who support them. The supporters are sometimes family and sometimes they are our soul-family. Everyone needs someone to talk through their role in the chain of grief.
Sometimes Grief is Complicated: It mirrors the relationship one has— to what’s been lost.
If a person’s relationship to what they are losing is complicated, so to, is the grief they’ll feel. It’s common to be relieved and sad about a loss at the same time. A child losing an abusive parent for example—can create a level of guilt or shame about those feelings. Don’t judge your partner for what they’re experiencing—do your best to figure out why they feel the way they do. It’s okay to ask questions.
The most important thing to remember about helping a partner through grief is not to take their feelings personally. It’s good to set boundaries and let them know that even if you don’t completely understand how they feel, (and if you’ve not experienced what they are, it’s best not to say you understand) you’re here for them in any way they need.