Everyone grieves differently, but we’re all shocked and devastated when a loved one dies. These ways to help your boyfriend cope with the death of a loved one – a family member or friend – are inspired by a reader’s question.
“My boyfriend and I have been together for a few months now, but have been friends for a while,” says P on How Do You Help a Grieving Friend? “He recently lost his friend to suicide and he carried out CPR on him. He doesn’t want to talk about it or even talk to me at all really, he just wants some time alone. I feel helpless. I want to help him through this situation, but I don’t know how. How long should I give him time alone? What can I do?”
One of the first things you should do is learn about grief, mourning, and recovering from the death of a loved one. A book like I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One is helpful because it describes the normal phases of grieving, which will help you understand what your boyfriend is going through when he’s coping with the death of a loved one. And, here are a few thoughts on standing by your boyfriend while he grieves…
4 Ways to Help Your Boyfriend Cope With Death
“There are five stages of grief according to Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Shock/Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and Acceptance,” says family counselor Beth Morrison. “Grief is a very personal thing, and we do not all grieve in the same way. He may be angry one day, and crying the next. Experts say there is no time limit on grief, but generally two years is the time it takes to mourn a devastating loss. He has to work through the pain of grief, and find meaning in his life again.”
Don’t worry about which stage of grief he’s in – it’s normal to travel back and forth between stages. That is, many people are in shock when a loved one dies, and that shock may still underlie the anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance stages of grief.
It’s important to remember that death is a natural part of life. In North American culture, we tend to avoid talking about death or grieving overtly. We’re scared of death because we feel powerless – it’s the ultimate unknown! Mourning suicide is more complicated than grieving a natural death. It’s worthwhile to call a helpline or visit a website that can provide specific advice on this type of mourning.
Accept that your boyfriend may grieve death differently than you. Helping your boyfriend cope with death involves letting him grieve his own way. He may not feel like talking or even being with you right now. He’s coping with thoughts of the meaning of life and his own mortality, and his inability to save his friend from dying.
The most important thing is that he’s processing his grief. If he ignores his pain, then he’ll be setting himself up for greater heartache later on. One way to help him cope with grief in a healthy way is to give him a book on grieving, such as I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One . You can’t force him to read it, but you can make sure he has a copy.
Remember that emotional and physical withdrawal is normal for some men. I’m not a man, but when my grandmother died all I wanted to do was sleep and stare out the window. I didn’t want to talk, socialize, or be with anyone. I just wanted to be alone. I thought I was going to die, and I was devastated that I didn’t get the chance to say good-bye to her. To help your boyfriend cope with the death of a loved one, let him retreat into his cave.
Let him know you’re available to talk about the death anytime he’s ready. Send him a sympathy card, telling him how much you care about him. Write in the card that you’re there for him in whatever way he needs: to talk about his friend, to go to a movie, to take a trip out of town, or to go skydiving! Don’t pressure him to cope with the death of his loved one in any particular way (eg, by creating a scrapbook of memories or writing on his friend’s Facebook wall). Instead, let him you you’d like to help him mourn and grieve any way he’d like.
Let him come back to you when he’s ready. Don’t be afraid to let him go. It’s frightening when your boyfriend doesn’t seem interested in spending time with you, but you have to remember that his coping with the death of a loved one isn’t about you. It’s about him, not about your relationship or your love for each other.
Give him time and space to breathe, to mourn, to reflect on his life and his friendship. Think about sending him an email, text message, or note every couple of days – stay in touch without pressuring him to talk or be with you.
When your boyfriend is mourning the death of someone he loves, you want to be there for him. You don’t want to feel helpless or left out…but sometimes you need to accept that there really is nothing you can do to help him grieve, other than be there for him.
To learn how to find the balance between supporting and suffocating him, read What is Unconditional Love? Signs and Secrets.
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.