Oct 132011

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.

death of loved one“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.

help boyfriend cope with death

“How to Help Your Boyfriend Cope With the Death of a Loved One” image by Laurie

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.

Fix Your Marriage

To learn how to find the balance between supporting and suffocating him, read What is Unconditional Love? Signs and Secrets.

laurie pawlik kienlenI'm Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen (but I wish my name was Rosie Frost!). I'm a bookworm, travel bug, flute player, writer. My husband and I live in Vancouver, Canada with our cat and dogs.

Are you happy? My Grade 10 Social Studies teacher, Mr Merritt, always used to ask me that. And I am happy - despite a difficult childhood (schizophrenic mother, no father, foster homes), infertility, an eating disorder, and a chronic illness. The source of my peace and joy is God; I'm a Christian.

How is your life unfolding - what do you need? I welcome your big and little comments below, about big or little things. I can't give you advice, but writing can give you clarity and insight.

In peace and passion.... Laurie

  11 Responses to “How to Help Your Boyfriend Cope With the Death of a Loved One”

  1. Dear Nelja,

    Thank you for your patience – I hope you and your boyfriend have connected since you left your comment!

    I wrote this article for you:

    How to Find the Answers to Your Relationship Questions

    You probably already know that I can’t give you the answers you’re looking for. I can’t see the future, or know what your boyfriend is thinking and feeling!

    I hope this article gives you a few things to think about. Let me know what you think.


  2. Thank you Laurie so so much for the advice! You were right after all. I left him to cope by himself, messaging him regularly letting him know that I was always gonna be by his side whenever he needed and whenever he wanted to talk about the subject. He still hasn’t talked about it. He felt pretty upset the day of the funeral but. His mates made a beer round at the top of the hill all gathered together, he didn’t went. He is focusing very much on his studies and on his job which is a relief as he can’t surf for now due to a bad ankle injury (yes, I know this is a way to take his thoughts of the subject but thank god it’s a healthy one). On the not so very bright side of the picture, we are no longer together. Due to many reasons, not the tragedy he went through. So to all girls, yes. I believe the best way to help your BF cope with grieving is letting him cry it out in his own way. Even if we feel it is not healthy to not talk about it, we express our emotions differently. So, just be there for him. Don’t stress or push him. If you have, apologize and tell him you trust him enough to do this on the way he needs to, whatever that way might be. All my love to you girls, I wish you all the luck on your relationships. My heart goes to you all who are going through this difficult time, and finally, thank you Laurie, for helping us, teaching us, and leading us in the best way you can to the right direction on helping our loved ones.

  3. I recently started facilitating support groups for people coping with loss, and I now think that’s the best way to deal with most of life’s situations! A good, healthy support group is a place you can share your struggles, and others can tell you what they tried – what solutions worked for them.

    If your boyfriend can’t seem to cope with the loss of a loved one, it may help you to find a support group of some type. Different men cope with death in different ways, and I can’t tell you how to help your boyfriend. I think the best thing is to stay as emotionally and spiritually strong and healthy as you can!

    Be there for your boyfriend, but don’t enable him. How do you do that? By talking to other women in the same situation — either online or in person. I think in person is better, but online resources are good too.

  4. I come to this website everyday to reassure myself that I am doing the right thing when it comes to supporting my boyfriend in his loss. His mother died about 9 months ago, It was extremely sudden, only about a few hours notice. We have been together for a long time, a little over a year this time but we were on and off our entire high school careers (we are both about to end our first year in college). He has good days and bad. But when they are bad, they are really bad. For a while he refused counselling, tried it, but now is refusing it again. He, as well as I, are young, and I know it is difficult for him to ask for help or even talk about what he is feeling, But I worry about him constantly. If he does not want counselling or opening up, I wonder is it even possible for him to properly heal? We go to different colleges in different cities, about an hour to each other, and worry about him surrounded by people that dont know what he is going through. I know everyone heals differently and I never push him to talk if he says he doesnt want too. But I hope that somehow he can heal or begin to while refusing to let himself grieve. Perhaps it will just take a long time.
    Thank you for all the stories and advice. It soothes a soothers mind every now and then.

  5. Hello girls! Well it seems that I have the same problem as everyone but I am closer to Paula since I am also in a long distance relationship and the things might be worse regarding the fact that we have been together for only 4 months with my boyfriend. His mother died from cancer 2 months ago, so it was 2 months after we have been together. In the begining he told me that he need some time to deal with the fact, which of course I gave and after a while (not even a week) he returned to its usual text and skype routine. But after one month he started to say that he is feeling down and then he became more and more distant. He now skypes me once in 3 days and sometimes doesn’t reply to my messages but he also is supposed to come after one month here. But I am kinda worry. Does he really want to come?And how am I supposed to act if he comes? He doesn’t talk about the fact but I have told him a lot of times that I am here and if he wants to talk he can talk and I miss him etc. Of course he answers in a very cold way. But he keeps on his usual life. Like going to parties and clubs with his friends, and althought he is skype most of the time, it seems that I am the only person that he doesn’t want to talk. I wonder, am I a bother to him?What should I do? Should I let him know my feelings? He also mentioned that if I return back he won’t be sad anymore but I don’t know whether he means these or he finds excuses about the fact that he is cold towards me? Of course I still haven’t mention anything about his way or how lonely I feel, but should I do that?Let him know how ignored I feel? After all it is 2 months after the incident.

  6. My boyfriend of 2.5 years just lost his father unexpectedly last week. Like many of the ladies commenting he is of course devastated and has crawled into the cave of his mind. Up until the moment of his fathers death we’ve been incredibly close and I even went out to help his family plan the funeral and take care of cooking / cleaning etc. Since I had to return to my job and he is still out there(its been a week now), our communication has gone down to almost none existent. I will text him daily just to say “thinking of you” or “how are you doing, if you need anything I’m here” but regardless no answer. 1/5 attempts to make contact I may get a one word response like “thanks.”

    The stages of grief are a widely documented form of life and psychology. Unfortunately, grief is not the same for everyone and being the person on the outside looking in on a loved ones grief is becoming increasingly hard. Of course you cannot blame them, you’re not angry, but its just such a shock to your system. Reading some of the comments above– about their boyfriends becoming a different person and the relationship ending pains me incredibly. I love this person but feel helpless to help him.

    Should my role be the supportive one? The distraction? A bit of both? Any suggestions are welcome.

  7. Dear Paula,

    Being there for your boyfriend is the best way to help him cope with the death of his friend. I’m not sure if the cute or funny pictures or messages will help. Recently, I heard a pastor say that when someone is experience grief and loss, the best thing to do is sit beside them and say, “I am sorry for your loss.” Then be silent. Let the person talk, or be silent. Cry, or whisper.

    Helping someone grieve isn’t about cheering them up. It’s about sitting with them in their grief, and letting them mourn the way they feel led. Sometimes it’s loud and talkative, other times it’s silent and painful. Meet your boyfriend where he’s at.

    I know it’s difficult when you have a long distance relationship. Do you and he skype? If your boyfriend doesn’t want to talk about the death or his feelings, then don’t push it. Skype him regularly, but don’t force him to talk.

    I hope this helps, and wish you all the best as you stand beside your boyfriend.


  8. Hey girls :) First, thank you for this advices. They have really made me understand more on how to deal with what happened to my guy. A few hours ago he messaged me telling he just found out one of his best mates committed suicide. I almost threw up as I read the text. He had just came back from a huge party (he’s the ultimate party boy). All I told him was that I was really sorry he was going through this, and that I knew boys didn’t felt comfortable talking about his feelings but I was there for him whenever he needed me. “I’m just a text and a call away” (long distance relationship, Australia-Peru). He was going out with his mates, and I can’t help being worried for his reaction to this shocker. He does tend to drink a lot and the thing that scares me the most is that he might turn to weed or something similar. I feel horrible because I can’t even give him a hug. We always give each other balance, and now that we’re apart it’s a scary though he might go back to his aussie craziness. I have nooo idea what to do. To send him a cute/funny pic, a message, a song…my mind is just rumbling with thoughts and worries

  9. Hi my boyfriend lost his father in january, he rang me to let me know and was crying, he told me he feels peaceful listening to my voice, after we saw each other a few times and i got upset, he said to me that he came to see me to feel peaceful but me being upset has made it worse. since then he asked me to move on as he cant keep me happy. i reassured him that i am here for him and not leaving him. however he does not contact me at all i text him, and phone him but he does not reply or answer the phone. he told me he needs time.. i am finding it really hard at the moment, and if i let go and move on i will feel guilty all my life, as he has always been there for me when i needed him and the sad thing is i know he loves me more than anything in the world, his father and i were the only people closest to him.

  10. My boyfriend suddenly lost his father in August. Since then we have broken up, live in different house and rarely communicate. He has put himself into anything and everything to keep himself busy. We see eachother once a week but everytime we are together its as if my presense brings all of the hurt out of him. I was with him during the whole process following his fathers death and it seems as if he resents me for not being able to fix things. When i see him i see so much saddness and hurt. He is not making the best decisions but i realized a few days ago that i cant help him until hes ready to help himself. I have backed away and will let him reach out to me when and if hes ready. The worst part is how in love we both still are with eachother, but that life stresses have taken over and changed us. I didnt always handle the stress well and neither did he but living in the past wont change anything. Any advice on this situation?

  11. I think this is what could be happening with my boyfriend. His sister died in September and in the month leading up to that, the family was told that there wasn’t much time left for her. He basically stopped talking to me when they received the news and it’s 3-1/2 months later and he still hasn’t contacted me.

    The only contact we’ve had happened when I went to the funeral and I went to my boyfriend to give him a hug. He told me he’d call in a few days. I told him I was going to go to the cemetary but he told me he rathered I didnt go, so out of respect I didnt go. I am not sure why he wanted this.

    He has not discussed anything with his family that I am aware of – but he did tell his dad (who I visited last week) that he just wants to be alone. I am trying very hard to not pressure him and to give him space but I am scared for our relationship. I would love to be there for him and support him but I can’t.

    Not really sure how to handle this. It’s been difficult without him but I know he was devestated by her death – especially since he didn’t get back in town from a business trip before she passed.

 Leave a Reply