Watching someone we love go through the grieving process often reminds us of our own grief, and can remind us in very visceral ways what it feels like to lose someone. Grief can also affect people who did not personally experience a loss, because it’s hard to see people we love struggle with the pain. We spoke to Susan Bryant about her experiences coping with her grieving husband. Read more about her story below.
“My husband’s father was not in the picture and his mother lost her battle for cancer just six months before we met. We’ve been together for five years now and his grief still affects many things in his life and our relationship. Events and benchmarks that I consider hallmarks of family togetherness often symbolize loneliness and stress for him, especially during the holidays towards the end of the year.
The months between October and January are the hardest for him because his mother passed away around Thanksgiving. While I want everything to be light and cheery, my husband says it feels like there is an expectation for him to be happy and it can be overwhelming for him. Likewise I feel like I have to tone it down and stifle my cheer during a time when I want to express it the most.
He also has nine siblings between ages 9 and 30 that were each affected in their own ways by their mother’s passing. His two youngest siblings live with their father, a man that everyone in the family has different opinions and feelings about. Coming into a large family that is filled to the brim with grief and animosity can be difficult to navigate, and sometimes it even feels impossible.
We try and set up game nights during the Holidays so we are still able to connect but there is no pressure to be sentimental. When we do get together to participate in Holiday traditions it can be exhausting. For instance, during our first year together I decided to cook the Thanksgiving turkey because I wanted to provide support and remove some of the burden from his older siblings, who were tasked with hosting Thanksgiving for the first time without their mother. That was five years ago and since then I have cooked the turkey for his side of the family every year. Despite having such a large family no one communicates easily during this time of year, so if I want to know what’s going on for family functions I preemptively reach out to everyone first. I am usually the one to check in and see if things have been taken care of and give reminders if things are needed because otherwise no one will communicate and nothing will get done.
When I mentioned this to my husband, he said that he didn’t know I felt that way and would mention it to his family. Now they don’t expect as much from me and everyone tries a little harder to communicate.
Wanting to help is a good thing but part of the grieving process is learning to move on and do things for yourself again. Even though I wanted to alleviate as much of the pain as I could by helping out, his family ended up relying on me too much. If I had continued doing things for them it would not have been beneficial in the long run for anyone, so I had to learn that it wasn’t selfish to take a step back when I needed a break from being the supporting role.”
It is important to understand the daily struggle and exhaustion that people who are grieving face. They are dealing with an internal war which their loved ones are forced to watch from afar. You may not be able to fix everything for them but with the right amount of time, support, and compassion, they can start moving forward.