Monday, July 13, 2020

In Grief: Helping My Partner Mourn His Dad When I'm Still Mourning My Mom

[Reviewed and updated April 12, 2022]

If you want to support others you have to stay upright yourself.  ~ Peter Hoeg

A reader writes: I am at a loss with things right now and I really need some help. My partner's dad is dying and on the advice of his doctor he has been placed in hospice care. My mom passed 4 months ago today and I am still numb from that. I'm still not knowing how to handle my own grief, and now here I am with my partner and his family going thru this themselves.
Although they have dealt with passings a few times before, they are really upset. I also know that every passing is different and the feelings are different too. I am at a loss on how to handle this and how to help. I hate to see people hurting and in pain, but I am also in pain and very confused on how to handle it. On where and what to do. I am not in the family, only on the sidelines. 

I had a bad experience with hospice with my mother, so now with this hospice in my own mind I am questioning their motives and everything they do. I keep it to myself, as I would never hurt the family with my feelings. I guess my question to you is how do I handle all of this, and where is my spot so I do not over-step my boundaries? I will be there for them all the way, but what if I have a moment because my own grief is so fresh? Am I being selfish for even thinking that I have my mom in my head also? I went to the hospice house last night and kept myself together until I was alone in my van and they could not see me. I went home and my partner came over and we ate dinner. When he went in my room and went to bed I went out on the couch, watched TV and feel asleep. We did not really speak but that is ok as we both were tired and stressed and drained. 

I am at a loss for words again. I had just started to find myself remembering my mom in ways other than when she was in the hospital until she left me. I am now right back to thinking again about how she passed. I feel so alone with nobody to turn to. I keep everything bottled up inside and I feel as if any time now I am going to burst and that will be it. I have tried talking to a pro but it did nothing for me at all. It made me so much madder I was seeing red. I was made to feel as if I was an inconvenience.

My response: I’m so sorry you have to go through this experience all over again, coming as it does so soon after the rather difficult and traumatic time you had with your own mother in hospice.

I think the best you can do in this situation is just to be there for your partner and his family, in any way that you feel comfortable.

What does that mean?  It means that you really don’t have to DO anything, other than offer your presence ~ if and when you are able to do that. (Try to remember how you felt when your own mother was dying, and think about what others could have said or done to bring you comfort.)

You can say to your partner, for example, “Would you like me to go with you to visit your dad?”

Of course, don’t offer to accompany your partner to the hospice if it’s not what you are willing and able to do. In that case you can say something like this to him:“I want to be here for you at this sad and difficult time, but my own recent and negative experiences with hospice are coloring everything I’m seeing and hearing now, and I’m finding it very hard to be in that place again so soon after my own mother’s death. It has nothing to do with you or your father or your family, and I hope you will understand.” 

If you’re worried about attending another funeral if and when your partner's father dies, you can say the very same thing.

If you think you can handle going to another funeral right now, by all means give it a try ~ and sit in the back so you can slip out quietly without disturbing the service if you need to leave. (Tell your partner ahead of time that this is what you plan to do, and ask him not to be concerned if you do decide you have to leave. Make sure you bring your own car, so you can take yourself home if you need to leave early.) Or you can decide not to go at all. You need to do whatever it takes to take care of yourself right now, my dear, even if other people don’t like it, don’t fully understand or don’t even accept what you are feeling. You cannot help what you are feeling ~ you can only tune into it, try to figure out why you’re feeling that way, and then do whatever your heart and your instincts tell you is necessary to take good care of yourself. Plan it all out ahead of time.

If your partner is open to a conversation about all of this, it might be useful for you to sit down with him and have a good talk about it. Print out this message if you need to, and tell him it comes from your online grief counselor.

If you’ve looking for specific ways that you can “be there” for your partner and his family, I can point you to all sorts of articles, books, and resources written on that topic. See, for example, Helping Another in Grief: Suggested Resources.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here

Image by Anna_Sunny from Pixabay 
© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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