Question: My boyfriend just lost his best friend of almost 10 years suddenly to heat stroke within the last week. He is beside himself with grief and I’m not sure how to deal with him. He goes over to the family’s house until four in the morning, drinks all the time now and he takes his anger out on me. When he finally calms down from being angry, he apologizes and says that he’s just going through a lot right now and says he knows I understand what he’s going through. The Memorial Service is today and I’m not sure how he will be acting after this, it scares me in all honesty. Today he will have to face the fact that his best friend is gone and not coming back. I feel terrible that this is the first death that has hit close to home.
We have talked about what he’s feeling and I can empathize with his pain. My problem lies in the fact that in the last two years I lost my fiancée, a month later my mentor, six months after that, I lost my grandmother and a month later my great-grandmother. I was very close to both of these women. I understand the devastation of loss.
Since we found out about his best friend’s death, I have been trying to be patient, kind, and understanding. I’ve been doing his cooking, cleaning, staying up until all hours of the night when he cries and can’t sleep, and I’ve been caring for his dog; all the while neglecting the responsibilities of my life. Lately, when he goes into his moods of anger and sadness, I start to run out of patience and get angry. Not at him, but just in general. I want to scream at him and tell him when he has lost as much as I have, then he’ll have a right to be angry at people and the world. I realize that I am still bitter about each and every loss that I have suffered, especially that of my fiancée. I feel selfish for feeling like I do; when all I want to do is just be there when he needs me. But this anger and bitterness is starting to get the best of me. What can I do to help myself and him?
Dear Reader: Grieving is full time work. Currently you are doing the work of two people when you should be focusing on your own grief. Two years with multiple losses is still a relatively new loss. Here are a few things to ponder:
- Verbal, emotional and physical abuse is never okay. Just because your boyfriend’s best friend died does not give him the right to treat you poorly. You are not a “bad” girlfriend for leaving him when he is in these moods. Do not feel guilty or feel sorry for him. Many people grieve and do it without scaring their friends and family, especially those that are trying to help them.
- Alcohol makes the grieving worse. It covers up the pain for a short period of time but when the effects wear off the pain is still there and sometimes worse. I would suggest you talk to your boyfriend about abstaining from alcoholic beverages until he can cope with his emotions. The sooner he starts facing them the sooner he will start to heal.
- Take care of you first. The only person who can take care of you – is you. Focus on your own grief work and set firm boundaries. It sounds like you are getting worn out and exhausted from taking care of your boyfriend. When you take care of yourself emotionally and physically you will have more energy to give to others. It is okay to tell your boyfriend that you want to be there for him but he also needs to be there for you. If he can’t be there for you then you might need to put some distance between you while you both work through your grief.
- Go see a therapist together. I would suggest you go to couples therapy to have an impartial third person help you learn skills that will ease your grieving process. Going together can help strengthen your relationship and improve communication skills as well.
- If your boyfriend will not go with you to see a therapist, you should still go for yourself. It is all too easy when trying to help others to let yourself be “used” or taken advantage of in a bad way. When this happens, tempers tend to flare.
- If your boyfriend will not take any suggestions, and continues his behavior, you may have to consider taking a “time out” or time away from him. Tell him why you are doing so, but that he can call you whenever he is ready to treat you well, and to share in your mutual pain of loss.
Remember if you take care of yourself first then you will have more emotional strength to give to the relationship, your boyfriend and others.