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Behaviour After A Bereavement

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iloveglee | 13:37 Sun 20th Sep 2020 | Family
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I am always really happy with the insights that people on here are willing to share, and want to ask about a situation I find myself in.

A close family member lost her husband at the end of last year. It was a great shock to all of us, although his health had been bad, he had opted for a surgery that would hopefully improve his quality of life. Sadly, his underlying condition meant that although the surgery itself was successful, his heart was not able to compensate for the trauma and he died. This was particularly challenging for me, as a good friend had lost her husband at around the same time, and I was helping to support her with the 'paperwork', as her daughter was very bad at this kind of thing. She is now coping pretty well considering.

My family member I'm not so sure. If one was to meet her socially, she appears to be doing fine, but she cries every day she says. Now I am one who feels that crying is cathartic, whether through anger, frustration or sadness, and would advocate anyone for whom crying has the same effect to go for it. However, she is persistently seeking sympathy by telling everyone who will listen that she cries every day, and when you try to suggest positive things for her life, the response, always is, well its not the same when you're on your own. No, it's not, it's different, life is very different when you've been with someone for many many years, but it appears to me that she is making very little effort to adapt. I personally feel that this year, what with what's been going on, people who have been bereaved need to be cut a bit of slack, but things seem to be getting no better.

She has a fairly large extended family, including me and my husband, all within a few miles, and we all try to take her out, ask her round for meals, etc. but it's becoming now that everybody is expected to be responsible for her happiness. I veer from thinking that it's me and I'm being unreasonable, to thinking how awful it must be to have lost your partner of 60 years. But I cannot take on board being responsible for her well being, other than obviously being around to support and help where I can. As well as being related, we have been friends for a long time, and have always done things together, which we still do, but I am beginning to get the feeling that it's not enough. We want to include her in our lives, and we do, but we also have a life of our own to live.

Does anyone out there agree that although the crying is absolutely normal, the sympathy seeking behaviour is becoming worrying. I am not at all sure at what point someone needs some professional help. My only experience of bereavement was to lose both parents within 3 months of each other several years ago. I cried most certainly I did, although not every day. And I can't at any time remember telling people on a regular basis. And yes, I know everybody is different and experiences loss differently.

I would be so grateful for your thoughts, and suggestions as to what I might be able to do to help. There is no doubt she is becoming very dependent, both on me and my husband, and also on her daughter who is semi retired. Her son and grand children are of course all of working age and have young families. I don't want to be the architect of enabling further dependence, but am not about to abandon her either.

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All of this discussion has brought back to me the death of my father. He and my mother were two halves of a whole, they said they only made one good one between them. When she died, he literally was only part of a person. The first time he got a chest infection - he had copd - he just didnt fight it and died.

I was angry with him, i wasn't ready to be an orphan. He had me and my sister, three grand children and seven great grand children. It wasn't enough. I found it hard because we had done all we thought we could, but it still wasn't enough. It took a bit of coming to terms with but now I get it. Sometimes, it makes no difference what you do or don't do, say or don't say, it's not enough.
Spot on, and the present situation we are all in will further isolate a person x
My mum was eventually prescribed antidepressants, she was crying a lot & quite despondent & her appetite was affected. She did improve over time on her prescription.
iloveglee, do you think part of the problem you are having (and I don't want to get into psychobabble) is that it is bringing feelings back to you from when you lost your Dad? I have to try to avoid discussions about aspects of the NHS because it rips the scab off a wound that I keep thinking is healed.
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woofgang you might be right up to a point. I think I do have some unresolved issues around my dad, even after all these years. I find it hard to accept we were not enough, although I have come to understand it as Ive got older myself. There is still a bit of residual guilt that I could have done more to make him want to live, whilst my rational brain tells me that I couldn't.

I think in this instance maybe there is that feeling that possibly deep down i think nothing we do will be enough, and that creates a pressure maybe to do more than makes me happy. When you still have your partner, and you're happy, and want to live your life together, it can make you feel bad that someone you do actually care about doesn't have that any more.

It's very easy to let resentment build up when you feel you're giving as much as you can, but always something more is required of you, at the same time, you could give up your whole life, and it still wouldn't be enough. Maybe this is behind my need to do something, even though I know I can't. This has all given me a great deal of food for thought.

Me and my husband, her daughter and the rest of her family are not the husband she wants to still have in her life. We cannot bring him back, and anything else we might do is probably a poor substitute for him not being there.
you know what? You have nailed it
"Me and my husband, her daughter and the rest of her family are not the husband she wants to still have in her life. We cannot bring him back, and anything else we might do is probably a poor substitute for him not being there."

One of the lessons we learn in life is that people, even those who love us most and are closest to us, can only give what they have got. The givers have to learn this too. Wanting what no one can give.....wanting what you have to give to be enough......those are human feelings. They are very unpleasant feelings and difficult to deal with but nothing to feel guilty about.
glee - you talk of losing parents. This has happened to me and it is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. I know that nothing will ever top it. I do not have a husband or children, so my parents were my family. Dad always said that if Mum went first, there would be no point in him living, as 'what's the point without your partner'. This used to upset me and I always hoped (probably selfishly) that when the time came, he would go first because Mum was made of sterner stuff and I knew she would cope better. Anyway my dear Dad did go first, but sadly Mum joined him only 14 months later. It was a truly horrendous time for me because in the midst of it all, I lost my beloved 17 year old dog as well. The pain of losing Mum was the worst though, I quite simply couldn't accept that she had gone and even now four years later, I still struggle and I suspect I will go on struggling, particularly with another Christmas looming.

You may not respond to this and I don't mind if you don't, I just wanted to get it off my chest and talk about my wonderful and much missed parents.

We all go through grief in our lives and try to cope as best we can, don't we ……
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burlyshirley - I absolutely get what you are saying. Before I married, my parents were the most important people in my life. After I married, they moved down a little, although remained at the centre of our lives until they died (we have that kind of family fortunately). When my kids came along, more space was made for some more people to love.

The natural way of things is that the older ones die first, and losing parents is awful and shocking but kind of expected as this is how it is supposed to be. Losing a child, well that's all wrong, all out of order but we know it happens. My dad was what you might call made of 'stern stuff'. He was on the Normandy beaches in his early twenties, and was injured there. You don't get through something like that without being made of stern stuff. Never talked about it, until we went to see Les Miserables. The song empty chairs at empty tables cracked him up and I'd never seen him in tears like that before. Such resonance for him. BUT - stern stuff or not, when my mum died that was it. 3 months later he was gone, and I almost knew it would happen like that.

Death is the price we pay for love, it's said and I believe it.

All of these conversations have made me think a great deal about my current situation, and it has helped me to clarify a lot in my mind. I couldn't have kept my dad from giving up, and deep down I know that. I still have some guilt remnants that I could have done more, but as time goes by I know that's not the case. It's the same here I think. I am not the only on in this bereaved person's life, not actually the most important one either, although the closest geographically! I know that I and my husband do quite a lot, in a practical sense.

There are things about being on your own that I really get. Some I don't because I am someone who likes her own company. My relative/friend doesn't. But we are different personalities and I can't make her like me, nor can I be like her. I see little shoots of recovery in her, but of course that's when I'm with her. What I can't see is how she is when alone. Apart of course from the thing that worried me in the first place, her inclination to regularly tell people that she cries every day.

But now, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion, with help from the discussions we have had on here, that this is one of those things that a person can only do for themselves, in their own way and in their own time. With support certainly. And it's actually wrong of me to think that I can, or even should, do this for her, or believe that what's happening is not right. It would probably not be right for me, but I am me and she is her.

Sorry if I am rambling on a lot. I feel this is a bit like having a teenager living a roller coaster life, and you are having to guide or help them through it to an independent life. I've done this twice already, so I am going back to how I remember the way I dealt with that. They are both now successful and independent so something must have gone right. I don't remember ever thinking there was something wrong with them, or that I owed them my life, or I had to live their life for them. This is a bit like that. I may be better myself for getting my own head in the right place.

So thanks everybody for your thoughts. Amazing isn't it how perfect strangers can help you straighten out what your nearest and dearest, and your yourself find difficult
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I had a thought that came to me and then went, and I didn't say it at the time. Years ago, we went to Mexico, and at the beginning of november they have dia del morte - day of the dead. They visit their deceased relatives in the cemeteries, and basically party as only mexicans can. But they go there to remember their deceased relatives, and talk about them and mull on the good times.

We have friends in Brazil, and they do something very similar. Every year they have a day when they get together to remember their deceased friends and relatives. I think we could usefully copy these ideas. It's a sad/happy occasion, remembering the good times, but also allowing ourselves to feel sad, cry, comfort one another. Moving on does not mean forgetting, and nor should it.

Our parents live on in us, and we live on in our children, and we always tell ours this. We might be physically gone, but we are and always will be there in their heads and their hearts.
Thanks for replying glee. My Mum left a card for me and my brother which fell out of the funeral plan when we went to the undertakers to sort out her funeral. She wrote a lovely message inside for us, although my brother wasn't moved, he's the complete opposite to me, so I kept it and I have it up still in my living room and look at it often. She says she will always look over us and that she didn't want to leave us, it's very bittersweet. I know she (and Dad) are always in my heart and I will keep them safe there for the rest of my days.

You mention guilt, sadly it is a huge part of grief in a lot, if not most, cases. I carry my own share of guilt with me. Things I wish I'd done better and some things I wish I hadn't done or said and yet I know they will forgive me.

Your friend needs time, but a bit more of it yet. It's what we all need when we lose someone we love and it will always be like that.

All the best.
glee I am glad we helped.
Can I say Glee - I think you are an amazing person towards this friend but you can't live her life for her. I guessed at the beginning of this post the lady was about 80 and I personally think at that age losing her partner has been horrendous for her. Since you were a "foursome" she probably still thinks she is still a massive part of your lives but you did have your times with your "twosomes" - you and your husband. Just keep being around your friend when it suits you and don't be sucked into "guilty" feelings because you shouldn't have any guilt. A year is not long but at 80 it is very long. I don't think this lady will get over her partner but that won't be you or your husband's fault.

Even though I have been bereaved many many times with nephews dying at very young ages and their parents dying after so have had to deal with the aftermath of the pain it all left behind. Like you I tried my best but in the end I had to look after my own health. Good luck to you and keep being the kind friend you are.
My mother was an only child. When she died in her late 30s, I was a teenager. When my grandfather died, my grandmother was lonely and missed my mother more than ever. I’m was the only grandchild who lived close enough to visit regularly but at the time, I found it very difficult to balance the needs of my young family with supporting my grandmother. I know that this is different to your situation but I understand your dilemma. I just had to do my best in the situation as you are obviously doing. You are offering lots of support but also need to consider your own quality of life.
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Thank you for your insights. BurlyShirley, you say you have kept the letter your mum wrote. You will keep it forever, and it will always have a great deal of meaning for you. I have a box of stuff that belonged to my parents, photos of holidays, cards my dad wrote to my mum during the war, my dads service record and photos of his wartime friends/comrades.

These things meant a lot to them and therefore mean a lot to me. We travelled to Normandy for the 6th June celebrations, and were able to find a commemoration to his regiment in a tiny French village. I left a poppy on this monument and signed the visitor book. This was very moving for me, and is something I shall never forget, and keeps his memory alive, as well as the memories of all those who fought with him.

So far as this current situation is concerned, it is terribly strange to be a three, rather than the four we were. But for her children and grand children also who find the empty chair hard to see. They also have their grief to bear.

I guess all we can do is keep trying our best, at the same as recognising that currently nothing will be quite good enough. As already said, this year is just about the worst time in the world to be on your own.
I know its some time since this was first posted, but having read through all the comments I can sympathise.

I lost my beloved nan 50 years ago and I still reflect on her and her death. She was more of a mother to me than my own mother, and when my parents died, I was out of the country living abroad. I had not seen them for some years and they never really had much time for me preferring my younger brother. Plus my father was abusive to me so I did not have much affection for him.

3 years ago a beloved friend passed away, again I was abroad so was not able to attend his funeral which was heartbreaking. His wife always said she would never be able to cope without him but 3 years on she is doing well. She misses him terribly as they had been married for nearly 70 years. I live hundreds of miles from her now but I regularly keep in touch to see how she is doing and, surprisingly, she is building a life without him.

However, as Christians we have a wonderful hope that the Bible gives us. It talks of a resurrection, and that is what keeps her going, and me too.

Logically, if we were meant to die, then why do we grieve? If someone moves abroad and we don't ever see them, we don't grieve. And if Heaven is where we are going when we die, why aren't we glad for those who have died? For surely they would be going to a better place and we should be glad for them.

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