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Helping someone with their grief


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I am desperate for some advice on how to help someone deal with a massive amount of grief that seems never ending.

They know I am there for them but will always say "you can't ever understand what I have been through" All I say is no I can't ever understand what you've been through but that doesn't stop me being there for you.

At times we can talk about things and the people he has lost in quite a rational way, but at other times, when he is very depressed and low he doesn't want anyone or anything to be around him. He will push me away and just keep saying I don't understand and that he doesn't ever want anyone to understand how he feels. What do you say to that. If you have suffered so much in life is it normal not to want someone close not to understand or be there. He seems to wrap himself up in his huge amount of grief often disappearing for a couple of days, or spending the night out walking.

I find it very confusing, and a little hurtful but most of all I find it hard to know how to deal with the swinging emotions he has.

I can never understand his pain and would never say I do, his grief is all consuming and brings him down very low - it hardly seems right therefore to try and be upbeat when that clearly is not how he wants to be.

How do others deal with someone close to them that has this dreadful amount of sadness but seems unwilling or unable to do anything else in their life other than go over and over what has gone before.

I am desperate to hear from anyone who has found themselves in a similar situation.

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Hi Melanie. I've not been in the exact same position so can't offer any definitive answers. But I understand the feelings of not wanting someone to understand and to push people away.

I think the important thing is always being there for someone, which quite clearly you are. And also to be guided by them somewhat. If there is a day he wants to be alone then try not to find that hurtful but give him the space. Unless of course you think he may harm himself. I think it is important to always remember when someone is consumed by grief it can create a kind of selfish personality...but in a way that is self preserving and maybe necessary for a while. Someone is trying to heal and may not think of others feelings while they are doing that.

I would also say however that it probably depends how long this has been going on. Again I am no expert but I think there is maybe a line when grief crosses over into depression and this is the point where extra steps need to be taken. Has this been happening for a long time? Do you see any improvement?

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I agree with Calla that sometimes there is nothing one can do other than be present. This is a really difficult place and I sympathize. I recall such a place and my only advice is to take care of yourself. The emotions can be more than one can handle alone.

The moment you feel you need some help is the moment you reach out to mutual acquaintances.

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Thank you both for your replies. The grief this person has endured has gone on for many years now and the story is a long and painful one. To be honest to hear what has gone on beggers belief, that one human being should have to put up with so much it is a wonder he is still here.

I think you are right Calla, I think the grief of his losses has gone over into depression. When a person gets to such a low point it makes it very hard to reach them. He finds days to day things impossible and sleeping does not come easily either and when it does he sleeps fitfully with dreadful nightmares. He has lost all his family, partner, son and daughter. His partner died some 14 years ago, his son at the age of about 10 in a hit and run (the driver never found) and his daughter last year to breast cancer like her mother. Out of the blue some weeks ago came the news that his mother (he was adopted at birth and always hated the fact that she didn't want him) was dying in hospital. This came via a half brother that had tracked him down. After reading letters she had written some 30 years ago she had thought of him all the time, and had not wanted to give him up but was forced to. There is a huge amount here for him to get his head around.

His losses have, he says, made him hard. I don't see that side of him at all. He knows he is fractured. I see a person who is dreadfully sad, who has suffered so much yet still has the capacity to love others and think of them too. It is just when things come to the surface again (like anniversaries of birthdays etc) that he plunges yet again.

I worry that, although he knows I am there for him, he doesn't want anyone to help him, wants to be alone and asks nothing of anyone. It almost seems like he wants to be where he is. He will disappear for a couple of days not telling anyone where he is, the phone calls and texts will stop as I have no way of contacting him I worry greatly. When he eventually gets in touch I say that I was worried that I had not heard from him and he will answer why are you worried". I am not a councillor and not trained in any way how to deal with such severe feelings and that is why I feel lost at what I can do. He does have a therapist he has seen, but I think he needs to see someone much more often - he is not an easy person to tell what to do. I know that he was in therapy some time ago and meant to stay for one month, after three weeks they asked him to leave. They could not deal with him or the outbursts he had to others when they sat and talked. To him no one else's troubles is important because no one has been through what he has been through.

When he is feeling ok we can talk quite openly, but if you touch on a subject or say something that he takes the wrong way (and this happens quite a lot) his mood will change immediately which to begin with was quite frightening. He drinks quite heavily as well, and this does not help his mood swings at all.

I know all I can do is be there for him to talk etc when he wants to, but it is so frustrating not being able (or feeling) that you can do anything. Do people get beyond the point of being helped?

I know I will never understand what he has been through and I have never said to him that I do - I just wondered if there were others here who have been through similar things - and how they dealt with it and the people around them. And I suppose more to the point, have they managed to make some kind of life for themselves despite their pain and grief.

Thank you for your postings - much appreciated.

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I have experienced some hard loses in the last few years, and it has made me harder as well. I am not a man though, so I don't express my sadness through anger as much, but I do isolate much more than I used to and people get on my nerves more. I think the isolating is needed to process things, assimilate the losses within myself. It is not always useful since things can go round and round inside without much resolution, but being with people makes me impatient and irritable so I stay away mostly.

The hard part for me has been staying away from bitterness and disillusionment about life, because it feels like there is not much there to enjoy. I've often felt that I would prefer to not continue, but I have children and would not want to destroy their lives. It sounds like he does not even have that to hold unto, I can see why he would be struggling. The alcohol surely makes it worse, but it probably feels like it allows him to escape the pain for awhile, and who care anyway at this point right, how can it get worse...

Healing is a process, sometimes a long process, and some people never end up completely reconciling with loss and turning it into something positive. I personally find therapy very useful in that I can vent some of my feelings in a safe place, but like I said I tend to turn anger inwards so that may be a suitable outlet for me. For him it may be something like martial arts or rock climbing, something that uses up a lot of physical energy and leaves him physically exausted, which would probably diffused some of his anger tension. We are all so different and deal with things in various ways. Some things in life do break people, one only has to look to the nearest homeless shelter to see how life has broken some people.

He does sound like someone who is strong and resilient though - he is still fighting. I think what he needs more than anything is support and encouragement, I know that is what I need anyway. When I don't want to be with others nobody pushes me now, which I appreciate. But being with people who are upbeat and positive does do some good, and I appreciate their positiveness now, more than I would have last fall for example when it just irked me that people could be happy when I was being dealt such a bad hand...

I'm just rambling .... patience, lots of patience. Only time will tell how he will eventually assimilate and move on from these loses. Just being there for him is probably all you can do at this point....

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Symore many many thanks for your reply, which I have read and re-read. You have been most helpful.

You have hit the nail on the head with regards to the drinking - and "who cares anyway" and could things get any worse? I don't suppose they could get any worse as what he has been through would be more than enough for most people.

I can understand completely that healing is a process and who can say how long that process is, the thing is that I think every time he finds a way forward something just as awful seems to happen. Just when that "something else" has happened then it is an anniversary of some kind, birthday etc, to remember and all those unhappy thoughts come back.

As I said before I think talking to someone more often (who is trained) would be of huge benefit to him, and although he has mentioned this to me, he makes no attempt to actually make these appointments regularly.

Another problem I think, again I am not trained here, is that he does not work. He does not work because he does not have to so there is a difference there. He is a self made man with no need to work and money is no object. In fact I don't think money to him means a great deal, which I can understand. The trouble with this is because he has no need to work and earn he seems to spend all his time being where he is. He just does not seem able to lift himself. He seemed to be ok for a couple of weeks, but then last week had to see his lawyer about his daughters probate, and that has just set him back again. My fear is that when he is able to function and do some normal things the weeks will have gone on, and then at the end of August is the first anniversary of his daughters death. This is already worrying me now. How on earth is he going to cope with this? We have conversations about his daughter, whom he loved dearly, but the relationship was a little fraught - this adds to his grief - and he misses her dreadfully. In a telephone conversation we had last week he was sobbing down the phone wanting her and wanting his mother. To be on the other end of the phone and not beside someone who is so clearly distraught is so damn difficult. I cant reach out to him, hold him, touch him, be there for him, and it makes it very hard knowing what to say.

I understand completely that he needs support and encouragement, but I worry that I am not going to be the one to do that for him. If you asked him the question he would answer that he actually wants no one there for him, and when I am inwardly angry about his manner I just think he wants to wallow and stay where he is, perhaps he is actually happy being where he is?

I find it hard to understand the fact that he does not want to do anything that might make him feel better, or take him out of himself for a short while, preferring instead to be where he is. I can't make him do anything obviously - but I feel strongly that where his family where taken from him without any choice, cancer and a hit and run, he has the choice they never had. They could not choose to stay around, or be ill in another five or so years, but he has the choice to live the rest of his life in the best way he can. He does have people around him who care (he says he has no one) and I am one of them. I would imagine his state of mind has been this way for some considerable time and perhaps gets worse as time goes on - how on earth do you get someone to understand that they do have reasons for living and people around who want them.

This person means a great deal to me - he can't understand why I would love him and will sometimes question it - and I fear really that I will never be enough to help him get through any of this. I try not be as negative as him and although I am a strong person in nature and character it is very difficult. The trouble I am finding with this is that there seems to be no answers. Writing this, reading it back, and going through things in my mind actually makes me feel quite desperate that I want to be there and help because I care, but if he doesn't want to move from the place he is then there is very little I can do. Does that sound harsh?

I wish things were not so hard for him, that our relationship could progress normally but whilst I do not doubt his feelings for me, I wonder how things will move on for us as a couple. Why does life have to be so hard and complicated???

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Damned if I know :confused: All the great philosophers and prophets have tried to tackle that same question, so it's not surprising we can't find an answer...

You are completely right in that this is something that is up to him, it is not harsh. He has to decide that he will again dare to love, to commit to something, to risk getting hurt. After all his loses he may be feeling skittish about that, and based on his experience that is probably a valid conclusion... It does not make sense to those who have not lived it, but to him it may not feel worthwhile to invest himself in something that would cause that much pain again, for now anyway...

For me Faith makes a huge difference. It is where I find solace and hope, and I am told that tests refine me spiritually if I do not let them beat me down. I know that compassion comes for suffering, truly understanding other's pain. I think that is how some people transform their pain, by using their compassion as a means of healing their own suffering, organizations like MAD, Alcoholic's Anonymous, were started by people who were trying to transform their own suffering into something positive.

I completely agree with you that not working is not good for him, or volunteering, or contributing to something bigger than himself. I know that working has helped me enormously in getting my mind off things. In the last few months I have made special efforts to try new things, do something different. Otherwise is it so much harder to get our mind off what troubles us. Is he involved in anything, any sports, volunteer work, art, anything that would help fill his mind with something else than ruminations?

I think you may have to be very patient with regards to progressing in a relationship with him. For now I would focus on being his friend and supporting him through his grieving process. That way you will not be disappointed if it does flourish in the romantic direction... that might be better for you, since you matter too :)

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Symora thank you so much for taking the time to respond to me.

Sadly he has no faith so that is not a direction he would go. To have lost all his family makes him a non believer, though not sure he was before.

Not working, nor having something to focus on I think is a real problem for him but he does give to cancer charities large donations because of his partner and daughter. He does a lot of walking, sometimes because I think he needs to for fitness but other times because it is a way of being alone with his own thoughts.

In his adult life other than being very successful he has done a massive amount of things and travelled everywhere, but all on his own. He is a mine of information about most subjects and engages in conversation easily - actually talks more than I do which is unusual as I am usually the chatterbox! So when he is on an up he is great and good company too.

I started last week reading up on information on depression and manic depression - now called bipolar - and a lot of the symptoms people show I could tick nearly every one of them. I wonder if the way he is is far more than just depression - if you know what I mean. I know he was given anti depresant tablets a while ago, but he will not take them as he said they made him feel worse - a symptom of them I think you get in the beginning. Apart from the drinking (which is fairly frequent and he is able to do as he is not driving at the moment, another thing that does not help as his freedom to come and go is drastically reduced) is he often takes sleeping tablets. These will then knock him out for 2 or three days making him feel awful before he is feeling "normal" again.

Although as I have said he is quite open with me and obviously trusts me - something he does not do with anyone really - I have never met any of his friends, nor the person he is staying with - yet I have introduced him to a few friends of mine and although I know the name of the village he is staying in I know no more than that - so he keeps me at a distance really. He has made enquiries into buying a house for him but never finds the energy to do more than that. I feel that having his own home, some roots and being able to come and go as he pleases - its never easy living with someone else however well you know them - that this would be helpful, but again I am careful not to push this. I feel that if i take too much interest in what he is looking at he may think i am pushing for the "him" to be "us" and I don't want his to feel any pressure.

I can only hope and pray that I am doing the right thing. We spoke last night briefly and I sent a text today just saying I was thinking about him, and the reply back was thankyou, but heard nothing since lunchtime - that is the bit i find so hard - perhaps that is my selfish side but i just like to hear his voice.

Again thank you for your reply - its a lonely place when you feel you are dealing with something alone and I am not able to talk to a great deal of people about this. The one friend I have spoken to thinks I give him too much leeway with the way he behaves and the way he can be towards me, but I truly believe that he firstly doesn't think he is behaving badly towards me and secondly may actually not be able to help the way he behaves outwardly to others. Perhaps I am kidding myself.:confused:

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Hi Melanie,

In reading your last post I was struck by what your friends have been telling you. I say listen carefully to them, take their counsel. There are also things you said about him in this last post that rang alarm bells for me. He does not include you with friends, keeps you at a distance. I even wondered as to whether you are in fact being told the truth. How well do you really know this person Melanie, are you sure about the facts? I speak from experience. My X was not considerate of me in those same ways, not calling for days, not hearing from him for weeks when he was in Africa. The bottom line is that he was inconsiderate by nature, but I always made excused for him, because I'm a saviour type unfortunately :)

I always understand, want to be helpful, be there for the other, values that I hold dearly, but I forget to also give weight to how they treat me, if this is someone that I can trust to be there for me, care for my feelings as well. It's lovely to be there for others, but we need to also exercise prudence, look for balance in our relationships, otherwise we empty ourselves to help others and end up drained, and often left behind when we have been used up. Do not forget your own needs, and do some reflexing on whether or not you are trying to <save> him.... that is one lesson I have learned from my own mistakes ...

Good relationships are those where both partners are getting what they need within the relationship. Perhaps you don't dare ask for what you need because you are afraid you will be rejected for it, but if you are not now, you may be setting up a pattern of you being there for him but not vice versa... and nobody wants that for you Melanie :-)

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Good morning Symora,

Your reply has got me thinking and you have touched on a couple of things that have run through my head already, which I find quite amazing given what I have said.

This situation is probably quite a complicated one and something that I was not looking for. I met this person quite by chance back in January. As I have said before I talk to anyone and can easily strike up conversations with complete strangers. This is what happened with this person on a dark January afternoon - we just got talking. The upshot of this conversation was he gave me his number and we both went on our way. What was strange was I had a strong pull towards him and felt I had known him for ages. After about a month I called him, which surprised him as he didn't think I would call, but hoped I would. I would say it was fete that bought us together.

My own home life has been pretty awful for some considerable time and when you are feeling low and lonely and someone talks to you and you feel a connection it was a lovely feeling. The upshot of all of this was we met. I was completely out of my comfort zone but after an hour or so enjoyed his company. This has gone on from there really. He made me feel things I had not felt for years, I have no connection with my husband at all, no passion no nothing. This has worried me for years really that I see my life just wandering along whilst my children are now young adults and lovely people. The thought of doing another 20 odd years with my husband filled me with dread, but for various reasons and financial too there is no escape for me.

So when this person came into my life it was like a light going on. He was lovely to me, made me feel things I had buried years ago, we got on well and had some lovely times together. He made my boring life worthwhile and it felt so good. The trouble with the situation I am in now is (which perhaps I should not have done but could not help) was I fell in love with him. This feeling was an absolute shock to me actually, although I had fallen in love with my husband some 26 years before I was not in love with him anymore and all those feelings desires everything I buried and tried to accept that that was my life.

I ask nothing of this person just his time and being with him. I am as happy going for a drink and a meal with him as sitting in the drive thru at MacDonalds, it is his time I enjoy - the person.

Is it a one sided relationship - yes it probably is. Should I be doing what I am doing - I don't know. I am slightly worried that when I am with him, or at home, I feel no guilt at being with him - should I?

To begin with the silence was hard to take, I thought it was something I had done or said, but have realised that this is the way he is and what he wants. We last spoke Friday night and today, Sunday morning, I have heard nothing from him and it hurts me. When he is not on a low I tell him how hard it is for me and I think (hope) he understands that. He knows what he means to me, how my feelings are and how much I love him. He knows I want to be there for him.

In a way I want him to want me like he did when we first met (which isn't that long ago I suppose) then he was texting me all the time, ringing me, wanting to meet up, but then other things like his mother dying etc have come up and he retreats.

I think he trusts me but to a point perhaps. He was badly treated by a lady he knew for around 18 months and she was a completely awful to him, attacking him just before his daughters funeral last year, something he finds very hard to cope with. Her lack of compassion hurt him and the fact that after a couple of weeks said to him he ought to pull himself together. He had just lost his daughter together with everything else (which she knew about) and she treated him like that. I don't think he particularly likes women.

He said to me a while ago that the friendship side of things was important in a relationship and I feel we have that.

When I look at the things he has gone through it reads like a shopping list. Being adopted at the age of 8 after being in a childrens home, his adoptive family not wanting him and his step father beating and hitting him, losing his partner, son and daughter, meeting someone who also hurt him and abused him, losing his driving license for speeding. Then the person he lives with lost her mother earlier this year and he had to be there for her, she then found a lump in her breast, although this has gone well, then finding he had a step brother and the mother he thought had not wanted him actually had and only being able to see her literally on her death bed. That is a terrible amount of death and grief to deal with isn't it.

I just want for him to be happy, or try to be happy, and at least believe that he has something good in his life.

Like you said before it is patience (not my middle name) but I don't want to walk away from him my feelings for him run too deep for that.

Reading back through this it sounds such a muddle. Do you think there is a reason that we have been drawn to each other? Or does that just sound like romantic nonsense? Death has not been a part of my life like it has his, but we have both been lonely and alone and some of the feelings each of us have we share, which I find quite amazing.

Sorry to waffle on again Symora I do appreciate the time you have taken in replying to me.

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Hi again Melanie,

When I read your post I see two people who are lonely and need someone to share what they are living with. You know that means you are extra vulnerable right? I am not sure that means that there will be a romantic relationship together long term, is that something you can accept? I remember when I first became a Baha'i, I met a fellow who was quite outgoing and needed someone to counteract his bad marriage. We became good friends and we did a lot of confiding in each other. In my mind I fantasized about our getting together because we got along well, did things together for the community, etc. But my fantasies were based on my loneliness, the friendship was just that, a friendship. He came in at a time in my life when I needed a friend, a confidante, but he was not meant to be more than that.... he eventually separated and still we never got together.

Sometimes it can be confusing to be friends with the opposite sex, especially when we feel drawn to the other and we are lonely. I think what this man needs right now is a friend he can trust, someone he can rebuilt his confidence in others with, especially women. Perhaps you have the qualities for that, perhaps that is what was meant to be. From my perspective he does not sound ready for more, his behaviours are showing that anyway... I know that's sad for you given your feelings for him...

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Good morning Symora,

Thank you again for your reply. So much of what you said I can understand and relate to, apart from the bit where you say that I am vulnerable too, wasn't quite sure what you meant.

We have not met in over a week but the lines of communication are open, which is good. I am trying to be patient here and not push. I had something I had to do yesterday which was quite wearing and I had a good luck text before I went, and another later in the afternoon asking if I was ok, which I took to be a good sign!

Thanks all of you for your replies - they have helped a great deal - its good to know I am not alone. :)

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