Tips For Friends and Family of the Bereaved
Updated: Jan 31
Not all loving relationships are the same. When a loved one dies, not all grief is the same. Each grief experience is unique, although often we find some commonality when sharing our stories.
In this post I'm going to give some tips to the friends, family and colleagues of those who are grieving because their romantic partner died. It doesn't matter if it was a spouse of fifty years or an unmarried relationship of a much shorter duration; some romantic relationships are incredibly deep and meaningful regardless of time invested or the ages of those involved, and the grief that death generates is devastating.
Of course I don't speak for everyone in this situation, but after listening to hundreds of stories, much of what follows represents the feelings of many. At the very least, I hope this information causes friends and family to pause and reflect on their words, attitudes and behaviors towards loved ones who refuse to "move on" after the death of their romantic love interest. There might be more going on than you think, and your attempts to "help" might be causing more harm than good and driving a wedge between you and the person grieving.
Some experiences change people for the rest of their lives.
1. Time does not heal all wounds. Time does not heal diabetes, cancer or a bullet through a vital organ. Time does not heal an amputated limb. Do not treat us as if we have a common cold or are just going through a rough patch. Don't act like any grief experience you have gone through is comparable to everyone else's and is the benchmark for how much time you're going to allow your friend or relative to "get back to normal." Do not expect us to get back to your version of "normal." Some experiences change people for the rest of their lives.
2. For God's sake, do not try to fix us up with someone new. If we want to try to "move on," we will let you know. When you do that without our direction, or even against our expressed wishes, you are selfishly trying to get us back into your comfort zone so you don't have to deal with what we are going through and how our experience has changed us. You're not doing it for our benefit, even if you tell yourself that; you are doing it for your own benefit.
Have the guts to be there when we want to talk about our deceased partner through tears and sobs.
3. Don't just say things if you don't know what to say, because more likely than not your attempt to comfort us is just going to backfire. Here's something you can say: "I have no idea what you must be going through. I can't even imagine. If there is anything you want or need, anything I can do, let me know." And then follow through with it. Have the guts to be there when we want to talk about our deceased partner through tears and sobs. If we need help with food or chores around the house, help without judgment or nagging us. For many of us, just finding the strength to get out of bed or take a bath is a herculean effort. We don't need someone who has no idea what we are going through trying to "coach" us into their idea of where we should be or how we should be acting.
4. Try to get this idea through your head: not all romantic relationships are disposable or transferable. Not everyone wants a "chapter two" or is interested in "moving on." You may not be able to understand this, but some of us want to live the rest of our lives committed to our romantic partner who has died. Even if you don't understand it, perhaps you can chisel out an opening in your heart and mind to allow your friend or relative to live their life the way that best makes them happy even if it doesn't fit in with your desires and beliefs. Allow that you may not know what is best for everyone else, and that there may be things outside of your experience, understanding and knowledge that you can not, and should not, judge.
Belief in some sort of afterlife is prevalent in our culture.
5. Belief in some sort of afterlife is prevalent in our culture. Many of us who have romantic partners who died believe we will be reunited with our partners in the afterlife, and we wish to live as if this is true and stay committed to them for the duration. Many of us believe we can, to one degree or another, continue our relationship with them even while we remain alive. You might try to think of this as a kind of "long-distance" period in our relationship, where one of us has taken up residence in another city or country and they are preparing things there for us to join them when it is time, if that makes it easier to accept and understand.
6. You might think we are unnecessarily condemning ourselves to a "less happy" or "less full" life if we remain committed to our dead partners. How about this: let us decide what is best for us, what kind of life we want to live. There are people in this situation who are living happy, fulfilled lives. Just because our life and beliefs are different does not mean we are less happy or less fulfilled.
Through our painful experience, you might find out new things, perhaps even wonderful and exciting things.
7. Have you researched information about afterlife contact and interaction? Probably not, and if not, then all you can be speaking and advising from, all you can be evaluating us from, is your own ignorance. Do you know for a fact that there is no afterlife, no means by which to communicate or interact with the dead, and that love cannot survive death? The only honest answer to that question is "no." Perhaps, because of the journey we are tragically put on, we are finding and bringing new information to you and, if you give it half a chance, you might benefit from it. Through our painful experience, you might find out new things, perhaps even wonderful and exciting things.
This is an important part of our life - usually, the most important part.
8. Finally, is imposing your need for us to return to our old "normal" more important to you than our friendship or our family bond? If you keep insisting on ignoring our views and experiences or worse, being condescending and dismissive, you run the real risk of alienating us and driving us out of your life. This is an important part of our life - usually, the most important part. We want to talk about it, share our experiences and what we've learned with those close to us. We want to be joyful about this with you, and we don't want to have to exclude mention of our dead partners and our ongoing relationship because you're going to react negatively. We're not asking for compassion or pity in this part of our journey; we're asking for some respect for our choices and our beliefs. Is that too much to ask?
We're not gullible, grief-crazed idiots, religious zealots or ideological fanatics. Many of us are scientists and skeptics, credible, responsible people with careers and good common sense. We've examined a huge reservoir of available information, testimony and research. Most of us have had many personal experiences that are consistent with that of others and which validate our perspective. We offer avenues towards educating oneself about these things on this website. This is not even a religious or spiritual belief per se; many of our members - including myself - don't see any of this in religious or spiritual terms, but in terms of continuation of consciousness, a natural state change of existential perceptions and environmental conditions that occurs at death. There is a lot of scientific evidence, especially in the field of quantum physics, that supports this perspective.
At the very least, have the humility to admit these things are possible and give your friend or relative the benefit of the doubt. Have the grace to admit there are things you don't know and cannot responsibly advise about or judge. Just listen, be there, be respectful and have an open mind and heart because that's what we want from you.