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Dear Stavroula

Ask Stavroula: How Can I Help My Grieving Partner?

Dear Stavroula, 

My name is Katerina and I am writing to you because lately I am facing a serious problem and I do not know what to do. Recently, the man I have been with for the last four years lost his mother, who was quite young, and I do not know how to behave and how to help him. My partner was an outgoing man who loved working out, taking nature trips, and hanging out with his friends. But now he has completely changed. He is constantly sitting at home, he does not want to share his thoughts with anyone and every time I try to approach him he is more closed off than before. Every time I try to talk to him and comfort him, he gets angry and shows me that he does not want me near him. What can I do to help him cope with this great loss? 

Katerina 

Dear Katerina, 

Mourning is a natural process that follows death. It is that period of time that helps us adjust to the loss and the pain it causes. The feelings of the mourner vary from person to person and can be intense. Sometimes he feels pain, sadness, emptiness, other times he feels anger, guilt, loneliness or even a feeling of futility. In fact, often the one who mourns seems to change abruptly because death can push us to rethink our lives, our values, what we consider important, and what we do not. 

That is why mourning is very difficult not only for the one who is experiencing it but also for those around him, who see their loved one changing behavior, closing in on himself, not wanting others around him, or just changing in general. 

This is what you, Katerina, see in your partner and you are worried. Are you afraid that something will change in your relationship, that you are not important enough for him to be able to help him. 

But sadness is a normal state in these cases, and everyone experiences it in their own way. Your partner needs time to recover from the loss of his mother. He needs his space, his right to suffer, to express his grief and to be gradually redeemed through this whole process. 

As much as you want to help him, you can do it neither with advice nor by showing him that you care about him. You may think that he should react differently, go out, continue his activities, but that is your point of view. He has his own and you should respect it. 

Try to avoid expressions such as "Do not grieve, it will pass" or "everything happens for a reason" or "she is in a better place now" or other phrases that we say in these cases and that seem completely empty and meaningless to the mourner. 

Many times we can offer more help in these cases simply by being close to our loved one, without talking, holding his hand and letting him express his feelings as intensely and unpleasantly as they come, without telling him what he should and should not feel. We let him experience his pain and we are close to him, to embrace him, to feel that we are there for him without criticizing him, only with love. 

At this stage, try not to push him with questions that have to do with your relationship – this is not his priority at the moment. And do not take his behavior personally – your man has to manage his own emotions, he cannot bear to manage yours as well. 

Finally, it would be good to talk to a specialist. It could help both of you manage better during this difficult time. 

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