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dreamosis
15th July 2010, 03:29 AM
My girlfriend's mom recently died and I'm not handling her grieving very well.

I tell myself I'm not handling it very well because it's in my nature to cheer people up, to get them to talk, ask questions, get to the bottom of things -- but all of these traits of mine have caused contention between us.

I feel a need to understand, but she doesn't want to talk about it. She's normally a quiet person, but since her mom's passing she's been extremely quiet; as in, if I don't talk, there's no talking.

Tonight I tried no talking and that upset her too. She said she couldn't just sit there in silence. I was partly withdrawn...not simply silent and open. I became a little withdrawn because she snapped at me for something insignificant and, though I may have been holding on to it somewhat, I also was seizing the opportunity to let her pace. I was trying to let her be and then, from there, try to support her unquestioningly and quietly. It backfired. She felt terrible for snapping at me and then was convinced I was only being quiet because I was upset. I'm normally a chatty person, so she assumes if I'm not talking then there's something seriously wrong. So we got caught up in this game of translating what we were really feeling and blah blah blah.

It's so frustrating. And I feel selfish even for being frustrated. I try to pull her out of herself and she gets angry. I try to mirror her, just be with her, and she thinks something's wrong. I want her to let it all out in a fit of screaming and weeping, but she isn't like me. She feels guilty for "bringing me down" and suggests she go home or I go home when that isn't actually what she wants.

I can't understand. I haven't gone through what she's gone through. I can sympathize; I can open up to her energetically...but...I don't know. I feel like I'm putting a timeframe on her, expecting too much of her, that she should want to talk about it. The most she can say is "I'm depressed" or "I feel like crap." And, of course she does. I would too.

I also feel put upon. She wants me to be there and to see and feel her depression, but not do anything about it. She wants me to listen to the drama among her and her dad and her family, but if I ask a two or more direct questions, she falls apart. She's so blue she doesn't want to decide what to eat or where to go out and turns down several of my ideas, but doesn't want to stay at home. She doesn't know what she wants and then is annoyed with me for not knowing, or not picking up on her vibes, or subtle cues. She doesn't want to meditate with me, or do Reiki, or talk about anything spiritual (which is a large part of me).

Unfortunately, this happened early in our relationship. We've only been together since March and there's a lot we don't know about each other's communication habits. What's weird is, right after it happened, and for two weeks afterward, we felt very close. When it happened, I felt like there was a big shift in...she was vulnerable to me and I was vulnerable to her. Now it's different. I feel farther away than before.

Tonight she asked me to research grief, so that I'd understand her reactions more. This part of my researching it. What insights can you offer?

As far as the famous "stages of grief" go (which she asked me to look at), I have no idea where she is. Sometimes it seems like Anger, sometimes Depression. According to grief experts, you shouldn't try to cheer up grieving people. Although, also according to experts, grieving people will be angry with you if you're cheery. And I'm usually if not a cheery person, at least an upbeat one. And I do feel like I've received resentment for that. She's angry that I'm upbeat and then I'm angry that she's angry with me for being upbeat. Then she feels bad that she's angry at me for that and I feel bad that she feels more depressed because I'm not.

Grief is so powerful. The effect of it has been to make us both less mature than we really are.

It's still so fresh. Her mom died only a month ago. But a part of me is angry that she's not attempting more to move on. And a part of me feels that I don't know what I'm talking about it when I say that. How do you know if a person is unhealthily indulging in their grief or healthily letting themselves feel grief? Where's the line?

CFTraveler
15th July 2010, 03:53 AM
Well, I can offer my own experience. As usual, it won't be the same as hers (obviously) but there may be some insight you can get out of this.
I lost my mom in February. Before this I lost my grandma the May before that. There was a marked difference in the way I grieved for them- in fact, I'm still grieving. I marked my dream diary but haven't filled it in because I discovered it's still like an open wound, and not the dull ache I thought it had developed into.
When I lost my grandma I had various 'paranormal' experiences that let me know that she exists somewhere in 'being'. This was easy to accept and even though I grieved for her and miss her terribly (my relationship with her was all sweet, all good, and fairly easy) her passing hurt, but it didn't destroy me.
However, when my mom passed, first it was sudden- not unexpected, (see my dream diary and you'll know why) yet it was devastating- and even though I've had dreams of her I felt that a very large part of my foundation has been ripped out and I can't quite get my footing.
When she first died I had a visceral reaction- pure emotion. I though for some time I might be going crazy, because my reaction was simply like having a seizure- no control, like standing besides myself and seeing something completely unexpected and wild- a lot of stuff that was put away carefully. This all became undone, and I saw myself losing my mind. If you can understand it. If you can't that's fine- experience is what it is.
Many things have happened in my head, mainly that I now don't feel secure about anything- convictions I have held close since I can remember are now in doubt. For a long time I could make no decisions- like her, lol, but needed to be allowed to 'be' in the center of my being. Luckily my husband understood this and got out of my way- made all the decisions and sat with me quietly when I needed to vent. Also took care of our son (the basic stuff, he is a big boy and has lived more in his thirteen years than most people live in their entire lives, but that's another thread) and found a way to leave me alone when I needed it and to hold me when I needed it.
I still can't imagine what it is to have to live with me- because I'm not always all here, and lately, not much fun.

So I can tell you that there is nothing you need to do- perhaps reading my 'disgorging' may make you at least know what she is not speaking about- because for a while you just can't speak- it's as if your body isn't really connected to your soul except in the most elemental instinctual way- but at some point she will, and you want to be there, quietly listening, holding her hand or hugging her- and accepting that this is what is happening, and eventually it'll pass- until the next wave comes out.
I know it's hard for guys to not be able to do anything about it- just don't think of 'doing nothing' is nothing- being there is doing something, and will be much appreciated, when she gets around to being able to express it.

I might be able to add to this later, but ATM I can't.

ButterflyWoman
15th July 2010, 05:13 AM
Grief is a very personal thing. Sometimes it's slow grief that just simmers for years, sometimes it's acute and violent, sometimes it's a mix of both.

In your girlfriend's case, it seems that she's a person who withdraws into herself when she's hurting (and, I would guess, when she's distracted, stressed, etc.). It's very difficult to comfort someone who cannot or will not tell you what's going on with them, unless you know them very well and can read between the lines. I can imagine how frustrating this is for you.

Unfortunately, I can't offer any great advice on how to deal with it. All the times I've comforted a grieving person (or not comforted them, as the case may be), it has been someone who was willing to communicate with me about what was going on with them. I really don't know how to reach someone who won't open up. Perhaps in your research you might see if you can find specific information on this specific kind of personality and reaction to grief? That might help.

It seems to me, though, that the best you can do is be yourself and just let her sort it out. If your natural chattiness bothers her, then make the effort to be more reticent, but in the long run, all you have to offer is yourself. If she can't or won't tell you what she needs and wants from you, there's really not a lot you can do, unless you just get lucky and hit upon something that works. That's really all I can see to do.

For what it's worth, when my grandmother died in 1994 it sent me into a chasm of pain that is impossible to describe. Her death was the trigger that led to the total destruction of the "I" that I was, and it was a painful, messy process. I ended up breaking up with the partner I then had, because he couldn't deal with me (and for other reasons, but that was the main thing).

Grief is, as you say, a powerful thing.

Korpo
15th July 2010, 05:46 AM
Hello, dreamosis.


I feel a need to understand, but she doesn't want to talk about it. She's normally a quiet person, but since her mom's passing she's been extremely quiet; as in, if I don't talk, there's no talking.

You don't have to bring up this issue to talk with her. Cultivate the art of small talk, so that the silence doesn't descend.


Tonight I tried no talking and that upset her too. She said she couldn't just sit there in silence. I was partly withdrawn...not simply silent and open. I became a little withdrawn because she snapped at me for something insignificant and, though I may have been holding on to it somewhat, I also was seizing the opportunity to let her pace. I was trying to let her be and then, from there, try to support her unquestioningly and quietly.

You're trying to black-and-white solutions here. Both extremes haven't worked. Refine it a bit, maybe. It's not "I shut up" or "I get you to talk that you feel better." Being available means being prepared to talk about it when she wants to, and be prepared to do something else when she doesn't.


It's so frustrating. And I feel selfish even for being frustrated. I try to pull her out of herself and she gets angry. I try to mirror her, just be with her, and she thinks something's wrong. I want her to let it all out in a fit of screaming and weeping, but she isn't like me. She feels guilty for "bringing me down" and suggests she go home or I go home when that isn't actually what she wants.

Reflect a bit on your stance here. You're not behaving as yourself, but you're asking yourself "How do I have to be so that it helps her?" This might not be a good approach. And it basically all the time comes back to her "problem," because you arrange your behaviour around that, kind of dragging it in the foreground.


I also feel put upon. She wants me to be there and to see and feel her depression, but not do anything about it. She wants me to listen to the drama among her and her dad and her family, but if I ask a two or more direct questions, she falls apart.

Well, your part in this is not finding a solution. If she cannot deal with that mode of inquiry that you're used to, drop it and just listen and just ask questions that help her tell her story. When the story gets told and she feels understood, it's helpful. "Direct questions" sounds a lot like you're trying to lay open some dynamics in order so that they can be fixed, but if she's not in the emotional frame of mind to do that, it's not helpful.


She's so blue she doesn't want to decide what to eat or where to go out and turns down several of my ideas, but doesn't want to stay at home. She doesn't know what she wants and then is annoyed with me for not knowing, or not picking up on her vibes, or subtle cues.

This could be a problematic dynamic between you two that might not have to do with the grieving alone. In the end, for now, there might just be tolerance.


She doesn't want to meditate with me, or do Reiki, or talk about anything spiritual (which is a large part of me).

So, this is also about the relationship in general. You might have projected on her something you want your ideal partner to be, and you may find that she is like she is and you have to arrange yourself with it. If you find a relationship like this is not worthwhile for you or if you feel you cannot express yourself in such a relationship, it might lead to breakup.


Unfortunately, this happened early in our relationship. We've only been together since March and there's a lot we don't know about each other's communication habits. What's weird is, right after it happened, and for two weeks afterward, we felt very close. When it happened, I felt like there was a big shift in...she was vulnerable to me and I was vulnerable to her. Now it's different. I feel farther away than before.

That's normal. Don't expect big breakthroughs in intimacy early on, even if you inwardly hope for it. It takes time for most people to get used to a certain level of intimacy, then hop in deeper maybe and see how that feels. Extraordinary situations might move you closer, but if it doesn't stay like that, remember that it is possible and leave it at that. Opening up is a lot about letting it happen. It might or might not.


As far as the famous "stages of grief" go (which she asked me to look at), I have no idea where she is. Sometimes it seems like Anger, sometimes Depression. According to grief experts, you shouldn't try to cheer up grieving people. Although, also according to experts, grieving people will be angry with you if you're cheery. And I'm usually if not a cheery person, at least an upbeat one. And I do feel like I've received resentment for that. She's angry that I'm upbeat and then I'm angry that she's angry with me for being upbeat. Then she feels bad that she's angry at me for that and I feel bad that she feels more depressed because I'm not.

Don't try to solve this through the over-analysing angle. If it is too much, take a timeout for your own sake. Tolerate it to an extent, don't take it personal. You're dealing with this like you can fix her or fix the situation, as if when you find the right attitude or the right response there will be no fights, no emotional reactions and great harmony. This won't happen. It's not "fixable." There's no right response or stance you can take that will make it painless for you or for her. Understand that there will be upsets. Understand that there will be fights and problems that are not about you. Understand that you cannot twist and bend yourself into the right shape to make it all just right again.

Be yourself, don't be what you think she needs. Given the reactions you're experiencing she unconsciously registers what you're doing and showing you that it isn't working and not what she needs. Like the situation where you went quiet and that created more awkwardness.


As far as the famous "stages of grief" go (which she asked me to look at), I have no idea where she is. Sometimes it seems like Anger, sometimes Depression. According to grief experts, you shouldn't try to cheer up grieving people. Although, also according to experts, grieving people will be angry with you if you're cheery. And I'm usually if not a cheery person, at least an upbeat one. And I do feel like I've received resentment for that. She's angry that I'm upbeat and then I'm angry that she's angry with me for being upbeat. Then she feels bad that she's angry at me for that and I feel bad that she feels more depressed because I'm not.

Grief is so powerful. The effect of it has been to make us both less mature than we really are.

It's still so fresh. Her mom died only a month ago. But a part of me is angry that she's not attempting more to move on. And a part of me feels that I don't know what I'm talking about it when I say that. How do you know if a person is unhealthily indulging in their grief or healthily letting themselves feel grief? Where's the line?

I think you might be over-analysing this. You're trying to make this into a problem to analyse and find a solution with your thinking mind for it. You're trying to fix, you're trying to know what the experts say, you're looking for a checklist what are good signs, bad signs, etc.

From my experience a month is not much. A person might take much longer to handle this, depending on their willingness to deal with it, their capacity to do so and for example the closeness. There's such a lot involved in this, it is so complex and interwoven with all kinds of things very often, there's just no answer. You can just observe what you see will go on with her.

Even if you observe her and find that she's stuck - well, so be it. And you're not required to be stuck with such a situation if it comes to that. Do what's right also for yourself. There's no requirement to stick with the situation or the relationship, and by knowing that, you can make any decision or commitment you like. You might find out in a month from now that you want to leave, and you're allowed to. It's your decision. You might find out that you want to stay and you might find more joy in it. Be honest with yourself.

Take care,
Oliver

dreamosis
15th July 2010, 04:56 PM
Thanks for the responses everyone.

What you've said is what I've heard before. And what I already knew but have been ignoring. I can't do anything. I can't fix it. The most I can do is be there; not force her to talk about the death, not steer away from talking about the death, etc.

I have been black-and-white in my approach, which is very...me.

Small talk... I hate small talk and yet it seems like it's the best way to be around her. She's in so much pain, she told me last night, she can't read. She can hardly think. She left me last night so she could lie in bed and drink.

I'm admittedly out of my depth. Just being myself doesn't seem like an option, honestly. It sounds good, but "just being myself" has caused a lot of tension. If I be myself, I will talk about things that upset her, that make her think too much.

The small talk idea has occured to me. I'm just so dreadful at it. The best course of action seems like being energetically open and empathetic while I prattle on about nothing I really care about. :) But I can do that for someone I care about. I've just never had to before. It's awkward.

One reason I was drawn to her is that she's smart, but not analytical like I am. Around her, I found myself talking less and simply being. I liked being around her because there was no small talk. ... She's told me explicitly that she doesn't like being around me when I'm centered and grounded because it makes her feel vulnerable; because, she says, I can read her better.

Of course, I'm still being all-or-nothing with myself. Probably because I resent feeling like I have to adjust my behavior. I feel so selfish for even typing that, but it's there.

Last night when I got home I tried to see the situation outside of the relationship. It was humbling. It showed me I've been taking her words and action around her personally for no reason.

It's just so weird. I know deep down she wants me there, but on the surface I don't see or feel that I'm valued or "doing any good." Deep down I know there's nothing to do and that she's too distracted by grief to give a hug.
All my relationship programming tells me I'm in a bad relationship (strangled communication, lack of humor, being snapped at, etc.), but that doesn't logically check out.

It's a good lesson. The situation has strikingly shown me what my weaknesses are in a relationship. The two weeks after the death I felt like I was stronger than I thought: I was able to simply be with her and let her cry and not analyze. A month out I'm noticing the limits of my endurance for that. And, the situation's changed. She doesn't want to break down, even though she does repeatedly. And she doesn't want to be told it's okay to break down, or for me to notice it...Just to keep talking and talking and talking to myself, when she's not really listening, doesn't care what I have to say, just needs me to fill the silence with superficial crap.

Don't ask her questions because she can't think right now. Don't talk about poetry because she's a poet but can't write right now. Don't talk about my own writing because that will make her depressed that she's not writing. Don't talk about anything spiritual because that will make her think about the death. Don't mention my family because that will make her think about the death. Don't invite her out to a party or out with other friends because she can't be around people. Don't suggest she call her friends. Expect that nine out of ten of your ideas for things to do will be rejected, but don't expect her to come up with anything and don't stop making suggestions. Just be with her. Alone. Always talking. Keep it superficial, but not too superficial because then she's bothered that you're actually going on about nothing. But don't stop talking and don't admit that you're having a hard time with this because that's selfish. If you feel selfish because you're doing all the talking, don't -- you're actually being selfless. (?)

She never got along well with her mother; she never got along well with her father. There was some abuse that she's hinted at but has never described. And, I suppose, it's none of my business. If she never wants to talk about it, she doesn't have to.

I'm a questioner by nature, a talker-outer, a lay philosopher, a puller on strings, and suddenly...I have to stop it all.

And I can.

I think.

I hope.

CFTraveler
15th July 2010, 05:35 PM
I have one more piece of advice, from the point of view of the griever. When I was in that 'bad' space, I go out to the back porch to be by myself. Sometimes it's sort of like being in a coma, I don't know how much time passes, and I don't want any company, small talk, nothing.
My suggestion is to let her be, but come back ocassionally and ask her if she needs anything. If she doesn't, back off again.
This stage has mostly passed for me, but I still have my moments, and it's sort of like a flashback- when you're in it you're in it, and later it recedes.

If she had issues with her mom (and who doesn't, but I understand some issues are worse than others) part of what she feels is shock- so many confusing and seemingly contradictory feelings can just keep you in a coma for a while, and then there's that 'emotion animal' that takes over your body. It is what it is, and eventually it will untangle itself so that she can look at everything piecemeal-and even though it may be your 'thing'- wait for her to ask, don't volunteer. No one wants a partner who wants them as a 'patient'- in one way or another.

Be glad about that too- but that's another thread, lol.

dreamosis
15th July 2010, 07:35 PM
Thanks, CFTraveler, for your input. And I'm sorry it happened to you too recently.

Because I'm aware of sometimes being an out-of-control caregiver, I've probably overreacted to this situation by withdrawing, as well as pushing her (falling back on old patterns).

Korpo
15th July 2010, 07:55 PM
Hello, dreamosis.

By the way - not every thing that occurs in a relationship needs to be processed within a relationship. That would be ideal, maybe, but there are inner needs that need to met even in nonideal situations. I mean, you are actually doing a bit of that here now. Do you have friends of a spiritual nature with whom you can talk on this level or do processing of this kind once in a while?

The effort you're exerting is laudable, but please take care of yourself. You sound like you are burning yourself out. Whenever you say this or that behaviour is "selfish," realise that your needs to be met. Valid needs are not "selfish" in the sense of the connotation you're implying. You do have needs, that's part of the basic nature of being here.

It's a difficult situation. Don't beat yourself up about it. You're doing what you can.

Take care,
Oliver

CFTraveler
15th July 2010, 08:09 PM
It's a difficult situation. Don't beat yourself up about it. You're doing what you can.
Amen to that.

dreamosis
15th July 2010, 08:21 PM
Thanks, you two.

Yesterday I definitely felt like the relationship was not only not meeting my needs, but robbing me of energy. An impulse was at work within to rally positively against the situation, "hold on to myself," drop any need of external validation. Well, I feel I did that on the phone later in the evening with her; but when I was around her I was (1) afraid of making her more depressed by calling forth the exuberance of which I know I'm capable; and (2) too immersed in my own funk by association with her funk.

I plan not to let the second happen anymore, if I can help it.