My mother-in-law (with whom I shared a great, close bond) had a sudden heart attack at the age of 53 when I was taking her to the hospital. One and a half years have passed now, and I am moving through the grief slowly, but my husband has become detached, withdrawn, sad, irritable, has been excessively eating. He has also completely lost his sex drive. I understand that now he has just finally begun to grieve, but I’m unsure as to how to help him. He is a bloke. He does not talk about his feelings at all, especially not to strangers, and he hasn’t admitted it to himself. What can I do to help him go through and experience the grieving process but not get lost and not sink so deep that he completely detaches from me and our marriage? I am struggling enough to cope with me and my own feelings but I’m afraid he is the quiet horse that will not be able to pull himself out.
You are a sympathetic and loving wife to be so understanding. Your mother in law must have been wonderful indeed for you both to miss her so. Grief is a natural reaction to a loss. Since both of you were grieving, it is possible that you were not able to give each other the kind of support you each needed to move forward. You are coming out of it sooner because your relationship with your mother in law was not as long or as deep. However much you loved her, you are her daughter-in-law, not her child. Your husband is struggling to figure out how to honor his connection with her, his mother, and yet move on in his life without her. Other facets of grief can be complex. There may be regrets or complications in his history with her that make it harder than usual for him to make peace with the loss of his parent.
According to Help Guide’s website, “While grieving a loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and eventually, find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with your life.
*Acknowledge your pain.
*Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
*Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
*Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you.
*Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.
*Recognize the difference between grief and depression.”
At this point, it sounds like your husband’s grief has precipitated a reactive depression. Sometimes this requires some medication to “jump start” feeling better. It would benefit him to seek counseling with a trained therapist to learn how to manage the intense feelings of loss. With this additional support, he can transform his memory of his mum into his own life, and how he chooses to live, in some way, can become a positive memorial to her. I hope you can help your husband understand that great grief is a testament to great loss.
There is no shame in needing and seeking out some help with the loss of his mother. If he fell overboard into an ocean with huge waves, he would not feel ashamed if he needed a life preserver to assist him until he could get back aboard a boat. That’s what counseling in this kind of situation is — a temporary life preserver that will help him get back to his life. I’m sure that’s what his mum would have wanted for him.
I wish you both well.