Dear Dr B,
My husband lost his mother last month. He doesn’t talk about it, even when I ask. And I know he hasn’t talked with his father or siblings. Is there something wrong?
With your husband just losing his mother last month, what you are describing is a normal grief reaction. But even that statement is a bit of a paradox, because when it comes to grief, there is almost no “normal” per se, because everyone grieves in their own way, at their own pace.
Often, men are less expressive in their emotions to begin with, and sometimes less verbal. What you may see is an exacerbation of a person’s normal personality style but to a greater extreme during a period of grief. Those who tend to be less verbal or less emotional to begin with, may withdraw into themselves even more. On the other hand, those who are more talkative normally, may want to talk more to express their grief.
The best thing you can do to be supportive of your grieving husband is to be responsive to his needs during this time.
He may just want your quiet presence so he doesn’t feel alone.
If you’re able, he may enjoy hearing the good memories you have of times spent with his mother.
He may be responsive to your physical touch just letting him know you care.
Your husband may need your permission to break down and cry, in order to not feel guilty sharing those more vulnerable emotions if he is more accustomed to being the emotional rock for the family.
I’d recommend that you pray with and for your husband and the rest of his family. Pray that God would comfort him, and hide him in the shadow of His wing.
Loss, death, and grieving can often bring about conflict, bitterness, resentment, and greed. Pray that if there is any bitterness, resentment or unforgiveness there, that the kindness of the Lord would bring them to repentance. Forgiveness is not about finding the other person faultless, but about leaving another’s wrong doings up to God to manage.
In my personal and professional experience, I have found that many friends and family are very supportive immediately following a death but unfortunately, all too frequently, after the funeral life goes on for others while the grieving are left alone in their grief.
I’d encourage you not to make the mistake of thinking that there is a prescribed time table for grief. While it’s usually most intense in the first couple of months following a loved one’s death, it can continue for months and years after. Many of the initial “firsts” can bring about a fresh wave of grief: the first birthday after a death, first Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, anniversary of the death, etc.
Not only do I recommend that you pray for and with your spouse, but I’d also encourage you to pray for wisdom and God’s direction about how to best support your spouse through this time. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what he needs and when. The Bible tells us,
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault,
and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
If your husband’s emotional well-being does not begin to improve after several months, you might lovingly and prayerfully consider suggesting that he speak with a grief-counselor, pastor, or physician to ensure that his grief has not led into a more significant condition requiring additional assistance.
I know it is so very hard to watch our loved ones suffer. Entrust Him into your Heavenly Father’s good care. He promises in Isaiah 61:3 to “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
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