“The doctor says my dad doesn’t have much time left,” my husband Ted informed me.
A year earlier, my father-in-law was diagnosed with a brain tumor. While treatments slowed the growth of it for a while, in the last month or two he’d declined rapidly.
We determined that Ted needed to spend the last few weeks of his dad’s life with him. So Ted bought a one-way ticket, boarded a plane from Georgia to Wisconsin, and kissed the kids and me goodbye indefinitely. We weren’t sure if he’d return home in two weeks or five.
Looking back, I realize that my willingness to say “Go” was one of the most supportive actions I could have taken for my husband as he was faced sorrow.
Yet, I haven’t always known how to support him in loss. You see, when it comes to grief, Ted and I mourn very differently.
When Grieving Loss Looks Different for You and Your Husband
I’m a feeler. I cry often and have an intense need to verbally process my loss-related emotions.
He’s a fix-it man, and for him, grief fuels action. While he knows that he can’t mend sorrow, he mourns by looking for ways to help ease the burdens of those who grieve alongside him.
It took time for me to fully figure this out, though.
In our earlier years of marriage when we faced loss, I interpreted Ted’s lack of intense feeling as refusal to process grief. Because to me, visible emotion was what sorrow looked like.
I now realize that Ted does grieve, just in his own individual way – which is quite different from mine. Once I understood this, I became better able to support him when he experiences loss.
How to Support Your Husband When He Experiences Loss
Maybe you can relate. Perhaps you and your husband process loss differently too. But it could be that you are where I was: struggling to figure out how your husband grieves and what you can do to support him.
If so, here are a two things I’ve learned in my own marriage. They may be helpful to you too.
1. Listen Well
After Ted’s dad was first diagnosed, I wasn’t sure how to best be there for Ted. So I started listening well, and saying “yes” as much as possible.
When Ted wanted to make the cross-country trip to visit his snowbird dad and stepmom in Arizona, I said, “Let’s go!” We bought airline tickets for the entire family and spent a few days experiencing places and activities that brought his dad joy: a boat ride on the lake, square dancing in the community center, the best Italian food in town, and Bible study with their friends.
The more carefully I listened, the more I began to realize that he grieved through action.
What about your husband? While he may not directly tell you, “I’m grieving and this is how I’m doing it,” what can you discern from his words? Maybe he simply needs you to sit next to him. Or perhaps he’s overwhelmed and your support is best given by carrying some of his load.
2. Observe Attentively
Whenever Ted and his dad would get together, they’d always spend time side-by-side on their laptops. My web developer husband and his father shared a love for technology and devices.
It should have been no surprise to me then that one of Ted’s first responses following his dad’s death was: I need to help my stepmom make sense of all of Dad’s devices and passwords.
At first, I was puzzled by Ted’s obsession with this. That is, until I began to observe that it was his way of being a helper. He wasn’t avoiding grief by focusing on it, he was braving sorrow in his own way.
Take the time to attentively observe your husband. When he faces grief, what are the first actions he takes? Perhaps he needs solitude or silence. Maybe he, like me, needs to cry and talk. Or, it could be that he grieves in a similar manner to Ted.
When You Experience Loss in Your Marriage
It’s been over a year since Ted bought a one-way ticket and flew to Wisconsin to be by his dad’s side. Over a year since we all drove back up as a family to attend his funeral and say goodbye to a man who made an indelible mark on all of our lives.
For Ted and me, facing loss together in our marriage hasn’t been easy. What’s helped, though, is better understanding and supporting how each other grieves. It’s my hope that, as you and your husband experience loss together, you’ll learn to do the same.
For more on loss, order Ashleigh Slater’s book, Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life Is Hard from Moody Publishers.
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Ashleigh Slater is the author of the books, Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard and Team Us: The Unifying Power of Grace, Commitment, and Cooperation in Marriage. She’s also a regular contributor to a number of popular blogs and websites. With over twenty years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication, she loves to combine the power of a good story with practical application to encourage and inspire readers. She and her husband Ted live in Atlanta with their four daughters. Learn more at AshleighSlater.com or follow Ashleigh on Facebook.