Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Your Turn: “My Long Distant Boyfriend is Grieving”

In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:

I am in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend. In fact, I am in another country. We have only been together for three months, and just last week his mother of cancer. Of course, he was prepared for it but he is still in the denial phase. He told me that he needs some time to accept the loss and he even asked me for forgiveness because he is somewhat distant right now. But while he “takes time,” he continues his usual activities like nothing happened (i.e. going out to clubs and even planning a trip to see me).

My question is, how can I support him? Of course, I am aware that he might break up with me during his grieving period, but in case he visits me, what attitude do you think I should keep? I noticed that he doesn’t want to talk about his mother’s death, so I don’t make any mention of it. Every time I started to ask something relevant he changed the subject and kept on repeating that the worst had already passed (still in denial). I know that it is very difficult to support him since I am not in the same country but I want to, even if this means just talking to me over phone etc. Is there any hope for this relationship? Because from what I ‘ve read on the internet there isn’t. I surely understand that he hasn’t got the energy for me, but I wonder if he ever will have it again?

P.S. I don’t understand the grieving process at all. Although I have lost both my parents, I didn’t grieved for them a single second. I accepted their deaths and kept on with my life. And to me, it is more selfish to think that everything stops the moment you lose your loved one. Tears cannot bring anyone back (I am an atheist, as is my boyfriend). So, this process, as you can see, is totally difficult for me, but I am prepared to wait and show compassion and patience if that is all needed. — Trying to be Supportive

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

98 comments… add one
  • avatar

    csp March 5, 2013, 9:19 am

    LW, why is saying that “the worst has passed” a form of denial?? Cancer is the long goodbye. It sucks and you watch your loved one slowly die in front of you. While the death might be sad, many times it is a relief. To finally be done with the sickness and suffering. It can be a blessing because you know they aren’t suffering anymore. I wouldn’t call that denial. I would call that the truth.

    Since your relationship has been so short, I am sure he has a different grief support structure of local family and friends. I certainly wouldn’t judge him for trying to live his life.

    The most important thing about grief is that it comes in waves like on the beach. Some moments you are overcome and sad and then you can live and laugh later. So just realize that you don’t just stay sad forever but it comes and goes.

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    • avatar

      LW April 4, 2013, 4:26 pm

      Denial is called the first stage of grief. I didn’t name it like that

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  • theattack

    theattack March 5, 2013, 9:23 am

    Your boyfriend just lost his mother last week. LAST WEEK!!!!!!!!!! I don’t know if he’s in denial or not, but it’s very typical for someone to grieve and to act a little different during grief. The whole situation is still very acute for him right now, and it’s hard to even comprehend death this early. He SHOULD be trying to continue his normal activities, because that’s probably how he’s coping right now. Your boyfriend needs someone to be compassionate toward him and to let him grieve in whatever way is natural for him. If you can’t be that person, leave.

    If you do want to try to be that person for him, take his cues. If he seems to want to talk about the death, listen to him and talk about it. If he wants to talk about other things and go on like normal, do it, and don’t continue to bring up the death. Let him heal how he feels he needs to.

    “Is there any hope for this relationship? Because from what I ‘ve read on the internet there isn’t. I surely understand that he hasn’t got the energy for me, but I wonder if he ever will have it again?”

    So, you’re telling me that you’ve read on the internet that after a person loses a loved one, their relationship is doomed? Chill out, lady. That’s obviously not true. Yes, it’s likely that he will have the energy for your relationship again. If you love him, give him time and understanding.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 9:50 am

      Honestly, I get they’ve only been together 3 months , but if my bf was more concerned about the issues raised in this letter than the fact that my mom died a week ago, I’d be glad to moa.
      This was just so wacky.

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      • theattack

        theattack March 5, 2013, 10:14 am

        For real. And honestly, I get it if she doesn’t have it in her to deal with this much this early on in their relationship. She might not know him well enough yet, or she might not be as emotionally invested in him yet. She just seems so cold-hearted about this all. Most of us can show compassion even for strangers, and it just seems odd she can’t show any for her boyfriend.

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      • Kate B.

        Kate B. March 5, 2013, 10:24 am

        Well, she says she didn’t show any for her parents. That struck me as odd, as well.

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      • bagge72

        bagge72 March 5, 2013, 10:26 am

        Yeah, that isn’t good to hold on to all of that for so long.

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      • avatar

        LW April 4, 2013, 4:12 pm

        well what most didn’t understand (maybe it was my way of expression) was that I don’t have a problem to wait or to do what it takes if this is what is just needed. What happened is that I came accross a lot of websites and forum that girls were mentioning that their bf left them while they were grieving. So what I asked was, what to do in order for this not to happen. Of course I can wait and of course I can be compasionate if that is all.. But I get the feeling that is not all what is needid

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      • HuggaWugga

        HuggaWugga March 5, 2013, 12:09 pm

        Save for the P.S., these thoughts were things that I worried about initially after my boyfriend lost his father to lung cancer two years ago (like the LW, we’d only been together for 3 months). I thought that I was a selfless person, but you never really know until you’re actually put to the test. Before his father passed, it took a lot of work for me to not worry about what was going to happen to us, or to him, and just be there for him. It’s a natural thing to worry about, but what takes precedence is the person who is grieving. Being there for him, without worrying about our relationship, became much easier once it all went down–it wasn’t even a question, I was going to be there for him and his family 100%.

        The LW DOES need to remember that everyone grieves in their own way, and it may even vary within an individual depending on the loss. Grieving is not a silly thing, or something that someone should be ashamed of. It sounds like she cares enough to be there for her boyfriend and is prepared to do so, but I hope that she’s prepared to be patient with him without brushing off his feelings just because her experience has been different.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 12:15 pm

        Yea, you raise some pretty fair points. You can’t help what you worry about, even if your worrying thoughts are “selfish.” And you certainly are capable of thinking 2 things at once: hope my bf is ok and hope we turn out ok from this.

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      • liz

        Liz March 5, 2013, 6:39 pm

        I agree with you – I went through this with my boyfriend a year and a half ago (after 2 months together). His father died unexpectedly at 57, a total shock. I actually had a letter to Wendy posted here about it too. In any case, I also thought I was “selfless” until I TRULY had to put his needs 100% ahead of mine. I learned a lot from that experience. We both did. I would say in our case it was a 5-month period of non-normalcy before he sort of “snapped” back into himself one day. I don’t know what brought it about, it’s almost like he decided he had to. The holidays were and will always be hard though. What was your experience like after the fact?

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      • HuggaWugga

        HuggaWugga March 5, 2013, 11:28 pm

        Our story’s a little more complicated. I wouldn’t be surprised if yours was the “Dear Wendy” letter that I read to help me prepare! For the next few months, he would have good days and bad days–we’d have a wonderful time when I got my PhD, but then he’d be overcome by guilt (“I never visited him enough”, “I gave him too much morphine”) the next day. I think things got better after a few months, but it probably didn’t help matters that I was about to move out of state for a job–so he got the one-two punch of losing his dad, then losing me. He didn’t want to do long-distance, so we split up when I moved. We ended up getting back together about 6 months ago, and are doing long-distance, but we both agree that with so much on his plate in 2011, staying in an LDR would be much harder with what he was going through. He still doesn’t really like to talk about it too much, but sometimes he tells me stories about his dad, which I appreciate. I only met him once, but I think I would have really liked him.

        I’m actually going up for a long weekend next week to see him, and it’s almost 2 years (5 days from now) to the date. I think things will be okay, but I’m prepared for all possibilities. Glad to hear that things worked out for the two of you.

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      • avatar

        LW April 4, 2013, 4:32 pm

        Yes I actually am a very strange person considered my psychosynthesis. It is true that I cannot cope with sad facts. I actually have no idea what to do when someone is grieving, because I cannot get it. I mean if someone is happy, I have been happy so I know what to do. If someone is sad if the situation is something that had happened to me, I can get it. I am also a person who would listen to other problems even if I don’t feel good myself. But I don’t know what people do when they are grieving. And this what I ask. How can I support him. And although your critisism (not specifically yours) I still don’t get it. Yes I am a heartless,egoistic robot. OK but this does not answer my question. How do you support someone when you are in an LDR and he is grieving. If I could be there physically, I might not have even nnthat letter.

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  • avatar

    Jersey9000 March 5, 2013, 9:23 am

    Maybe your boyfriend found out he was dating a Vulcan and decided he wouldn’t get any emotional support from you. Did he pick up on your notion that grieving is a selfish, silly act? Because that was what I got from your letter. I’m an atheist also, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sad when people I love pass away- that seems pretty weird to me. It sounds like you’re in more denial than he is. His mom has been dead a whole week and you are already wondering when he’ll get over it? You must be fun at parties. It doesn’t sound like you have much compassion or patience to show, to be honest. Seriously, it’s been a week. I would figure out what’s going on with you that you seem to have lost your sympathy muscles somewhere along the way and leave this guy alone to sort out whatever he needs to sort out. I think the fact that he was still making plans to see you isn’t proof of denial (I don’t think that word means what you think it means) but him trying to move on with his life. Which, usually, takes more than like 15 minutes.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 9:56 am

      You’re awesome. You should comment more!

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    • avatar

      Amanda March 5, 2013, 10:26 am

      WJ9S! Please comment more often

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    • Kate B.

      Kate B. March 5, 2013, 10:27 am

      Even Vulcans show emotion every 7 years. I really wonder if this girl is even capable of compassion. Which would open up a whole different can of worms. Showing compassion is not tied to your spiritual or religious beliefs. It’s part of the makeup of most humans.

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    • avatar

      muffy March 5, 2013, 11:24 am

      LW your last paragraph was ridiculous. I would suggest you keep that thought process to yourself and not mention it to your bf or anyone else for that matter – it makes you sound like a robot.

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    • avatar

      LW April 4, 2013, 4:40 pm

      Nope actually my boyfriend knew from the very begining what kind of person I am and he found interesting this luck of empathy that I have (well it seems to like to help “probematic” persons like me). And this is why I love him ,because he is one of the few people that I don’t need to pretend when I am around, because I know what our society wants people to be. And still, yes I know I am a very strange person. But what I asked was how you support people when they are grieving. I cannot get into his shoes to put it simply.If someone is happy I can but if someone is extremely sad I cannot. So please, the comments about my personality don’t really matter to me. I just needed to got answers to what I asked and not hear people call me a heartless robot cause I know these things myself.

      (denial as I wrote, is called the first stage of grief in psychological terms. it isn’t an actual denial that he is crazy or something and that he doesn’t accept it. Of course he accepts the thing that it happened. OK It is a psychological term. I just shouldn’t have mentioned it but I thought that everyone was aware of it. My bad ).

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  • avatar

    Kay March 5, 2013, 9:23 am

    Just because you’ve read over the internet that long distance relationships don’t work out doesn’t mean that’s true for everyone. Generally they may not, but it depends on the people that are in the relationship. And as you’ve only been in this relationship for three months, this could be the moment where your relationship gets stronger. Or it could be the end. Again, it will depend on you and your boyfriend.

    Grieving over someone that’s gone is not the same as thinking “that everything stops the moment you lose your loved one.” True, some take it to those extremes, but most need a time to process that someone they’ve loved so dearly is no longer there. Giving him space is a good start. Stay open to him if he should ever want to talk. And do not – repeat, do not – dismiss his feelings. Grieving doesn’t have to have religious tones, but as he is upset about losing his mother, let him work through it on his own time. If he had a good relationship with his mother, then it may take some time. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t force it. Just let him know you’re there for him, and drop it until he’s ready.

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  • Fabelle

    Fabelle March 5, 2013, 9:27 am

    I’m not sure how you’re making the leap from his mother’s death–>him imminently breaking up with you? It sounds like he’s a little emotionally distant at the moment, but if he’s planning a trip to see you (as you’ve mentioned) then everything sounds okay. Give him space, stop worrying about how to comfort him, & realize that everyone grieves in their own way. What he wants from you is probably to act like everything is normal. If you’ve already gave your verbal condolences—then there’s no reason to dwell on it or to try getting him to “open up.”

    With that said—maybe this isn’t really about the way your boyfriend is grieving? Maybe it’s about the distance? Maybe, since this sad event occurred, you’ve been painfully aware of the fact that you two are separated by country, & are realizing that there’s little you can offer each other?

    I mean, you’ve only been dating for 3 months (…you’ve met each other, right? We can never be too sure around here!) & I’m sensing that there’s always been a bit of an emotional gap. How do you communicate? How often? I think rather than focus on how you can help him through the mourning process, you should examine this relationship as a whole.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 March 5, 2013, 9:30 am

    I guess I don’t see the problem here. He lost his mother, and because he isn’t greiving as much as you would hope, and doesn’t need you by his side, it is upsetting you, and you think that he is going to break-up with you?
    I would say LW, that you have only been with him three months, and most of it long distance, I would say if he is greiving, he maybe wants to share that with people who are closer to him, but there is a strong chance that since it is cancer, and he has been watching his mother die for a while he has come to peace with this a lot quicker than somebody who might have lost their parent suddenly without warning.
    Just lay off of him for now, and stop pushing the subject, because if you do that, you likely will push him away. Just be there for him without it being for a specific reason, and you will be fine… if he is actually into this long distance relationship as much as you are.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 9:53 am

      Isn’t it odd that she thinks he isn’t grieving enough (bc he’s making plans), yet she thinks people who grieve are weird and think they can cry and bring people back from the dead?

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle March 5, 2013, 10:00 am

        Yeah, I didn’t get that either—isn’t his reaction (not talking about it, making plans, going out) exactly what she wants, given her view on grief?

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      • bagge72

        bagge72 March 5, 2013, 10:26 am

        Yeah I did not get that. I don’t know how to put this, but she seems a little off to me. It’s like she wan’ts him to grieve so she can console him, and he is acting to normal, but then she wants him to get over it so things are back to normal…Pick One! Also doesn’t she think that him going out to bars, and clubs with his friends, and drinking, is his way of grieving? I personally think they have two different versions of where they are in this relationship.

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      • avatar

        Mandy March 5, 2013, 12:11 pm

        Sounds to me like she’s doing the thing where she wants to be the sole source of emotional support (hence getting weirded out by him making plans), but doesn’t really want that support to have to exist in any big, meaningful way beyond what their relationship has already been. So – she wants HIM to make the move to bring up his feelings, but doesn’t really want to dwell on them. This is all sorts of messed up, because it puts the burden/expectations entirely on the other party to essentially read your mind and know what role to play to satisfy your (often probably incorrect) feelings about what a relationship “should” be. There’s a whole lot of implied should-ing in this letter, which screams youth and inexperience to me. Quite frankly, no, I don’t see this relationship lasting. But I hope it can provide some valuable lessons about things like “people reacting to the loss of a loved one in different ways (no matter their faith/lack thereof)” and “relationships not always being what you read about them on the internet.”

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      • avatar

        LW April 4, 2013, 4:46 pm

        Well I am inexperienced to LDR but not to normal relationships. I am over 30 and I had 3 long term relationships until now. But never an LDR and what I asked is how you support someone who is grieving when you are in an LDR and also I said that I cannot got into his shoes because this action is totally irelevant to me.

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      • avatar

        LW April 4, 2013, 4:43 pm

        No what I meant was that I know my boyfriend is a totally emotional person and I know that he would feel very sad about the death. So I knew that he was doing all these in order to forget about the death and that he didn’t mean what he says. If I believed that this wasn’t an act to show to others that he is fine, I would be more than happy. In the end it was an act so I was right. Well maybe this part wasn’t very obvious to my letter

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  • avatar

    lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 9:48 am

    Strange letter. I’m confused why you think there’s a good chance he’ll break up with you just because he’s grieving (and its only been a week, jeez, give him some time). Second, people cry because they are sad and miss their loved one, not because they think tears bring people back. You can be an atheist and still be sad about death. I didn’t think that had to be said.

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    • theattack

      theattack March 5, 2013, 9:53 am

      “Tears cannot bring anyone back (I am an atheist, as is my boyfriend).”

      Does the LW think that people who do believe in higher beings think tears CAN bring people back? I don’t even see the connection between these two things at all. Psychologically, it makes MORE sense for atheists to grieve harder, because one of the primary functions of religion for humans is to provide explanations and to make our lives eternal. For Christians (and many other religions), death doesn’t end a person. They can explain that the person is in a better place, or that they’ll live forever, etc. Atheists don’t have those explanations, but they still have the same psychological needs as other humans, one of those being to continue life through reproduction or eternity or whatever means available.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 9:58 am

        What an interesting point!

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      • avatar

        Matcha March 5, 2013, 1:21 pm

        I was thinking this too. For an atheist, death is final. That means this person is really dead and you will never see them again. Why wouldn’t that justify grieving?

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      • avatar

        Nadine March 5, 2013, 3:31 pm

        Exactly! Thats what totally put me off this LW. Don’t make all atheists look like robotic, grief-deniers! I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I’m not allowed to love people enough to be sad when they die??

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  • Lyra

    L March 5, 2013, 9:50 am

    Everyone handles grief differently. Let him take the lead on this. This is still a VERY new relationship that you two have. If you truly care about him and want to support him in this, call him on Skype and have a heart-to-heart. I’d say something like this: “I understand you are going through a lot right now and I want you to know that I am here for you whenever you need me. Take as much time as you need with this and know that I am here for you.”

    If he’s like most guys I know, he will need space and time to deal with things. Obviously you two can still talk, but don’t try to force him to talk about his mother until he’s ready.

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  • the_optimist

    the_optimist March 5, 2013, 9:52 am

    I have a question that may make me seem like a terrible person given the circumstances. I assure you I mean no harm by it, but…you’ve met in person, right? Given that you’ve only been together for such a short period of time and you’re in another country, I feel like that is something that’s important to know in this situation.

    And, if you have and you know one another well, then stop letting things that you’ve read on the internet dictate your relationship. What matters is how invested you are, not what the results of some online survey that you’ve taken tell you. As you know, everyone grieves differently. Ask your boyfriend what you can do to support him during this time, and move from there.

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    • avatar

      ebstarr March 5, 2013, 9:58 am

      “And, if you have and you know one another well, then stop letting things that you’ve read on the internet dictate your relationship.”

      Except things you read on Dear Wendy!

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      • the_optimist

        the_optimist March 5, 2013, 10:16 am

        Hahaha. Indeed, ebstarr. Indeed.

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  • Amybelle

    Amybelle March 5, 2013, 9:54 am

    “P.S. I don’t understand the grieving process at all. Although I have lost both my parents, I didn’t grieved for them a single second.” LW, (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) it sounds like perhaps you are projecting your own denial onto your boyfriend. I think your boyfriend’s mother’s death has kicked up a lot of unresolved emotions about your parents death that it sounds like you just pushed down and never dealt with, and that’s creating anxiety for you about your relationship.

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    • LK7889

      LK7889 March 5, 2013, 10:13 am

      WAS. This is the exact vibe I got from this LW too.

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    • avatar

      Anna March 5, 2013, 11:18 am

      I was wondering about that too. Very perceptive. I don’t think it’s possible to lose both of your parents and actually not grieve for them at all. I’m not even that close with my parents and they piss me off almost every time I talk to them, but when they’re gone I will still grieve for them because they’re my parents and I can’t help but carry love in my heart for them.

      Also, I consider myself an athiest too. What does that have to do with grieving? Nobody thinks crying will bring someone back; they are just trying to cope with their feelings. Not believing in a god does not equal not having emotions. That comment was confusing and kinda insensitive.

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  • avatar

    ebstarr March 5, 2013, 9:57 am

    You’re an atheist, so you don’t grieve when people die? Huh? That’s a new one.

    Actually, wasn’t there one letter, maybe on Slate, where someone said they shouldn’t have to go to a funeral because they were an atheist, or something? So maybe it’s not that new. It’s still amazingly illogical, though.

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    • LK7889

      LK7889 March 5, 2013, 10:11 am

      People use their religion (or lack thereof) to justify some really weird stuff sometimes.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray March 5, 2013, 12:02 pm

        So true, LK

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  • lynn

    Lynn March 5, 2013, 10:21 am

    Honestly LW, I don’t have any advice for you because I haven’t been in that kind of situation in any capacity… but I would like to add my two cents about something that stood out to me and legitimately annoyed me.

    “And to me, it is more selfish to think that everything stops the moment you lose your loved one. Tears cannot bring anyone back (I am an atheist, as is my boyfriend).”

    Who would ever openly say something like that? Please don’t say something like that to someone in real life. I don’t care if you’re an atheist, Christian, whatever… people grieve differently, and guess what? Sometimes when people lose a loved one… their worlds DO stop, maybe not literally, but in a different sense. It’s a part of their process, and in time, they will move on in their own way.

    I’m sorry I’m not much help, but read the other comments — all the gals on here bring up good points.

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    • Fabelle

      Fabelle March 5, 2013, 10:29 am

      I’m getting the impression her attitude might be a cultural thing? In some parts of the world, they treat death more…I dunno…casually? Matter-of-factly? At least, this could be another explanation (rather than that she’s heartless.)

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      • lynn

        Lynn March 5, 2013, 10:40 am

        Yeah that’s true… ugh, but this letter almost makes me want to think that she is heartless (eek, I don’t like saying that), and I’ve read lots of DW letters.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant March 5, 2013, 10:56 am

        I dunno. She seems to be indicating she feels this way because she is an aetheist which leads me to believe its not a cultural thing. It also seems she is implying because her boyfriend is an aetheist, perhaps she wants him to share this mindset.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 March 5, 2013, 10:30 am

    Are you the women in this commercial, and is your long distance boyfriend who lives in a another country a french model.

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    • Copa

      Copa March 5, 2013, 11:53 am

      I love this commercial. “Uhh… bonjour…?” 🙂

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  • FireStar

    Firestar March 5, 2013, 10:48 am

    I don’t get it – is he grieving too much…or not enough? You know that everyone goes through things in their own way..right? Your way of “and we’re done.” works for you – but is atypical to say the least. Stop being so hell bent on what you think should happen now and follow his lead…or you will get your self-fulfilling prophesy of this relationship not surviving.

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  • avatar

    Lindsay March 5, 2013, 11:08 am

    I’d say the attitude NOT to take is the one you’ve shown here that it’s selfish to grieve for loved one. Grieving doesn’t mean that you think that tears will bring the person back. It means you’re sad and you miss them, along with a lot of other emotions. Also, please don’t associate a lack of empathy with atheism. I’m an atheist, too, and I certainly wouldn’t get pissed off because my boyfriend was mourning the loss of his mother.

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  • CatsMeow

    CatsMeow March 5, 2013, 11:27 am

    I feel like the LW is unfairly getting a lot of criticism for her own grieving style (or lack thereof). My impression was that she mentioned that she has a more matter-of-fact attitude about death because she’s illustrating that she honestly doesn’t understand what her boyfriend is going through if he is, in fact, grieving, and therefore she doesn’t know the best way to act around him. Also, I think it’s OK to have her view on death – it doesn’t mean she’s heartless or that she doesn’t miss her loved ones just because she’s not actively grieving them.

    (What her lack of grieving has to do with atheism, I’m not sure… although I think comforting an atheist about death is different because we don’t believe in an afterlife. It seems like funerals usually focus on the deceased being “in a better place” and how we’ll see them again in heaven and stuff [at least the funerals I’ve been to]).

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    • LadyinPurpleNotRed

      LadyinPurpleNotRed March 5, 2013, 11:31 am

      It’s not the issue of her beliefs about death…it’s how she presented it. It comes off heartless. She doesn’t understand why people grieve. I know people like this, but they acknowledge that there is validity in other views than their own. This LW doesn’t seem to do that. Plus she seems annoyed that he’s not grieving even though she doesn’t believe in it. That’s just confusing.

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      • avatar

        csp March 5, 2013, 12:08 pm

        I am wondering if she is not a native english speaker and if that is the problem. It comes off so harsh because she isn’t fluent.

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      • avatar

        Matcha March 5, 2013, 1:25 pm

        I am willing to wager she is not a native speaker. I would say her phrasing and the fact that twice she used the past tense instead of present.

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      • avatar

        Matcha March 5, 2013, 1:25 pm

        is a giveaway. Darn. Wish I could edit.

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    • Fabelle

      Fabelle March 5, 2013, 11:46 am

      I agree with you, CatsMeow… people are kind of really tearing into her, but if that’s the way she deals with death, there’s nothing wrong with it. I think she only presented this view to us as an explanation for why she was floundering around her grieving boyfriend.

      Sure—there’s contradictions (isn’t his behavior actually somewhat in line with her views?) & I definitely don’t understand the atheist comment, but maybe she just threw that in as background info? Either way, she doesn’t sound heartless to me at all. (” So, this process, as you can see, is totally difficult for me, but I am prepared to wait and show compassion and patience if that is all needed.” )

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        lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 12:01 pm

        Well its one thing to say this is how I deal with death, its another thing entirely to say that people who cry think they can resurrect someone from the dead.

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        Mandy March 5, 2013, 12:16 pm

        Also – “prepared and willing to show compassion” sounds so clinical. It’s not an SAT, here. People grieve in different ways, and, sure, there’s an extent to which one can “prepare” oneself to assist in the process (even just coming up with something kind to say), but most of what really helps comes from basic instinct and kindness. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone say they “prepared” themselves to be compassionate. It just comes across as disingenuous, like it’s a chore.

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        lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 12:17 pm

        Its possible it IS a chore for her, actually, it kinda seems like it would be, and not necessarily in a bad way, but just that she’d be doing something she’s not used to and not too comfortable with.

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle March 5, 2013, 12:29 pm

        Some people ARE clinical, though. It doesn’t mean that they’re cold, heartless people—it just means that, for them, a cerebral kind of assessment tends to precede a more immediate, emotional reaction.

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      Addie Pray March 5, 2013, 12:09 pm

      That’s a good point, Cats. LW has her way of handling death… and others have their ways. So I guess what I’d tell LW is to be patient. People grieve differently! And death is so weird – because at some point you stop crying and you get hungry and you get sleepy and you want to walk or watch TV and things make you laugh and…. at some point you don’t LOOK like you’re grieving. It doesn’t mean you aren’t. I remember 4 weeks after my dad died my neighbor made a comment to me in the elevator – she was surprised I was handling it so well, that she’d be devastated, or something like that. Well I was devastated! But I don’t know I just stopped crying at some point. But I think it hit me hardest 3 years later – I had never really processed my dad’s death and was just trying to patch things up and move on. But i missed him so much and I relied on him for so much emotional support that it took some time for me to (a) figure that out – I didn’t even realize I relied on him and (b) figure out how to get that support i needed on my own. All this to say: LW, don’t even begin to try to understand how/why someone grieves. And all the commenters probably shouldn’t be criticizing you for the way you handle death. …. We all handle it differently, and at different times. So just listen to your boyfriend. … If he doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t talk about it. But you can let him know you’re there for him if he does. You can’t force him to process the death when and as you’d like him too. It could take years before he confronts it.

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        lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 12:12 pm

        I don’t think anyone was criticizing her for the way she handles death, but criticizing the way she seemed to criticize the way everyone else handles death.
        Also, criticize.

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        Addie Pray March 5, 2013, 12:23 pm

        There was some criticism above about how she handles death, calling her cold, etc. I am talking about that. But criticizing how others handle death? That I criticize. I criticize her criticism. Deep stuff by AP.

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        lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 12:30 pm

        That’s true, forgot about the calling it cold/heartless part.

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        Matcha March 5, 2013, 1:32 pm

        Yeah, I think it was pretty harsh! I’ve known quite a few people who just don’t process grief the same way. People tend to think of them as cold, but they just don’t express emotion or empathize. I think the letter writer is exaggerating that she didn’t grieve for a single second (unless she had a terrible horrible relationship with her parents.)

        Other highlights I noticed: Calling her a Vulcan, wondering “if this girl is even capable of compassion,” telling her to keep her thoughts to herself because “it makes her sound like a robot.”

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        LW April 4, 2013, 4:01 pm

        I usually do that, I mean keep the thoughts to myself because I know what is considered normal to our society and not. So I usually pretend to understand. I am good at that. I just tell it here because you don’t know me and I don’t know you and it won’t affect anyone. But in any case, my letter was very specific and I don’t need to critisize me about my luck of empathy. I am very well aware of it. What I clearly asked was how to support him. In the end I didn’t do anything since I couldn’t be there with him. Just told him that I am available to listen to him if he wanted and that I will be waiting as long as it takes.

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        Taylor March 6, 2013, 11:38 am

        LW, listen to AP.
        Grief is a strange thing, and it can catch up to you after the fact. My dad died my first year of grad school, and I managed to postpone some of the grieving until after I graduated, 5 years later. Then all of a sudden I was caught up on sleep, had spare time, and lived in a different country. Cue the unexpected emotional beat-down. Ultimately, it was a very good release.

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    Lucy March 5, 2013, 12:32 pm

    LW, it sounds like the person who’s in denial about the impact of their parent’s death here is you, not your boyfriend. Or maybe you just aren’t clear on the meaning of the word.

    I think you answered your own question when you said you were prepared to show compassion and patience. That’s all anyone can do for someone who’s grieving (although it’s also common to drop off a casserole or some cookies). So… be patient and compassionate. And stop worrying about/criticizing/judging his grieving process. There’s no right way to grieve. However he’s doing it is the right way for him.

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    Amber March 5, 2013, 12:46 pm

    This letter is so full of conflicting statements I wouldn’t even know where to begin…but the LW does definitely come off as judgy and insensitive.

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    Boosker March 5, 2013, 12:48 pm

    Okay, well, I think it’s safe to say that grieving significantly over the death of one’s parents is pretty normal, so maybe holding him (or any other human) to your grieving standards is unwise and a little unkind. Sometimes grief or a hard life situation can bring a couple together. This married couple I’m friends with experienced great loss when they first got together. The guy lost his brother in Iraq and the woman lost her father to cancer early on in the relationship. Being able to lean on each other and understand each other’s struggle caused them to grow very close. This was not long distance; however, and the loss created a link. That does not seem to be happening here with your situation. I think it’s really admirable that you are asking how to help your boyfriend, but given the lack of empathy you’re feeling toward his situation, maybe you’re not the person to help him through this time. Be available to him, listen to him, try not to compare your grieving process to his. But if you find you just can’t be that supportive person for him, let him lean on others in his life.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark March 5, 2013, 12:51 pm

    Wow, it’s been a whole seven days and he’s still NOT over it? WTF? Seriously. Move On Already. I mean, sure, everybody should be like you and not even grieve for a single second — much less 604,800 of them. Hey, the whole world should be more like you, right? Of course it’s easy to NOT get too caught up in grief when the only person you truly give a rip about is yourself, eh?

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      lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 12:52 pm

      525,600 minutes…

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      • theattack

        theattack March 5, 2013, 12:57 pm

        60 x 60 = 3,600 seconds in an hour
        3,600 x 24 = 86,400 seconds in a day
        86,400 x 7 = 604,800 seconds in a week

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        lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 12:59 pm

        minutes in a year. Never did the math, its from Rent, the broadway show. lol

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      • theattack

        theattack March 5, 2013, 1:01 pm

        ohhhhh

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark March 5, 2013, 1:04 pm

        Oh… no wonder I didn’t get the reference either. I walked out of RENT.

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        ktfran March 5, 2013, 4:56 pm

        I got it. But didn’t comment. I liked it off broadway. I refuse to watch the movie though.

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        lets_be_honest March 5, 2013, 5:06 pm

        I didn’t see the movie, but I did love the les mis movie, surprisingly.

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      LW April 4, 2013, 4:05 pm

      At least I am honest. I care about myself more than everyone.And everyone does that. And if someone says that he cares for the others more than himself he us just fooling himself. For example, even if someone wants to be loved, he wants that because himself will feel better. And I didn’t say why he didn’t get over it. Of course I know that this might take years. I asked specific things and I wanted specific answers. Just to critisize from afar won’t have any affect in me.

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        Grilledcheesecalliope April 4, 2013, 4:15 pm

        Has your boyfriend dumped you yet?

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        LW April 5, 2013, 9:07 am

        I really cannot understand in which way this would have made you happy. I mean probably if he had done that you would have said something like: I knew it since you are a bitch and stuff like that. But you don’ t know me. Where is the problem?That I am honest and don’t fool myself? At least I am not happy with the pain of the other. Not been able to understand something is completely different. But to answer your question no he didn’t. It might be that men love bitches? Or that I didn’t do anything to offend or bother him, so why to do that? Do you guys really believe that I am calling him and tell him: “come on, stop mourning, you are not the only one with issues? Your tears won’t bring back anyone? Life goes on?” This letter was my beliefs and how can I support him although I had different beliefs. But everyone keeps on critisizing me for my character, like I care about that

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      • Lindsay

        Lindsay April 4, 2013, 4:22 pm

        You know it’s possible to ALSO care about other people even if you care about yourself, right?

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        LW April 5, 2013, 9:02 am

        of course I know that is why I mentioned that I care for my self more than everyone. More means that I care for other people too. If I didn’t care I wouldn’t have written the letter in the first place

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  • AKchic_

    AKchic_ March 5, 2013, 2:20 pm

    Being an athiest has nothing to do with the grieving process. Everyone does it in their own way. And telling you that the worst has passed isn’t “denial”, it’s the truth. His mother is no longer suffering. No longer wasting away before his eyes. No longer hurting and sick and taking multiple medications that probably have their own side effects that made her miserable while all he could do was hug her (if that didn’t hurt) and watch her helplessly because he couldn’t do anything about it besides that.

    He CAN grieve for the loss of her vitality, robbed by such an illness. Grieve for the time he’s lost with his mother thanks to such a disease, etc. He can grieve because he will never see her again, talk to her again, hug her again, etc.

    As someone else has stated, cancer (and other long-term illnesses) are basically a long good-bye. People have time to adjust, so for some, the grieving period doesn’t seem “normal” because they’ve had time to process things. Perhaps he has a grieving support network and feels it’s best not to burden you with such things since you’ve only been long distance dating for THREE MONTHS. At this point, there is no guarantee that you two will last at all.
    You specifically mentioned that he went to a club. Are you mad that he went to a club? I don’t think you would have mentioned it if you weren’t at least a little miffed that he went. Do you think he would have gone if his mother hadn’t died? Or was he going to clubs before her death too? After my grandpa died, my cousin and I went to the bar and lined up shots of Jack in honor of my grandpa. A lot of my friends knew my grandpa, so a lot of us ended up doing shots for him.

    I think there is a lot going on here. Some mistrust, some worry, and some misunderstanding about grief and the grief process.
    Life doesn’t end for the living when someone dies. I think your boyfriend understands that, which is why he has continued to plan his trip to see you. I think he is grieving the way he wants to grieve and is trying to continue on with his life as best as he can.

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    painted_lady March 5, 2013, 3:04 pm

    LW, you’re absolutely allowed to grieve in your own way, or don’t grieve. I tend to process death pretty quickly, especially if it’s planned – not that I’m not sad, but the initial awful shock wears off for me within a few days – but not everyone is like me. I’m not saying it’s necessarily superior or inferior, but you should definitely handle grief in others with more sensitivity. You don’t have to understand why someone is sad (does anyone really understand why they feel a certain way with really strong emotions) but just that they are.

    And be careful how you’re coming across, because you sound like a Vulcan in that your logical approach – tears won’t bring someone back from the dead? Really? – is superior to those with silly, weak emotions. It’s nothing to do with atheism, and it’s nothing to do with whether those emotions will change anything. I’m an atheist, and when I lost a friend to cancer last week, I cried like a baby when it finally hit me – not because I think it’ll bring him back, but because I miss him. I hate knowing I’m not going to see him again or hear one of his terribly inappropriate jokes, or get some really great carpentry advice. People cry because they’re sad, among other things, not because it’s going to change anything. I cried when moved away from Houston, not because it changed that I needed to live elsewhere, but because I knew I would miss that part of my life. And it’s fine if you don’t deal with things that way, but refusing to understand that other people do, and insisting on being confused about how it helps anything is NOT the way to help your boyfriend. The way to help him is to acknowledge that his way of dealing with his mom’s death is valid, to assume that he knows what he’s feeling, and to only offer advice on how to grieve if he asks you or if he seems to be harming himself. Don’t logic him out of feeling the way he does, and don’t ascribe motivations for feeling a certain way that he may not necessarily have.

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    candyintherain March 5, 2013, 3:06 pm

    Everyone processes grief differently. Let him know that you will love and support him no matter what, and just let him deal with it however he needs to.

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  • beelzebarb

    beelzebarb March 5, 2013, 3:32 pm

    LW, I was with you until you described grieving process as selfish. You say you’re prepared to show compassion but clearly you lack the capacity. I’m not going to waste my time giving advice. You’re on your own.

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    Sue Jones March 5, 2013, 10:20 pm

    LW, you seem to need to learn basic empathy. But to answer your question, everyone grieves differently. So however he grieves is how he needs to grieve. Allow him to be where he is and still hang out with him. If he wants to be sad and hang with you, be there. If he wants space, give it to him. If he wants to use you as a happy diversion to get him out of himself, let him. If you are unable to be there for him in these ways, let him go.

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie March 6, 2013, 9:56 am

    Everybody grieves in different ways when losing someone we love. There isn’t anything you can do for him but let him work through it and be a shoulder to cry on and a ear to listen. Try to back off your wants/needs from him until he’s ready to resume the romance.

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    LW April 4, 2013, 3:50 pm

    well thanks for the advices for both supportive and offensive. Of course I mentioned that I have no idea about the grieving process and in general I am not the kind of person that I will try to pass my problems to others. Even if I have problems (whatever kind of problems) I would never stop talking to someone if he wanted to talk to me. So yes I obviously don’t understand. And of course I will stil have the same idea about the process. That is life. People born and die. Everyone will die someday. That is a fact to accept and of course I am selfish. And those who say that they are not selfish they are fooling themselves. Although my selfisness, I didn’t show anything to him and I was very compassionate and of course I would never mentioned my beliefs. In fact I just mention it to you because I know that this is life but here I am anonymous. I know that in the physical world everyone will condemn me so I just pretend. No problem to this. Actually if you had met me in real life you would have a very different idea than the one here. Everyone believes that I am a very compasionate and good person who only think of other and this is happening because of the fact that I cannot understand people sadness. So I am just patient and keep doing what the other people want I know what is considered as normal. And when I mention denial, I mean the first stage of grief. It is called denial. I didn’t named it like that. Until someones accepts the fact full, is called denial In any case I wouldn’t have a problem (meaning I wouldn’t worry so much about it) if I could be there. Since I couldn’t be there the only way I could provide my support was over the phone etc. And also what you didn’t get, was that of course I have the will to wait for him no matter how much it will take. But I was wondering, since I had read so many things on the internet, if he would still want a relationship or not. I gave him his time and didn’t mention anything. In the end what happened was that he came back after a week and he was totally normal to me as before. But after a month from that he started to say that he was feeling down (of course only towards me since he continue his normal activities of partying and clubbing). Now we are on the stage that he talks me once in 3 days or something like that. Sometimes he doesn’t even answer my messages etc. Since I admit myself that I am a selfish person, do you believe that he is avoiding me because he bored of me, or he just contiues his grieving period? I mean, if he thinks I am a burden to him, then I should just leave him. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. I should mention that in all this period I never told him how neglected I feel or something that has to do with our relationship. Do you think that I should tell him how I feel?Not about the grieving process but for our relationship. That I feel neglected I mean. Or is it normal for him to be distant and I should just wait?

    PS: those who want just to comment to tell me how selfish and irational I am, please don’t bother. You just losing your energy in writing. My questions are very specific and I need answers and advice to them and not a psychological analysis to myself. And no I am not a native english speaker. Thanks

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    • CatsMeow

      CatsMeow April 4, 2013, 4:30 pm

      Maybe just mention to him that you noticed he has seemed more distant lately – or say specifically that you noticed he has been communicating with you less – and ask if there is a reason. Maybe he’ll say he’s grieving, maybe he’ll say he’s busy, maybe he’ll say he’s unsure about the relationship. If he’s grieving or feeling depressed, ask him how you can help – whether that be giving him space or a lending ear or something else.

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        LW April 4, 2013, 4:47 pm

        well thanks for the answer. So do you think that this won’t push him away?I mean if I talk to him about my feelings

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      • Paki

        Paki April 4, 2013, 4:55 pm

        In relationships, one should be able to talk about their feelings. If you sharing feelings, pushes him away, do you want to be in a relationship with which you can never discuss feelings? I would bring it up like Catsmeow said. Hey I have noticed we haven’t been talking as much, is there anything going on? No need to make it some drawn out dramatic question.

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        LW April 4, 2013, 5:00 pm

        Yes I know that. But I have read a lot of books in the meantime about grieving in order to understand it better and it mentions that at this period people might not want to think about something else. I am afraid that maybe in this phase my feelings will push him away. Otherwise I totally agree with you. If it was a different case I would have already stated that

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    LW April 4, 2013, 4:57 pm

    Actually in 1 week I am returning back in my country so I will see him. Until then I will wait in this distant face. Maybe things will be better face to face. In any case I will do a follow up to what happened to those who tried to help me.

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    dulce93 June 10, 2013, 1:47 pm

    Hi LW,
    Seems like you have had almost the same problem with ne. How’s the thing going with your boyfriend and you?
    I am 20 years old girl and have been dating a 27 years old guy for about 4 months. Everything was wonderful and we had great chemistry for each other. He is a british soldier and we live in Germany, about an hour with the car apart. At the first time the relationship began, he had to leave to Kenya for about 5 weeks, but we kept talking to each other until we met again. He told me that his sister was dying of cancer, and let me know about that because he saw me in his future. His mother has died since he was a kid, his father remarried and his sister seemed like the closest family member for him. He left back to the UK because his sister got worse and still went to Germany just to see me. But then his sister died in May, and he became to change slowly. At the first week after his sister died, he got angry easily, also on the phone, he described everything ironically. Two weeks after she died, he came back to Germany and met me directly from the UK, he just hugged me in a silence and couldn’t or didn’t want to describe how he felt. He became silent since then, and never talked about his feelings (also for me). He doesn’t really care about me anymore like he did before, and lately I got annoyed sometimes because of that. He got annoyed too and said that he wanted to break up with me because he can’t make me happy and he can’t be a good boyfriend at the moment. I was shocked because he said it in a sudden, we talked on phone and I said I care for him so much and don’t want to lose him. He said, he just wants to be alone at the moment and don’t want to be surrounded. I know I made a mistake because I was selfish too, I got annoyed sometimes because he was distant, but I was just confused of what I should do. I do want to be there for him and listen to him whenever he needs me, but he just doesn’t want to talk about his grief. After he said he wanted to break up, I couldn’t sleep at night and felt so horrible. I texted him and said that I missed him so much, then he wanted to meet me at his city. We met, he still held my hand when we were walking and still brought my things. I asked him what did make his mind change that he wanted to meet me instead of breaking up with me, and he said he felt bad too after saying break up to me that night. But he said he doesn’t know what he wants at the moment and let see what happens. Something has changed in him since the death of his sister and he can’t do anything about that. A lot of plans about go around together were disappear and not important anymore for him. I am disappointed, but I think it’s not important anymore, and I want to make him feel better. I did send him chocolates, notes, a book about grieving and recovery because I care about him. Do I have to give him space? Did I push him too much? What shall I do? I am hurting, crying and dreaming about him almost every night, and I feel I build a deeper feeling for him while he is grieving. I would do anything I can to make him feel better, and would wait for him as long as I can, but I don’t know whether it’s worth it. I know for him, relationship is not important at the moment and he doesn’t have any space for me in his heart because he is grieving and struggling on it. Maybe I am too selfish because I am thinking a lot about our relationship while he is dealing with a problem between life and death? I feel he doesn’t want to lose me either but he just doesn’t know what to do and can’t care about me like he did before… We still text each other everyday, but still, I feel something is missing. I feel, I have lost my boyfriend, he is not himself anymore. I know we’ve been together not in a long time but I know everything between us was real. He could be the one I love so much but feels like the circumtances are too big for our young relationship. I do care for him, but I don’t know what I should do.
    Have you coped this circumtance?

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    Spark March 23, 2014, 5:37 am

    So LW……what happened? Did he break up with you? Did u get back together? I ask because I am going through the same thing, we were a very we rship and his aunt died of cancer and we are a LDR and he has called things off cos he said he feels guilty he is neglecting me and can’t help it at the moment.

    I am glad I am not the only one having the problem with men pulling away after grief……I thought I was doing something wrong to make him break up with me. I care for him so muh and I don’t want anyone else, but we have said to be friends as that’s all he can offer at the moment. 🙁

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