I had never met Mack before — never spoke to him until the evening after my sister died. We have talked every day since. We make it a habit to call or message “good mornings” and “good nights,” and making sure we both are ok. He’s on my mind constantly — I worry about him.
Is this attachment and love that has grown wrong? I felt drawn to him from the beginning, and I think he feels the same way. We both have admitted to having touched each other’s hearts and missing each other when we go a few hours without talking. My family would disown me if they knew, so I’m feeling so torn.
What do I do? I don’t want to disrespect my sister, but I feel almost led by her as I didn’t even know Mack’s name and I found him on her Facebook. Please help me understand. — Heartbroken and In love
First, I’m very sorry about the tragic loss of your sister, and I hope, in addition to talking to Mack, you are seeking support and a listening ear in other people, like your friends and family. Grief is a beast, especially in the early days following a loss. It makes time constrict and stretch in strange ways, and it can strengthen bonds with people you previously didn’t know well (or at all) and threaten relationships with people you hold dear.
In general, I think if you’ve found someone who helps you cope with all the feelings you’re having, hold onto that person. Where it gets tricky though is when and if that person pulls you away from feelings that are normal to have, making you suppress them so you can trick yourself into feeling “better” when, in fact, you’ve only delayed the inevitable crush of grief. We saw an example of that in a letter from last week when a recent widow began dating immediately after the death of his wife of almost 30 years.
This is a time to be really honest with yourself: Are your feelings for Mack tied to any relief he might give you from your grief? Have you transferred feelings of love and concern you might have had for your sister who is now gone to Mack? Does he make you feel closer to your sister, acting as a surrogate for her in your life? If you are unable to separate your growing feelings for Mack from your grief over your sister — and, frankly, it would be very surprising if you can — that makes it so much harder to trust the feelings you have for Mack as romantic in nature.
Regardless, be realistic: You live on opposite sides of the country; even if your feelings were free from the murkiness of grief (which they aren’t), how is a relationship between you two going to actually grow? Even removing emotional baggage from the equation (which you can’t), how does this work, logistically? Now throw in the very real emotional baggage you have – the grief you both are swimming in as well as the family complications you’ll face — and the likelihood of a relationship between you actually progressing to something sustainable and healthy and long-lasting is very low. At best, there are a lot of complications you’d have to overcome – and at a time when grief itself is demanding so much of your attention.
That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in continuing a friendship with Mack if it gives you a sense of comfort. But while you can’t stop feelings from growing, you can certainly stop yourself from pursuing them, from closing your heart to other possibilities, to telling yourself your sister has led you to this person. She hasn’t led you to him. She overdosed on opiates, tragically died way too young, and happened to have a boyfriend at the time of her death who is now grieving and finding comfort in your concern.
This isn’t fate; this is tragedy. This isn’t love; this is co-dependence on a difficult path you’ve both suddenly and unexpectedly found yourselves on. If you’re fooled by the difference, please consider putting the brakes on this friendship — at least until the murkiness of early grief has cleared a bit and you can see this person for who and what he is: a stranger on the other side of the country bound to you by the thread of a shared and tragic loss. The loss will forever mark both your lives, but that connection in and of itself is not enough to merge your lives.