On Sunday, November 12th, 2017, my mother-in-law left this world to join my father-in-law in Heaven. I never had the pleasure of knowing my father-in-law, but the years I had with my mother-in-law are something I will never take for granted. She was kind-hearted, incredibly generous, absolutely hilarious, and such an amazing cook. She loved my husband more than anything and she would have been the greatest Nana. Aside from the obvious, the fact that neither of my husbands’ parents will meet his son causes my husband crippling heartache.
There is no bigger “Mama’s Boy” in this world other than my husband. His mom was his best friend and when she left us, it devastated him. Aside from sorting through my own heartbreak over losing her, I knew I was going to need to step up as a spouse during this time. Here are a few things I learned during this grieving process that I hope can help those who may find themselves in a similar situation one day.
There is no need to keep asking them, “How are you feeling?”
Something I had to keep in mind while my husband was grieving was that asking him every ten seconds how he was feeling was unnecessary. I think it was just my first instinct to check on him each morning, every time we spoke on the phone, and randomly throughout the day. But, I knew how he was feeling. There was no reason to ask him, I knew he was hurting, that he was heartbroken. Check in on your spouse every now and then if only to let them know you care but asking ten times a day is not going to do any good for you or them.
If they seem to be feeling okay, let it be.
A few weeks after my mother-in-law passed away I started to notice that my husband was returning to himself. He was making jokes again, eating normally, and seemed to be doing well. At that point I stopped asking him how he was feeling, I just let him be. If he was doing good there was no reason to mention anything that could derail the good headspace he was in. Let your spouse know that just because you aren’t asking about how they are feeling lately doesn’t mean you don’t care.
It’s okay to feel frustrated over what is happening.
From the time my mother-in-law was sent to the hospital until the time she passed was the most helpless I have ever felt. I have never meant it more in my life than when I told my husband that I wished I could take away all his pain and put it on myself. This helplessness turned to sheer frustration when she eventually did pass. As I watched my husband cry, hysterically crying, all I could do was hold him. There was nothing I could do to make him feel better, there were no words that would make this easier for him. It is okay to feel frustrated over the fact that you can’t fix this for them, it just means you love your spouse.
Don’t try to understand how they are feeling especially if you can’t relate.
I thank God daily that my parents are still alive as I have now seen how quickly things can change. My husband is now an orphan, for lack of a better term. This is a concept that I cannot wrap my head around. I would try to sit back and imagine if that was me, how I would feel, in hopes that maybe if I could relate better I could help him more. All the focus in the world could not invoke the type of emotions and feelings I was watching run through my husband. Eventually, I told my husband that I couldn’t understand how he was feeling, that I didn’t know how to help him. He told me he didn’t want me to have to understand this feeling for many years to come.
You don’t always have to respond to what they say.
My husband had a lot to say while his mom was in the hospital and when she passed away. At first, he would ask questions out loud like, “Why my mom?” and “This is not how I saw my life ending up, with no parents to meet my son”. At first I would quickly throw some insightful words together and spew them out but eventually, I realized he wasn’t actually wanting a response. Most of the time, it is best to just be there in their presence sitting quietly. Again, there are no words you can say that will make this any easier for them to comprehend or accept what has happened.
In fact, tell them when you simply don’t know what to say.
Eventually, it got to the point where I would just come out and tell him that I didn’t know what to say. He had a better response to this than when I was previously just saying anything I thought would help. It’s okay to not know what to say, in fact, if you have never experienced what your spouse is going through, you absolutely won’t know what to say. Remember that this is okay.
Help to distract them, but don’t try to make them forget.
In the weeks leading up to her death and also the weeks following we were fortunate that we had a packed schedule. Prior to his mom’s sudden admittance to the hospital, we had several things planned, with each other and friends. I always asked him if he was feeling up to it and most of the time he was. This was good because I could tell it took his mind off of what had happened for a moment. We would come back home from these events and he would be sad again but it made me feel good to know that if just for a few moments he was feeling okay. Keep in mind though, thinking that submerging your spouse into several social situations will help is the wrong way to think. Look for things to do that aren’t going to be too overwhelming.
Have a grief counselor ready in your back pocket just in case.
Knowing that my husband had already lost one parent made the idea of him losing another seem even more emotionally extreme. I knew that once his mother passed my husband would have no more parents at 29-years-old. I wasn’t sure how hard this would hit him so I wanted to be prepared to offer him something that I couldn’t give him. I reached out to a friend of mine who put me in touch with a grief counselor that came highly recommended. I got all of his contact information so that if I noticed my husband was taking this harder than I expected, I could offer this help to him. I never had to reach out to this counselor but I did eventually tell my husband that I had done this. He was very appreciative of this gesture. Again, it’s important at this time to admit to yourself that you cannot “fix this” so being prepared with a resource that can help him is something to consider.
Don’t take things so personally.
While my mother-in-law was in the hospital we knew she would not be leaving. The Doctors had made it abundantly clear that what was happening to her was not going to get better. It was inevitable that during this time my husband was going to have a short fuse. Now, don’t get me wrong my husband has never and would never raise his voice at me but I could feel how tense and stressed he was. If there is one thing you can do during this time to help your spouse it is to not take things so personally. My husband was in a perpetually sad mood for a long time and with good reason. While I wanted to tell him to snap out of it, I knew that was the wrong move. He was justified in his feelings and it was my time to step up and not make this about myself and how what was happening was affecting ME. My feeling frustrated that my once bubbly husband hadn’t been around for a while was nothing compared to the feelings he was having.
Right now, they come first.
During this time all that matters is your spouse and helping them get through this incredibly difficult time. It is time to put your emotional needs to the side and take care of them. Prepare yourself that you are going to be canceling plans and you are going to have to tell your friends you can’t go out with them because right now what is most important is being there for your spouse. There is nothing I would not do for that man and there is no sacrifice I would not make for him. I know that one day, inevitably, the roles will be reversed and he will need to comfort me through the loss of a parent. I consider myself so incredibly blessed and fortunate that I will have him right by my side, holding my hand, telling me it will be okay when that day does come.