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Men and Grief, How In The World Do I Help My Husband Deal?

Updated on February 5, 2010

My husband recently found out that a close, male friend of ours (mostly his) is going through a separation and possible divorce, just had heart surgery, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and given roughly 30 days to live-all within the last 5 months. This male friend of my husband's has told no one about this, other than my husband, from what little I can get out of him (my husband, that is). This friend is about 40 years old.

Yesterday, after days of trying to reach his friend, my husband finally makes contact and his friend asks my husband if he can come see him, at his home, just to talk. He needs somebody to talk to, and he needs my husband. I can understand why-my husband is one of those people that when you are hurting, he can bring comfort sometimes without saying a word. I feel so helpless-for the last several years, all the drama and crisis have involved me, heart problems, bad results from rx's for bipolar, I'm lonely, I'm miserable, I hurt, I'm in pain, I lost my mother, I'm worried about my father, ME ME ME, blah blah blah....I feel like shit-the first time my husband really needs me, and I don't know how to help him through this.

This friend had also been a boss at one time to my husband, and early on started referring to my husband as his "life partner", even though they are obviously both straight. It is a perfect example of his sense of humor-that "I don't care what you think, I think it's funny" attitude that can literally make you crazy sometimes. In the beginning of their "relationship", they would fight and squabble, then make up, just like a married couple, and I started teasing them both about being married to each other, and how I had never had to share a husband with another man before. Then the "life partner" stuff started, and has stuck to this day. Now, this happens.

i see my husbands face when he gets the news, on the phone, literally see the blood drain away from his face, not knowing WHO per say, but basically, instinctively knowing WHAT, and for once in my life don't start asking questions and freaking out while he is on the phone. I sense that this is something I just need to sit back and shut up about for a while, wait for my husband to gather his thoughts and know he will then come to me. After a bit, he does, and he is weeping quietly, and tells me the "news". I am caught so off guard, I am literally speechless, my normally gassed up and running mouth open, but with no words coming out. My husband is pale, any questions I finally do ask, he just says "I don't know", then tells me his friend has asked him to be a pallbearer, when the time comes. Dear God in heaven, I don't know what to say, I don't know what to do, I want to help my husband, his friend, his friend's wife and children, my mind is spinning, but I am motionless. So is my husband.

My husband is an only child, his blood relatives all live out of state, and all through my problems, he has had only my family for support. They all love each other, but still, it's not HIS family, and I understand. His friend, although he has a brother, they are estranged, and his family is not geographically close either. He tells my husband that he is like the brother he always wished he had. His friend has not told his family about his diagnosis or his other troubles. When my husband went to see him yesterday, his house was in a shambles, much like his life, mail all over the floor, dusty, cold and dark-a stark representation on the outside of how his friend must be feeling on the inside. I just keep wanting to tell him to fight, keep looking for another doctor, a possible cure or something to prolong his life. While there, my husband went to his friend's gun safe, took out all the ammo, unloaded all of the guns, and hid all of the bullets-all while his friend was in the bathroom. I find this out after expressing concern for his friend's frame of mind. All I know to do is sit quietly and listen if my husband decides to talk, all of his tears have stopped now, and it's like he has disassociated himself from it. Pulled himself out of the situation because it hurts too much to exist in that world. I literally stand there and watch it happen-that "steeling himself",that's what his jaw line looks like-a piece of steel, and his face is a shade of gray that almost resembles the color of that metal. I see now where the expression comes from. It wouldn't be the first close friend he has had that he has lost, and he makes the remark that "They all just keep dying". What do I do to even try to help him?

My mind whirls around like a pile of leaves caught in a gust of cold winter wind, and I desperately search for something, ANY DAMN THING I CAN SAY that will ease his pain, but there is nothing I can do, short of working a miracle, that can make this go away and everbody be ok. My head nearly explodes with questions, and I begin to ask them, Does his wife know-yes, why is she still gone then-I don't know, do his parents know-no, why hasn't he told them-I don't know, finally everything is I don't know, I don't know, I don't know...I have probably asked too many questions in my own attempt to figure this thing out and grasp the reality of it. I feel stupid all over again, because I don't know how to help my husband. I say, "I would like to talk to him", but am told, he doesn't want to talk to anyone else about it. This is evidently a "man thing" and I am shut out, it's ok, I don't mind, but honestly I do because I want so bad to try to help.

These two men have worked together, fought, "kissed and made up" as I always called it, "gotten a divorce" once when my husband was really mad at him, and now reconciled. Their history together, although relatively short, has been full of shared emotional things. He was there for my husband through all of my problems, much as a brother might be, because he knew my husband had no one else other than my own family. He has been a mentor and a teacher to my husband in his job, and helped to make him a better person all the way around. They had always planned to go fishing together, they both love fishing, but work and real families have always gotten in the way. Not enough time then, and really not enough time now. For the last few days I have had a weird feeling of some sort of "impending doom" but with so much drama with others I know, certainly never expected this. Suddenly, all of my problems and worries seem so insignificant, so petty, so trivial, in the light of this news. In a moment, our life, especially my husband's, but most definitely his friend's has changed for the worse. We are a spiritual family, and I start making phone calls to others I know to please pray for our friend. It's all I really know to do, and it makes me feel less helpless...

All I really know to do is hang on through the storm, ride it out with my husband, be a life preserver for him if he starts to sink. At this moment, he is a man I do not know or recognize, but still I see glimpses of the man I know as "my husband" in there from time to time. I think it's going to be a while before that man comes back. I've watched him lose an older relative he didn't know well but still cared deeply for, but this seems so much different. Perhaps because of the fact that his friend is almost the same age as my husband, and my husband is realizing his own mortality, and how suddenly things can change. Last night, he suddenly grabbed me and hugged me silently for a long time, kissing and smelling my hair, before saying he loved me and releasing me. All I truly knew to do was hug him back and hope he could feel my strength and love for him.

Dealing with Grief

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    Vickiw 5 years ago

    I facilitate a bereavement group each week, and I can tell you that men approach grief differently. Most really get a lot out of the group, because they have a chance to talk about their feelings in whatever way they choose, to people they initially don't know, and then there is a relief, because all the participants have had experience of grief. They go home feeling much better, and are motivated to complete challenges that they have set for themselves. This is just a small part of the process. Sounds as though you were sensitive to his needs, well done, and feel free to chat again if this is still ongoing for him. One of our guys went into complete denial for 18 months after the death, and is now starting to recover.

  • Laura Thykeson profile image

    Laura Thykeson 7 years ago from Central Texas


    Thank you for your comments. I wish you luck and hang in there, times will get better for you!

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    quinn_edm 7 years ago


    Tonight I was looking for some inspiration with how I can help my husband and came across your story. Thank you for sharing this it hit home for me in many ways.

    Two years ago, my husband's father passed away unexpectedly. We had just moved a month prior to be closer to his parents as they were getting older. Sadly, his Dad passed before we had a chance to settle in and visit them. It was a very tough time but we stayed strong to support his Mom. Over the next two years after his dad's death, we had our ups.... and what seemed to feel like many downs. His new job was not what he expected and work seems miserable for him. We had to say good-bye to our beloved dog of 16 years and I had a failed pregnancy to add to our troubles. Tough times, but a million people have gone through the same or more. We managed to deal with most of our losses and rise up. Except his job has not improved.

    Then 5 weeks ago, my husband lost his mother. He is an only child and had to make the heart wrenching decision to take her off life supports. Over the three days she was in hospital we were there to hold her hand, read to her and tell her how much she meant to everyone she knew. Slowly she faded and he had no choice but to let her go. She did not want to be kept alive by life supports but that did not make his decision any easier. Now he is dealing with the guilt and sadness of her death.

    I have been at a loss as to how to help him through this. He has been withdrawn, but he will talk about it if I ask. We reminisce about good times we have all shared. We have put up pictures and kept many special mementos. I know that these things take time and my support and love is what will get us through, I just wish I could do more.

    Your story reminded me to "hang on through the storm, ride it out and be a life preserver for him if he starts to sink".

    Thank you for this reminder and I prayers are with you.

  • Laura Thykeson profile image

    Laura Thykeson 7 years ago from Central Texas

    A. M. Gwynn

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I haven't heard the song, I don't think, but would love to. I hope all WILL be well, but I'm not so sure it will be.

    Daddy Paul,

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I know a lot of people wouldn't normally read this, but it seems to resonate with some. I just kind of "spilled it" all out here. Thank you for reading it.

    Laura T.

  • Daddy Paul profile image

    Daddy Paul 7 years ago from Michigan

    Not the kind of thing I normally read but this is very good!

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    A.M. Gwynn 7 years ago

    Laura, thank you so much for this truth filled HUMAN encounter.

    This reminds me of the song by Kate Bush "Woman's Work", I don't know why.

    You know, men are supposed to be he strong ones, the ones with all the logical answers right? And yes, sometimes though we push them to be more emotional, to "open up", we still see them as the strong ones. It must be very hard not to have the same outlets that we as women have, especially in grief.

    They do grieve differently. I think men also have problems dealing with something they face that they cannot immediately fix, or have the answers to.

    You are there, and he knows it. And in his time, he will reach out... I see this so many times with all my sons... the "men" who are just too strong and manly to understand it's okay to break down and crumble, because we will be there to pick them up.

    "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well" ~ Saint Francis of Assisi

  • Laura Thykeson profile image

    Laura Thykeson 8 years ago from Central Texas


    thank you so much for stopping by and for your sweet and kind comment. I don't feel very strong times I feel like a bowl of melted jello...thank you for your kind words though-they do give me strength.

    Laura T.

  • jazzminey profile image

    jazzminey 8 years ago

    Laura, I think your higher self is directing you to do exactly the right thing. I sense an amazing strength in you. My heart goes out to you, your husband and his friend.