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Thread: Is it normal to push one's closest loved one away while grieving?

  1. #1
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    Is it normal to push one's closest loved one away while grieving?

    My boyfriend's mother died very suddenly and unexpectedly 5 months ago, leaving him an orphan at age 36. His mother had raised him by herself and his father had remarried but died just a few years ago. His stepmother and half-siblings stopped talking to him after his father died, so it was as if he suddenly had no family left at all.

    When his mother died, I was the first and only person he turned to, and I held him all night and listened to him talk. He had to fly to another state to take care of arrangements and I offered to go with him. He tried to book a flight for me but nothing was available, so he asked me to come in the future to help him pack up his mother's house and be at his side at the memorial service instead. I tried to be as supportive as possible over the phone while he was away. We were in frequent touch and he told me everything about what he was feeling and going through.

    But when he came home 10 days later, he was very distant and strange. He seemed confused and said he didn't know what he wanted. He abruptly said he needed to take a break from our relationship and asked me to leave his apartment. He said I had been the most wonderful and sweetest girlfriend and that he loved me but that he just couldn't be in a relationship with anyone during this time. But he also kept saying that he didn't want to make a rash decision and to give it some time.

    I knew I had to set my feelings aside and allow him whatever he needed, even though I was devastated. I tried to give him space but also still be there for him, so I'd occasionally (every couple of weeks or so) send a short and kind email or text message. I did speak to him by phone for about an hour a few weeks later and he told me that he felt like a basket case and couldn't sleep. I tried to go help him with his mother's house but he turned me back home after our flight landed. Finally, 2 months later, he sent me a very terse and cold email that simply said there was not a possibility of us getting back together and that he felt there needed to be considerable time and distance before we ever talked again. No explanation or any words of kindness whatsoever. He sounded so different from the person I once knew.

    I'm having trouble accepting that this could really be the end. I keep wondering if there was anything I could've done to prevent or save this - whether I wasn't there for him enough in the beginning, if I gave him too much space or not enough, if it was a terrible mistake to get on that flight to try to help him, etc. Everyone tells me that doing that was an amazing selfless act of love on my part and wasn't inappropriate, but it seems like he was upset and disturbed by my gesture, perhaps due to his mental state while grieving. I only had the best of intentions and it doesn't seem like it should be a reason to push someone you care about entirely away and just completely refuse to talk. It was as if I had wronged him deeply but I don't know what I did that was wrong.

    Over the months I've read so much about grief and tried to understand what he is going through, but I still can't understand how his feelings could have changed so drastically when we had a great relationship before and he always seemed so deeply in love and sure of our relationship. I know he had to deal with a harrowing and traumatic experience, but why would he turn away from my support and cut me out of his life without explanation when he can still treat everyone else in his life as normal? How can he not miss the life that we had together? We were in a serious relationship and the love we felt for each other should mean something and not just evaporate into thin air. Can anyone help me with insight as to why he might have done this and whether it's likely he'll ever come around with time?

  2. #2
    Platinum Member Crazyaboutdogs's Avatar
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    Sometimes people react to grief by shutting out those who care. They just want to live in their own bubble and can't deal with anything else. Perhaps in his mind you represent the life that was, when his mother was around and now that his mother isn't around it hurts too much to live life the way it was so he wants to start over. The bottom line is that this is about him, not about anything you did or didn't do. This is about his own pain and ability or inability to cope. You did all the right things...he is just not in a frame of mind to appreciate it. That is not your fault. Just to prepare you, he may soon find someone else to be with...someone who doesn't represent the old life. Be strong and just move on with your life. There is nothing you could have done because this is all about his frame of mind. Maybe one day when he feels better he will come back..but don't wait for him. You need to move on with your life.

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    The same thing happened to me when my fiancees mother died suddenly.
    She flew back home and within 10 days we were broken up for reasons I will never understand or know.

    I can offer no explanation to you for why these things happen.

    Someone said to me once, "the death of a parent can not destroy a relationship, but it certainly can give it an overdue burial"

    it's so hard to accept seeing as there was no fault in the relationship to blame.
    You just have to move on and maybe you'll get your answer one day.
    Maybe you won't.
    I believe my wonderful ex fiancée was feeling like everything in her life was shadowed by this tragic event and cut all her attachments.
    She still managed to go out and have fun with her friends which was also confusing but grief is a strange thing.

    Sorry for your pain.

  4. #4
    Gold Member kuteknish's Avatar
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    I'm sorry for your pain, Miri. I think I may have read something similar on another forum. Perhaps one of my posts from a long time ago might have some insight... Just keep pushing forward.

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    Thanks to everyone who has responded.

    Crazyaboutdogs, what you wrote was pretty much exactly what many people have told me, and it definitely sounds valid. Except for the part where you warned me that he might take up with somebody else soon - I really don't see that happening because it's not his character to get involved with anybody easily, and especially not while he's going through his grief. When we met, we had such great chemistry and compatibility immediately, and it was really something special and unusual for him. It really was a very happy and seemingly solid relationship, until his mother died so suddenly. It's because things were so good that it's hard to understand how he could let it go so easily and now act like he just doesn't care about me at all.

    I know everyone grieves differently, but it seems to me that traumatic losses and thoughts of mortality typically make one appreciate their loved ones more deeply, upon realizing that life is short and we could lose them any day - and he has reached out to all kinds of people he normally hadn't been in contact with, including ex-girlfriends from ten years back and other friends he rarely speaks to. Except for me - he pushed me away so hard, it was like I had done something horribly wrong to him. For the last four months he has completely refused to answer any of my (quite restrained and infrequent) calls or emails even though I haven't pressed for any discussion about our relationship and have only shown compassion and caring for what he's been going through. It's awful - I feel like he died himself, except that I hear from mutual friends that outwardly, he seems to be doing fine and is acting normal, just like his old self. I don't know how he can be so friendly and kind to everyone else except me, who was dearest to him before. I can't really know how he feels though, since he isn't talking to me, and I understand that men often internalize their grief and keep it very private.

    On one hand I understand on one level what you say about how it's really about his inability to cope and nothing about me or something I did wrong. I had to seek therapy for the first time in my life to deal with this, and my therapist has told me emphatically that I have done nothing wrong (even though he took my actions the wrong way) and that I should not apologize for anything I did. But on the other hand, knowing that I didn't deserve this doesn't exactly make me feel better or accept it more easily, at least not yet.

    It's taking a really long time for me to get over this, probably because I still haven't lost hope and don't want to, even though I know that there's a chance he's been so changed by this event that he'll never come around. I still wake up at times in the middle of the night and have to remember and realize all over again that he isn't there. There was no reason why we shouldn't have been together, if this event hadn't disrupted the course of our relationship, so to me, though he said there wasn't a possibility of us getting back together, I find it hard to believe he'd really think that forever, as he has provided no explanation whatsoever and it just seems irrational to me.

    Danny77 and kuteknish, I've gone back and looked at many of your past posts, and it's eerie how many similarities our stories share. I suppose that though it seems so hard for us to understand why this happened, it's not a completely rare sort of reaction to the death of a parent. Time is needed for them to heal, but in the meantime, it's such a difficult place for us to be in because we just want to be close to our loved ones and support them during these dark days and they won't let us.

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    How long were you together? That may play a factor?

    I agree - this is not out of the ordinary. The only thing I would have done different perhaps would be to really give him space. In some cases, the kind weekly emails or trying to help him with his mother's stuff would be too much for someone because they would be regularly reminded that you are sitting there waiting for an answer. I probably would have told him to contact you when he is ready to talk and then disappear. I normally don't advocate that for breakups = to allow the other person to have the power of when to call,but in this case, you don't know how much space he needs. Once my ex broke up with me not because I was the problem but because his family was going through stuff and he couldn't handle one more person or couldn't worry about maintaining a relationship because he would feel bad if he didn't call, take me on dates, etc.

    I really think that maybe something hit home when it came time for you to step inside the home his mother lived in, etc. To him, it might have been something he needed to do to grieve on his own. I know when I had to do the hard thing of moving after a divorce which is not death of course, I got emotionally, snappy and mean to people who were saying "oh, you don't need this" "can i have this?" or "let me throw this away." i was OKAY with people initially offering but once they got there, I couldn't handle it.

    I think you did all you could, and I would just give him a mile of space. Either move on, or let him contact you next.

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    abitbroken, we were together for 8 months. I know that is not a really long time, but we got close quickly and spent most of our time together, talked every day and had lots of plans for the future we were looking forward to. Things were still going great and he was clearly still very much in love with me when his mother passed away. He did say that maybe we just haven't been together long enough - that maybe things would have been different if his mother had died years later. I know grief can be very personal and that's likely why he couldn't share it with me, but I don't think it should take years of being together to be able to just be there for somebody you care deeply about. I don't know why he had to push me away so much, when he let his friends be there for him and was reaching out to other people he'd known longer but was not close to.

    I didn't contact him weekly - it was about once every 3-4 weeks, sometimes as long as 6 weeks without trying to contact him. I read that when someone is grieving, they often don't have the energy to respond, but that the thought is appreciated. And that some feel angry if their friends stop trying to reach out to them even when they don't respond, because they feel like they don't care. All of my messages were very short and just letting him know of my support. I thought this was the right thing to do, but it was so hard to know what to say or do.

    I feel like there were so many things I never got to say to him, since I backed off and never got to express anything about how I felt. I felt like I couldn't even express my condolences fully because I didn't want to upset him by saying anything too emotional. I did send flowers for his mother, but the card only lets you include about 3 lines which is probably inadequate. I don't know. I've tried writing letters to him and have many long, rambling drafts but I don't know if it will ever be the right time to send him anything. I worry that by not contacting him at all, he will eventually forget about me entirely.

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    Yes it is normal.

    I broke up with my boyfriend about 1 month after my mother died.

    I probably should've broken up with him well before that but I needed his support throughout the time my mother was dying.

    But I have heard it's pretty normal even without that circumstance.

    In addition, in my case, it was hard to forget my mother saying "you can do better than him", which I've later realised i should've ignored more because nothing and no one was ever really good enough for her.

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    Oh, and I think you should send that letter Miri! If you get no response you move on... and at least then you've got all those feelings and thoughts out, he's read it etc. I would advise that you say you'd really appreciate any kind of response even if it's just an acknowledgment that he's read it.

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    I wasn't able to send him my thoughts in a letter...there was just too much I wanted to say and it was too emotional. I doubt he would have wanted to read about how much his behavior hurt me and how bewildering amd irrational it seemed to me, because I'm sure from his point of view he doesn't see it that way at all.

    Tonight I will finally see him for the first time in nearly six months. It's been a little over six months since his mother died. It is only to get my belongings from his apartment. This is the only time in months that he's bothered to really respond to contact from me, and that is deeply saddening. The things there will remind me so much of our times together and how much he used to care about me. He used to be so affectionate and thoughtful. It used to be so easy to talk to him about anything, and we shared our lives. Now he treats me like a stranger who was never part of his life. I was there for him and supported him when he needed me during those first ten days after her death, but now he won't even treat me with any of the kindness he would show a friend.

    Friends say he seems to be doing fine now and has been carrying on like his old self already. He has seemed to be in a much better mood lately from what I can tell from the tone of things he has been posting online. It just feels strange that he can be so normal and friendly to everyone else but still absolutely not normal when it comes to me. When this started, everyone said he was reacting this way because he needed to process his grief, but now it seems like he's done but still unable to talk to me. I wonder if he ever misses me at all, whether he remembers what we were like together before his mother died. We had a great relationship and we were happy together, but he just pushed me away.

    And now I will finally be able to see him in about 12 hours. I haven't been able to sleep. I don't know how I should behave or what I should say. I have received conflicting advice from various different sources about whether I should say anything to him at all. If anyone reading this thread here would like to chime in, I would appreciate it as I feel so lost.

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