During wedding ceremonies, couples say their vows and include the phrase, “for better or for worse,” to anticipate happy times together as husband and wife and also to know that difficult times ahead might exist. Supporting your husband while he is deeply grieving the death of his mother is a clear representation of the latter half of these vows. It isn't easy, but helpful for your husband -- and for you -- to help him in his grief.
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Listen to Him
This may seem like a very obvious step, however listening is extremely important in helping your husband through this grieving process. Listening also means less talking and more time actually concentrating on the words he is saying. Many people may have an ear to listen, family, friends, coworkers; however, since you are his wife, your support can actually have a more meaningful effect.
Allow Him the Right to Remain Silent
According to Bob Spall and Stephen Callis, authors of the book “Loss, Bereavement and Grief,” being truly present plays a more important role in bereavement support than what we say. Sometimes your husband may want to outwardly express his feelings, and sometimes he may just want to sit in silence. Sitting with him and allowing him to be completely silent not only physically shows your support, but also lets him know that you are accepting of the way he chooses to morn his mother, and aren’t expecting him to behave in any particular way. It can also increase his level of comfort in opening up to you about his feelings when chooses to.
There are two caveats with regards to your husbands right to remain silent. The first is if you have a clear indication that your husband may be internalizing grief from his mother’s death and therefore masking his emotions. In such a case, it may be helpful to gently encourage him to express his feelings. You can do this by asking him open-ended questions about his mother while she was living such as, “What do you miss most about her?” “Can you tell me more about the time you spent together?” These types of questions may help him remember his experiences with his mother and connect with those emotions in the present moment. If you choose to ask him questions consider asking more questions about the good memories he had with his mother opposed to asking questions focusing solely on her death. The second caveat is if your husband’s silence is a sign of a reactive depression. According to Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, sometimes this requires counseling with a trained therapist to learn how to manage the intense feelings of loss.
Keep the Memory Alive
The love you have for someone is not equally related to how long or deep you grieve for him or her. It may be helpful to facilitate an environment where your husband can be gently motivated to reflect upon other emotions besides grief and sorrow regarding the loss of his mother but happiness and gratitude for the time she lived. Finding a tangible way to keep his mothers memory alive can be helpful. For instance framing a photo, having one of her items displayed in the home, or even new memorabilia that symbolizes her in some positive way can be a tangible reminder that his mother will never be forgotten.
- Loss, Bereavement and Grief; Bob Spall, Stephen Callis
- Psychcentral.com:My Husband Has Shut Down After the Death of His Mother