Husband lost best friend and employee
by Deb Sims, MS,RNCS,LCSW
My husband just lost his best friend (who was also his service manager for the past 10 years at his business), suddenly in a motorcycle accident. They were very close and were like brothers for the past 15 years.
It was very quick and, of course, unexpected. My husband is totally devastated. I knew this man also and was very hurt by his passing, but he was much closer to my husband. My husband was also hurt by the fact that he didn't really get to say "Good-bye." Don's organs were donated, and by the time we got to the hospital, they had already moved his body to another hospital for the purpose of harvesting his organs. They did, however, in the week previous to his death, have a conversation in which they both expressed their love for each other. (My husband had been very ill and Don told him to take care of himself because he loved him like a brother; my husband told him the same in return) I told my husband that I was happy that they had at least expressed their feelings for each other, as so many people don't ever say the words that they feel in their hearts.
Now, the situation is that not only has he lost his best friend, his stress level at work has doubled because Don's death also meant the loss of a very valued and needed employee. My husband is trying to take up the slack, but is in constant turmoil between his emotions and trying to keep the business together.
My question is: How can I help him? He has pushed me away, is very nasty to me, won't speak to me, and in general, a terror to live with. I have done my best to try to ignore his rude comments to me, and have done everything I can to make sure nothing goes wrong at home, so that his stress isn't compounded. He is acting horribly to me and our daughters. I realize that he is in a great deal of pain, but I can't handle how he has been treating us....it's awful.
How can I help him deal with his grief, yet at the same time, let him know that his behavior towards us is intolerable? I have tried to tell him how much I love him and that I will try to help him as much as I can, but I can't if he keeps pushing me away. He is cold and angry to me. Last night, for the first time in many years, he slept on the sofa. There had been no provocation on my part except that I had to take my daughter to a meeting at school and brought fast food home for dinner instead of making dinner as I usually do. This sent him into a tailspin, when it normally would not have been a big deal.
Can you give me any suggestions as to how I can act, or what I can do? I am at such a loss. Not only has Don's death affected his own family, but it is wrecking ours too.
Any suggestions you could give me would be so appreciated. This is the first time anyone close to me, or anyone that I even knew, has passed away. ( I'm in my 40's). It's been two weeks since Don's death; so it hasn't been very long, and I would love to be able to help my husband through this terrible period in his life, but would also like him not to destroy us in the meantime.
Thank you so much for your time.
Your letter was passed on to me to respond. You're speaking of the very essence of the difference between men and women. I'm so sorry for both of you, and I'll do my best to try to explain the distance between you at this time when you would hope you could both pull together.
When women are hurting, their natural tendency is to talk about the pain. They don't necessarily want someone to fix things, but rather the process of talking to someone who can listen compassionately and understand is the fixing. We don't need answers; we need someone who will listen to allow us to talk. When men are hurting, they withdraw for a while until they can deal with things again. If you try to make them talk or call attention to their pain by urging them to talk before they are ready, they'll bite your head off.
If you've read John Gray's book: "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," he explains it well when he talks about men needing to go into their cave. I think the rest of the analogy is: "and if you follow them, the dragon will get you." This is a very delicate situation. It brings up first the loss you both are suffering. Second, and unspoken, is the fear death causes in us. We begin to think of our own mortality. What if someone even closer to us dies? For your husband, he's lost a friend, "brother," valued employee and he's obviously not ready to replace him yet. To do so would seem like a betrayal. And most important he's pushed you away, leaving him with no one to talk to and with you feeling helpless and rejected.
This is probably the point at which you are saying to yourself, "I wish a man could deal with things more like a woman." But the reality is they can't. The good news is it has only been two weeks. He's still in the very acute stages of grief. If you look at some of the other sites here at Death and Dying Grief Support, you will find articles on the stages of grief. That's a good place for you to start. It will help prepare you for what you and he will be going through. Knowing what's normal and what isn't can help you relax somewhat. You'll be assured that he will get beyond this at some point in the future. Also, it will help to understand that it is normal for men to withdraw. You don't need to walk on egg shells, but he will go through a time of pulling back from you. And, unfortunately, men also can't always express or sometimes even identify their feelings, so anything they feel comes out as anger.
If it goes on too much longer, you might want to encourage him to talk with someone. Usually, they will resist at first, but many times they can say to a pastor or a counselor what they can't express initially to their spouse: their own vulnerability and fear. So you can say to him, "I know you can't talk to me right now but I need you to talk to someone."
See if you can't get him talking to a neutral person. Then he can express his anger at this loss to someone rather than acting it out towards you. If he won't go, then maybe you should, because you may need to talk to someone for support while he's working this through.
Pam, you've brought up a very important issue: not only the issue of how to grieve and work through feelings of loss, but that we each do it differently, at a different pace and, most critical, men and women don't do it the same way.
I hope this is a helpful starting point for you. And I hope I've given a little insight into the fact that his behavior fits a male's style of coping. It doesn't mean he doesn't love you or need you--in fact quite the opposite. But he can't do the processing and grieving the way we as women would. He may need to talk with another male first or at least with someone he's not afraid of losing.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to this very painful situation for the two of you.
Debbie Sims is a Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist in Adult Psychiatric Nursing, has a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She maintains a private practice in counseling but her devotion is to her position as Editor for Beyond Indigo an Internet web site for those who are grieving.