“We’ve been together for 4 years, however, I’ve [27F] never met his [32M] ‘best friend’ Jon [35M]. They were the best of friends, but after a failed business venture a few years ago they had a falling out, and didn’t talk for a while. A couple years ago they started reconnecting and talking more, but because Jon is involved with a lot of shady dealings and organized crime, BF has kept him at arms length.
From BF’s dad, who rented his house to Jon, we found out he had cancer. For a while things seemed hopeful, but overall the prognosis wasn’t good. Bf visited and had lunch with him a couple of times, and BF would tell me how upsetting it was for him to see his progressive physical deterioration, and how it brought back memories of his late mother’s similar battle. BF even made plans with Jon to move with him to a hospital across the country where Jon would receive experimental treatments, so he could be there to take care of him. But his condition worsened, and that no longer became an option.
The last time BF saw Jon was at an all-out ‘Last Birthday’ party Jon threw for himself, at which point the doctors had given him two weeks to live after his kidneys failed. BF didn’t hear anything about Jon after that, and he confessed to me multiple times he was worried about him, how he wanted to talk to him, but didn’t know what to say or what they’d talk about with the terminal elephant in the room.
But a few days ago BF got a call from his dad. I was in and out of sleep on the couch, but I was fully awake at this time. He didn’t leave the room, so I listened to his half of the conversation. Apparently Jon had passed away. BF asked for a little detail, they reminisced a little, expressed some regrets, but conveyed that he seemed happy at the end. They talked a bit after that about other things, then hung up.
BF sat down afterwards, asked how my nap was, asked about my movie and other things and we went to bed. He hasn’t mentioned Jon at all in the couple days since. We went to go see a movie, where at the end, the character’s friend dies and he has to move on, and I noticed BF wiping away tears. Afterwards, he said he wished they hadn’t ended it so sadly, but didn’t relate it at all to Jon.
I can’t tell if he thinks I don’t know, doesn’t want to tell me, or assumes I read the writing on the wall. Either way, I don’t want to broach it at all, as it’s his grief, and I guess I feel he should deal with it in his own way rather than forcing his hand. But it confuses me, as he’s been so open about his feelings leading up to Jon’s death.
I want to help him through his grief, but at the same time, I don’t want to push him to open up if he isn’t ready, or doesn’t want to. I haven’t ever had to help someone through grief I wasn’t involved in as well, and I don’t know what to do besides be there physically, and just make sure he feels loved and supported. How do I handle this?”
I really feel for you, and the grief your boyfriend is currently experiencing. Losing a loved one, even a one where you’ve fallen a bit out with, is still a major loss.
One thing I’ve realized about the process of loss and grief in this past (very tumultuous) year is that different people experience loss and grieve very differently. When I very suddenly lost my father-in-law earlier this year, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my wife all experienced loss and grief in incredibly different and distinct ways. It could be very possible that your boyfriend could be experiencing the loss of his friend Jon in a very unique way.
You said you are confused about the sudden change in his behavior right up to the point of loss. So I will also mention this. A lot of men are conditioned to internalize and muscle through their pain and grief on their own without any external help, much to their own detriment. Displaying and sharing difficult emotions has not been a part of our mainstream masculinity subconscious. It doesn’t mean that these internally-focused men are not processing those feelings, but rather that it is very much shrouded behind the curtain of masculinity. So allow him to process and express his own grief in his own way. He might have felt comfortable expressing regret when Jon was still alive. But to come to terms with and accept Jon’s death might be a whole new level of vulnerability that your boyfriend has to unpack and resolve.
So as someone who has had to personally help someone process their own grief, I have three pieces of direct advice for you.
First is to be there for your partner when they need you in the ways they might not expect you to be. It could mean a nice shoulder rub after a long day, washing dishes after dinner, a cute note tucked in his lunch bag, or a night out to movies where they happen to synchronously talk about passing of a dear friend. You are already doing a great job here.
Second is to also look out for yourself. You are going to be undertaking a bit of emotional labor as your boyfriend continues to spend some of his emotional bandwidth on this process of loss. So support yourself so that you may support others.
The last piece of advice I have for you is to be patient. Like I mentioned, different folks process loss differently. Keep doing what you are doing and continue to cherish your boyfriend.
Again, I am really sorry you and your boyfriend are going through this. I wish you the best of luck.
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