So often, after a loss, our relationship with our significant others–spouse, partner, boy- or girlfriend–gets left in the dust. Intimacy can suffer. It can be hard to even look the other person in the face sometimes, for a variety of reasons from feeling like a failure to feeling like perhaps they are a failure. Or perhaps you’re grieving differently: one of you is falling apart and the other is stoic, seeming unfeeling and cold to the partner who is actively grieving.
When I saw Lincoln this winter, I saw it with my husband, on a whim. It was a night that we didn’t have the kids and we just decided to go check out the theatre where we knew Transforming Loss was going to have its premiere. It’s a theatre that recently reopened with a brand new remodel and nice touches like REAL butter on your popcorn and a bar–yes to a movie with a cocktail!
If you haven’t seen the movie and are unfamiliar with the history of the Lincolns, Mary Todd Lincoln suffered child loss not once, but three times. She lost a son at 4, at 12, and at 18. These losses hit her hard and the one that is directly referred to the most in the film is the loss of the 12-year-old, Willie. He actually died in the White House while Lincoln was still in office. To get to the point, there is a scene in Lincoln where Mary and Abraham are arguing and the subject of Willie’s death comes up again. She pointedly accuses him of not grieving, and he points out, quite angrily, that he couldn’t fall apart because she was.
I wish that I could remember the exact dialogue. What I do remember is sitting there and my throat catching. I started to cry, because I knew that although I had never expressed those sentiments to my husband, I definitely had that thought more than once. And expressed it to people more than once. “I’m concerned because I feel like he’s not grieving. But he says he’s fine.”
What I ultimately learned is that my husband was staying strong so that I could fall apart. Just like Lincoln did.
It’s important for us to remember our partners and allow them to grieve in their own way. We can’t expect them to grieve like us exactly. No two people grieve alike, so I don’t know why we ever think that our partners should feel exactly as we do. But we do.
So how do our partners have to do with our self-care? Allow them to take care of us and to grieve in their own way. If we feel like they’re not grieving, realize that we’re probably wrong. There’s a good chance if it’s hitting us hard, they’re steeling themselves to be our support. There’s a good chance if we’re on the verge of falling apart, they’re saving their reserves to be prepared to catch us when we fall.
By the same token, we need to be sensitive enough to recognize when we need to pick them up or support them. To recognize when they may need more help than we can give.
Ultimately, it all comes down to being there for each other. A loss is one of the most difficult challenges a relationship can face, and the best thing that we can do is to be there for one another.