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Very sensitive subject about reactions to death of dp/dh

(27 Posts)
helcarmar Tue 20-Sep-11 14:11:46

This is a sensitive subject so I don't want to post this in aibu because I don't want a bunfight. Nor am I going to put this in bereavement out of sensitivity to others. A close friend has lost her dh of about 30 years. We are close but not to the point where I can (and in this case I most definitely would not) ask her really personal stuff. We're supportive of each other, but both are a bit reserved.
Anyway, since her dh has died (about 3 months ago) her mood has changed and she seems happier. It feels so taboo to say this, but it does seem that way to me. I keep thinking that she will 'break' down or something but it's not happening. I don't want her to break down, don't get me wrong, but isn't it inevitable somewhere along the way? Aren't we all supposed to be devastated?
We both help each other, but it's kind of understood that she keeps certain things to herself and I don't wish to ask her as it is none of my business.
But I am curious as to her reaction all the same. I'm not judging her for her reaction, I'm not saying that she should feel a certain way. I'm just thinking: 'It's not supposed to be like this'. But this is not same as passing judgement IYSWIM.
So, with the relative anonymity of the web, what is to made of this? Is it normal to sometimes feel relieved at death of spouse? He had cancer but of the type that was fast-growing. Few weeks from diagnosis to death.
As I say, please, no bunfighting over this; I just want opinions.

birdofparadise Tue 20-Sep-11 14:15:07

I suspect everyone reacts differently. I also suspect that she is hiding how she really feels.......I am glad you are supporting her.

notevenamousie Tue 20-Sep-11 14:15:26

Relief is very, very common. She will have been shouldering more before her DH died than she is now. there may have been issues also in their relationship that were a weight on her shoulders that she is no longer carrying.
That said, she might be in denial. She might fall apart in a month, a year, 10 years, but denial can't be hastened.
You don't sound judgemental at all. Grief hasn't got rules, and she doesn't sound all that unusual though.

TLD2 Tue 20-Sep-11 14:15:27

Grief and bereavement affect everyone differently. If her DH was in a lot of pain she may be focussed on feeling relieved that he is no longer suffereing and thinking that he is now "in a better place". It could be that every nice thing she does for herself makes her feel good, especially as her DH would probably want her to be happy.

I know people who were criticised by family for not acting a certain way. They were actually closer to the deceased than the others and kept their true feelings hidden. Rather than do the "look how sad I am" thing.

Punkatheart Tue 20-Sep-11 14:17:59

No - it's a valid question. My mother was the same for a while; my father had been very ill and as a result, extremely difficult.

When my father died I did not cry because my family were barely coping. I made jokes and kept everyone going. I have one awful sister who literally poked me and said 'Why aren't you crying?'

The thing is, to a lot of people, grief is a personal and private thing. Not all of us wail in public. You also have no idea if the relationship was troubled or if he was suffering so much that she was relieved.

Grief has many varied and complicated stages - so whatever gets her through is normal to her. How do you know she has not broken down?

So as I said - it's a valid question, but a complex answer. Please don't expect a show.

exexpat Tue 20-Sep-11 14:18:29

Maybe there was something going on (DV or whatever) that means she was relieved. Maybe she is on extremely effective anti-depressants. Maybe she is just very, very good at covering up her feelings and putting a brave face on it but spends her nights crying into her pillow. No one can know, and no, I don't think you should ask. But be there to talk if she shows any signs of wanting to.

FWIW, my DH died five years ago; we had been together nearly 20 years, were very happy together, his death was very sudden, and I was devastated. But - I have always been a fairly cheerful person, and apart from the early zombie-state, I have managed to keep going and appear cheerful, at least in public. Not necessarily always in private. I haven't "broken down" at all. People grieve in different ways.

ParceQueJeLeVauxBien Tue 20-Sep-11 14:18:33

To this day I haven't 'broken down' over the death of my mother, nor have I felt the devastation I am clearly 'supposed' to. (She died over 7 years ago)

This has always puzzled me, as we were very, very close.

Ultimately I have had to accept that this is the way it is, the way I am - for now.

There is no one way to grieve. Everyone is different.

Just continue to be there for her, and don't judge her by your own expectations. I get that you're trying not to, but it does sound like you are.

Anniegetyourgun Tue 20-Sep-11 14:18:39

Or, their relationship wasn't as happy as she led people to think and now she's quite glad to be single. Doesn't necessarily mean he was horrible but there may have been friction, incompatibility etc. Like they say, you never know what goes on behind closed doors.

LB1982 Tue 20-Sep-11 14:18:46

I lost my Dad when I was very young. I remember my mum's reaction very well. She utterly fell apart at home with us but on the outside to her friends she was a pillar of strength. People would never have known she'd lost her husband.

She showed her true colours to me, my brother and my nan and grandad (her parents) and believe me, did she grieve! She still is now 18 years on.

What I'm saying is, she might be gaining the support she needs from her family - or she might just be ok and dealing with it very well.

Also, my dad's death was very sudden. If it was slower (cancer), I think it would have been a little easier. You prepare yourself and there is a sense of relief when they are nolonger in pain and they don't have to suffer anymore.

PhilipJFry Tue 20-Sep-11 14:22:11

It could be so very many things. It may not have sunk in yet, even after months, as someone else has said.

Also when she is alone she may behave very differently to how she is around friends and others. When I've grieved in the past (admittedly not in such a situation such as this) I've had times when I was hysterical during night then woken up in the morning and felt fine.

She may also feel a new lease of life after what has happened. His death may have changed her perspective on the world around her and how she views herself, and she may be focused on enjoying life.

midnightexpress Tue 20-Sep-11 14:24:23

I think it's impossible to know what goes on in other people's relationships. Maybe he'd been ill (though undiagnosed) and his behaviour had changed in recent years? Maybe she's just grieving in her own way and will 'break down' at some point? Maybe she's very 'stiff upper lip' about it all? Maybe she didn't actually like him very much for some reason? Maybe she's ranting and raving to other people, perhaps her family, but not to her friends.

Everyone deals with these things differently, depending on their relationship and their own upbringing and character, so i don't think you should 'expect' her to behave in a certain way.

helcarmar Tue 20-Sep-11 14:34:59

Thank you all for your responses. It could be because of a number of things as people have said here. All of them seem valid to me. now I think about it. There is no 'standard' way of being after death of a loved one it seems. All I can do is be there should she need to talk. Thanks again.

If she knew he had a terminal illness then sometimes the grieving process starts before the person has died so she may have moved through some of the desolation, anger etc before he died. Everyone is different and there is no one way to react.

CroissantNeuf Tue 20-Sep-11 14:52:12

Some people are amazingly good at 'putting on a brave face' or coming across as strong but you never quite know what they are feeling inside or whether they just break down in tears at the end of the day.

I've just been told by a mum at school that her husband has just been diagnosed with cancer and may only have weeks left. I was in total shock but also in awe of how she is able to tell people this without breaking down herself. She said she's trying to be strong in front of the children as much as she can and for her DH.
Obviously, inside her heart must be breaking sad

izzywhizzyletsgetbusy Tue 20-Sep-11 14:55:37

Aren't we all supposed to be devastated? The days of widows weeds and protracted ostentatious mourning are long gone.

It is entirely normal to sometimes feel relieved at death of spouse just as it is entirely normal to be immersed in grief to the exclusion of everything and everyone else.

In short, everyone reacts differently to the death of a spouse/partner and every reaction is 'normal'.

Your friend may be utterly distraught but putting on a brave face when out and about, or in the company of others. Or she may have a strong faith that sustains her belief that death is not the end but the beginning.

It's equally possible that she is still in shock from her dh's diagnosis and relatively speedy demise but, whatever she may be feeling, it is not inevitable that she will 'break down' at any time.

The fact is that whatever you're told here or elsewhere, only your friend knows how she feels and if you want to know what she's feeling, you should ask her.

IMO you should question what has led you to write your post because thinking 'It's not supposed to be like this' is, effectively, passing judgement on your friend and, by default, on other bereaved spouses/partners.

helcarmar Tue 20-Sep-11 15:08:56

I'm sorry you see it that way, izzywhizzyletsgetbusy, I deliberately framed my post as best as I could as to not give offence to anybody.
I've stressed that I am not passing judgement on how she feels. Some others around her are, sadly. Complaining that she is not going to church so often (my friend is of the Catholic faith). I don't know about the validity of this as I am not religious myself and other snipes at how 'happy' she seems.

I'm not saying she should feel anything, by 'It's not supposed to be like this' I meant it's not how society seems to tell us things should be, that is all.

MangoMonster Tue 20-Sep-11 15:11:48

Maybe she's relieved that he's not in pain anymore, must has been a very intense time leading to his passing.

Punkatheart Tue 20-Sep-11 15:56:19

...that is why I am no longer a Catholic. I cannot believe that people judge a widow for not going to church so often. Awful.

SirSugar Tue 20-Sep-11 18:06:34

I used to be known on this board as Merrywidow. I namechanged to a while ago for something to reflect my status as I have moved on; I'm in charge.

My H passed away early last year under similar circumstances to your friends, sudden severe illness, cancer diagnosis to death in just under three weeks.

I never hid the fact that I was relieved, as my H was abusive, scary and controlling; yet felt sad for him as he was a deeply unhappy man who projected his fears and discontent to all those around him - it seemed such an unnecessary way to live. I had been freed by a twist of fate.

I did cry a bit, but not much and my heart went out to the DCs.

Within weeks of his passing people were actually commenting on how well I looked. The stress of the relationship was gone.

SirSugar Tue 20-Sep-11 18:09:27

Just to add, looking back now the first few months after he died I remember little about, it all passed in a bit of a blur.

GetAwayFromHerYouBitch Tue 20-Sep-11 18:25:51

My grandmother blossomed after my GF died, even though she loved him deeply, and missed him. I don't know the ins and outs, but basically she was, I think, dominated by him.

LeQueen Tue 20-Sep-11 18:26:05

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

GingerLa Tue 20-Sep-11 18:44:13


Im training at the mo to be a bereavement counsellor and imo your reaction to her mood is quite normal, but so it her mood itself. Its clear everyone handles things in vastly different ways and there could be a number of reasons she appears to be 'happier' (although that could be a portrayal itself) Firstly 3 months is not long so the perminancy of the situation may not be clear to her yet nor may the reality. Im sure she will be feeling some relief or peace that the pain of her dh is no longer ongoing and may be taking comfort in that. There even may be a pinch of denial as the process happened so fast. Although there are rough tasks in grief it is so different for each person that the reason she appears 'happier' could be due to many different things. Yet ones thing for sure her perception of her support network is very important in the difficult times ahead, so the best you can do is carry on taking the lead from her and just be there!

helcarmar Tue 20-Sep-11 18:56:11

Yes, I'm just going to be there for her; I don't know why she seems happier. She's not I don't think going to reveal why (again, I'm not going to push the issue) so all I can do is to be there for her.
Good advice given here, I think. Thanks.

myfriendflicka Tue 20-Sep-11 20:35:43

At first you run on adrenalin, it's a bit like Bugs Bunny running off the edge of the cliff and he keeps going and doesn't realise there is no ground any more...And, as someone else said, there is a part of you that is relieved not to be dealing with that suffering.

Reality, that your partner/husband has gone for ever, takes a while to hit. I can only speak for myself, but I found the second year much harder than the first, you realise that this is it now.

As you may have gathered, it's a long, long process. You don't get over it, you learn to live with it. And you so need your friends, and you so love and appreciate them for being there for you.

I think you are great for caring about her and asking about her state of mind on here. Even if she isn't always able to show it, she will really value your friendship.

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