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My boyfriend's father died of brain cancer!

by Paul V. Johnson

Dear Paul,

I am writing to you because I have no idea what to do. My boyfriend's father died of Brain Cancer. He was sick for about five months and was a very nice man. He was diagnosed a week after we started dating. Since his father's death, my boyfriend has been very indifferent towards me. It's almost like I'm bothering him. I don't want to say anything to him because I am sure that his indifference is not about something that I'm doing. It's not me; rather, I think he is not able to handle his father's death.

He tells me that he doesn't need to talk about it because he deals with it "in his head." I don't think that's working! I want to be there for him, but it's so hard because when he is in a bad mood I take it personally and feel that it's something that I did!!

I'm so afraid that we are going to break up because he needs his space to deal with this death. I don't want to lose him because he is the love of my life! I don't know what to do for him or how to handle it myself. Can you give me some suggestions? Thank you for your time.

Dear Inquirer:

I'm very sorry to learn about the death of your boyfriend's father but glad to know that you want to help him in any way that you can. You may not necessarily like what I am going to suggest, but I think it will be in the best interest of everyone involved. If you really want to help your boyfriend, I think you will be willing to follow my suggestions.

First of all, your boyfriend's response is fairly typical of young males who have experienced a significant loss. What he needs now more than anything else is some space and knowledge that when he is ready to talk with you, you will be there for him. But to force him to talk with you at this point will do more harm than good. Read the popular book by John Gray: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, in which he talks about the need for men to "go into their cave" when they are faced with something like this. When your boyfriend is ready to talk, he will need you there to listen.

Now here's the part you may not like. What is more important to you: your boyfriend's dealing with this major loss in a healthy way, or your not breaking up with him? He has had a much longer history and depth of relationship with his Dad than he has had with you, so it is natural for him to focus his attention now on those memories.

My advice to you is that you simply be patient and remember that any distance in your relationship is not caused by you but by the fact that he is grieving his Dad's death. If you can be patient and work with him through this significant loss, you will find that your relationship will be much stronger because of it.

Best wishes,

Paul


Paul V. Johnson, MA, is a consultant and trainer for business, industry, and educational institutions on issues related to loss and grief. He was formerly an Associate Professor of Sociology at Bethel College(MN) and Director of Aftercare Services for the Bradshaw Funeral Homes in the Twin Cities area. He has made presentations at the national conferences of major professional caregiving associations and is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.