Psychiatry & Psychology--General/My fiance's father died?

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Okay, well... I'm 20, and my fiance Paul is 22. Him and I have been together for a little over 3 years, and he lives with my mom and I. My mom agreed to let him move in last year around this time because his father is a drunk and would verbally abuse him constantly and smack him around when he was drunk. One time he came over my house with a nasty black eye and marks all over him and my mom offered to let him move in because she knows he's a good kid. Honestly, we would move out but him and I are both full time students and cannot really swing it right now. He pays her rent, and he's really helpful around the house. He does all of the yard work for us, cleans up around the house and helps take care of our animals.

We actually just got engaged, because we were just in Disney World, and he proposed to me there. Well, we got home Tuesday night and my mom told me that there was a message for Paul on the answering machine but that she had just skipped past it when she heard it was for him. Well, his aunt called and told him that his father died that morning. Apparently he took a bunch of medication, downed a bunch of alcohol and died in his sleep. Paul was silent for the rest of the night. I hardly knew what to say to him except for "I'm sorry." He has hardly spoken since then and he just seems void of any emotion. When he got home from work yesterday afternoon, I asked him if he wanted to talk about it and he just said "No thanks, hun. It's fine." and went to take a shower. He seemed upset afterwards and I asked him again if he wanted to talk about it and he started cursing and shouting about how he just "wanted to forget the bastard, but he didn't have to die." He went on for a few minutes before calming down and he apologized for going off and gave me a kiss. I didn't expect him to go off like that because he's normally very quiet. Never talks more than he sees necessary and always has a very calm, even tone to his voice. I've never seen him get angry like that. I don't know what to do or say.

I don't even know how he's feeling, because I know he hated his father, and quite honestly, his father was a terrible person. But on the other hand, he was still his father. I don't know if he's sad or angry or a combination of both, or something else entirely. I don't even know how to approach the situation. I don't know if he's even planning on going to the funeral. I don't know what to do. I'm just really worried about him because he's hardly spoken. Last night he went up to bed really early, and I came up to lay with him. When I got upstairs, he was just laying in the dark looking at the ceiling, and when I laid down next to him, he turned over and put his arm around me. So I assume that means he wants me there? But I also don't know if he wants to be alone more, and whether I should be giving him more space. Can someone help me? I don't know what to do for him. I'm worried. What should I do?

Answer
Sara, you sound like a really good person that he is lucky to have. But there is little that anyone can do in such a situation. If something happened to your mom, what would you want him to do?

You don't know how he's feeling (other, of course, than being upset and sad) because he doesn't know either. Nor does he know what he'd like you to do.  

The main thing you can do is to "be there."  Secondly, to let him know that if he wants you to do anything specific of a practical nature (funeral arrangements, informing relatives, clearing out his possessions, insurance or government death benefits, bank accounts, telling his teachers that he is missing class because of the death of his father, whatever), to just tell you and you'll do your best. Just as you would look to him for help if you were grieving.

Third, if you think he might be feeling guilt over leaving, you can try to convince him that had he stayed, the end would have come sooner. Other than that, you just have to wait. Everyone grieves differently, and everyone takes a different amount of time to get back to normal.

I'm sorry it's such a difficult situation for everyone, but death is always harder on the survivors than on the deceased. I hope it will normalize in not too long and it all works out.


Alan  

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Alan Auerbach

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Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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