A few months ago, I lost a close friend after a hard-fought battle with cancer. We knew she was sick, but it didn’t take away any of the shock and pain. As my close-knit group of friends gathered in our hometown in New Jersey, many of our partners came with us. Reflecting on these deeply difficult days, I see how each of our needs varied and how our partners were able to respond to us in unique ways. Personally, I have never been more grateful to my partner (who I have been with for close to a decade) for how he was able to show up for me during this time.
This week we will commemorate Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Many tragedies are said to have occurred on this day in history, including the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. In modern times, it is a communal day of mourning that includes fasting and prayer, and we can recognize this holy day as a reminder of the reality of life. Tragedy will knock on our door, likely many times.
For those of us with partners at our side, one can only hope that they are there to support us through dark days. As I continue to reflect on the tragic loss I just experienced, I’ve written a few thoughts for those who will go through periods of mourning or grief alongside our partner:
- Everyone needs something different. Consider a person’s love language as an initial indicator of what they might need (i.e. supportive hugs vs. comforting words), but also recognize that in these moments of sorrow, they might need something different. Find out by saying: “How can I show up for you right now?”; “What do you need from me?”; “I’m here for anything you need”; “How are you right now?”. Answers to questions like “How are you right now?” may be difficult to hear but encourage your partner to be truly honest with you.
- Don't have expectations. Most of us learn about the stages of grief, but we don’t learn that these stages are not linear. Someone may have gone through the angry stage once but that doesn’t mean the anger won’t return. Be prepared for these ups and downs.
- Be careful about comparing. Avoid comparing situations (like “when I lost my grandma, this is what I did… you should do it, too”) or subtle shaming (like “you need to get out of the house and go have some fun!”), You may be coming from a place of love and wanting them to feel better but let them go through their own process.
- Keep checking in, respectfully. Grief (and other life-altering events) affects you forever, so as a partner continue to check in even after things have returned to ‘normal’. When you check in, ask for boundaries they might need and respect those. Maybe you’re checking in too often for them, for example. Your partner should feel comfortable giving feedback and asking for what they need.
- Listen to your own needs. Grief isn’t mutually exclusive. Your life is intertwined with your partner so if they’re struggling you probably are, too. This is where open and honest communication is so key. As long as you both are respectful, kind, gentle, and communicative, you will find ways to support one another.
- If you think your partner is really struggling - deep depression, long-term change in diet or sleep, extreme anxiety, etc. - you can and should ask for help from family and/or community resources.
There are many people in our lives who we can lean on for support. I spent many hours with my friends where (purposefully or not), our partners weren’t there and we sat together ‘just the girls’. Some of us sought comfort from parents, siblings, and other friends. If we’re lucky enough, we have a lot of people in our lives who can offer genuine love and support, especially during times of need.
We hope these days of mourning are few and far between, but they are inevitable. As we enter Tisha B’Av, consider all the love and support in your life from your partner or others.
(Author: Jordyn Scorpio, Director of Community Education)