Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend’s Mom Committed Suicide”

My boyfriend’s mom committed suicide a couple of days ago, most likely from stress from her divorce, financial issues, and selling of their house. Right now he has the support of his immediate and extended family. I’ve been blessed with zero death experience, so I’m not sure how this would affect him as a person, me as a person, and our relationship. I’m definitely going to be next to him all the way, but is there anything I should expect that will come out of this? I’d like to be prepared so that I can take everything head-on without doubt. We’re both in high school, and we’ve dated for about a year and a half. Please don’t tell me that I have to break up with him because I shouldn’t have to experience this during high school; I’m going to stick with him all the way. — Worried

Losing a loved one at any age is difficult, but losing someone — a mother, no less — at such a young age and to something as tragic and senseless as suicide is almost unbearable. I’m so sorry for you and your boyfriend and no, I absolutely would not advise you to break up with him right now. Yes, what you’re going through is a lot for a high-schooler — or anyone — to deal with; no, it’s not fair and you don’t deserve it. But your boyfriend needs you more than ever right now and you can be there for him even if you don’t quite understand what he’s going through, or what exactly you should say, or how you should act, or what the future holds for you both. The thing is, you know him — you knew him when things were normal and his world didn’t seem to be falling apart, and having that in his life right now is more important than you can imagine. It will give him some sense of stability when so much is unstable.

I wish I could tell you everything you need to know to be fully “prepared,” but the truth is this is something you simply can’t prepare for. Even people two or three times your age with lots more life experience can’t prepare for grief. Maybe there’s some comfort in knowing you aren’t alone in your confusion. In fact, there are quite a few suicide survivor support groups you could contact to get some help in being supportive to your boyfriend (just do a simple Google search to find one online or in your area). I found this great website with a lot of helpful information for helping a survivor heal. I especially like the advice to “listen with your heart,” “be compassionate,” and “respect the need to grieve.”

Suicide is a unique kind of grief, so even if you’d experienced the loss of a loved one before, chances are you wouldn’t quite understand the way losing someone to suicide is different. Your boyfriend may need time to himself to process his emotions. He may (probably will) have lots of anger and confusion. He may “act out.” It’s important for you to not take any of this personally … but at the same time, while you want to be a good friend/girlfriend to him, you can’t forget to take care of yourself either. Remember that you are only part of his support system right now, so don’t feel the need to take the responsibility of emotionally caring for him all on yourself. Reach out to your own family and friends when you need support. You’ll have to lean on them more now since your boyfriend won’t be emotionally available to you in the same way he’s been in the past. I’d even suggest talking to a school guidance counselor or another adult you trust for added support in helping you grieve and process what’s happened.

It’s great that you want to stick with your boyfriend “all the way.” I hope, no matter what happens in your relationship, you’ll continue to at least be a friend to him. But if you ever do get to a point where your feelings for him have changed — for whatever reason — don’t ever let any guilt you might have keep you from doing what’s best for you. I say this simply because relationships change — especially between people your age — and that’s OK. Your feelings are allowed to change. So, go be a good friend, but tuck that bit of info away somewhere in case you need to be reminded of it some day. I bet a lot of people will be rooting for you after reading this.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]