DEAR KRISTIN: My brother Paul passed away about a year ago. He was my best friend, my closest confidant, my hero. Whether it’s fair or unfair, I’ve held every guy I’ve ever dated to the same standards as I held my brother -- a pretty high bar.
I’ve been dating a guy I really like (who has been very supportive and comforting to me as I grieve Paul’s death, by the way), but these days, every time I look at him, I am reminded of Paul, which ends up making me either very, very sad, or very, very mad. He’s a wonderful guy, but his presence only seems to make me miss my brother more intensely. So now, I’m not only grieving, but I’m resentful, too -- a caustic combination. Any words of wisdom? GREIVING AND CONFUSED
DEAR CONFUSED: First, my deepest condolences. Losing a sibling is painful; it’s like losing a part of yourself. Give your grief the respect it deserves, Beloved. Stand in its midst and face it head-on ... but don’t let your grief get too greedy. Don’t let it distort your perspective or confuse your thinking.
Your boyfriend is not your brother, and your brother was not your boyfriend. Give each of these loved ones the respect they deserve as well -- which means loving them enough to let them exist independently of each other. Don’t meld them into one. Love your partner and love the memory of your brother with the intensity and fullness they each deserve.
Here’s the thing to remember about grief: Grief is love. Grief is born out of love; it exists because of love. So even as your heart is hurting, let this “grief is love” concept shower you with comfort. No, it is not a magical elixir that will make your sadness instantly disappear -- but it does create a connective thread between you and the person you have lost. You hurt so much because you loved so much. Let this love lead you through the darkness of grief.
You should also see a professional. A grief counselor can help you develop methods and strategies for coping with your loss. We sometimes tend to put our mental health on the back burner when we’re in the midst of grief, but this is a mistake. Since we’re on the topic of love, you must love yourself enough to get the help you need to sort through these difficult times.
And try to cut your boyfriend some slack. You say he’s trying to lift some of the burden of grief from your shoulders, but by constantly comparing him to your brother, you’re only adding to this burden he is trying to remove. Don’t do that. Don’t give your grief that much power.
So open your heart to the concept that grief and love help define each other; they are bound together. But just because they are bound together doesn’t mean they must become tangled into a painful knot. Through purposeful thinking and professional counseling, you can untangle this knot. This is where you hold the control.
And cut your boyfriend some slack.