When my dad died last year, it was hard on me, of course, but also on my boyfriend. I was 24, he was 28, and the call came just a few weeks shy of our one-year anniversary. Suddenly he found himself sitting next to me in the front row of the church and meeting my extended family. We'd scheduled a vacation for the next month, so he was going to be stuck with a crying, grieving girlfriend for nine days. A Father's Death, A Boyfriend's Proposal
He handled it with sensitivity and maturity, and the experience has brought us even closer. I've had boyfriends in the past who weren't the consoling kind ("I've never heard of Shy-Drager Syndrome—how bad could that be? Are you sure your dad has that?"), so I considered myself lucky to have a boyfriend who could watch me break down in tears and hold me sympathetically without making inappropriate comments or breaking down himself.
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In a cruel twist of fate, I got a taste of the other side when his mother was diagnosed with cancer less than a year after I lost my dad. Being the shoulder is a lot harder than he made it look. There's not much you can say that will make things better, though you're tempted to try.
Both of us experienced anticipatory grief (me knowing my dad would never dance at my wedding or hold his grandchildren, him wondering when and how his mother might go). But we expressed these sentiments differently. I needed to talk or cry at inopportune moments. He approached it from a more practical, scientific perspective. According to Roberta Temes, a psychotherapist who specializes in grief counseling and the author of Solace: Finding Your way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again, this gender difference is pretty typical. Actress Blythe Danner on Love and Loss