‘My ex-boyfriend died and I’m struggling with my grief’

Ask Roe: The loss of your ex is not the loss of your future, or your chance for love and romance

‘You’re not just mourning a friend, but unresolved feelings and the loss of a dream.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘You’re not just mourning a friend, but unresolved feelings and the loss of a dream.’ Photograph: Getty Images

 

Dear Roe,

Early in the year I found out that an ex-boyfriend passed away suddenly. It was a big shock, nobody saw it coming and it’s been really hard to deal with, especially since we were still in contact and friends. I also somehow always thought we would meet again and make things work out. It’s hard to meet friends because of the pandemic and family aren’t very supportive – they think I should just move on since we broke up years ago, but I can’t, I feel stuck. How am I supposed to move through this grief? With nobody wanting to understand he was a huge part of what my future was, and is now gone?

I’m so deeply sorry for your loss. Your letter perfectly captures the layers of grief that you are currently working through – not only has a friend and ex-boyfriend suddenly died, which is tragic and painful, but this is also someone you still saw as a potentially life-shaping part of your future. You’re not just mourning a friend, but unresolved feelings and the loss of a dream of a beautifully imagined future. That is layered and complex and difficult, and I’m sorry that you haven’t found the support you deserve.

It would be worth telling your friends and family clearly that you are struggling with this, and that even if they don’t fully understand your feelings, you still need their support. Grieving an ex is a complex experience for many people, and can be affected by either our own or others’ sense that you don’t “deserve” your grief. But the end of a relationship is not necessarily the end of feelings, and all grief is legitimate.

I would also recommend a therapist – you have experienced a sudden, devastating loss and deserve a space to work through that with someone committed to understanding and supporting you.

Pandemic

One other powerful line in your letter stands out to me, which is “It’s hard to meet friends because of the pandemic”. I’ve written about how isolating and lonely so many people have felt over the past year, and how the absence of dating, new relationships, and new friendships can make us feel very hopeless, as we struggle to connect and to see what our future could be. It seems that this year in particular, it would have been natural to keep mentally and emotionally thinking about your ex and contemplating getting back together, because there are so few opportunities for new connections.

New connections

But the loss of your ex is not the loss of your future, or your chance for love and romance. And none of this is forever – your acute sense of grief, this pandemic or your loneliness. It will ease, and you will find new connections and a renewed sense of hope for the future. For now, try to honour your ex by thinking about what this experience has taught you – that life is precious and all too short, that so many types of relationships are meaningful and unforgettable, even if they don’t last forever, and that we need to reach out to people and embrace love wherever we can. Feel your grief, but don’t let it shut down your hope. As Mary Oliver wrote, “it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world”.