My wife has multiple sclerosis. Fortunately, hers is of the relapsing-remitting variety, which is one of the milder (in the long term) ones, and her treatment is doing wonders for her; she's only had two relapses in the last 7+ years, and she's doing great most of the time (her only persistent symptoms are slight weakness in the legs and moderate loss of sensitivity in several body parts).

A semi-distant family member of mine (mum's cousin's daughter or something like that) had a much more aggressive version of the disease and just passed away from it. She was about the same age as my wife, but she was confined to a wheelchair, needed help to do most things, had trouble speaking and looked unhappy in general.

My wife and she were not best friends forever, but they were on friendly terms and my wife always asks my other family members how my mum's cousin's daughter is doing when she visits my family (which she's planning to do in a couple of months; my family lives in a different country as us).

I want my wife to hear the news from me because she's going to hear it from someone else eventually and I don't want to have kept a secret from her (we don't keep secrets from each other). At the same time, I can imagine it must be pretty difficult to hear that someone (and not just some random person in a different part of the world, but someone you knew) just passed away from something you have too. I don't want to upset my wife (stress can help set relapses off, and my wife is also prone to anxiety attacks; no matter how benign her version of multiple sclerosis is or how much her medication is helping, stress is terrible for her).

How do I go about telling her this?

1 Answer 1

  1. Start with a very short opening. You don't want to just walk in and say, "so .... died today". Open by saying there is some sad news in the family.
  2. Keep it short. After your opening, just say what needs to be said, that your relative has died.
  3. Let her respond. Let your wife react, and take your cue from her reaction. If she indicates she wants support, give her support. Most likely she will express her sympathies, maybe some of her fears, but not much more.
  4. Be prepared to either listen or leave. Your wife might want to talk, and she might prefer to just get the news and be left alone. Either way, you should probably only be briefly responding to what she says, and not trying to console her her calm her or address her unspoken fears. If she wants to share her feelings, listen. If not, gently end the conversation, give a her few words of faith, and be busy with something else.
  5. Ask her about her feelings a little later. As you recognized in your question this news can be very distressing for your wife. Asking her for her feelings immediately is just adding stress, and would be pretty insensitive. Not asking at all would be worse. Give her some time alone, and then gently ask, completely open-ended, if she wants to share her feelings or discuss your relative's passing. Be supportive.
  • Thanks, @simyou. I’ll try that.
    – Rain
    Dec 30, 2018 at 20:01
  • 3
    I did that. She didn’t take it too hard, though she did mention it was difficult to hear that and think that she has the same thing. We talked briefly and then watched some sports, which I think took her mind off things; I asked her how she felt afterwards and she said she was fine. Thanks a lot for the advice. :)
    – Rain
    Dec 31, 2018 at 5:03
  • Thanks for letting us know how it went, @rain. Glad I could help. Wishing both of you well.
    – simyou
    Dec 31, 2018 at 10:13
  • 3
    She brought it up again today. She told me the news had upset her because she has the same disease, and I comforted her briefly, pointing out the differences in disease severity and treatment efficacy. I think it helped. Thanks again for your help! :)
    – Rain
    Dec 31, 2018 at 22:45

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