Though you may have been close to your mother-in-law, the grief that you feel at her passing will be much less than that of your husband. He has lost one of the most important figures in his life, and the period of mourning is one of the most difficult transitions that he will ever face. Your husband must eventually move beyond his sorrow to find a way to honor and memorialize his mother's life. You can help him during this period by offering your compassion and steady support.
Compassion for your husband will include giving him space while also letting him know that you are there to offer support. According to the "HelpGuide" article "Supporting a Grieving Person," there is no right or wrong way to mourn. Your husband may experience extreme emotions such as sadness, anger and guilt. His grief may last a short time or persist for several years. He may want to talk or may prefer to keep silent. Continue to be there for him, regardless of how he processes grief -- and even if on the outside he appears to show no signs of grief.
Don't minimize his loss by saying things like, "She is in a better place" or "I know how you feel." He may need to tell you the same stories over and over again, to process the loss, according to the "HelpGuide" article. Ask him if he would like to talk, and make sure he knows that you are there to listen at all hours. Your constant supportive presence is what he needs the most right now.
Find Outside Support
While your husband is entrenched in his own grief, you may find yourself without support for your household or your own emotional health. You may be taking on all of the duties at home while he grieves -- and operating temporarily as a single parent if you have children. Keep both of you strong by reaching out to family and friends who are not at the center of the mourning process, says psychotherapist Gayle Peterson in the article "Ask Dr. Gayle: Shut Out of Husband's Grief Over His Dad's Death." Getting help for yourself will mean that you are better able to support your husband through his loss.
Watch for warning signs that your husband's grief has evolved into something more -- such as clinical depression. Difficulty with daily functioning, feelings of hopelessness and talk of suicide are some signs that a loved one may be struggling with emotions that go beyond the normal grieving process, according to the "Helpguide" article. If you are worried about how to broach this sensitive subject with your husband, consider framing it in terms of your own feelings. For example, HelpGuide suggests that you could say something like, "I am troubled by the fact that you aren’t sleeping -- perhaps you should look into getting help."
Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.
Barbara Penoyar/Photodisc/Getty Images