The man I was seeing died suddenly last week. I found out through an urgent call from a good friend in the minutes after I landed overseas for a monthlong vacation. I’m grieving in a beautiful country, where I feel so far from the people who knew him. Thankfully, I am with good friends, who are giving me space, but I feel guilty that I wasn’t there to help pack up his apartment or take part in memorials with our mutual friends, and guiltier that I am bringing down this trip for everyone. We had only been dating for two months, but it was intense, and we had known each other for a few years as friends and colleagues in our grad program. He helped me through treatments of a major illness. He was supposed to come join on this vacation.
Now I don’t know whether to come back early for the funeral, or if that would be overstepping. I’ve talked to his mom and we’ve stayed in contact, but she didn’t know me before. I am drowning my grief in bad ways, drinking and smoking more than I would like. I am trying to devote myself to more productive things, drawing him and working on a video compilation of his work for his family, but they are making me feel almost worse, since they aren’t very good yet. I feel like my talent has left and all I have is empty effort. I want to reach out to friends, and I have to a few and to family, but I don’t have the words right now for social media, and most people either don’t know what’s happened or don’t know that we were dating. The posts I see about him mostly make me sad or angry, with people I know he wasn’t close to, especially an ex-girlfriend, milking his sudden death for attention. I don’t want to be this way, and I don’t want to make his passing about me. I’ve just stopped looking at Facebook and Instagram. I want to reach out, but I don’t know how to find the words to memorialize him. I’ve been waiting until I had a drawing that I could share, but I don’t know how long it will take to finish one that’s actually good. If I have to make the choice, do you think I should cut my trip short and go home to the funeral? Do you have resources for dealing with grief?
Ortberg's wise response says in part:
Fly home, call on your friends for support, attend his funeral, and don’t rush the project you’re working on or beat yourself up for not making something perfect. This is a huge, devastating, sudden shock, and you should be as kind to yourself as possible, and reach out as much as you can.