Unfortunately, one of the things we don’t do well as a society is support those who grieve. This is not because we don’t want to but because we don’t know what to do. So I thought I’d share just a few of best things people did for me when my husband died. Hopefully, they will help us all do this better.
Yes. Another list.
- A few days after the wake and after the kids had gone a friend came to my house and took me out for overpriced coffee. I hadn’t been out of the house socially in I don’t know for how long. I didn’t realize being in the house had become my default until she told me that “No, we’re not staying here. We are going out!” I didn’t know I needed to get out but she did.
- Due to the busyness that sometimes takes over our lives I had lost contact with a friend from university whose son in the years that followed had been a big brother to my daughter. She came to the wake and being a CPA she told me she was going to help me sort out the financial pieces. The thinking part of my brain was gone. And the financial things I would have to address were of such little interest to me that having a brilliant CPA say she was going to guide me through this process created a calmness around a task I was too overwhelmed to even acknowledge.
- Only two friends invited me to their homes for dinner. The first, the same busy executive from above, made salad and baked the chicken prepped by a local business catering to those with little time to spend in the kitchen. She apologized several times because it wasn’t a home cooked meal. Since I was eating so poorly and always alone in my home, I was so grateful to eat something healthy, her good company and to be in her comfortable home. The fact she felt bad that someone else had prepped the chicken almost made me giddy. She was giving me such a gift by being with me when I was still hurting so badly, it was funny that this was what bothered her. Not even on my radar.
- The second friend who invited me for dinner in her home had adopted a mostly vegetarian diet and she loved cooking these delicious, energizing meals. In her enthusiasm to cook up something that would taste good and make me feel better she’d forgotten I’m allergic to peanuts and peas. The meal she prepared had both. She was mortified. All I could do was laugh when I realized that not only could I not eat the meal she’d spent so much time preparing but here really was an example of being killed by kindness. Cheese, crackers, salad and wine filled our stomachs. But, it was the company and the hilarity of the situation that lightened my being that night.
- One afternoon a food basket from a local gourmet shop arrived at my door. Each item chosen by my friend specifically for me. As I nibbled and sampled the many items I was reminded of how much pleasure I used to get from good food. When you are grieving remembering to eat can be a challenge. Did I forget to eat from time to time in the months that followed? Absolutely. But, I now had a memory that I could call on to re-start from during those times when I’d stumble and temporarily forget.
- When my mind couldn’t focus I was lucky to be able to follow a conversation for 15-20 minutes. Doing so for half an hour was not possible. When I had to meet my new financial advisor a friend who is financially savvy drove in from out of town, shared a coffee shop sandwich with me before the meeting and not only sat by my side during the meeting but was engaging and asked clever questions. I did my best to follow along but as we neared the 30 minute mark I knew my brain wasn’t taking anything in. Afterwards, because he could see my brain was overwhelmed, he gave me a quick summary and said he’d call later to go over it all.
- I must have been a mess. Ok, I know I was a mess. One of the ways I know this is that I freaked out my friends. I know this because they checked in on me regularly. If they caught me at a low point they would check in daily and when I wasn’t falling to pieces, weekly. It takes courage and compassion to reach out to someone who you pretty much know is going to be in a bad place and to do it over and over again. It was these friends who carried me when getting through the day was something that happened to me; something I took no active role in.
- One friend came and disassembled the bed we’d moved to the living room and reassembled it in what was now my bedroom. Ugh. A neighbour sent his son to mow my lawn for weeks. Another friend would text to see if I was home and if I was would show up with a tea for me. In just keeping me company for half an hour he created a space of quiet and normalcy among the chaos.
- A high school buddy and his wife kept on inviting me to their home for dinner parties. The idea of being with new people was so daunting, especially when I still felt so raw and weepy. After I had declined a couple of their invitations citing I wasn’t up to it we had “the talk”. The talk where I had to explain that I really wanted to come but I just didn’t have the strength yet. “Please keep on inviting me” I told him. “I will make it.” They did and a few years after my husband died I made it. And now we eat together more regularly and new people are always welcome.
Though this is a fairly short list I know it’s a good one. In a nutshell it all comes down to one thing. In whatever way you can, be there. Being reminded that you are not alone is the best thing. And, as number 9 suggests, stay there: it’s going take as long as it’s going to take. Thanks to all who came and stayed.