I do not remember much from the days and months that followed my husband’s sudden death. That period feels like a blur, and it was a completely numbing experience. It felt heavy, like I was cemented down, and yet paradoxically also like I was floating – completely untethered and utterly disconnected from myself , almost like an out-of-body experience.
I still do not remember who came to the wake, or the funeral, except for small glimpses I could catch out of the corner of my eye here and there.
However, a few things did stay with me – the select few people who were really with me through it all. Honestly, I do not remember them doing anything miraculous for me, but rather being there for me. Just being there.
People reach out to me now to ask what they should do for a friend who just lost a spouse, or someone close to them. They are searching for a ‘to do’ – an action that will really help the other person. They are so sincere in their request to do something that will have a great impact.
My answer is always the same, and it is true for anyone who is dealing with the initial shock of loss: Just be with them. Do not give them advice, try to fix anything or make it better – you can’t. Just let them know you are there, and let them guide you, and listen.
Remind them to eat, to rest and to breathe – they are fragile although they may appear very strong at the moment; they are numb. Stay with them, but give them space to grieve and break down when they need to, and let them know it is safe and ok to do so.
Hold them. Let them cry. Give them space away from their children to do this.
Once the numbness starts to wear off, just know that they will not be themselves, and if they really trust you they will break down in front of you, and maybe even lash out. Do not take any of this personally, they are in pain, and none of it has to do with you.
Again just hold them, let them cry, give them space when needed and just be there.
Continue to include them and invite them to gatherings that they used to go to. Do not try to protect them from going out, or assume it is too hard for them. I was always shocked when people would ask me, “What are you doing here?” or “How are you even here today?” I know now that they just did not know how to handle my being there, and it was not about me, but those responses in that moment were overwhelming, and a smile and some assurance would have sufficed.
Know that they may not come to events in the beginning because they are not ready. Keep inviting them. They are not themselves at the moment, nor may they ever be the same, but they will be ready to reengage at some point. They do not know when that is, so just give them the space to opt back in when they are ready – do not decide this for them.
Do not tell them they are strong. That just adds more pressure to them having to hold it together in your presence. Let them be weak. Let them be real. Give them space to feel what they really feel, and the permission to just be with you.
Spot on as always. I hated the “your so strong” statement. I know people meant to be positive, and I didn’t judge anyone trying to be helpful, struggling for words to acknowledge the insanity of my loss. But you are so right. Feeling that I need to live up to the image of being strong put added pressure on me and probably diminished my ability to properly grieve.
Thanks for sharing Mary. I agree. When I allowed myself to let go of need to be strong, and allowed the help and support in, that is when I could really begin to heal. We all need permission to just be without any expectations. Unfortunately sometimes it takes loss or wake up call for us to realize this. Love to you.