Monday, April 20, 2009

how to help

I often have people asking me what they can do for someone in their life who has experienced the sudden loss of a spouse. While I am FAR from being an expert and I do not know what others would find helpful during such a scary and difficult time, I can tell you what I found helpful and not-so-helpful in the inital stages of grief. Maybe it will help someone else, I don't know, but I figure I'll just put it out there and hope it does something positive for someone.

  • Unless you are someone who would regularly call this person at least once a week, don't call right away. Wait until things settle down, the survivor isn't so confused and lost and there is not so much going on. I found that after three months, not many people phoned anymore. I could barely remember the initial few weeks and who I had talked to. I was so lonely, I would have loved to know that someone out there was thinking of us and would lend an ear to me and spare the poor souls whom I had been leaning on for the first while.

  • When you do talk to this person, no matter who you are, no matter how close you are, DO NOT ask for the details surrounding the death. Let them tell you IF they feel they want to. They are already reliving it constantly and having to go over it again is pure torture. You are NOT the first one to ask, you won't be the last. Instead, be the one who is the solace. Where they don't have to talk about the details right now. Where they are safe for a moment from that least vocally.

  • Don't ask them what they need done. They probably don't know. Look around. Tidy the kitchen. Put a sign up on the door saying "Please phone before stopping by. At times, we are not capable of accepting visitors. Thank you for understanding." Take the kids to play in the park. Walk the dog. Make out of town family a snack. Run phone interference. Mow the lawn.

  • If you do feel that you need to extend contact, send a letter, a card or drop off a care package without expecting anyone to answer the door.

  • Please refrain from saying to a widow/er that you understand what this loss is like because you just lost your father/uncle/grandfather/friend. I am sure these losses are extremely painful as well. I am sure that often this is the only frame of reference that you have for empathizing the loss and pain that this person is feeling. But it doesn't help them. It hurts. And it isn't completely the same. I hope I am not hurting anyone's feelings saying that. But with the loss of a husband comes the loss not only of friendship, love, and their presence, but also, the loss of intimacy, security, companionship, 'the team', memories as a couple and a family and the hopes and dreams of parenthood that you shared. It is terrifying to lose your 'other half'. The person with whom you shared an indentity as a couple. The person who knew you better than even your closest friends and still loved you no matter what you did. The person who witnessed the birth of your children, loved them just as much as you do and was able to hug/snuggle/console them when you weren't able to.

  • Don't forget their husband/wife. Do call on the anniversary of their death. It helps to know that others are missing them to and that you are not alone in your grief. It is a comfort to know that you are not the only 'keeper of memories' for your children. That others have stories about this missing person to share with your little ones as they get older. To know that someone else is missing your husband/wife as well makes this loss a little less lonely.

  • Do not start to measure how close you were to the person who died. There seems to be a notariety that goes along with death. It helps no one to hear that so-and-so was at the funeral but had had a falling out with them previously. Or that you were the last one to talk to them before they died. Or that you received the first call from the widow. It is not a pissing contest. It's the loss of a life.

Soon after Jeff died, a widow whom I don't know sent a couple of things to me through a friend. One of them was a poem that I stuck on my bedroom mirror and would look at in my first days as a widow and long for the understanding that this poem represented:

Don't tell me that you understand.

Don't tell me that you know.

Don't tell me that I will survive.

How I will surely grow.

Don't come at me with answers that can only come from me.

Don't tell me how my grief will pass,

that I will soon be free.

Accept me in my ups and downs.

I need someone to share.

Just hold my hand and let me cry

And say, "My friend, I care."

I did and do have people who are fabulous in helping us get through this. Without them, I don't know where I would be. And without you out there in the blogosphere, I don't know where I'd be as well. All of the kindness and support that you have all shown me and the kids has been truly awe inspiring. Thank you so much. I hope that this post will help others and not offend anyone because I am completely aware that a widow's pain is not exclusive and that others bear terror and pain as well. I am not measuring the pain of loss just trying to say what may help others in this situation.


Desha said...

I can't tell you how helpful this is, Jackie. When you know someone that has experienced such an incredible loss, it is hard to know what to do or say. I want to be there, but I don't want to interfere. I appreciate the suggestions and the advice.

corinnecooper said...

Thank you for writing this. So often when people loose someone dear to them it is hard to know what to do. I now have a little more insight because you shared your experience with us readers. Oh, I was SO happy to see that you booked the trip to San Diego for the Widow's Conference. I hope it will bring you some comfort & great connections with others who are going through a similar experince.

AndreaRenee said...

This is excellent advice!! And you're in for San Diego?! That's awesome- I really hope to meet you!

Jill said...

I keep saying the same thing to you every couple of months or so:


The way you share what you're going through is just the right combination of method and message.

I'm so glad that I follow your blog.

Hawkfeather said...

I can't speak for anyone but me- and sometimes even that seems a strecth-
But I know for myself..there has never been a greater felt loss for words than when addressing someone facing a crushing loss.

At times all i can think is *i hope at least the intention gets through* because the words feel so empty in comparison to the emotion i imagine is involved.

I do know since reading here and elsewhere I have seen some things that even I have to remind myself to remember the intention-

I am grateful Jackie- that in the midst of your suffering you seem so very compassionate for those of us out *here* sending out our care who may flail somewhat in the face of immeasurable hurt.

Poppy and Mei said...

Brilliant & informative list.
Thanks Jackie, it's a great help...XXxx