The other day one of my best friends lost a sibling. I called her to give my condolences and she told me how much she’s learned from reading my articles. She went on to say that she’s learned how important it is to be able to listen, and that was the gift that she was able to give to her brother in his last days.
I’ve talked on occasion about what not to say to those who have lost a spouse.Statements such as, “ I feel your pain. I felt the same way after my divorce, so I am like you.” Or ,”You’re so lucky to have had him, because my marriage was so horrible that sometimes I wished that my husband were dead.” Some of the things people have said to me I cannot even begin to tell you. Screech!
Who says such things ? Unfortunately many, many people who feel they’re showing empathy or just don’t know what else to say.I would suggest,that the less said the better to the bereaved,particularly after fresh loss.
On the flip-side,very early on after my husband’s death, there were also those who just knew the thing to do. Many of my men friends seemed to be acutely aware of my vulnerability and they treated me with tenderness and care.They wanted to do or say something that would bring comfort without leaving a scar.I already had a hole in my heart,and more punctures wouldn’t have helped.
Listening unceasingly is probably something most people cannot do.When someone loses a spouse,there is a tendency to want to just talk about “it” over and over and over again,especially in the beginning.Well meaning people tend to change the topic, or walk away when the topic turns to grief and loss.Ironically,my own husband was much like that, not wanting to dwell on the pain and suffering of others,but preferring to move on to topics of a lighter nature. Some are just not built to be vessels for the bereaved.I was lucky and found a few who were able to listen,and they did. These angels didn’t shy away from the many repetitious conversations I would have, nor did they avoid me and wait until I was “over everything”,hopefully in a few weeks,or at the most six months,according to their timelines.
Let’s face it, we live in a culture where people encourage grieving,but don’t always understand what that entails.People want to see their loved ones “get past” their grief and sadness and move on with their lives.I actually had someone ask me, after three months had passed, “are you still thinking about that?” I could go on about the inappropriate things that people say, and I have in my various writings, so I won’t do it here, not today.
Instead I want to share stories about those who really remembered me after my loss and made sure I was okay.I had decided to redo my apartment, this meant that I would be dealing with many workers, most of whom were men. I felt a bit insecure as I was afraid that I might be pressured to purchase goods or services I didn’t need or if there was a problem I might not have the courage to speak up. During that time,I managed, through the veil of grief, to muster up the strength to speak up for myself and be firm about my needs. As time progressed I gained confidence in my decision-making, and although I wished that my husband had been there to take care of all this “new business”, I soon found a new layer underneath the veneer of grief. A transformation was taking place within me. I needed to be able to be there for myself and this happened along with a new gained confidence which inspired the name of my book Brave…….as that is what I became as time went on.
My girlfriends were really a source of solace in my life and remain that way today.But I must also give praise to the male friends and relatives who stepped up in ways that really assisted in softening my feelings of loneliness and despair. They seemed to be keenly aware that I would be feeling vulnerable, anxious, and alone, so they made an effort to make sure that they checked in with me every now and then. I remember attending an event and one of my dear friend’s spouse came over to me,took my arm,led me to a reserved seat and said,” I will be your date for the evening.” So many of my male friends called to check up on me, listen to me, some even talking about their own losses,parents in particular.They took great care to let me know that I wouldn’t be abandoned and for whatever it was worth, I was not alone. It was as if Chuck had appeared to them in dreams saying, “Look out for my Yvonnie. Don’t let her fade away.”
Gary, Bob, John, George, Calvin,Warren, Leon,Louis (Dr. and Cousin),Clint… family and friends,so many men in my life – they did what they could to keep me on their radar.Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s and so on I could expect a greeting that always surprised me and warmed my soul.Even though I wouldn’t necessarily talk to them often, these periodic texts, and emails and an occasional lunch or dinner,all helped to buttress my foundation and strengthen me as I forged the dark path that lay ahead.
When someone goes through a loss,the best way to be there for them is to “be there” as needed. None of my friends have any idea how much their attentiveness and periodic thoughtfulness of their newly widowed friend meant to me. My brothers Emil and Anthony were there at the ready as was my son Karim. They watched over me and made sure that my needs were met.The men in my life just knew intuitively that they should step in, step up, in small ways, but in ways that comforted me.
I was inundated with flowers and thoughtful messages for a very long time after the funeral.However,after a while,seeing the most beautiful arrangements one could ever imagine,made me feel sad that Chuck was no longer here to share in the joy of their beauty with me.He loved flowers and brought me bouquets often.However,having my male friends checking in,helped me as I gained a new courage navigating the twists and turns of my lonely grief journey.
I would suggest that stepping up,being there,taking the time to check in,sending a holiday card or text,these are the best “gifts” friends can give to those who have experienced the loss of a spouse.Oh yes and being able to listen……a powerful gift as it’s about them…not you.
I am grateful for the individuals who looked out for me,never letting me fall.Unbeknownst to them,these small “gifts of contact” helped to brighten my journey along the way until one day,in the far and distant future, I felt renewed and whole again.
Purchase your guide to grief and recovery after the loss of a spouse : Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available at on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, LuLu Publishing and all other e-booksellers.Please feel free to write a review on Amazon.com.