To the friends of the Brave

To the friends of the BraveI recently saw an article online about a young woman who ended her own life just a few short weeks after her husband was murdered.  It completely took my breath away.  I was crying in a way I haven’t cried in a while.  The truth is, while I don’t know exactly what was in her heart at that moment, I have felt that desperation.  It isn’t something I can explain to someone who hasn’t been through the tragedy of losing the love of their life.  I know what got me through those dark moments, but I don’t know entirely what made the difference between my choices and hers.

I usually hate to say that my son saved my life, as it has multiple implications that trouble me deeply, but in the end it is the truth.  It troubles me because it implies that he is the only reason I am here, and I know that others who have been widowed without children have a purpose and reason for living after the tragedy of their loss.  They matter regardless of their parental status.  It troubles me because it implies that my son is responsible for my happiness, for my life, and that is a burden he should never feel.  He brings me joy, every single day, but it isn’t his job.

A few months ago I spoke with a very brave woman who asked me how to help a new widow – one of her dear friends.  What could she do?  What could she say?  How could she navigate her own grief over the sudden loss of a dear friend while easing her friend’s pain in some way?  I am forever humbled by the amazing support I received during the early days of my widowhood.  I don’t know how we met and developed such wonderful relationships with our friends and family, but many of the conversations I had with them helped me keep going.  In a way, they saved my life as well.  So what did they do?  How did they help?

First, I should mention that I found that many newly widowed people seemed to struggle with the concept that their loved ones did not understand what they were going through.  For me, I realized early on that no one could fully understand that loss unless they had been through it, and I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone I cared about.  I didn’t want them to understand fully.  I just needed them to be sincere, kind, and show up.  If you find yourself here, reading this because you love someone who is newly widowed, you should know that they are grieving for so much more than their spouse.  They are grieving their former self, their future, their past.  The person who was supposed to hold their hand and comfort them in their darkest moments is gone when they need them most.  They are grieving the future they had planned together.  They may be grieving not only their husband, but their children’s father or perhaps children they will never have.  We miss so much more than just who they were individually.  We miss all the little intimate moments we shared with them as husband and wife.  Unfortunately, this fact cannot be altered.  You cannot fix the situation.

As a widowed parent, I feel as though my soul exists in a constant state of contradiction.  I told a friend a while back that one day it was just as sunny as can be, but it was raining anyway and that my life now often felt like that.  It still does.  For every moment that I find joy, there is sadness that he isn’t here to share in it.  I don’t want to be here for another fifty years without my husband, but I want to spend fifty years watching our son grow up.  I’m 29, which is young, but a widow which feels so old.  I crave solitude but so often feel lonely.  I don’t want to know much about his accident, but many of the things I will never know haunt me daily.  I feel so lucky to have shared 10 beautiful years with my husband, and yet angry because it will never be enough.  My son has my whole heart, but it will always be a shattered, glued-together, sadder version of its former, naively, romantic self.  Sometimes it still seems like I may just split apart because I constantly feel like I am emotionally and mentally living on opposite ends of a spectrum.

To the friends of the Brave | Houston Moms Blog

I am so grateful to my loved ones for carrying me through to where I am today.  Some of the things that I valued the most during that time came from many different people.  I was often amazed by the people who helped me the most, and surprised by those that added to the hurt.  I know there are people who helped me in ways I may not even know or remember, but here are some of the things that I do remember giving me hope, comfort, and love during that time.

Just show up.  I will always value the interactions I had with my friends and family who understood that they couldn’t “fix” what happened.  The ones who showed up and said, “This sucks, but I am here to sit with you.”  I didn’t have to muster up the energy to convince them that I was going to be okay or that things would get better.  I didn’t have to pretend like losing my husband was something I was going to get over eventually.  They just came, and sat with me.  They let me cry if I needed to.  We shared tears, silence, memories, pain, and love.

Help without asking how.  I still have anxiety when people ask me what they can do for me or if there is anything we need.  I definitely appreciated the gesture when people asked me to let them know if they could help in any way, but when it is beyond difficult to get out of bed and you don’t care about eating, breathing, showering, etc., it is even more difficult to make a list of ways that people can help you.  Instead, I found it even more comforting when my loved ones simply came over and helped any way they saw fit.  I don’t know how long it took me to clean my own house, or take out my own trash, or go to the grocery store — and that is something I will always be grateful for.  Instead of asking what you can do, try asking, “Can I bring you lunch?” or “I am going to the store. Do you need more coffee, tea, etc?” or “I am going to start a load of laundry; is there anything you want me to leave out or add?”  One thing to keep in mind here is that if you are going to do something their spouse usually handled, or wash/put away something of their spouses, it may be best to check with them first or let it wait if it can.

Allow them their grief.  Follow their cues and let them grieve in their own way even if you may not understand.  Unless they are harming themselves or others, their grief is just that.  Their grief.  Everyone processes loss differently.  I did not move many of my husband’s belongings for a very long time, but I know that many people go through and sort everything right away.  For me early widowhood was a time {and still is} where I often felt judged.  As mommas, many of us struggle with the judgement of others, and widowhood is very similar.  We feel judged on so many factors: how much we cry in public, if we still wear our ring, if and when we choose to date again, how we raise our children, what we do with our house or their belongings.  Only the grieving can know for sure if and when something feels right.

Just be kind.  If you aren’t sure what to say, just say, “I am so sorry,” or, “I am thinking about you, and I love you.”  I still struggle with what to do or say for others who are grieving.  We naturally want to find the right words to fix things, and those words simply do not exist.  In the end, I think saying something is better than disappearing because you were too scared you would say the “wrong” thing.  I tried to find the underlying meaning in what people were saying to me.  While my faith may be shaky compared to some, I viewed the phrase, “I’ll pray for you” to mean what they intended.  Prayer brings so many people comfort, and in that moment, that is what they were offering.  Although, I will say that it is a good idea to avoid saying anything that begins with the phrase “at least.” I can promise you that whatever follows those words will very rarely be a comforting statement to someone grieving.

Hug like you mean it.  Somehow even though I come from a family that doesn’t exactly love to hug all the time, I do.  Every day I would come home and give my husband a big, huge, real hug.  It is something I miss dearly.  I am so glad that my son has reached the stage where his little arms finally hug me back.  I have some amazing friends and family, the kind that give you a real hug that means something, where they squeeze so tight you almost can’t breathe.  While some of my loved ones may not hug anyone and everyone, when they hug you, they mean it.  When you go from being hugged, kissed, touched on the small of your back, or snuggling under the covers to nothing at all instantly, it can be immeasurably hard.  Of course no one can replace the intimacy you had with your spouse, but a great hug can do wonders.

Bring them their favorite snacks.  While many people want to help by bringing meals, it is often overlooked at just how difficult eating can be early on.  During this time it can be difficult to remember to eat, and often by the time I prepared or cooked a meal, I was no longer hungry.  Think snacks like protein bars, almonds, grapes, crackers, cheese, juice, tea, bagels, etc.  Many of these items can be kept for a while without spoiling and don’t need to be prepared.  They are also good snacks when you can only bear to eat a small amount at a time.

Lastly, if you find yourself here, reading my words because you have lost the person you love most in the world, I am so sorry.  I wish none of us had to be here, where life seems so unfair and bittersweet.  But, your life matters.  You are still loved.  You are still valued.  You have so much more to give.  Please, please keep breathing and taking it one moment at a time.  It will get easier.  You deserve to find happiness, joy, love, and life again.

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One Response to To the friends of the Brave

  1. Avatar
    Eugenie Anderson June 30, 2016 at 8:42 pm #

    Thank you, Laura, for sharing yourself and your thoughts with all your readers and although we have never met, I want you to know widow-to-widow, how well you have expressed many of my same feelings, too Although you are very young..and..I was much older when I loss my husband…it doesn’t change how we experience life going forward. Sometimes baby steps, sometimes a day at a time …but always moving torward to a new normal.
    Again, thank you for giving a voice to widows.
    Sincerely,
    Eugenie

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