Even though I have a new life, I still need support. And I'm writing this because I'm sure there are people you will encounter during this holiday season that need much more. Death is part of our life cycle, but that doesn't make it easier to cope with. We cannot slide our fears and sadness under the mat, wrap up our expectations as we do our gifts, and expect that "keeping busy" is the answer. I cannot say this enough: You will not help someone in grief this holiday season by assuming it's too hard to talk about or it will just make them desolate.
The greatest respect you can give is acknowledgement. Here are some examples of what to say:
1) "You've been on my heart lately, as I know any kind of anniversary - including holidays - bring up memories that can be really hard. If it sounds helpful to talk about any memories or listen to one of mine about your spouse/child/sibling/friend/parent, come find me."
Listening to someone else's memory of my husband is one of the greatest gifts I receive. It reveals that you know me, that for a few minutes I can concentrate on a happier story instead of how much I miss him, and that it's okay to be where I am.
2) "I don't know what to say, but I want you know that I wish s/he were here too."
Believe it or not, saying "I don't know" is one of the best things to do. Everyone's journey is so unique, and by comparing theirs to yours - especially when the roles are so different - you unintentionally become an unsafe person.
3) "Want to take a break and go for a short walk?"
Most people are grateful to take a few breaks during long days with family, co-workers or friends. We get lost in our thoughts and overwhelmed by needing to be social, even if we want to be there. It is so nice when someone provides an "out" for a little while.
4) "I know that I haven't said anything before (or in a long time). I didn't know him/her, but I'm really glad that I know you and that you're here. I can see you're in pain today. If there's anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable or welcome, please know I want to."
I've never heard this, but I've dreamed about hearing it.
In a culture that is uncomfortable with prolonged sadness, what validation it is to hear "I see you. And grief takes as long as it takes!" That is the message you send by acknowledging people.
I want to end on this note: Recently, I participated in a "Beyond Active Grieving" forum on the Young Widow Bulletin Board. The topic surrounded the risks inherent to remarriage; specifically, how it can't be worth them. I felt the need to respond and share why I decided to take the leap; I've pasted my entry at the bottom of this page, if you're interested. However, what I'd like to add now for emphasis on this current blog post is: If you're also one of the people who've moved forward, the messages above still apply no matter how long it's been. Saying "I do" again does not mean we've started over. It is okay NOT to be okay sometimes.
Post from ywbb.org:
"After five years, I decided to risk it (marriage) again. These are my reflections.
- I also wondered if I could ever love anyone as much as I did before. I felt very broken and fragmented as I moved forward. However, when I finally met someone who also knew deep loss, the desire to connect and share my life re-awakened. A big part of being willing to engage again is finding someone who can understand. He saw me not as a broken woman, but a woman who had lived life and understood the hardships that tested people to their core. Who found their core. He saw a real person who didn’t pretend that everything was perfect, but rather was real and cared about real issues – not makeup, or waist-size, or shopping. He saw the strength and capacity of my heart, because of how deeply I loved. And he knew, so he tells me, that I was a woman who would live with my priorities in the right places.
- I believe fear is to be fought and accepted. I tend to lose it and feel like all my progress disappears every time I hear about a motor vehicle crash and fatality. I'm still scared that my best friend, parents, or new husband is going to die and I'll barely survive again. But at the end of the day, I know that I want to fight against feeling this fear because I have such little control over things like the weather, other people’s choices, and freak accidents. There is no guarantee of safety for anyone. Because of what happened six years ago, it's inevitable that I'm going to endure recurring nightmares and PTSD triggers in my present reality. However, I've learned that it doesn’t have to stop me from living or being the person I want to be. It stops me from pretending to be someone I’m not.
- I loved being married so much. I have come to believe that saying yes again honors my first husband because it continues the life we cherished. Instead of existing in fear, doubt and bitterness ... I'm nurturing another, sharing what I've learned, and living fully as the woman my first husband loved. He'll never be replaced, as that's not what remarriage is about.
- Here is what I have found about Reality:
(1) People need people.
(2) Our hearts can expand to love another person.
(3) Sensitive people will never ask us to replace a loved one.
(4) Loving again does not diminish past love."