I used to always wonder about people who marked occasions like that, or who were sad about various anniversaries." Why would they do that?" I wondered. Well, surprise to me: I didn't go looking for the dates; the dates came looking for me. And depending on the amount of time that has passed, those calendar notations can either cut you to your knees or give you the happy memories.
I think I have passed the breaking point where I lean more toward The Happy. I have decided to devote this post to what people can do to help those who are mourning a loved one. Some examples are my own; some were gleaned from my time with fellow pilgrims in our journey through grief class.
When a loved one dies food, cards and good wishes pour into your life. I think the occasion of the funeral brings you together with a group similar to the one you've last seem at your wedding. Except it is not the time of cake cutting and bouquet tossing. Seriously: you have the family, friends from high school, friends from college, friends from past jobs, friends from present jobs, friends from groups and churches you've attended...you get the picture. It is a room full of people who have populated all eras of your life and their attention is laser-beamed on you. It is comforting, but deceptive. They have to go back to their own lives very quickly. (As they should). You have to live with the reality mostly alone. (As you eventually discover you should.)
So, what were the things most helpful in the long and winding road of grief?
- Friends who still bring up D in conversation. I think people don't want to make me sad, so they do not mention him. It makes me very happy (even though it may make my eyes leak a little) to know that he is still remembered.
- People who mark their calendars to remember the anniversaries with me. My fellow teachers made sure I had a wonderful night out on my first birthday alone, the parents in my classroom gave me beautiful flowers on Valentine's Day and on what would have been D's and my wedding anniversary, and on the one year anniversary of D's death I got about 10 cards acknowledging him, me, and the past year. I loved that, and was touched that July 13th was deemed important by friends.
- In the early days, don't say, "Call me if you need something." That would involve having enough brain power to find the phone, your phone number and identifying the need through a fog of grief. Just go do what you know must be needed. I had people checking to see if my outside pipes were covered at the first freeze, offers to cut the lawn until I could find a lawn service, leaves raked while I was away and a case of bottled water left on the front porch. Those may seem small or even trivial. They helped me feel like I was not alone in this world.
- One of my friends was going to be alone on the first Thanksgiving after losing her husband. Her neighbor (who would be out of town) brought over a soft, fluffy robe for her. "I want you to wrap yourself up in this robe today and remember that there are people who want to wrap you in love. Every 30 minutes on Thanksgiving, I want you to reach in the pocket and pull out one piece of folded paper and read it out loud." The papers contained encouraging thoughts--all 48 of them.
- Ask a grieving person to go anywhere you are going, no matter how piddling it may seem to you. I had a friend say she was passing by on her way to Barnes: would I like to go? (YES!) Another friend ended a meal out together by hesitantly telling me she had to go check on a house out in the country and would I like to ride along? (YES x 2!) We may not have much to say, but there is no journey with company that is not appreciated. Especially when you compare it to staying at home in an empty house.
- Ask, ask and keep asking. Mood swings are swift and continual. I may not want to go somewhere with you today or tomorrow, but the next day a field trip with a friend may be just the ticket. Just because your grieving friend turns you down 99 times, that 100th time may be the magic number.
- My friends and I often write emails with the subject line: Mundane Musings. We share just mundane moments from the week and find it fascinating reading. There is no factoid too small to share by email, snailmail or Facebook that a grieving friend will not welcome as a touch from the outside world.
- I loved magazines that were passed along, devotional books that were purchased for me and helpful articles sent through the mail. The common denominator here? Short. Brief reading for a brief attention span.
And to my real life and bloggy friends: Thank you just for the continuity of your friendship and contact. You kept me tethered to a world that seemed to be spinning out of control at times. Life is manageable now, and I hope to find more and more joy in this journey.