This is an article I wrote for a recent Treasure Valley Hospice newsletter. Special thanks to the wonderful women of The W Club who contributed their thoughts on the topic.
Starting the moment your loved one breathes their last, a flurry of activity takes place. Family and friends are notified, funeral plans kick into high gear and you are surrounded by people 24/7. You are in shock, even if it was expected. You are surrounded in casseroles, flowers, stories and love.
And then the funeral happens. And then there is silence. The friends and family that were at your side disappear, returning to their own busy lives while you are left behind. This is normal, but painful. Even if you’ve been warned about it, it will be unexpected. Why do the people we need most disappear after the funeral? Some of them thrive on crisis, which is now over so they move on to the next adrenaline filled tragedy. Others have been strong for you and now need to deal with their own grief and pain, and will try to hide it from you to protect you. Others find your pain too much to bear because they love you so much and don’t know what to do, so they turn away. In fear of saying the wrong thing they say nothing. Silence.
Regardless of the reason, their disappearing act doesn’t reflect on you. It doesn’t lower your worth, or mean they love you any less. We live in a grief phobic society. We aren’t taught how to handle these situations. Our friends and family are desperate to help us, but usually don’t know how. Most people feel useful if you can give them busy work, an action job or task that needs done. Tasks like mowing the lawn, cleaning the kitchen, grocery shopping or even getting the oil changed in your car. If they ask, have a list ready (or show them this newsletter). And to those of you who want to help your W, if she can’t think of anything, just pick something you know needs doing and do it. It will be appreciated.
W’s we can help them help us by simply communicating. When they ask what we need, tell them the truth. Be honest, even if you don’t know the answer.
After visiting with some of my fellow W’s, here are some examples we came up with:
- Call or text me every day to let me know you haven’t forgotten me.
- Don’t disappear or stop asking me questions, even if you think I’m being negative. Help me talk about him, and listen when I do.
- Don’t let me become a recluse. Keep inviting me out, even if I say “no” a lot.
- I don’t know what I’m feeling or what I want.
- I just need to be held or to talk and you don’t have to fix anything, just be here with me.
- I just lost everything. Please don’t leave me too.
- Don’t offer me solutions or advice, just give me time to pull through this with you at my side.
- And most importantly don’t hide your grief from me. I want to know you loved him as much as I did. It makes me feel less alone.
You really aren’t alone, even if it may feel that way. So do yourself a favor and help them help you.
March 6, 2017 at 4:38 pm
This is so eye-opening for someone like me, who also didn’t know what to say or do to help and/or to not overstep and irritate you or overwhelm you. Thanks for the insight!
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March 11, 2017 at 3:31 pm
I struggled with all of the attention! Although I communicated my needs, there were a few who persisted in treating me in the way that they processed pain and loss. It was frustrating and sometimes added to my stress. So I avoided them as much as possible or just endured them.
I appreciate the list. Thanks!
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March 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm
We are so very awkward as a society in how we handle grief. Love and blessings.