Thursday, December 1, 2011

the unhelpful helper

Photo from here...

When I first became a widow, I wanted everyone to go away. I did not want to talk, discuss, be comforted, or hear anyone. I found everything overwhelming and the need to communicate with others verbally was not at all on the list of desired actions.
I was annoyed by the needs of others. Their want to know I was okay or that the kids were surviving seemed intrusive and obnoxious. I felt that they all just wanted the gory details or the notoriety that goes along with death. Although the realization that my feelings were not "fair" or even logical always accompanied these angry thoughts, I couldn't help but feel myself growling internally when someone attempted to break into my quiet, lost and introspective bubble.
I had extremely close friends that I leaned on and a sister with whom I told the majority of my thoughts, but the only person I wanted aside from these confidantes was Jeff.
Now, three years later, I find myself in a strange spot.
Recently, two friends have lost their husbands. Neither of these women are close friends, but they are certainly women who I would stop to say "hello", share a hug and have a chat or a cup of coffee together should I see them on the street prior to their loss.
They are both early in their losses. They don't want to talk. Or if they do, it's not to me. And I SO get this. I know this feeling so very well and empathize totally....
But I find myself compelled to tell them that. I feel almost panicked in my need to let them know that there are others, just like us, who know this pain. That they are not alone. That the community of widows is an amazing and supportive one.
I itch to reach out to them. I want to help them with the ridiculous amounts of paperwork that accompanies a death. Or to deliver a meal or mow a lawn.
I want to take away any pain for them that I can. I feel anxious that they are hurting and may not have the support they so need (although I am sure they have so very many loving people surrounding them begging hoping to be of some assistance).
I know that it is all TOO much right now. And I hope that months from now if the phone doesn't ring as often for them and they slowly awaken from the dull, aching void that envelopes early on, they know that I will be here whenever they need someone who gets it.
In the meantime, I wish them well on their own private journey and hope they know where to find the rest of us.....


  1. Jackie: That is so true and so nicely written. Maybe you should just print this blog and mail it to them. Just a thought.....

  2. Jackie, I just wrote about this the other day because we had a new woman join our "Circle". She's only 2 months out .... and I hate looking into her eyes and seeing ... and remembering ..... all of that massive pain. I wish I, too, could take some of it for her, but we all know I can't.
    But I wanted to suggest to you ..... in a few months, when their phones have stopped ringing so much, please call them. Reach out to them (again and again, if necessary) and just tell them what you're going to help them with. I remember people asking me what I needed .... and I had no clue. I only felt more pressure to come up with something. But now you know what she'll need (or at least a lot of what she'll need) so you can just show up on a door step and say, "Hi. I'm here to help you ......(fill in the blank)"
    That only happened a few times with me, but those offers meant the most to me because I didn't have to think .... something was just done.
    Just my two cents, my friend. Thanks for this post .... it reminds us of how far we've come .... even if we've only been on this path for a few months.

  3. Very nice blog Jackie. As a mother of two kids in their early twenties who don't live at home, my biggest issue over the last 21 months has been lonliness. It was and still is the greatest thing ever when I get texts, emails, cards, phone calls just letting me know someone else is thinking of me. If they continue without a response from me, that's even better!

  4. When Keith first died I also did not want anyone to help/talk to or just be there with. The wounded animal that was me was just curled into a ball licking my wounds. I had two friends and my daughter who just came and quietly did what was needed and left again. The phone would ring quite often at first, but now almost 12 months out it doesn't ring with offers of help any more. The people who did offer have moved on with their lives and the hole left by my husband has closed for them. It has not closed for my two friends or my daughter though and they are still there when I need them.

    This journey for me though has become one of self reliance and I have learned that I can do so many more things than I first thought. I feel that this is one of the life lessons that I had to learn.

    I have two widowed friends, we are all youngish and have formed our own support group. I have found that between us we can do almost anything and the support that we give each other is probably the best thing we can do.

    Please reach out to the widowed friends that you have after the first few weeks when the shock has worn off and they are ready for you to help them with the first tottering steps along the road on this our very personal journey's.

  5. My husband died unexpectedly 3 months ago at the age of 50. I consider myself an extremely private person and in the last few months have often not wanted to talk to others . . . EXCEPT for other widows/widowers. At 3 weeks out, a friend I had not stayed in touch with who has been a widow for 10 years called and suggested we go for a walk. I think that walk may have saved my life- she was the only person in my life at that point who knew how I felt and knew the feelings that were yet to come. At 2 months out, when calls had stopped coming in, another widow- 12 years out- invited me out for drinks/appetizers. Again, a lifesaver, I felt so comfortable with her. I didn't have to perform my "I'm doing just great act". She gave me great tips on how to handle the holidays with my kids. When I go out with my non-widowed friends, I appreciate their support but I feel so disconnected from their world. I don't feel that disconnection with other widows. I hope you would feel comfortable reaching out to these new widows. Remember they most likely won't call you and you may have to approach them several times but chances are they really do need you.

  6. I remember times in the past when I would become aware of an aquaintance or neighbor who had a need, and I would ask my husband "should I do this or that" for them, and his answer was always the same. "Don't ask about it, just do it if you want to do it." Your writing conveys your enthusiasm and desire to help, but you also understand their privacy needs. My advice would be to not be intrusive, but don't give up either. Show up with a meal, hand it over, and leave. Drop a card now and then. Stay in the background, but give practical help. All of the above suggestions are excellent (of course, we've been there). I had a friend who used to call every day, sometimes it made my blood boil (in my grief insanity). But at the same time, I was very grateful that someone called to check on me, never gave up on me, and was a real anchor for me. I easily could have turned her off with my big brick wall up, but she never gave up! Looking back, I find it extraordinary, it was an altruistic act. In the beginning other widows can turn you off because you are still kicking and screaming and resisting and don't want to be one of them. They are "other," and later on you realize how important those relationships are.

  7. I will always remember two random acts of kindness given to me shortly after my husband died. One day I came home and found that my yard had been mowed. I didn't know who did it, but I was eternally greatful...that was my husband's job. I actually like to mow, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it at first. The other one was when someone send me a card with gift certificates to a couple fast food resturants. The card said something to the effect of going and buying myself and my kid dinner when I just didn't have it in me to go home and face my kitchen. Thank you, thank you! When I know that others are going through a loss, I think of these little things that meant so much to me...made a day or an hour easier and try to think of a way to do the same.