My dear friend introduced me to a friend of hers today. At dinner, I learned that his brother was widowed in March. As in this March. As in less than 3 months ago. He's 43, without kids, and now without his wife.
I listened to the horrible story of how she died suddenly and how he found out. I tried to picture that man in those first few moments and days and the images were so closely bound up with my own sensory memories that for a few minutes I couldn't separate myself from the situation.
The intense pain of those first few months flooded through me and I juggled urges to detach just enough to avoid falling apart at the seams and to connect enough to empathize.
And then, something kicked in. Something so gratifying that it filled me up and shot out of me like light. I realized that I was the one who might actually be able to bring resources to this man who has just lost his best friend.
I took a piece of paper and a pen out of my purse and began to make a list for this man. I wrote SSLF, Camp Widow, Widow's Voice, my own blog, my own email, and my widowed friends' blog addresses. I tried to express what made it harder for me in the beginning and what made it easier.
It's difficult now to explain how this felt. I suppose, like Chris Weaver says, it's like throwing a rope to someone who's drowning. There's such relief in knowing that as long as he takes a hold of the life ring at the end of that rope, he can make it. There was a visceral sense of satisfaction that felt like energy filling my chest and heart.
There was an urgency, too. I wanted to gather the troops and find this man a few states away and get started. I wanted to physically put him on a plane to Camp Widow in San Diego in August and just say "TRUST ME" as the plane takes off. I wanted to surround him with my widowed friends and say "Look. This is the face of widowhood. We survive. We thrive. We come out of this stronger. It's possible. Don't give up."
I will not tell anyone to do anything they're not ready to do and I know from hard-won experience how difficult it is to hear "you shoulds" from anyone else during this process. Everyone is so different and grieving is just as varied. I have no right to tell this man what to do, but oh how I want to tell him to reach out. I want him to want to reach out. But most of all, I want to make him see that he's not as alone as he probably thinks he is.
I also felt some relief knowing that this man now had a concrete way to help his brother with this information I'd given him. It is so hard to know how to help someone who has suffered such a loss. I saw the strain of that in my loved one's faces after Dave died. I know that they all wanted to do what they could to help me and that they were unprepared.
None of us had ever gone through anything remotely like it before and yet they taught me how to do the most incredible job at helping a newly widowed person. And now, in a small way, I could pay that forward by sharing how they helped me most -- making arrangements, taking calls, bringing meals, sitting with me while I cried, taking my lead, the list goes on for days.
As my one year mark grows near, I think more and more about how my loved ones and I have formed this incredible web of love to survive this event. It holds me up and sustains me.
I don't believe in the stereotypical image of a winged angel from heaven. I believe in something better - angels right here on earth. Human, fallible, beautiful, mortal, loving human angels. Any of us can be an angel at any time. It just takes reaching out in case someone might be drowning. It takes gently but firmly tugging on them until they can swim out of the currents on their own.
I hope I can help someone even a fraction as much as my friends have helped (and continue to help) me.