I had coffee with a widowed woman I met at the workout studio I go to.
It's been four months for her and her pain was tangible. It was all I could do not to follow her home just so I would know that she didn't have to go back to her home alone. Those first few months were brutal and returning to my house all alone after being with people was still a blow every time. His absence was even more glaring when I would return.
She said she'd be working on more paperwork/legal/financial stuff as she was still dealing with all of it. At the reminder of that I cringed. At four months out the paperwork and phone calls would drive me to an almost catatonic haze of exhaustion for the rest of the day. It physically hurt to call and say "I need to close/update/change the account because my husband died". It felt like being punched in the chest to send copies of the death certificate far and wide.
I wanted to take it all away from her and make everything better but I couldn't. I wanted to give her hope that things would get better while being honest about how 2 + years really felt. As I walked home, I could access feelings of contentment while I watched the summer scenery go by and wished desperately that she could fast forward to a time in the future when she could feel any part of that again.
It's hard to think of those strange, shock-muffled months of the early days of this. There's a part of me that is so relieved to be past it and a part of me that feels bad for leaving it behind only to know that others are experiencing it now.
I don't want to feel that way again, and yet I don't want anyone to be there alone.
To those of you still early in the first year of this, each day will feel like an eternity but somehow the weeks will soar past in a blur.
The shock will buffer you and you'll forget a lot (a blessing). You'll slowly slowly climb out of the depths. It will be hard as hell. It won't be over at a year. Not yet. It won't ever be over, but that horrible, acute, my-life-is-over feeling will eventually recede. Promise. Then you'll be able to rebuild and see a reason to hope again.
Until then let me remind you and hold you up. Let me take just one thing away from your list of worries and hurts.
I wish I could make a few calls for you or take that dreaded death certificate to whatever stupid wait-in-line office it has to go to. I wish I could cook you dinner and do your dishes. I've needed those things along the way (still do from time to time) and I wish there was a convenient way to return the favor right now.
For the millionth time I fantasized today about a communal sort of living arrangement for those of us who've been widowed, where we share the heavy load. Those of us a little farther out can handle the tasks those of us more new to it can't bear.
We share the child care, we share the chores, we share the sadness. We make sure no one is alone unless he/she prefers it.
We take care of each other. It makes sense.
Maybe before our society became so fragmented, we came closer to this arrangement, but we are so isolated these days. When we're suffering we really need each other, especially those of us who've been through it, and yet we pull away and go off to our quiet homes and close the doors. We're afraid to ask for help and afraid to give it.
And yet I can say for sure that small (and huge) kindnesses by others were what made this survivable for me. It's the way through it, to hang on to each other.
I have to remember that and not shy away from helping when I'm strong enough to do so. I also have to keep asking for help when I need it. No one can help me if I can't tell them I need it. On the other hand, my friend today reminded me that, especially early on, even coming up with something TO ask for is challenging. It's probably best just to offer help than to ask "What can I do?".
Just show up and do something. Even if it's just listen. That's what I need to remember. Just show up.
We have to take care of each other.