‘Do something instead of saying, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’ Widow offers help to individuals who are grieving a loved one.

“I became the person no one wanted to be on November 9, 2020. I lost my husband and became a widow. My wonderful spouse succumbed to metastatic melanoma after a heroic 10-month-and-10-day battle. This year has been a year of loss for so many people, and knowing I’m not alone doesn’t make it any easier. I’m very aware that others stare at me, which frightens them. They are terrified of becoming me one day. One day, they will suffer such a profound loss that they will be unable to function or stop crying. I terrify them, as I should. No one can comprehend the mysterious world of grief until they have directly experienced it, and everyone’s experience is unique.

Most of my friends and I, at the age of 51, have experienced the loss of a parent or grandparent. While it is unpleasant, it is an unavoidable aspect of life. Losing a companion, especially at a young age, is a whole different experience. You lose love, friendship, companionship, security, future aspirations, and the list goes on. I’ve always considered myself to be a powerful individual. After all, I overcame two cancers and emerged victoriously. My husband’s death has taken me to my knees, revealing that I am not only not the rock I thought I was but also that I am not even a pebble in the realm of grief.

Loneliness is exacerbated by the loss of a loved one during a pandemic. COVID-19 has prevented a house full of family and friends from providing solace at a time when it would have been feasible. Phone calls and sorrow cards have replaced hugs. This is most likely the most challenging portion of the journey. I’ve only gotten two hugs in the last ten weeks, and believe me when I say I need a lot more.

The phone calls and cards have started to taper down as the weeks have passed. People are still thinking about my family and our loss, but life moves on for everyone else while it appears to stop for me. I have no ill will toward my ‘circle,’ and I am thankful they are spared from this suffering. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a difficult condition to overcome. When I enter the house, there is no longer anyone to meet me. No one kisses you goodnight or wishes you a good morning. While viewing a movie, I had no one to laugh with. There was no one with whom to go for a stroll around the block. So many things we used to take for granted have now been permanently altered.

I wish they wouldn’t ask me how I’m doing, even though I know they mean well and sincerely care. This process has taught me that this is a difficult thing to hear. There is no decent way to answer the question, even if it comes from a place of love. When asked, the individual wants to hear that I am doing better, I am okay, or I am getting over my loss. This is not the case, however. ‘How do you think I am?’ is my immediate inclination in response to the query. ‘I’ve just lost one of my most important people.’ Of course, this would be quite impolite and cause everyone to feel uneasy.

Mom and dad take photo with their son while dressed for church
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

Instead, I provide the expected response of “I’m fine,” even though nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps a better question is to inquire if the grieving is any better on a particular day and then be prepared for an honest response that will most likely be much more than “I’m okay.” I want people to genuinely listen to the answer if they’re asking the question. It helps to talk about the tears, the anguish, and the loneliness for some strange reason, but people don’t always want to hear about it.

Perhaps it makes them consider how terrible it will be if they lose someone special in their lives. Nobody wants to be in this kind of suffering, but the sad reality is that we will all experience grief at some point in our lives. Friends and family have been very supportive in informing me that I have lost weight and need to eat. Believe me when I say that I am aware of my physical condition and need to eat. What they don’t realize is that I am unable to eat. I used to enjoy cooking and baking, but the very thought of doing it now takes me to tears.

Food elicits a wide range of emotions, which most people are unaware of. Until recently, I was completely unaware of the relationship. Every dish and cuisine has a special meaning. I recall the last time I made a certain dish for my husband. I recall ordering certain ingredients for his favorite dinner the last time I did so. When I see the dozens of cartons of ice cream in the freezer, it makes me sad because my husband enjoyed this special treat in the evenings. Every food item in the house represents some aspect of our shared existence, and it aches. So, thank you for reminding me to eat, but please understand that it is a difficult task. Hopefully, this will become easier for me in the future.

When my husband died, I noticed that people stopped using his name and talking about him. I understand that this was done to protect me, but it had the opposite effect. No one wants to lose track of a loved one, which is a legitimate concern. A grieving person isn’t bothered by talking about the individual; we’re already sad. Hearing about other people’s experiences and wonderful occasions with my husband, on the other hand, consoles me. Yes, I usually cry while listening to those stories, but I would have cried otherwise. So please keep his memory alive by saying his name, talking about him, and remembering him. Perhaps the painful tears will fade and be replaced by pleasant tears as I remember my love.

Family take Thanksgiving photo together in their living room
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering what can truly help someone who is grieving. I’d suggest showing up, whether in person or on a computer screen or phone (during this time of the pandemic). Do something instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything.” We don’t know what we need when we’re in the throes of grief. Those who left a meal on the porch just in the case offered to walk the dog or picked up a few additional needs on their errands have made my life so much easier. The smallest gestures were much appreciated.

Please, above all, allow me to feel sad. You can’t divert or cheer me up, no matter how hard you try…at least not yet. I’m going to scream and cry, and I’m going to be broken. Grief is a lonely, isolated experience, and those of us who are grieving simply require assistance. We require love. Our lives have been flipped inside out.

Many of us return home to an empty house for the first time in our lives. It isn’t easy. We realize there is no one to talk to in our empty house; no one with whom to share the intricacies of our day; no one with whom to share our children’s accomplishments…those are difficult things to deal with. Consider the person who is the most significant in your life. Consider what would happen if they suddenly vanished. You can’t imagine what I’m going through, but I’m living it every day. Please don’t forget about me and my recently deceased loved one. Now, more than ever, we require your assistance.”

Husband and wife smile during a family photo
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

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