Friday, May 30, 2014

What helps. What doesn't.

With Kevin's memorials coming right up in Kansas City and Boston, I find myself anxious.
I'm anxious about seeing so many people at once. I don't do well in crowds these days (frankly, I never did).
I'm anxious about the symbolism of these events and how they will impact my mood as well as his kids' moods.
I'm anxious about remembering to be kind when I am in such a state.
I'm anxious.

To allay that anxiety I thought it might be helpful if I put together a few thoughts about what helps and what doesn't. This is a highly personal list, I'd love to hear your thoughts. What really helped? What was such a mistake that you had to try not to laugh? I'm so early in this journey that I barely know my name, let alone the answers to most questions. This post was triggered by this article in the Grief Toolbox about the best and worst things to say to the grieving. I've already heard a bunch of these comments and no, heaven didn't need another angel.

And please note, none of this is written in stone. Grief is a constantly shifting landscape. I would far rather you talk with me and make a mistake out of loving concern than not interact with me. If you're afraid that you've already done some of these things, please don't worry about it. I know you were doing the best you could and I appreciate every sincere effort. I still love you.

It helps when you ask me how I am and are genuinely wondering.
It doesn't help when you ask me how I am and then immediately backpedal or launch into how you think I am.

It helps when you are patient as I formulate an answer. I often find talking difficult these days. Equally, I often don't really know how I am.
It doesn't help if you try to fill in the blanks while I'm thinking. I am slower than I used to be and it takes me some time.

It helps if you notice when I'm relatively cheerful or making a joke. Sure, it might be dark humor, but it's humor.
It doesn't help if you get all teary when I try to be upbeat and tell me how strong I am. I don't feel strong. I am just teetering towards managing and wanted to share it with you. Additionally, I am struggling enough with feelings of guilt whenever I feel okay.

It helps if you ask me questions, talk with me about Kevin and respect my need to sometimes abruptly change the topic.
It doesn't help if you avoid talking about Kevin, death, grief, etc because you don't want to upset me. I'm already upset. Pretending these things didn't happen makes me fear he will disappear.

It helps if you let me cry. Sometimes that might be scary, I cry big these days. Get me a cool cloth or some water if you want. It also helps if you let me not cry. Sometimes I just don't want to, so I work to control it.
It doesn't help if you tell me not to cry. This stuff has to come out. I think grief is composed largely of snot and tears. Maybe it's ectoplasm. Who knows. I produce a lot of it.

It helps if you let me grieve in my own way. I don't know how long this will take, I don't know how strange I might become.
It doesn't help if you tell me how I am supposed to grieve. Suggestions are welcome, but may not be helpful.

It helps if you take a moment before hugging me to assess if I want to be touched. Try putting a hand on my shoulder first. I miss touch terribly, but it's Kevin's touch I really miss. And let go when I start to pull away.
It doesn't help if you grab me without thinking.

It helps if you let me know you miss Kevin, too.
It doesn't help if you expect me to comfort you - I'm having enough trouble holding it together - or if you compare your grief to mine. Each grief is different.

There are plenty more I could add, but I won't. Read the post in The Grief Toolbox. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, your own helps and doesn't helps. And please forgive me if I'm short-tempered, get distracted or say the wrong thing, just as I will do my best to forgive you. We are all doing the best we can.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. I love, love, love this. And you.

  2. All good, all good. Bravo to you, Laura, for thinking of writing about this as a way to allay nerves, and prepare.

    Here's one that would always make me want to throw up (and I'm afraid I was guilty of a version of it just yesterday): at the memorial service or funeral someone launching into what it was like when THEIR loved one died...(as if you really have the capacity to care just at that moment...maybe you would be happy to talk about it much later, but not JUST NOW, THANK YOU!!)
    As I said, having just been guilty of this a little bit yesterday I realize that sometimes these things just pop up unbidden, or in an attempt to be helpful, or as a way to say "I understand, and you're doing marvelously, all things considered"

    1. Yeah, that one can be a bit much, but it's so clearly from a place of love, concern and who knows what my grief might have triggered in them.
      There are a bunch I didn't list... but I didn't want the post to go on forever.

  3. These are exactly right. I would add please don't tell me my partner wouldn't want me to be so sad and that I owe it to him to move on. I know he wouldn't want me to be sad, but he's dead. He doesn't get a vote. I'm doing the best I can one step at a time and it will take the time it takes.

    1. Absolutely. We each grieve in our own way. I promised Kevin I would eventually be okay, but that it would take time. It will take a long time. We are all doing the best we can.

    2. Bravo, Bonnie!
      So many people have told me that very thing. In fact, although it has not yet been a year, I have been advised that I should start dating b/c he would want me to have love.
      And I say something similar to what you wrote about him not having a vote - if he wanted me happy, then he shouldn't have died. That shuts them up.

    3. "he's dead. He doesn't get a vote"
      Bonnie, I have said -exactly- the same thing! Great minds think alike, I guess.
      Jen, I like yours, too. If I'm feeling particularly snarky I might whip that one out! :-)

  4. Laura.. you could fill about 100 pages of dos and donts.... but you got the important ones.. I particularly dont like the "he is looking down at you, of after you"... that would mean to me as if he is missing a lot, and sad... I prefer other alternatives. If I don't know what he is doing how can they???

    1. They don't know. They are trying to be comforting, imagining what they would want someone else to say...

  5. My all time most hated is "Your young, you'll find someone else". Like he was a car that I could trade in for a new model.

  6. Some widow friends of mine have suggested the following. I agree with all of them:

    - "I also really have found myself not liking the word "better" either. "Are you doing better??" What? I fear I shall NEVER be "better" again. I was "better" when I had my love by my side, now I am alone. How can that be "better"? I just say, I'm "plugging" along now. Everything I do now has an undercurrent of "fakeness" to it! I dress, I eat, I grocery shop, I pay the bills, I make the bed, I mow the lawn. Does that make me seem "better?" It's because you HAVE to do those things, that's all, nothing more, nothing less."
    - "Here's a NOT helpful (for me, of course) that a few have inquired about, these people are not close to me and asked about my financial situation! I found it intrusive, rude and none of their business! Like I would tell them! I mean, are they going to whip out their checkbook?? Ok, then, let's talk!"
    - "journey was vacation before.. now it is totally the opposite." "I realize it is a journey but for me, a "journey" was always something that would be fun. This is NOT fun."

  7. This is a tough journey, as if you didn't know. I detest the circumstance that forces you to walk it, but I think you are teaching me how to be stronger, and so I am thankful that you are sharing.

  8. A widower I know told me that he tells people this: "I am broken and you should not try to fix me. What I have can NEVER be fixed. We should talk and laugh at the times we
    have had and you should not suggest what I should or should not do..." He says this worked marvelously. I may try this. I know I am broken and this is only day #65 for me. Grief is a long haul and this is just the beginning.

  9. This is beautiful. So right on. Helpful: Sit in silent solidarity with me. Not helpful: Talking too much, especially with stupid platitudes like, "Everything happens for a reason."

    I'm sorry you are sad.


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