Friday, July 15, 2016

What helps, two years on

I've written before about how useless it is, comparing one grief to another. I've also written about what helps a grieving person (or at least this grieving person) and what doesn't. Those posts were written in the context of being less than a year out from Kevin's death and encountering people who desperately wanted to find a way to comfort me but didn't know how. Things are different at two years.

At two years I am finding three general kinds of responses to the loss of my husband. I say the loss of my husband because I am talking specifically about how people respond to me, not necessarily how they are responding to Kevin's death. That's a whole other topic.

The first response is the most common. There is an assumption, maybe it's a hope, that since I'm at two years plus a few months, and because I'm in a new relationship, I'm fine. That everything is hunky-dory and I am no longer mourning Kevin. While I know this usually comes from a place of relief (thank goodness, she is okay) and/or hope (if she got better then maybe I would too, if that ever happened to me) it's not true and it doesn't really help. Yes, I am no longer crying every day or even every week and, yes, I am in a new relationship. Assuming I am "over" my grief and "over" him is too simplistic at best. My relative okay-ness doesn't mean that I don't still miss Kevin ferociously and love him even more.

The second response, which is less common but not all that unusual, is someone telling me how much they are still grieving Kevin (or their partner, their friend, their mother, their pet) followed by a little pause and a comment that they are glad I am doing so well. There is an implication that somehow their attachment was deeper or their grief is more meaningful because they are still in such pain. This doesn't help either. For one, comparisons aren't a useful thing in grief and for another, just because I'm no longer incapacitated by grief, you don't know how I feel. This response reminds me of the people who tell me they would die if their spouse died; there is an implication that I don't love as much as you do. The comparison is hurtful and doesn't help. Just because I am doing exactly what he wanted for me - living my life - that doesn't mean that I am not simultaneously still mourning him. My decision to live doesn't mean I don't still miss Kevin ferociously and love him even more.

The third response, and the least common by far, generally comes from people who have had their own great losses. Instead of telling me how I should feel, they ask how I'm doing. Even better, they ask how I'm doing today. They have room for me to forge my own path through life and through the after life. They can accept that yes, most days I am okay, but that doesn't mean I don't still miss Kevin ferociously and love him even more. It means that I can both live a life that is authentic to who I am AND still love, miss and cherish Kevin.

So what helps, two years after the death of my beloved? Don't assume you know how I am, ask me. Don't avoid talking about Kevin, I want to hear his name and know he still lives in your heart as well as mine. Let me talk about him or about my grief, or not. I may not want to discuss it in this moment or at all.

It doesn't help if you try to one-up my grief with your own. Comparing grief is an apples and oranges comparison. Each grief is unique, we each mourn in our own way, there is no right path.

It helps when you accept the complexity that is my life in the after life. Life is hard enough, losing a spouse makes it more so. I am not who I was before he died, please don't expect me to be. Just accept me for who I am in this moment, in this breath.

What helps? The same things that help everyone, no matter their state of grief or life. Be present. Be kind. Accept me for where I am, which may be happy, may be sad, may be wanting to talk about something else altogether. I will do my best to extend the same courtesy to you.


(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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