When someone we love dies, friends tend to disappear, and all our memories with the person who died avalanche down around us. It’s easy to feel abandoned.
In our struggle to survive a death, it’s important to assemble a community of people to help us deal with the impact of grief. Left on our own, we would curl up in a corner until we dried into a prune. Unfortunately, many of our friends won’t know what to say or do for grief, and will keep their distance.
They will send cards and flowers, and bring food in the first month, but then go back to their busy lives, leaving us to fend for ourselves. People in my community of faith offered support, but even they weren’t sure what to say because Evelyn died unexpectedly in her 40s.
We need a small group of people to stay close. I was lucky. A friend of my wife’s parents, who lost his wife a year ahead of me, offered to let me know what I could expect in the first months. He calmed my panic when grief went on longer than I expected and I was worried that I wasn’t grieving right.
One couple told me that I could call them at any time, even at 3 a.m. What made this particularly touching was that they were dealing with brain cancer, yet they kept offering to do things with me until I finally accepted. We found strength in sharing our struggles with each other.
We also need a scattering of casual people who occasionally check in. For me, this included some of my wife’s friends that I barely knew. They listened as I shared, and collectively they kept the murky river of grief flowing until it cleared.
What is ideal is to hook up with a group of people our age who are grieving, although we may not find one where we live. If this is the case, there are Internet grief communities that offer support and encouragement, and it seems that someone is always online to listen and console.
People with different religious backgrounds can share what their traditions do for the grieving. I found the Jewish observances for the first day, week, and month particularly helpful. Buddhism helped me look objectively at my thoughts and feelings and deal with them one by one. Christianity reassured me that no matter what happens in life, hope endures.
Now, years later, as I think about the people who took time to help me, I realize that most of them had suffered some serious loss of their own—a husband, sister, parent, or child. This is why they knew that words would not take away the pain or dull the sharp blades of loss. They knew to listen and share insights from what had worked for them. Many of them had been waiting for me to give them the chance to help.
There is power in a group that understands suffering and isn’t afraid of grief. As we nourish each other, the energy of the love we share helps heal our wounds.