What is the most important way to support your friends who have just lost a loved one? From the first moment I knew Jay had passed away, nothing felt normal. Having friends help me, or at least not judge me, do things that used to be my “normal” lifted my spirits.
Before all of this happened, each day I did things routinely. Weekdays: wake up, get the kids to school, go to the gym, go to work, eat, etc. Saturdays we cleaned the house and Sundays we went to church and had family time. Then one hot July week my world turned upside down. It seemed like one of those toys that are filled with snow and when you turn it upside down it snows on the people. Well, that was me, but instead of snow, it was raining teardrops. My husband, Jay, was missing for a few days and his body was found on Saturday. This, of course, was a whirlwind day full of tragedy, emotions, and anything but normal. On Sundays throughout my life we got up and went to church, (religiously- ha). So the next day I woke up on the sabbath morning and it wasn’t anything like a normal Sunday- Jay’s parents and sister, Auralee, and her husband David went with me to the mortuary to choose a casket for my husband to be buried in. We went early so we could have time to still go to our church meetings. Right, when we got home I helped my children get ready for church and we left. I got the craziest looks when I entered the chapel! People asked me why I was there? Where else would I be on a Sunday morning? This is what I want you to know- I wanted to feel like something in my life was NORMAL. Church was that. This is where I wanted to be.
On weekdays I go to the gym every day around 9 am. At that time of my life, I knew what classes I would go to each day. Monday was a spin class I rarely, if ever, missed. So Monday morning rolls around and once again this week was full of emotion and craziness. After I dropped off the kids at school I went directly to the cemetery to choose a plot where my husband would be buried this week. This was NOT part of my weekly agenda of course. I did plan my day, however, so that I would be done in time at the cemetery to get to my regular spin class at the gym. Again, I walked into the gym and got interesting looks and comments, “What are you doing here?” I answered, “Going to spin class with my people.” I desperately needed to be with those who I connected with every day. I needed their support on this Monday morning more than ever! I hugged people and cried, and let my legs spin like crazy for an hour. I knew that this one hour might be the only “regularly scheduled program” of the day and I needed it.
I also continued to work. It helped me so much to be able to concentrate on something else besides death for a few hours. I needed this time to feel sane and somewhat normal. People told me it was disrespectful to not be mourning. Why did they think I wasn’t mourning!? The other hours of the day were awful. The nights alone were long and full of tears and pain. I was mourning in my own way but needed the people who were around me most days to still be there. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to my husband who had passed. I might be different, but I couldn’t spend 24 hours a day in grief. My body and spirit couldn’t handle that. I had to take a rest from the fight and have others carry me.
Reading this may sound like I was in denial and running from what was really happening. Maybe I was, but I had to have pieces of my life back that felt ordinary. My advice to anyone that has a colleague who just lost a loved one is to support them. Don’t be surprised if they show up to work or a class or whatever they had done the week before. Their world is so off balance that they are probably trying desperately to do one thing that feels like routine. Tell them you love them and are thinking of them and are glad to see them. They need to know that. Everyone grieves differently and giving them space to heal in their own way- with your support, will mean the world to them.