My heart feels fragile again today. My friend lost her 16-year-old daughter in a car accident this past weekend. My heart aches for her and the thousands of people this affects. Every few minutes I find myself with tears falling down my face because I know what they may be feeling. It makes me so sad and I don’t want anyone to have to go through loss.
Many people wrote on social media that they can’t imagine what these families are going through. In many ways, I’m so grateful that you don’t know. But because I believe awareness is one of the most important things and helps a person become more compassionate, I am going to tell you what I was doing and feeling the first week after a loss. I can’t help but recall those vivid feelings when I lost my spouse. I hate to go there most days, but I am there anyway, so here it is.
One day he was there, the next day he was gone. I thought maybe I was alone in what I felt, but have studied grief for 8 years and learned that most things I felt were typical. But everyone experiences grief differently and my friend’s feelings may be completely different from mine- I have never lost a child. I haven’t talked to her yet and you will see why in the paragraphs below.
Hopefully, you can see this from a new insider perspective and grow from it. There are many, many hard things, but there is also a bright, spiritual side that most people don’t realize. The days between finding my husband’s body on Saturday and the funeral on Wednesday were very busy and filled with things I didn’t want to do. But I was more overwhelmed by the amazing support and love I received. I will never forget how so many people touched my life.
I wrote some things to be aware of and a little personal story after if you are interested in that. Sorry, this is very long but it only scrapes the surface of what was going on in that intense week.
- Please be considerate of their high emotions. One Friday, 8 years ago, as people were searching the mountains for my lost husband, I had many friends and people in my neighborhood stop by. My kitchen was full of people as I sat on the couch with my head resting on one of my best friends. I was sick. This was the third day he was missing. The ladies in my kitchen were talking and laughing about things and doing the things that were normal to them, but to me this day was awful. This was the worst day of my life. I am sure they didn’t realize this was hard for me to have them there on such an emotional day and needed some quiet time. Laughter and voices were still clear when I went to my room for a while. My friend asked them all if they could leave so I could deal with my children coming home in a few minutes and breaking the news to them that their dad was still missing. I don’t even remember who was there and I hope I didn’t offend anyone. I know they were there with good intentions and trying to serve me, but noise and everyday chatter were making it worse.
- Please don’t visit the first day or two after the death unless you are a very close family member or friend. Saturday late morning my mother-in-law called to tell me they found his body and “he is gone.” Finding out he’s not coming home was unbelievable. Not real. I sobbed and was in a daze. Many people were at my home waiting for news and those who were not family decided to leave. I had quite a few people stop by within an hour or two of when I found out he passed away- some I didn’t even know. I was with my children and close family members. My sister stood at the door and I asked her to please not let anyone in at this extremely sensitive hour if I didn’t know them well. I told her, “If you don’t know them, I don’t know them well enough to see right now and please ask them to come back later.” She was my door guard. One couple was so persistent and I hadn’t even met them before. Jeri didn’t let them in and after about 10 minutes she asked instead if she could please just give me a message. They said my husband had touched their life. I thought it was so sweet of them, but right at that moment, I had an 8-year-old daughter crying and asking if she was still going to be baptized that day. I wasn’t in a place to be graciously accepting guests and people, I didn’t know extremely well to see myself in this vulnerable position- crying and trying to hold it together for my kids. I think I would rank it as the hardest hour of my life. Well no, the next hour was maybe just as hard. I had to call my oldest son who was on a mission for our church in Sweden and had no idea what was going on at home and let him know his dad had passed away. It felt like my heart was being ripped out of my body as I heard him cry and ask me if I wanted him to come home. He stayed- he had only been there a few nights and I knew there was not much he could do here at home. WOW, I thought yesterday was the worst not knowing if my husband was hurt somewhere and we couldn’t get to him or if he was already gone but today, now that was tough. Seeing and hearing my children cry and knowing there wasn’t much I could do- I couldn’t bring their dad home- was absolutely devastating. Then Jay’s dad brought his car home from the desert and said he was so sorry for not washing it first. It had dust all over it. I told him I was so glad he didn’t wash it or do anything to it- it was the last place Jay was, the very last thing on earth he touched before hiking. I drove it into the garage and didn’t wash it for weeks. We had to have the obituary written by midnight so my kids, his brother, and I stayed up and wrote it. It was fun to go through all the good, happy times and we laughed a lot while writing it and that felt really good. It was so automatic for days, weeks, and years when something happened I would pick up the phone to call or text Jay. My brain couldn’t figure out that he wasn’t here anymore- it drove me crazy and made me sad.
- This was a very spiritual time. You would think this time is all devastating, but there were some incredibly spiritual things that happened to let me know I am watched over and Heavenly Father knew exactly what was going on. Some of these experiences are too special to share, but some I will explain because many people wonder how somebody can get through such a tragic time. I was lifted and felt this was the most spiritual time of my life. The veil was very thin. I felt angels in my home and surrounding my home – about a six-foot radius standing guard. It felt very crowded, but in a good way now. Guests who stopped by could feel it as well. It was like walking through a bubble from the outside world into a place of peace. It was incredible to feel this for the week, then I felt many left but some stayed with me to comfort me for months. All of my life I had been scared to stay home at night by myself, but now I didn’t worry at all. That fear was lifted as I knew a host of angels were there to protect me. I prayed each night that they would watch over me and my children while we slept and please wake me if I needed to be awakened. I had absolute faith they would. It only happened once that I was awakened and felt it was my daughter Amy. I walked to her room and she was quietly crying in her room and needed to be held. I’m so grateful that Heavenly Father didn’t ever leave me alone.
- People were there to help me with everything. I didn’t have to worry about much with the body or funeral since my mortician friend came over a few hours after I found out my husband died. Mike was there to tell me everything that was going to happen. Even though I really didn’t want to know any of this EVER, I was thankful he saw the insight to come over quickly so I wouldn’t worry about where my husband’s body was and what they were going to do with it. I’ve known Mike for years and have heard him speak about death and many experiences. It was surreal to have him in my home and this time it was me. This can’t be happening to me?! He said tomorrow morning I was to meet him at the mortuary and choose out the casket. I also needed to get him the date of the funeral after talking to family and the church where it was to be held, and get him the times for the viewings, the funeral program, and the obituary. Remember my head was in a state of shock and none of this seemed real. He had it all written down which helped. He asked me if I had the clothing I would like Jay to be buried in. Ouch. Now, this is getting very real. I went and got his temple clothes and sobbed as I handed them over to him. This right here stung- hard.
- Calling tree started and food dropped off. My church leaders were really sweet and helped me with things I hadn’t thought of- like crowd control and eating! I was so grateful for everyone who wanted to help but was so overwhelmed. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. The day we found his body, my church leaders made a calling tree to please give me time with my family and tomorrow they could come to visit or at the viewing- both days. They dropped dinner off and that night I spent with my family.
- I was blessed with a crystal clear head- a gift from God Another blessing that happened was at times in this blurry mess I had complete clarity when I really needed it to make important decisions. The day after we found my husband I had to have the program done for the funeral. I was putting it off because I didn’t want to think about it or go there. Finally, I sat down and it all came out of my head and onto the paper in minutes. There were no questions. Sunday morning at 7 am I met the mortician at the mortuary and chose the casket. My in-laws and brother and sister-in-law came with me. I knew it the second I saw it. Again my head was completely clear and when they asked if I needed to see more to make sure I said, “No. This is it.” With hardly any sleep and feeling numb this was an incredible gift. I made it back home in time to get my kids ready for church. People were surprised to see me there but where else would I be? I wanted to be with everyone who had served our family so much the past week and stood up and told them I couldn’t have made it through this week without them and their help finding my husband’s body. It wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but after so many days I was grateful just to know he was in heaven and not suffering. Hundreds of people had searched and I was so grateful. I will always be indebted to those who searched for him for days in 103-degree weather. The most impressive thing that I was clear on was at the viewings I remembered everyone’s name. People I hadn’t seen in years their names just came off my tongue. This would be incredible on any given day because my name memory is horrible, but when my head was in a fog- this was unbelievable. After the funeral, I didn’t have this blessing anymore. I couldn’t remember anything! I saw people and couldn’t even remember how I knew them- I found out this is common in trauma, but gosh- how disturbing! That went on for years and still happens.
- Sleeping is awful. First I was so tired I begged my body to sleep. Then after just an hour or so, I awakened to look around and beg God to please make this the worst nightmare I’ve ever had. No. This was real. No bad dream going on here! The thud in my heart each time I awoke for the first few days or weeks was so physically painful. That’s why they call it a broken heart- it felt shredded. Then I didn’t want to sleep. Why would I do that to myself- in an hour wake up to that? No thank you. Sleeping the first year was terrible, and completely exhausting.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt. Some decisions I made I knew absolutely were correct, even though they sounded weird to everyone else. *My kids went to school Monday morning. I didn’t make them- they said they wanted to go and be with their friends. People told me that was mean but had no idea we had talked through this in detail and it was their decision. After they left for school I went to the mortuary to pick out the plot where he would be buried then I went to my gym class. People looked at me like, “I can’t believe she is here!”, but then hugged me. I had to do something that felt normal to me and be with my support system. These are “my people” who get me. My teacher even had the last song dedicated to me in the spin class where everyone worked their hardest while I slowly biked and cried. *I decided to have a wooden casket because my husband loved woodworking. The night after the first viewing I handed my kids a pocket knife and let them carve a message to their dad into the wood. It was a special time with only the closest family members. Some people thought it was disrespectful but didn’t know everything that went into that decision. *I also smiled in some of the pictures. People said that was disrespectful. They had no idea the thought process I had that went into that. I had just gotten pictures back from a different sad event and hadn’t smiled and I looked awful. People said I must have been happy he died- now that statement to me is extremely disrespectful. How could anyone think that? I was so offended when people said I was being disrespectful in any aspect because that was the last thing on my mind. *I spoke at the funeral (which also came to me in just a few minutes) and had all of my children do so as well. People asked me how I could do that. I thought, “How could I not?” But then I also remember most people just don’t know what this is like. I wanted to honor him.
- The world looks and feels completely different. On Monday when I drove for the first time I couldn’t believe everyone was just driving as normal. As if the world had gone on?! No, my world had stopped. The radio stations and TV seemed so loud and materialistic. Don’t they know that people matter and that’s it? When people were rude- like cutting me off the road, I thought, “Can’t we all live in peace?” The words people use are so mean and sad. Can’t we lift each other up? Little things didn’t seem to matter anymore. I saw people worried about things that seemed so minor to me like traffic or having a perfectly clean home. My kids and my family are my tip-top priority and I’m so grateful for them each and every day. I will never take this life for granted.
- The viewings It was great to see almost everyone I had ever known. From old high school friends and neighborhoods to family who had traveled across the world to be with us and show their support. But aren’t our traditions kind of weird? I was seeing people I hadn’t seen in years at the hardest time of my life! I wasn’t sleeping well and looked like it, I wasn’t eating well because I don’t eat when I’m stressed and didn’t trust my stomach, my brain felt like mush and my heart ached like it never had. I felt extremely vulnerable and like I was on display at my worst. But then I saw the flip side of how many people cared about Jay and our family. That was breathtaking. Jay had a closed casket and I kept wondering if this was real. Was he in there or was this all a big joke? But as awful as it sounds, as I was standing by his casket all evening I could smell him- that horrible smell of death I will never forget.
- The funeral I woke up on Wednesday morning and knew the day was here that I dreaded, but knew it had to be done. I put my dress on and looked in the mirror and said out loud to myself, “I can’t believe I am getting ready for my husband’s funeral. I’m only 40 years old. This is so unreal.” But decided I needed to give myself a pep talk, so I said, “You can do this. You are strong.” I knelt down and said a prayer that I would have the strength and that I could convey my thoughts well while speaking at the funeral and that my kids would do well so they would remember this as a good experience. I got up, took a deep breath and walked downstairs to get my kids in the car. My best friend had them all ready to go. I forgot when I got there that there was another viewing beforehand for an hour. I’m not sure how I forgot that, well actually I’m surprised I remembered anything that week. Right before the viewing, I saw Kenneth Cope who was there to sing and he talked to me and gave me the great comfort I desperately needed. After the viewing, we tried to find all of my kids who were running throughout the halls so we could have the family prayer. This was extremely difficult. Then I gathered my kids together as I heard the organ start to play. Everything went to slow motion. We were put first in the line- right after the casket and I noticed everyone stand up as we started to enter the door. I made eye contact with a long-time friend sitting right by the door and he looked so sad. I decided I couldn’t look at any more people and was squeezing my little girl’s hands tight as we followed the casket to the front of the room. Oh my gosh, this is really happening. I put my talk at the beginning so I could get through it and had each of my children talk while I stood by them. Thank goodness I learned breathing skills in yoga to get through these very uncomfortable positions. The funeral was beautiful. I was proud of myself for holding it together this whole week as much as I had. The mortician had my son Jeremy push the casket out of the room and had me and the girls right behind it. I could feel myself starting to lose it. I got outside to see them put the casket in the hearse and my brother held me as I cried. I got in the car and went to the cemetery to dedicate the grave. That was pretty quick and after the prayer, everyone just sat there in silence. I finally got up and fell on the casket and started sobbing hard. I could finally let it all out. It was over. Now I had to figure out how to live again in a completely new and different way. My completely clear times were gone and there was a fog that resided over me.
- What can you do for someone the first week, month, year?
- Please don’t ask how they are feeling. (for months or years) You already know- awful. Say things like I am thinking of you, praying for you, etc.
- Please don’t say it will get better or you’ll get over this. Death is something you never get over. Time heals, but over years or decades because you learn better how to deal with the pain. The deep gashes in your heart turn to scars.
- Please don’t ask them to call you when they need something. They won’t. Just drop something off at their home with a note- such as food or things they can use so they don’t have to go to the store.
- Don’t invite them to lunch. Going out in public was really hard for me the first few months because I didn’t trust my emotions. I had already fallen apart in the cereal aisle which wasn’t pretty.
- Invite their children to do fun things if that works for the parents.
- Ask if you can come and do homework with their kids – or in your own home.
- Ask if you can come and help them with the housework. DO NOT EVER DO THIS WITHOUT ASKING. Those sheets were the last they slept in. Those papers in their office were the last they wrote on. Their toothbrush was the last thing they touched. You just have no idea what is special and what isn’t- so this is extremely important to ask first so you could be guided to what is really helpful.
- Don’t ignore them if you see them. I know it’s awkward and you don’t know what to say. Just have something in mind if this ever happens like, “I think of you often.” Or tell them a positive experience/memory you have about their loved one. It feels really weird to have people look at you at the grocery store or church and then hurry and look away.
- Please try not to fall apart when bringing things to the family. I totally have a hard time with this myself when seeing families grieving, so now this advice is probably for me. When people dropped off food or gifts they would cry and I was the one consoling them. Sometimes they also stayed for a really long time. SO my advice is to make it short and sweet and maybe cry in the car beforehand. That’s what I have to do. That week my tears had been shed so long and hard that sometimes for a few minutes, I could hold it together long enough to make my guests feel better, which was actually a really weird situation to be in.
- Don’t send flowers. Sounds crazy, but they die in a few days or a week and it’s another reminder of death. For gift ideas read my blog on that.
- Some things NOT to say, “At least _____” People told me, “At least you’re young and can get married again” People are NOT replaceable. That would be like telling someone who lost a child just to go adopt another one. That’s not how love or life works. Every single person is important and can’t be interchanged or forgotten. People told me, “At least he had life insurance. At least you have kids to keep you busy.I know how you feel because my grandma died.” Those things didn’t console me. No words can heal the pain they are feeling.You can’t fix them or the situation so just BE with them. That’s empathy.
I hope some of these things help give you a new perspective and can give you ideas on how to lift those who are going through this extremely difficult time in their lives. This was the most emotional, heartbreaking time of my life. But it changed me for the better, and for that I am grateful.It was a very busy week which was good and bad. I was very numb this week, but then very clear and in tune when I needed to be. I was blessed and learned so much like forgiveness, compassion and not being so judgmental.
I pray for all of those who are touched by tragedy and death. May you all feel peace and our Heavenly Father’s love.
I listen to this song often and it lifts me. THE PRAYER sang by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli.