‘Instead of saying, ‘Let me know if you need anything,’ just do something.’: Widow offers advice to those supporting a loved one through grief

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On November 9, 2020, I became the person no one wants to be. I became a widow. My dear husband lost his 10-month-and-10-day valiant battle with metastatic melanoma. This year has been a time of loss for so many, and while I know I am not alone, it does not make this journey any easier. I am fully aware people look at me, and it scares them. They are scared of one day being me. One day having a loss so great, they cannot function or stop the tears. I scare them – and I should. No one can understand the horrible world of grief until you experience it personally, and it is different for everyone.

 At age 51, most of my friends and I have dealt with losing a parent and/or grandparent. While awful, it is an expected part of life. Losing a partner, especially at a young age, is something altogether different. You lose love, friendship, companionship, security, dreams for the future, and the list goes on and on. I always thought of myself as a strong person. After all, I battled two cancers and came out a winner. The passing of my husband has literally brought me to my knees and made me realize not only am I not the rock I thought I was, but I am not even a pebble in the world of grief.

Losing someone during a pandemic creates loneliness like nothing else. At a time when there would have been a house full of family and friends offering comfort, it has not been possible due to COVID-19. Phone calls and sympathy cards have replaced hugs. This is probably one of the most difficult parts of the journey. I have had all of two hugs in the past 10 weeks, and trust me when I say I need many more.

As the weeks have gone on, the phone calls and cards have started to lessen. I know people are still thinking of my family and our loss, but life goes on for everyone else while it seems to stand still for me. I do not begrudge my ‘circle’ at all, and I am grateful they are not experiencing this pain and sorrow. However, loneliness is tough. There is no longer anyone to greet me when I enter the house. There is no one to kiss goodnight or wish a good morning. No one to laugh with while watching a movie. No one with whom to take a simple walk through the neighborhood. So many things we all take for granted are now forever changed.

Although I know everyone means well and genuinely cares, I wish they would not ask me how I am. Through this process, I have learned this is such a difficult thing to hear. Even though it is coming from a place of love, there is no good way to answer the question. When asked, the person wants to hear I am better, or okay, or moving past the grief. However, this is not the case. My first instinct is to answer the question by saying, ‘How do you think I am? I just lost one of the most important people in my life.’ Of course, this would be terribly rude and just make everyone uncomfortable.

Mom and dad take photo with their son while dressed for church
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

Instead, I go with the expected answer of ‘I’m okay’ when nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps a better question would be to ask if the grief is any better on a particular day and then be prepared for an honest answer, which will probably be a lot more than just, ‘I’m okay.’ If people are going to ask the question, I want them to really listen to the answer. For some strange reason, it helps to talk about the tears, the pain, and the loneliness, but people don’t always want to hear about it.

Maybe it makes them think about how awful it will be when they lose a special someone in their life. No one wants this kind of pain, but the sad reality is we will all suffer grief at some point. Friends and family have been really good about telling me I have lost weight and need to eat. Trust me, I am aware of my physical condition and know I need to eat. What they don’t understand is I physically cannot eat. I was once a person who loved to cook and bake, but now the mere thought of those tasks brings me to tears.

People do not realize how many emotions surround food. I certainly did not acknowledge the connection until now. Every recipe and meal has a significant meaning. I remember the last time I prepared a certain dish for my husband. I remember the last time I ordered certain ingredients for his favorite meal. I look at the dozens of cartons of ice cream in the freezer, and it brings nothing but pain as my husband loved this special treat in the evenings. Every food item in the house has a meaning to some part of our life together, and it hurts. So, thank you for reminding me to eat, but understand it is a challenge. Hopefully, I will have an easier time with this in the future.

Shortly after my husband died, I noticed people stopped using his name and speaking about him as much. I know this was done as a way to protect me, but it actually had the opposite effect. No one wants their loved one to be forgotten, and this is a real fear. Talking about the individual doesn’t upset a grieving person; we are already upset. On the contrary, hearing about memories and special times others shared with my husband brings me comfort. Yes, I usually shed some tears while hearing those stories, but I would have shed those tears anyway. So please say his name, speak of him, and keep those memories alive. Perhaps at some point, the painful tears will lessen and turn to happy tears while remembering my love.

Family take Thanksgiving photo together in their living room
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

If you have read this far, you may be asking what is actually helpful to someone grieving. I would say just be there, whether it is in person or via a computer screen/phone (during this time of the pandemic). Instead of saying, ‘Let me know if you need anything,’ just do something. During the depths of grief, we don’t know what we need. I am beyond grateful for those who left a meal on the porch just in case, offered to walk the dog, or picked up a few extra necessities when doing their own errands. Little things were so appreciated. 

Above all else, please allow me to be sad. As much as you try, you can’t distract me or cheer me up…not yet. Know I am going to cry and scream and be broken. Grief is such a lonely, isolating thing, and those of us grieving simply need support. We need love. Our lives have been turned completely upside down.

Many of us come home to an empty house for the first time in our lives. It is hard. We realize there is no one to talk to in our empty house; no one with whom to share the details about our day; no one with whom to share the accomplishments of our children…those are hard things. Think of the most important person in your life. Now think if they were suddenly gone. You cannot even imagine the situation, but I am living it every single day. Don’t forget about me and my loved one who died, please. We need you now more than ever.”

Husband and wife smile during a family photo
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by E. Christiansen. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from E. Christiansen here:

‘There is something on the scan.’ If I was a betting woman, I’d have put everything on my strong, determined husband beating this illness.’: Widow shares grief journey after losing husband to melanoma

‘My dear husband, you made me a wife, but cancer made me a widow. I now understand the true meaning of a strong bond of love.’: Widow shares grief journey 1 year after husband’s death

‘I asked him if he could see me. ‘You’re perfect.’ We never admitted the truth, but I think he knew.’: Widow recounts last months before losing husband to Melanoma

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