I feel like the full title of this post should be “Learning to Grieve and Educating Others on How to Be a Positive Support,” that’s a little too long though. But, it is what I want to talk about and I feel a strong need to share from my experience.
Grief is hard to put into words. Especially when you lose the one person in the world who truly knew you inside and out. It’s an overwhelming feeling of loss and I will never be the same because of it. And that’s okay – I’m becoming stronger now. I feel for those that have gone through similar losses and wish I had reached out more in the past. I wish I knew the right words to say or actions to take to comfort others. Everyone grieves differently, but these things helped me and I think they might also be helpful to others who are suffering too:
- Be present. Especially at the beginning of a loss, having family and friends to support you and each other is so important. Even if you can’t find the words to say and you just cry together, at least you don’t feel like you are suffering alone. I had my best girl friends and my mom alternately sleep with me for about the first month or so.
- Bring food. People were really good at doing this for me right away, I don’t think I have ever seen so many baked goods in my life haha. I had no appetite and everything tasted like cardboard for about the first week or two of losing Chris, but I could at least share food with others who were with me and freeze things for later. I have just recently started cooking again, which took me a while to get back into.
- Write things down. There were so many phone calls and conversations I had between the police, coroner, funeral home, for memorial service preparation, etc. It was a lot for one person to handle. Also, Decoy was missing for the first 2 days, so we had a large group of us calling shelters, putting up posters for him, sharing his image on social media and family friends of Liam’s that actually went out to the area to find him in Liam’s trailer. So, my mind was focused on finding my dog, I couldn’t remember everything else that needed to be done. I was so grateful to have organized friends and someone to write or type things out for me. Thank you to all of you!
- Make the small decisions. I was generally able to verbalize what I needed, but often friends just had to make basic decisions for me like; what to eat, what shoes to wear, etc. My mind was constantly racing with my own questions and then to answer questions that I never thought I would have to answer like; Do you want to see him? Cremation or burial? Casket present at the service or not? What kind of floral arrangements? How many programs do we need? was too much for me.
- Give them space. It was wonderful to have loving family and friends over for support, but I also really needed alone time. I needed to be alone to cry, pray and grieve myself. I may be a known extrovert, but I still need my alone time and privacy.
- Pray. If that’s all you could do, it was and still is a very meaningful action. Knowing that there were so many people out there thinking and praying for me definitely gave me the strength and courage to face my days, speak at Chris’ memorial and continue growing and healing.
Those were all actions that were very relevant in the first couple weeks and are still quite relevant now too. I was in such denial at first, I think I was just in a constant state of shock and disbelief. This obviously wasn’t something we expected would ever happen. I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t think any of us did. I got a kind phone call from one of my elementary school teachers who told me to “Enjoy the denial.” I really appreciated that advice, although it may have seemed odd at first he knew that what was to come was going to be really tough, so enjoying the denial is what I did! Once that wore off is when it became more difficult. But, I do believe that God has a greater plan than I could ever know and I am trusting in Him that my future is still bright and there is still hope in my life even though my world has seemingly turned upside down.
In the past 3 months I have experienced many emotions and encountered some frustrating situations. I feel I need to share for my own personal healing, but also in hopes that we can all learn from them in the future. We never really know what to do for someone who has just lost an important person in their lives. So, here is some advice to you when you are talking to me or someone else who has just lost a loved one (and really just advice in general):
- Have some empathy. When talking to new people, if someone tells you they just lost their spouse (son, brother, cousin, etc.) don’t just stare blankly at them, say something! Anything really! Even if you say “I don’t have words,” that is so much better than changing the subject or acting like you didn’t hear what they said. This happened to me a surprising amount of times. I know it’s not something you hear often, but please don’t completely shut down.
- If you know, say something. If you already know about Chris, you don’t have to let me be the first one to bring it up. Even if you just say “I heard and I am so sorry for your loss,” that means a lot. I know it is the elephant in the room, so let’s just address it right away.
- I like talking about him! You don’t have to tiptoe around the subject of Chris in fear of upsetting me, he is always on my mind. I enjoy talking about him and I want to keep his memories alive. So please don’t feel like you can’t bring him up in conversation. He was the love of my life and best friend. I will always cherish our memories.
- Use the word “widow” carefully. Much too soon someone said to me something like; “I know it’s going to be hard now being a widow and all.” I wasn’t ready to hear that word yet. I can just barely say it out loud now to be honest.
- Don’t be nosy. I mentioned already that it’s nice to talk about Chris, but it isn’t always easy talking about the accident. What happened is my story to share and if the information is needed, I will tell you, otherwise please don’t ask me for specific details.
- Let me grieve my way. A few wonderful ladies who have been through unfortunate similar experiences reached out to me right away and something they all said was “Grieve how you want to grieve, don’t let others tell you how to grieve.” I have been through feelings of denial, confusion, anger, depression and acceptance and it’s important to feel all those feelings. It’s okay for me to feel them when and how I feel them. My friends have been really good about making sure I go through all those emotions.
I can actually say that I have been through all the stages of grief now and I know I will continue to cycle through them. I am slowly learning to accept this new reality and move forward in a more positive way. I want to help others! Let my story be an example to others and although its’s sad, I hope it is also inspiring. Because of my openness and honesty here, I hope that this in some way can be helpful to others out there too.
I was blessed to be able to get away about a month after the accident with Chris’ parents and visit his brother in California. It was a healing time for all of us and so good to be together. I had one day alone in Malibu in a beautiful beach house right by the water. I needed that alone time to reflect on everything that had happened. I started journalling that night and took these photos when the sun was setting. I found a peace there that was so fulfilling. I continue to journal, pray, read books and have been getting counselling – I highly recommend all of these things to those who are going through a loss. Making time to grieve is so important for yourself. I am very thankful to have people that constantly remind me of that, so now I am reminding you too.
Lots of love, Marie