The Widow Chronicles Pt. 4

The Supporter

You made it!

This week in the blog, we are discussing how we can become the best supporters possible for the people in our lives. You may ask, “Hannah, why did you use photos of your dog with this week’s blog?” Well, what better supporter is there than man’s best friend?! (Plus, he’s the most precious thing in the world, so why not?) Truly, we can all learn from each other when it comes to lifting one another out of dark places. I hope this week brings new knowledge to you and you are able to use it to be an even more beautiful light in the lives of others!

We are finally into the third and final week of talking about how we can be better grievers and supporters.  Last week, we discussed the two main lessons I learned as I was grieving.  However, a big part of grieving is having a support system.  This support system needs to be understanding, unconditional, and educated in order to offer the best support possible while we grieve, and we need to be able to do the same for others.  Like I mentioned in the first week, we all will be a griever or a supporter at some point in our life, and it is important that we are able to play both roles to the best of our abilities.

Like every week, the thoughts I share here on my blog are created from my own experiences.  I am very fortunate to have a really strong support system, but none of us (including myself) knew what losing my husband was going to be like.  We had no experience in this and felt like we were living moment to moment, not knowing what to expect next.  Their support was essential in my healing, and we are using my experience as a way to learn from each other.  Like I have always said, there is no instructional manual for how to be a widow or how to support a widow. 

As a supporter, we have to be aware of how our words and our actions are going to make someone who has lost a loved one feel.  As a widow, I knew people meant well with their words.  No one ever said anything that was intentionally hurtful, but there were so many times that I wish I could have explained why what someone said felt like twisting the dagger. For example, I was constantly told by friends and family that I was “so strong,” and while I knew they meant well by this, it was a constant reminder that I had a reason to be weak.  “Being strong” was my only option.  I didn’t have a choice whether to move forward or not, because my life kept going when Will’s life didn’t.  I am so thankful that people viewed me as a strong individual, but that doesn’t take away the fact that “being strong” was my only choice.  Now that I have moved further through the grief process, I am able to accept this word, but as a fresh widow it just wasn’t something I wanted to hear.

Maybe the words you say do not come across as hurtful.  That is great!  However, are your words adding pressure or responsibility to the griever?  While the question, “How are you doing?” seems like the right thing to ask someone, it actually puts a lot of pressure on someone that is processing grief.  In that moment, I have to decide not only how I truly am doing, but I also have to decide if you are someone that I am comfortable sharing that with.  Maybe you ask, “Is there anything you need?”  Yes!  There is a ton of things that I need, but I don’t know what I can and can’t ask of you.  I can guarantee that anyone processing grief needs something, but by just asking this question, you probably won’t get much of anything in response.  When I was asked if I needed anything, my answer was always the same: “No, I don’t think so.”  Was that true?  No.  It was all I felt comfortable saying though.  By asking me if I need anything, not only do I have to think about whether I truly do need something or not, but I also have to figure out what you’re willing to do for me.  I don’t want to ask for something and then feel like I’m even more of a burden.  For someone that is grieving, it’s just easier for them to say no.

By now, you probably feel like you just shouldn’t say anything, but I am here to tell you not to give up!  There are better ways to say all of these things and I want to share that with you.  The first rule of thumb when it comes to being a supporter is to ask yourself this question: Do my words express my support, show that I am here unconditionally, or put any pressure or responsibility on this person?  If you can ask yourself that question and still feel like the words you are going to say are fine, then they probably are!  If you’re still a little lost, here is a chart to help you get started:

How are you doing?

How are you coping?

I know what you’re going through.
I’m here if you need to talk.

Is there anything you need from me?

I hope you’re doing okay.
I just want you to know that I am here if you need to talk.  If don’t want to talk, I am still going to be here for you in whatever way I can. 

Is there anything you need that you’ve been too afraid to ask for?  Anything really – meals, toilet paper, someone to do your laundry?

In the “Best” box of that chart, I listed the two very best things that I believe someone could say to a person that is processing grief and I want to tell you why.

“I just want you to know that I am here if you need to talk.  If you don’t want to talk, I am still going to be here for you in whatever way I can.”

There are two major things happening in this sentence. First, you are letting that person know that while you are willing to listen, it is okay if they don’t want to talk to you.  By asking someone, “Do you need to talk?” we are assuming that that person is okay with talking to you.  Maybe you aren’t the person that they need or want to talk to, and that is okay!  By being an unconditional supporter, we have to accept that there may be a better person for the job of listener.   The second thing that this sentence does is reminds that person that even if they don’t want to talk, you’re going to continue to support them.  As a widow, I often felt like my supporters were owed something from me.  They didn’t do anything to make me feel this way, but it is human nature to feel like we owe the people who do things for us.  This statement is a reminder that your support doesn’t come with strings attached.  

“Is there anything you need that you’ve been too afraid to ask for?  Anything really – meals, toilet paper, someone to do your laundry?”

This statement is for those of you that want to go above and beyond!  Instead of just asking someone if they need anything, give them examples of the things that you are willing to do for them.  As widow, I wasn’t going to tell you that I needed my dishes done or my bathroom cleaned, but if you made an outright offer to do those things, I would absolutely not turn it down.  Yes, as a widow I needed help doing my dishes, laundry, cleaning my home, and having my grass cut.  It might seem silly, but there were days that I couldn’t even get out of bed without help.  Grief makes you weak.  It takes a ton of energy and brain power to process grief, and things like cleaning your house or going grocery shopping are not and should not be the priority of someone who has just lost a loved one.  Those things will come back with time, but initially, the smallest chores can seem like mountains to someone that is grieving.

I want to tell you a little bit about one of the best things that someone did for me while I was grieving.  My husband passed away on August 15, 2018 and for the following month, my front door stayed swinging.  People came and went with meals and guests to help keep me company.  My parents had moved in full time and there were always extra people in my house to help wherever they could.  I was overwhelmed by the love that people were showing me.  I could not believe that many people cared so much.  However, another thing that I was overwhelmed by, was keeping my bathroom clean, keeping the dishes done, and making sure that there was enough toilet paper, paper towels, drinks, etc. for all of the people that were coming and going.  Every time my doorbell rang, I scanned my house to make sure it was presentable and accommodating.  It might seem strange that a new widow was so concerned with this stuff, but I was still human and still concerned about normal human things.  

About 3 weeks into being back home, I had one visit that I remember vividly.  My parents had been living with me and we were still having at least one group of visitors a day.  Thankfully, meals were still being brought.  However, on this night specifically, it is not the food that I was so excited for.  When a close family friend walked into my living room with grocery bags, I could feel tears come to my eyes.  She began unpacking the bags on the island in my kitchen and every time she pulled something out of a bag, I felt more and more overwhelmed with gratitude.  She unloaded toilet paper, paper towels, plastic plates, plastic utensil, and plastic cups and began helping my mom put them in my pantry.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, but I needed these things and wouldn’t ask anyone for them.  In fact, earlier that same day, my parents and I were talking about how we would need to make a grocery run because we were low on our basic essentials.  Even though we had tons of people ask if there was anything that we needed or that they could bring us, we always told them that we were fine.  Some of you may think, “Well, Hannah, you should have just asked them to bring you some toilet paper,” but I wasn’t comfortable doing that.  I realize that people were offering to help, but I didn’t know to what extent and I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable by asking for too much.  When this friend showed up with all of the things I needed, without me having to ask or feel uncomfortable, it was literally an answered prayer.

Things like this happened more and more.  I woke up one morning to my grass being cut.  I hadn’t even realized that my grass needed to be cut, but a group of men from my church had come up with a rotation to keep my yard taken care of.  For the next year, I didn’t have to think about when my grass would get cut or who would cut it for me.  This is how you show up for grievers.  Yes, it’s okay to ask what they need, but it’s even better to see a need, and fill that need without hesitation.  As a griever, those are the acts of support that have stuck out to me.  

I’ve had some people say that they don’t want to overstep, and I absolutely understand that.  I would encourage you to find a need and go to that person and ask if you can specifically help them fill that need.  If you see that someone needs their dishes done while you’re there dropping off dinner, but don’t feel comfortable just jumping in and doing them, ask!  Be sensitive, but be honest.  Here is what I would say in that situation: “Hey, I know you have a lot on your plate right now.  I want to do more than just bring you dinner.  Can I finish those dishes for you so that you don’t have to worry about them later?”  This shows that you want to go above and beyond and that you’re willing to help in more ways.  By doing this, you’re also establishing a relationship that may help that person feel more comfortable when it comes to asking for help next time they see you.

The goal is always to support in the most unconditional way possible.  Someone that is grieving may be hesitant to let you help, because they don’t want to be a burden.  As a supporter, it is our job to remind them that they are not a burden and that their situation is not inconvenient for us.   Be open to learning from them.  If they prefer things done a specific way, let them show you so that you can serve them in the best way possible.  

Show up for people the way you would want them to show up for you. 

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