Dear Helpers,


One of the most powerful things anyone can say to me is

“Yes, this is __________”. 

*Insert: awful, terrible, horrible, sad, unfair, gutting...


Any word that acknowledges that Mike’s death sucks will complete this simple sentence. 


The fact is Mike being dead is hard for me.  And, yes, it still continues to be difficult almost 22 months later because, well, he still continues to be dead.  Simply acknowledging that Mike dying is horrible, and awful and sucks helps me feel less isolated.  I appreciate that it is not easy to bear witness to someone’s grief.  But, your presence is really the best gesture.  It’s what’s needed most.


Simply hold me in my brokenness and resist the urge to do anything more.


Sometimes people think they can encourage and support me by saying good things about my future.  Well, in truth, don’t.  Please don’t give me a pep talk.  Grief isn’t something that you need to coach someone out of.  There isn't a playbook that holds all the answers.  It simply is what it is.  

I assure you, I am keenly interested in my future.  I am intimately invested in it because this is where my life lives.  I assure you, I have given my future more thought than anyone else on Earth.  In fact, I am consumed by thinking about it.  And, this is not necessarily a good thing; because at best, the future is uncertain, for all of us.  Not only is my future uncertain, it is radically changed from how I imagined it.  


There is nothing anyone can say that will make my future better or necessarily brighter.  If there was, trust me, I would have already told myself the words.  It’s okay that no one can make all this better for me.  This is going to take time and hard work.  I’ve got a life to recreate and this isn’t going to happen overnight.  And, please rest easy knowing that I am mildly excited about recreating a life for myself because there are so many possibilities. 


This is the beginning of anything I want. 

There is great opportunity in my future, this is not lost on me. 

I get it.  And, I look forward to the future unfolding.


No one needs to  “fix” my broken life.  This is my life to rebuild and no one can do it for me.  I do not require sympathy or need pity, but it would be nice if those who love me could stand nearby as I go about my reconstruction.  It is comforting to think someone might steady me or re-position me, ever so slightly, if I go too far off course.  I am strong, but I would love for someone to help shine a light along the way because there are no markers on the dimly lit road I’ve been forced to travel. 


I’d love for you to stand close enough to me so that our eyes can meet.  This said, I am aware that I am not as social as I used to be.  This is because I am preoccupied with trying to save myself.  I’ve had to disconnect as I’ve focused on surviving.  If I have withdrawn it was not by intention, but rather necessary.  Rebirth of oneself is consuming and requires energy and attention.


I’ve spent nearly two years trying to find myself.  I spend my days crawling around among the destruction of what was once a beautiful life.  I pick up fragments of my former life, pieces of myself that I vaguely recognize.  I quietly collect these shards of myself that can be salvaged.  I scour the landscape of my old  life for things that I can use to create the foundation on which to rebuild myself.  This is hard work.  It is tedious.  I’m tired.   


I've had to come undone in order to come forth.  It's been a out of body experience.  I’ve felt lost and displaced for so long now that I struggle to remember what it feels like to be comfortable in my own life.  I have been stripped bare and the insides of my Soul are exposed.  Surviving his death has been completely life altering for me.  I am different now.  I am better in many ways I can't even begin to explain.  Mike dying has made me learn so very much about living, and at the same time I have never felt more detached from my life. 

So, nearly two years later what do I need from other human beings?

Maybe less than I’ve ever needed in my entire life because I’m more independent and introverted than I’ve ever been. Death has made me quiet.  There is an instinctive need to swaddle myself so that I can safely undergo my remaking.  I’ve shielded myself as I am transforming and preparing for my reentry into life.  I’m cocooning because there is no other way to do this.  Eventually, I learned that I had to settle into grief in order to come back to life.

Now, I feel that I’m nearly ready to emerge from the safety of my isolation.  This is a critical time, and maybe I need connection to other living people more than ever before.  I’m not sure.  Whatever happens, I hope that my helpers meet me where I am when I need them.  Somehow, I just know that I will be okay when I emerge from this.  I know that whoever I need will be standing there - waiting for me - when I come back to life.  


Through this mess, Mike stays close to me.  But, physically, he’s absent.  I desperately miss having someone who is alive championing me.  I’d love someone to be there when I stand up and rise from my knees. And, I feel Mike will arrange for this.  I know that he would never leave his girl when she needs him most.  Like the rest of my helpers, Mike sees that living without him is hard work.  My hand are bloodied from crawling among the debris of my shattered life, my heart is broken and I’m exhausted. He knows this.  And, he wishes he could fix this, but he can't.

The best way to honor Mike is to take care of the people he loves.  In his absence please encourage me by wrapping me in a tight, long embrace when I come to you bearing pieces and fragments of my old self.  Trinkets and things I hold tenderly as I desperately attempt to breathe life back into them.

You may know full well that the treasures I am holding in my tired hands are broken beyond repair; but, please don’t crush me by telling me - what I already know.  Instead, make me coffee, or pour a me glass of wine.  Stay.  Sit with me and let me cry.  Cry with me.  This is what he would do.  Would you please love me for him.


We both know I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.  When I stand up to leave, to return to my empty house, you can hug me and say “dammit this sucks”.  And, this will mean everything to me.  Acknowledging the sucking and heartbreak helps.  It validates all the feelings that live inside my broken heart.  In truth, to support me, no fancy words are needed.


 I just need your presence, in his absence.

You can help me by witnessing me. 

Bear witness to my brokenness. 

And, stay with me for a short while so I don’t have to miss him alone - again.


Supporting someone through grief isn’t easy.  Not all people are comfortable witnessing the gutting, primal aching.  It's ugly.  It’s messy.  And, it’s heartbreaking.  I know that many people feel anxious witnessing raw sadness so they fill the silence with well meaning platitudes. I understand that it is hard to understand the depth and breadth of our loss, but I appreciate those who try.

The best support is simply being present.  Watch us grieve. 

And, please let us be heard.  Listen to us grieve. 


We usually grieve silently by ourselves.  It is a huge relief to let our feelings fall out from inside our hearts to your ears.  I speak for all of us who are grieving, we are grateful for those of you who are our helpers.  Our lifelines. Our people, when our person has died. 

Thank you again and again,

Showing 4 reactions

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  • Staci Sulin
    commented 2018-09-24 08:47:15 -0700
    Thank you for sharing part of your story with us. I think both of us “being vulnerable and speaking (our) truth” will resonate with others and perhaps even help them stay the course and feel the strength they need to continue on this journey back towards living.

    My dear friend has a story that is similar to yours. Two years ago, both she and her husband were each battling cancer. She survived and had he did not. She had to make his funeral arrangements while she was undergoing chemo. Recently, her cancer has returned and she continues to fight because she loves life. Like you she is tired, and she aches for her husband, but she continues on the best way she knows how.
    Best to you and to us all,
  • Candy Culver
    commented 2018-09-19 14:42:42 -0700
    Just past 20 months here – and your description of cocooning is so relatable. I’ve fought breast cancer (stage 2B with lymph nodes involved), and had a hip replacement in those months since Rick’s death – after caring for him with support of hospice for a few months before he died. There are days my inner voice says I’m going too slow yet my body and spirit are tired. No answers about the future, some anxiety and doing my best to let the journey unfold and be patient with myself. Thank you for being vulnerable and speaking your truth – that helps me.
  • Staci Sulin
    commented 2018-09-10 10:34:57 -0700
    Yes, those helpers, the people who simply let us grieve without attempting to “fix” us are invaluable.
    Thank you to all the helpers, you make all the difference to us.
  • Laren Tolbert
    commented 2018-09-10 10:06:48 -0700
    This so well describes what it’s like to wander around the ruins of my life, the plans we made that will not come to pass, and the need for someone to just let me cry. I’m trying to reconstruct my life but there’s not much time left in which to build.