Sitting Beside Grief

Today I’m writing about a different side of grief… about being the one sitting beside someone who is grieving. About those moments watching a partner who is widowed go through their own pain. It’s no secret that Thanksgiving is a hard holiday for Mike. His wife died just a week before this holiday 3 years ago. Hitting the 3 year mark is hard enough without it happening near the holidays.

So there we were, having a very different holiday than they would have ever had before she died. Before he met me. And at some point, it was inevitably going to come crashing down. Which it did. Late the evening after Thanksgiving, we were about to get in the hot tub with everyone when his emotions welled up. He snuck away to one of the bedrooms at my sister’s house and I soon followed. As I sat beside my new best friend, putting my arm around him, I didn’t say anything at all.

Because in that moment, I knew I didn’t have any words that could make anything better. I knew that even though I am also widowed, I don't have any advantage or special power in these moments. Nothing I can say will “fix” this or take away the pain of missing her and wishing that she were here. I had a dozen things in my mind to say, but as I scanned over each of them, I knew none of them would provide any real comfort. Because sometimes there just isn’t anything that can comfort us. Sometimes - especially during the holidays - it just hurts and we just need to hurt.

And so I just sat there, feeling helpless. Wishing there was something more I could do. Wishing my best friend wasn’t hurting and feeling so overwhelmed. And knowing the best thing I could do was just sit beside him quietly, and let it be ok to feel it all. 

It reminded me of the first Christmas after Drew died. Of the moment I got overwhelmed and I just couldn't deal with being around people, so I snuck outside for a moment and exploded into tears in the front yard. Feeling totally alone because everyone else seemed to be doing a bang-up job of not feeling their feelings. That Christmas was spent with Drew's family, but my brother also joined us. Shortly after I walked outside, my older brother came following. And I remember him holding me tight and me crying so hard and hating it all so much. He didn't say anything. He certainly didn't try and fix it. After all, we'd both lost Mom many years ago, and so he knew as well as I did, no words could fix it. He also knew I didn't need fixing. None of us do. We need permission to be broken, and seen, and accepted. Sometimes it's being the broken one that reminds us of that. And sometimes it's sitting next to someone else's brokenness - being willing to hurt beside them. 

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  • Sheryl Zaydel
    commented 2017-11-26 20:00:03 -0800
    I feel for Mike, I know what that pain is to lose someone right before the holidays. This time of year is really bad for me and I tend to seclude and have to watch the meltdowns. I married my wife Nov 21, 2014 after having been together almost 17 years. On Dec 7th my wife suddenly died 16 days after being married, less than 2 years after we lost our teenage son to a drunk driver. So holidays push me to the edge and I think constantly about all of the “lasts” and all the things going on now that her & our son should be here for.

    Surround yourself with friends that will be your support group, don’t shut them out like I’ve done. Sending hugs out to those who need the,
  • Cathy
    commented 2017-11-26 10:30:17 -0800
    Sarah, feeling for Mike and you and all of us on these “happy” holidays. “It just hurts and we just need to hurt”. Yes. My husbands downward spiral started about now, leading to death 2 months later. Years later I can still barely hold it together this time of year, my mind wanders back to that last holiday season, what once was and will no longer be.
    Take (and give) all the hugs you can get.