The People Who Stay

It is known to be a common sorrow amongst widowed people that so many of our friends from our "before" lives disappear after the death of our partners. Nearly four years later, I have a deeper understanding of this. Initially, this additional pain is so hurtful that we bear ill will, and I will say, rightly so. If everyone knew what it felt like to lose a partner or loved one, if people were educated on grief and how to behave, this wouldn't, and shouldn't, happen. But...I know now, people do not know how to behave, and this is no fault of theirs. We are not taught this, in our western culture. They only know that they have their own lives. They have children to raise, dinners to cook, bills to pay, and their own troubles to bear. Sometimes, being part of our sorrow can be too much, on top of it all. And today, I forgive. Today, I understand. But it has taken these many years.

There are, however, those who do stay. Those few friends who continue to call, continue to check in, continue to offer help. What I have realized this week is that those people - not all, but most - quite often do so because they have been through it themselves. They have suffered in their own way, and lost loved ones. They have been through disease and death. They have suffered grief, and know its nooks and crannies.

Mom and I got home to Virginia from our scouting trip in South Carolina this week to a pile of mail. Lots of holiday cards. Most of them were impersonal...xeroxed copies of letters bragging of the wonderful year for their family. Let me tell you...every time mom and I heard Christmas music or saw holiday lights on display during our trip, we both turned away in sadness. I have not had a happy holiday since that wonderful last year with Mike in 2012. And this year is doubly hard with what dad is suffering with his horrific dementia, not just for me, but for mom too. I will stay here with her, and we will try to avoid it all, but it is hard. Really hard.

There were a few particularly outstanding notes though, in that pile. A couple of people, people who have been through loss and grief and this type of suffering, recognized that the "normal" holiday card would not cut it this year for mom. For this I am immensely grateful. They sent special notes of concern and love, and it touched us both. One friend of my mom's who had lost a son to a car accident years ago just sent a small note which said essentially, I know it is hard to get "happy holiday greetings" in times like this so I'm not sending one, just a note to say I love you and am thinking of you in your difficult time. Another friend of mine from school whose dad is also suffering dementia sent a beautiful, handwritten sentiment of understanding to my mom that will never be forgotten. And yet another school friend of mine took my mom out to lunch when I was back in Kona last month, to talk, because she had cared for her mom who suffered dementia, and knew how it was. And there were calls and messages from other friends leaving warm thoughts and well wishes for mom.

Seriously, that meant just everything. To have someone, even just one person, who gets it, means everything. When they reach out, it creates a path where the love flows, if you know what I mean. It makes a huge difference not to feel so alone in the abyss.

This is NOT a chastise against friends who don't think of these things. Because God bless them...they haven't been through it yet, and don't get it. And I hate to say this, but, they will. The long, two to three page copied letters neither mom or I could bear to read went right into the trash this year. And this is not because we don't love them or are not happy they had a great year. We are. We just had a crappy one. A really, really, crappy one. And it's not over yet.

I can tell you this. Nearly four years later, I am exhausted by my grief. I try to be there for my friends going through yet more disease and deaths, but it is really, really hard. I don't have the energy to be there the way I would like to because of my own grief. So that alone makes me think I need to be more willing to forgive the people who didn't stay, because maybe I just don't know everything that is going on with them. I choose to forgive, and instead be thankful, for what, and who, I am left with, during tough times, and wish everyone well.




Showing 7 reactions

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  • Stephanie Vendrell
    commented 2016-12-24 07:58:34 -0800
    Barbara, indeed they do, thank you and best to you.
    Cathy, I know, right? Like people don’t think sometimes. Sigh. Hugs for 2017.
    Kelly, Oh my dear I am so sorry for your loss. The initial shock and grief is the hardest, I will be holding you close to my heart. Glad you found us here.
    Sharon, glad you can be with mom this holiday, as I am, even with so little to celebrate. Sending love to you both too.
  • Sharon Wall
    commented 2016-12-23 03:17:20 -0800
    Me too, Stephanie. 2 1/2 years since Brian died and the season seems pretty joyless. Add to that, Dad’s death last March, Mom’s decreasing mobility and her sadness that Dad is no longer with us and there seems little reason to celebrate. But I’m glad I’m able to provide her with the kind of support I can because I too am living it.

    I’ve been surprised at some of the friends who have stayed and some who haven’t and it does seem to be those who get it that stick around.

    Thinking of you and your family and sending love.
  • Kelly Ford
    commented 2016-12-23 00:19:58 -0800
    My partner died three weeks ago. I’m still waiting for her to walk through the door. I’m kind of lost and without direction and it is hard. No one has disappeared yet, but we were so fully self contained that we didn’t let a lot of people into our lives.
  • Cathy
    commented 2016-12-22 20:27:46 -0800
    Yes, thankful for friends who have stuck with me over the years, all it takes is one. I am glad to hear that someone else has a hard time with holiday cards and letters, how can they think I’ll have “the best Christmas ever”??? Do they even read the words they are sending and think about it? Remember to breathe, a new day and a new year will be here soon.
  • Barbara Raczak
    commented 2016-12-22 18:00:39 -0800
    This is so true..Sometimes even after 4 years I am still jealous of those who are oblivious to what I feel & are enjoying a life without sorrow.. But having family & a few friends who understand helps. Of coarse for many years I was the one who didn’t understand. I guess everyone goes through sorrow in some way at some time.
  • Stephanie Vendrell
    commented 2016-12-22 11:12:52 -0800
    Lisa, I am so sorry for your loss. The first year is the hardest…I can honestly say I am in a very different place now after four years than I was. It’s just that the grief is compounded by what we are going through with my dad, and seeing my mom in this distressed state. But hang on, believe it or not, things will get better, but it can be slow going, and everyone is different. And, holidays are hardest. Sending hugs.
  • Lisa Rumel Cretsinger
    commented 2016-12-22 11:07:40 -0800
    My husband died March of this year – I’m operating our retail business alone, He had neck cancer. I know what you mean when you say “really really hard” it is not an exaggeration but I am worried that you are still tired after four years. I worry if I will ever again feel joy or happiness or not be tired too.