Super Bowl, Super Grief

Super Bowl 50 may be a big deal to some folks out there, but for those who are grieving it may or may not matter. If you have friends who’ve lost loved ones within the last couple of years (or so), keep in mind:

  1. Invite grieving friends to watch the big game at your house with you.

    This is the most Super Bowl that gets watched at my house.

    This is the kind of Super Bowl that gets watched at my house.

  2. If you and yours don’t watch the Super Bowl, invite your grieving friends to join you in whatever you do — or don’t.
  3. If you’re having a tailgating party, invite them there.
  4. Mourning leaves people feeling bronco-bucked. They may need to immerse themselves in occasional fun to escape their pain for a while.
  5. Grieving makes your friends feel panther-mauled. They may need to curl up in their dens to recover in solitude.
  6. Living after losing a loved one is harder than you know, so cut them a bit of slack. Mourners may need a replay or do-over.
  7. Crowds storm the field after the game, but eventually the stadium empties. Well-wishers surround the bereaved up until the funeral, but eventually everyone else goes home, leaving the bereaved alone in their loss.
  8. When you’ve lost the highest-stakes championship — with death on the line — getting riled up over a football game can seem pointless.
  9. Mourners need fans to cheer them on with encouragement and support — whether they seem ahead of their game or whether they seem to be running behind.
  10. After the game, the losing team needs fan support and continued training. After the funeral, bereaved friends need ongoing support, too.
  11. If you’ve already asked mourning friends to join you but they said, “No thanks,” ask again (GENTLY). Invite them to change their minds at any time.
  12. Honoring traditions (such as pre-game parties with friends) can make the bereaved feel more connected to their departed loved ones and their living friends.
  13. Honoring those same traditions can make the bereaved feel more disconnected from their dead loved ones and their living friends.
  14. Mourners can feel happy and involved with their friends while also feeling sad and isolated from their friends at the same time in the middle of a party.
  15. Not being invited because they’ve lost loved ones makes mourners feel like they’re being unfairly punished.
  16. Just because your friends have lost loved ones doesn’t mean they can’t laugh at funny things. Sometimes mourners need to laugh.
  17. Laughing while mourning can feel so good it makes you cry.
  18. If players are sidelined due to injuries, they need medical treatment but still belong to the team; if mourners are sidelined by grief, they’re still your friends — so treat them that way.
  19. Sometimes players’ numbers are retired, never to be worn again; people sometimes see that as sad, but the team carries on with new players signed on. Mourning friends’ loved ones have gone beyond retirement, never to play or work or interact again; their family team will never, ever be the same.
  20. Super Bowl teams train and work out long before they set foot on the televised field in front of the world. Whether mourner’s have advance notice of bereavement’s demands  or they’re tackled by it without warning, grievers often feel vulnerable under spectators’ scrutiny.
  21. Mourners don’t need would-be coaches who’ve never mourned their loss telling them how to play through their grief.
  22. If you haven’t already asked your grieving friends to join you for the game, it’s not too late. (If you’re reading this after the game, it’s still not too late to get together doing something — anything — else!)
  23. Game day snacks might be the most wholesome meal your mourning friend has eaten since their loved one died. (Mourning appetites are weird.)
  24. Players sidelined with concussions are never told to get back out on the field to play again too soon. People concussed by the death of a life partner (or other loved one) should also never be told to get back out into relationship fields to play again too soon. (They’ll know when — and/or if — they’re ready again, so don’t give your input UNLESS they ask.)
  25. Tailgating means shopping ahead and prepping food before the big event; mourners may have trouble shopping or prepping food at all.
  26. Even if you don’t usually invite friends over for the Super Bowl, please invite your bereaved friends anyway. You don’t have to do anything fancy; just being there as a friend will help.
  27. Have a box of tissues nearby for commercials. Sometimes touching ads will touch off emotions of grief. Let your friends know you are okay with them expressing their feelings.
  28. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk (grieving or not). So don’t. Ever.
  29. Whether your friends lost their loved ones recently or long ago, keep in mind that annual events may strengthen and stir up traumatic losses.
  30. Last-minute invitations are better than no invitations at all. If you haven’t already done it, please, call, text, or message your grieving friends — NOW.

Whether you’re reading this hours or minutes before the big game, halfway through it, or long after, tell mourning friends you’re thinking of them. Acknowledge that even though they may feel alone, they aren’t forgotten and they don’t have to be alone all the time.

Let them know you care.

Mourning on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day hurts. I don’t like dwelling on the downside of death (although that may seem like a strange thing from someone who writes about grief), but the best way for me to get through every second Sunday in May is to close the blinds and hunker down in solitude.

Sometimes the light of love (and its loss) shines brighter against the darkness of grief.

Sometimes the light of love (and its loss) shines brighter against the darkness of grief.

It wasn’t always like that. As a kid I picked flowers, drew cards, and poured adulation on Mom. As a young adult, then a new bride, and eventually a mother myself I appreciated her (and my grandmas and aunts) more deeply than before. My cards and gestures of appreciation (which once seemed so grand) paled next to Mom’s lifetime of service — though my daughters’ creative endeavors for me melted my heart.

After Mom died, Mother’s Day went dark. I still went to church that day, but mostly for my children’s sakes. (I wanted them to see me attending weekly even if I didn’t feel like it, and I knew they and their peers had practiced a song for all the moms.) I enjoyed their lovely hugs (and songs) and cards and “interesting” breakfasts in bed that one day of the year.

But the moment memories of Mom meandered into the day, renewed mourning overtook me.

Over the years I’ve learned to live with my mother’s loss, but there were always certain days per year — like Mother’s Day — wherein the pain of being a daughter without a mother hit me again. Hard.

Those hits became all-out assaults after my husband died. The pain of being a wife without a husband knocked the breath out of me.

This is my fifth widowed Mother’s Day. It’s easier … and yet it’s not. (My plastic smile will be a little more convincing as I smile at the children singing at church this year, but I know better than to bother wearing eye makeup.)

If you know someone grieving this Mother’s Day, let them know you’re mindful of their loss. Let them know you’re thinking about them. Let them know you know this year is different than it was.

Don’t say you know how they feel, because you don’t — especially if you’ve never suffered a similar loss. Only bereaved mothers, for instance, can nearly understand the raw feelings of other mothers who have buried a child. Acknowledge the unique, personal, presence of their grief.

Some people need interaction with others to distract them from tender days like this. Reach out and invite them!

But if they ignore or decline your invitation or phone calls, don’t take it personally. They might be like I am, needing to hunker down this year, but also appreciating messages of support. (I’m keeping the “Please do NOT disturb” sign on my door all day.)

Whether they take you up on your offers or don’t bother responding, let them know you’re aware and you care.

Laughter and Tears–Where Grief Meets Humor

This morning I wrote such a long comment on another blog I realized I’d written a post-length response. Heather O., author of “There are two possibilities” on Segullah.org, wrote,

“Humor. I think it’s important. I’m not sure how you can best use it, or when you should use it, but I still think it’s important. Somehow it fits into the comfort paradigm. Or at least, I think it does. What do you think?”*

Here’s how I answered:

My daughter told me this yesterday. One scientist: “Tell me the joke about potassium.”
Second scientist: “K.”

Every person grieves differently, and every loss is different, whether it be loss of health, a job, a pet, or a loved one, or a different loved one. In most cases I’ve known, before a person CAN see or be comforted by humor, they must be mourned WITH.

So glad I coaxed Aunt Ginny and Granddad (her brother) into sitting for portraits that day.

I’m so glad I coaxed Aunt Ginny and Granddad (her brother) into sitting for portraits that day. (Picture didn’t appear in my Segullah comment.)

My beloved great-aunt died last weekend. Her funeral is today in another state and I can’t be there. She was nearly 96, and all the family is relieved (though with teary eyes) for her sake that she didn’t linger long after falling and suffering multiple breaks two days earlier. As we go through her lived-through-the-Depression-so-never-discarded-anything house just around a few corners from mine, there’s a lot of laughter. My biggest laugh so far? The discovery of a beautiful little antique glass bottle … labeled and filled with her late husband’s kidney stones. He passed in the mid-70s, though he probably passed the stones much earlier. (Pun intended!)

On the other hand (of possible reactions), even in my relief for her release and return to long-gone loved ones, I’m forever going to miss her sweet, rose-colored, glass nearly-full (never just half-) day-to-day presence. I ache in her absence. My most sentimental sob-inducing find so far? A 3×4-inch scrap of paper drifted out from the pages of a huge stack of ancestral research. On it that sentimental woman had jotted down my youngest daughter’s birth information (name, time, size, etc.) when I called her from the hospital that morning … She’d even written down “Teresa doing well and breakfast just delivered to her room.”
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When I became a widow at 44 it was completely unexpected. Blindsided by grief, I deeply resented those who said, “You’re kidding!” or “You’re joking!” to the news of my 47-year-old husband’s death. (Four years later, I understand they thought they were as blindsided as my daughters and I.) I also resented (and was repelled by) those who in any way tried to make light of our loss. What I (and my daughters) needed was to be mourned with before we could be comforted.

On the other hand (of possible reactions), I quickly recognized, took solace in, and quickly developed the dark widowed humor of others who’d experienced the deaths of their spouses. (Now there’s no need to shave your legs in the winter, no one will steal the covers from your side of the bed, you can have the last word in every argument, stick a red paper hourglass on a black T-shirt and you’ll never have to create another Halloween costume…) Coming from people who hadn’t walked in widowhood’s path, their comments would have felt like minimizing slaps in the face; coming from a community of the also-widowed, they felt like encouraging “you’ll get through this — I did” pats on the back.

(In one widows and widowers group, one of the longest-running, most commented on threads was about leg shaving. If that isn’t funny, I don’t know what is!)

Be very, very careful about using humor while interacting with the newly bereaved. Laughter that has nothing to do with the death can be cathartic. Offer to watch a great comedy with them — if they are up to it — because humor can promote belly laughs that bring sorely-needed oxygen to mourners’ lungs. (See Taboo Topics When Someone Dies–Part 4, Appearance.) Sometimes those who grieve need participation in activities unrelated to their loss, but without an invitation they may not think to on their own.

However, unless you’ve walked a very similar path of loss, tread oh so lightly when bringing humor into conversations about the loss. Laughter over funny memories of the deceased is usually welcome. Laughter over the loss itself is not.

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* I recommend you read Heather O.’s full post. It made me think. http://segullah.org/daily-special/there-are-two-possibilities/

Another Father’s Day–DANG IT!

Father’s Day. For three weeks I’ve written, revised, and discarded post after post, trying to decide what to say. It’s the night before, and I still don’t know …

I’m blessed and grateful that my dad is still here. He lives nearby and continues to be a rock of solid reliability. I can’t remember him ever directing an unkind gesture or a loud word my way (though when he spoke my full name in a certain tone I knew I’d crossed the line).

When I was a young, naive newlywed I remember my mother once telling me she hoped I appreciated how lucky we both were to have such good, kind men in our lives. I thought at the time that I did fully appreciate it.

Looking back now, I see how clueless I was, how little I understood. Since then I’ve seen glimpses, peeks at the hardships inflicted on many women and children because of the actions (and because of the failings) of the men in their lives.

So again I acknowledge how blessed I’ve been — how blessed I am.

And yet …

It’s another Father’s Day — DANG IT! — and my husband, the father of my children, is dead. This is our fourth without him. You’d think I’d be “used to it by now.” I thought I would, too. (It took years, but eventually I got “used to” the absence of my wonderful grandfathers. Sort of.)

But I’m not used to it. Not at all. Chances are that the widows and widowers you know, the mourning parents and the bereaved children of your acquaintance, or the grieving coworkers in your office aren’t “over it by now,” either.

Here are a few things you can do to show them your support:

  • Say something. A text, a call, a private message, or a note can be brief. “I’m thinking of you today/this weekend.”
  • Take the kids of a widower shopping so they can do something special for their daddy who’s trying to do two parents’ jobs.
  • Take a small treat to a widow (and her kids) “just because” to let them know they’re thought of on a day when they’re even more aware (if that’s possible) of their loss than on other days.
  • Let them know their loved ones aren’t forgotten — and neither are they.
  • Invite and include (with sensitivity). If the kids in the troop are doing a daddy-daughter or father-son activity, TALK TO their widowed mother. ASK if she’d like a surrogate parent or relative to “step in” for the event or if she’d like to attend with her child. (The same applies to asking widowers about activities geared toward moms.)
  • Listen. Whether the death happened recently or years ago, sometimes the bereaved need to share memories of their loved ones or feelings about their loss.
  • Ask instead of assuming.
    • “Are there ways I can help you with …?”
    • “Would you like me to …?”
    • “Would you like to talk about …?”
  • Don’t dismiss or diminish their grieving.
    NEVER say:

    • “At least …” anything. (Saying “at least” literally makes it seem as if the loss isn’t that important to the speaker, so why should it be so important to the bereaved?)
    • “You should …” OR “You shouldn’t …”
      (No one has the right to tell someone else how to go about the emotions or the business of grieving.)
    • “I know what you’re going through.” (Each loss is unique.)

You can’t “fix” your friends’ grief, but you can — and should — comfort them by letting them know you support them in it.

 

Don’t Say “Happy New Year” after a Death

Do I wish my grieving friends “Happy New Year?” There are more helpful things to say, depending on how long it has been since their loved ones died.

If your friend’s loss is recent (and by “recent” I mean within a year or even up to 15 months), then no. “Happy New Year” is probably not the right thing to say in the first year (or two), even though you do wish your friend to be happy. Grief is not a happy feeling, but when it is new and raw it is the feeling your friend needs acknowledged. More thoughtful responses will be better received. Some things I appreciated hearing as a “new” widow of three months:

  • “I wish you well in the year ahead.”
  • “I know it is difficult starting this new year without him. I miss him, too.”
  • “Would you like to talk about how you two usually celebrated New Year’s Eve together?”
  • “We’d love to have you welcome in the new year among friends. Would you like to join us?”
  • “I’m sorry he isn’t here to begin this year with you.”
  • “You’re in my thoughts this New Year’s Eve. I know it isn’t the same.”

If the loss is more recent, the bereaved may not want to be included in “party” atmospheres — they are hurting too much to celebrate — but it is essential to invite them! Whether they accept your invitations or not, it is better for grieving souls to turn down a dozen invitations to social gatherings than not to receive them at all. Even if they repeatedly refuse your invitations, KEEP ASKING.

As the world celebrates moving forward from one year’s date to the next, those mourning the loss of loved ones who died in the “old” year face the devastating reality that their dear ones will never “touch” the new year. Even those who have already spent nearly a year adjusting to their changed lives will face a new 365-day period of acknowledging their lack. For weeks, maybe months, every time a widowed spouse pens the year onto a check or a parent-bereft child painstakingly pencils the date on a school assignment, a grieving soul feels the “betrayal” of hand and tool writing a time their loved ones will not experience with them.

If your friend’s loss struck longer ago (and by “longer ago” I mean at least a year or more), then “Happy New Year” may be a welcome greeting. If your friend is moving forward,  taking steps geared toward the future, finding joy and fulfillment in life again, then by all means say “Happy New Year!” But be sensitive to how your friend is really feeling. Some who mourn lost loved ones may “look” like they’re “doing better” through the holidays — at least in public — but even those who’ve “gotten used to” their losses find holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries to be difficult times.