‘Twas the week after Christmas and ‘fore the New Year,
When partyers gathered to prolong good cheer.
But for mourners it marked yet another milestone
(without absent loved ones) of being alone.
— Teresa TL Bruce
The holidays are hard for the newly bereaved. (They’re not so easy for the not-so-newly bereaved, either.) Since early fall (in the U.S.), we’ve run the grieving gauntlet of celebrations — Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas — and now we’re facing New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. [Please see New Year, New Grief for specifics on grief, the end of one year, and the beginning of the next.]
Sometimes, the cumulative effects of getting through event after event without deceased loved ones can seem like too much to bear. Sometimes mourners become overwhelmed with breathing — with being — in a world whose traditions and commemorations keep going while their lost loves do not.
For weeks now I’ve been reflecting on something I saw on the news the week before Thanksgiving. Former NFL New England Patriot quarterback Doug Flutie’s parents died of natural causes within hours of one another. His father had a fatal heart attack, and then his mother did, too.
It’s been said she died of a broken heart. I believe it.
My sympathies and condolences go to the Fluties’ children, grandchildren, and other extended family this holiday season and as they begin the new year without them. Losing a parent is agonizing. (I know how I felt when my mother died.) Losing a grandparent is painful and life-changing, too. (I miss all of my grandparents.)
I cannot imagine the sorrow and ache of losing both parents (or two grandparents) in a single day.
For their immediate and extended family’s sake, I am sorry. Their pain and mourning will last beyond the initial swells of sympathy and kindness they no doubt received from their friends (and from the public).
But for the sake of the couple themselves, who died within hours of each other …
Losing a spouse is heart-breaking. Literally. It wasn’t until my husband’s death that I understood how physically broken a heart could feel. But it wasn’t just my heart. I had grafted my life to my husband’s — joined in mind, heart, body, and soul. His death ripped, tore at, axed, smashed, and severed our joined mind, heart, body, and soul — my mind, my heart, my body, my soul.
We were one. And when one is halved, the fraction remaining is not whole. The surviving spouse is an off-kilter, walking wound, more a jagged hole than a functioning human.
I remember how awful the first days felt. (First weeks, months, years …) I resented rare couples, like the Fluties, who passed from this life into the next together by peaceful, natural causes.
For the sakes of that late husband and his briefly widowed wife (whose family now doubly grieves their dual absence), I reluctantly admit I held a sliver of envy. (Amid the widowed community, I know I’m not alone in this.)
I’m not the only widowed one who, on hearing of one spouse shortly following the other into death, feels … (I don’t like admitting this) … jealous.
Now, lest any of my friends, family, or readers misunderstand me, let me be very, very clear before we go on from here: I did not ever, I do not now, and I will not ever contemplate taking any action to hasten “joining” my late husband. No. NOT gonna happen.*
But there were times I would have welcomed a passive exit of my own. There were times when grief was so ever-present, so debilitating, so excruciating, so overwhelming, so lonely … I went to bed hoping not to wake up.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to live, because I had three amazing daughters who needed me. I had other family and friends I needed and loved, too. But I didn’t know how to keep going One. More. Hour. — let alone another DAY — in that much pain.
Waking up to a new day was as awful as going to bed alone. (Sometimes.)
Among the newly widowed, dying together can seem preferable to surviving a spouse. (At least for a while.) Over and over I heard others say, “Why did I have to stay behind? Why do I have to keep going? How can I endure hurting this badly?”
There’s nothing you can do to remove their pain, but you can make sure they don’t endure it alone. Include them. Be with them. Validate their loss by acknowledging and accepting their sorrow.
Let them know you’ll be by their side — and not just on New Year’s Eve, but in the unbearably long 365 days that follow.
*If you (or anyone you know) feel so overburdened by grief or loss (or any other reason) that “not living” seems like an option, please, please seek professional help. Do it now. If not for your own sake, then for the sakes of those around you, get help now.
Visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the U.S.; outside the U.S. you may find resources listed at http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html.