What I Would Say at Seth's Memorial Service

Another damn young widow. I never met the spouses of most of my widowed friends; it's actual grieving, rather than just making friends, when a loss happens to someone I knew “before.”

Everyone wants to know how to help. This subject is the number one request on my blog. I'm sorry to have the occasion to answer them, but here is a first attempt, way too long, incomplete, hastily done. I'll keep refining materials on this subject, so your feedback is much appreciated.

If the opportunity comes up, if someone wants to read this at tomorrow's memorial service, I'd be grateful.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I had not seen Jane or Seth, or their darling Eli, since they moved to Cleveland. I was preoccupied with my own battle for a child, my relationship with my husband, and then with his illness and death. In the three years since then, as a widow caring for a young child, I learned a lot about surviving, what people in crisis need, and now, about building a new life and thriving again.

I learned that while a memorial service is for the person who has departed, it's really for those left behind. Jane is not me, but based on my experience and understanding of the dozens of young widows and widowers I know now, I can share some basics about how to make a difference for the grieving wife:

1. There is no wrong thing to say. Nothing can hurt her more than this loss. So say what you feel. “This sucks” is a good start. Any day you have a memory of Seth, any anniversary, birthday, on any coincidence or whenever you wonder how Jane and Eli are doing, pick up the phone.

2. Know yourself. Grieving splits loving families and challenges the closest of friendships. Jane and Eli can’t afford to lose a single one of you. And you are all grieving – learn about the process, be honest about your own feelings, and then be open to listening to Jane and Eli. They WILL need you. Offer any distraction or company that you can: a play date, coffee, drop by with a meal. Invite them to your place and make sure Jane knows no one will be dressed up.

3. Please, I know you mean well, but DO NOT SAY “let me know what I can do.” I can’t speak for Jane, but I have met hundreds of grieving people and every single one hates this phrase: Why? WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE NEED. We have a hard time finding words, we can’t think on our feet. In time, we need so much we’re ashamed to say. Asking is incredibly difficult at the best of times! So: Offer something specific – housework, grocery shopping, a meal, money – or just give it without asking first. Don’t be ashamed if it’s not grand.

4. Be persistent. I don’t know one young widow who was good about returning phone calls, e-mails, or other communication. An acquaintance of mine from school stopped by (wearing sweatpants) and really listened one June day, a visit that changed the course of my first year significantly. If you’re rebuffed, try again later.

5. Think about the long term. You may recover from the feelings aroused by this service in a few weeks. But Jane and Eli’s loss will be a part of their experience forever. In October, in March of next year, a year from now. Two years from now. Three years from now. Their loss will be real, and they will still need you, even though the needs will have changed.

At our wedding, the minister asked every guest to support and uphold our marriage. But at my husband’s memorial service, I didn’t ask the congregation to help me stay alive.

Please, each of you, in whatever way makes sense for you, help keep Jane and Eli safe, sound, and strong in the coming years.

* * * Comments * * *


Boo said...

What a lovely touching and thoughtful thing to do for a new widow. And so important. I've pasted 4 links below that you may be interested in on this very subject, written by Marty Tousley - she is the online counsellor on the Grief Healing Discussion Boards. It would not be appropriate to mention all of this stuff at the service, and I think you have captured (beautifully) the key points - stay in touch, talk, offer to do specific things. Thank you for caring and sharing and for your blog which I follow faithfully xx





Suddenwidow said...

Wow Supa,
I wish someone had read this at my husband's memorial service. I wish I had known these things then, like I've come to know them now. Your words will make her new reality a little easier by letting those people around her know how to help, and that is a true gift.

Anne said...

Thanks for this beautiful post. I was widowed ten years ago. I agree "There is no wrong thing to say. Nothing can hurt her more than this loss." Sometimes people are hesitant to bring up the loss or ask questions. But it never hurts me, it's not like I somehow forgot and now this is a reminder. People do not need to be hesitant to bring up my loss.
And yes, the loss is part of your experience forever. A lot has changed in ten years, but sometimes these memories are very close at hand.

Chillin' with Lemonade said...

Now that's what I'm talking about!! perfectly written.

i wrote a post in the beginning telling people pretty much the same thing. Every friend of a grieving widow or parent should read that! I can also add a couple things people shouldn't do or say..

Thinking of you.

Split-Second Single Father said...

Excellent advice, once again Supa.

But I have to disagree in that there are plenty of wrong things to say. Maybe not in the beginning, but as a widow/er continues to grieve, people need to be reminded to allow them to do just that - continue to grieve. There are too many people who will assert that one should grieve on some preconceived timetable instead of in their own time. And in my own personal experience, there are too many people who push the dating question (and way too soon, at that!)

Other than that, I completely agree with you. And I'm very sorry that another person, and a friend of yours at that, has been added to our ranks.

Star said...

1. Tell the widow that you miss their husband when you do. Tell stories that you remember about the lost spouse. Say his name. Don't let us feel like we were the only ones who lost.

2. Keep calling, keep asking if you can help, keep asking if we want to go to a movie or anything.

3. Let us vent.

4. Let us cry.

5. Don't be afraid of us. Death is not contagious.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Thanks everyone!

Of course, I agree that there are some (many) "wrong things to say," but I felt that people's fear os saying the wrong thing had a big impact on my isolation. Whereas, people saying dumb or offensive things was good fodder for therapy or bitch sessions, but didn't really hurt me in the long run.

Widowed people, did dumb comments make you feel isolated in general, make you afraid of human contact? Or did you just cross that one person off your list?

I love Star's very concise, very clear version. I always feel like a broken record on these things, a broken LONG record. Perhaps #5 conveys the message that we need you close and that you shouldn't let your FEAR (whether it's fear of saying the wrong thing or fear of whatever) guide you.

More for the hopper!

LOVE YOU ALL, and thanks for commenting!



Roads said...

Coming to this one late, so forgive me. That's a wonderful list, Supa.

And I endorse each and every word of it. To your last point I'd add that loss is emphatically not about the funeral. The funeral is not the end, as you had so often feared and hoped, but really the beginning.


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