My wife was 54 when she lost her war with cancer, way too young. The anger and bitterness welled up a few months after she died, after the phone stopped ringing, after people stopped asking, after old friends disappeared.
An Episcopal priest friend of mine and I were having a drink one night, and in response to the obligatory “How are you?” question, I started whining how old friends were no longer around. There were no more dinner invitations, no more phone calls. When we were a couple we enjoyed a busy social life. But now, well, no more. Why?
Terry thought for a moment, chuckled, then said, “That’s easy, we all liked her a lot more than we do you!” We laughed, but his humor made sense to me. I remember friends saying they didn’t call because they didn’t know what to say. In my mind they didn’t have to say a word, but it would have been wonderful if they had called. I suspect that some dinner invitations stopped because they were afraid I might not be ready. They didn’t realize that I felt shunned because they didn’t know how to deal with a suddenly single person in their married world.
As I read these words now, they sound harsh. But I’ve found that my experience is not unusual, and my reaction has been echoed by others in the same situation.
I have fond memories of those friends who did call or stopped by. Often they would just sit and listen. We would reflect together and usually laugh as we remembered the fun times. They were quick to admit they didn’t know how I felt, because they were not in the same place. But they were helping me heal.
One friend in particular would include me as part of Sunday dinners with her family. Sitting at their table and sharing their life was incredibly healing and a lifeline in a way. I will never forget that time together.
When you reach out to a friend who has lost a loved one, be it a spouse, child, family member, friend, or even a pet they were particularly close to, just remember all you have to do is be there for them. Sit. Listen. Hold their hand. Don’t tell them you know how they feel, because you don’t. But do tell them there is normalcy waiting for them, when they are ready again.
Just be a friend.
Chuck Owen is a Sylvania, Ohio, resident and has been a hospice volunteer at ProMedica Ebeid Hospice Residence since 2013. This is his third blog in a 4-part series on loss and grief.