Help. It comes in all shapes, sizes and personalities, from unsuspecting places, and at surprising times. It ranges from the ordinary to the extraordinary. It isn’t always perfect, and not necessarily dignified or poetic. Sometimes it might even feel intrusive. But help is everywhere if you know how to appreciate it.
During grief and tragedy, we derive different things from the people in our lives. Those who make us laugh, the ones who let us cry, the good listeners, the task managers. As Joyce Carol Oates wrote in A Widow’s Story: A Memoir, “For the widow, as for all who are grieving, there is no way to survive except through others.”
Before I was widowed, as my husband’s alcoholism was casting dark clouds over the horizons of my days, I’d reached out to a small circle of family and friends about Robert’s secret, now mine.
I don’t know how I would have survived without them. When things got horribly worse, his alcoholism became known to many and my support group grew exponentially.
The news was a shock. Not just Robert’s death, he was only 50, but the cause—alcoholic hepatitis.
Being widowed at 49 wasn’t something I expected—nor were the last few years of my life, living with an alcoholic. Robert was a gifted drunk, hiding it exceptionally well from so many, including me for a while. And now I was left with the fallout. What happened?
I needed so much then. To be reassured that this wasn’t my fault. That my life would be OK. That his drinking was his choice. That there was no more I could have done to prevent it. That I wasn’t responsible. That I’d be OK. That my days would return to normal.
So it was with enormous relief that my family and friends gave me just what I needed, without my asking.
The room at Walker Funeral home on both days of the wake was packed, people overflowing out into the hallway and adjacent room. On the first night my friends, Howard and Larry, walked up to me, and Howard said: “My job tonight is it to make you laugh.”
It was a bold statement, one that no one else had made. He succeeded. And surprisingly, it was just what I needed.
Among the mourners, there were people who let me vent; those whose hugs were so strong and penetrating, I felt them days after; others who extolled all the wonderful qualities that Robert possessed; friends who applauded my strength; those who assured me I’d be fine; and some who privately asked if I needed money. There were people from my past who came and just seeing them walk through the door made me tear up. Some would simply glance across the crowded room; or text me one word; or stand next to me, no words necessary.
To the widows, especially widows of alcoholics, please…Be aware of all the love around you. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, people want to give it. Remember, the mourners are grieving too; helping you helps them, sharing their memories of your husband brings them closer to him and to you.
To the mourners, please know…There are no perfect words or deeds. No need to be eloquent, as long as you are genuine. Speak from the heart, whose sentiment might be best expressed in a silent hug. Death is devastating, and awkward. What to say? What to do? Don’t worry, it will come to you. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it impossible to be there in person, but there are many ways to reach out. A text. An email. A card. A call. A gift in the mail. A neighborly act. A donation to charity. Find what works for you, the widow will appreciate whatever you choose to do.
In the opening scene of Love Actually, the voiceover of Hugh Grant’s character, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, is speculating about love. “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
I wholeheartedly agree.