Time passing after losing someone you love can be like finding yourself still alive after an atomic explosion. You may feel maimed; you definitely feel damaged. The world looks treacherous. You’re numb, angry, afraid, inexpressibly sad. You don’t give a damn about which of the five stages of grief you’re in; nothing could possibly be that easily classifiable.
Where from here? You need people, or maybe you don’t want anybody around. Your brain swings around the backs of the planets. To hell with Galileo, Copernicus, and everyone else. The earth, with you in it, is the center of universal pain. Nothing else exists except silence and screaming grief.
No matter what else you do, or how you feel, the three basics of life still await your attention: food, clothing, and shelter. No wonder people bring casseroles, cheese trays, soups, and pies to bereaved people. Food, cooking, eating—grocery shopping!—are the last things on your mind.
You may want to die, to follow your loved one to wherever it is that people go after they die, but those who know you and love you want you where you are. With them. Somehow, staying together feels safer for everyone.
So they will say, “Is there anything I can do?”
Don’t say no. After someone dies, the whole world looks like a giant No to those who are left behind. The first person to say “yes” again begins to lead the rest, even if it is the tiniest whispered yes you’ll ever hear.
Kind people notice grief, and they want you to feel better. These are the moments for beginning to rebuild.
“Is there anything I can do?” is what people say when they’re feeling helpless and they want to make things better. You may think they want to do you a favor, and maybe you even think you don’t need favors. But that’s not true. Even if you are a very private person, find a way to say yes.
Giving someone who asks for something to do is a great gift to them. First of all, it’s a sign that you still want to be a friend—that you haven’t completely shut down. Being able to receive might be the strongest thing you can do for someone else. It might even take every ounce of your remaining strength.
So they feed you. Accept their food gladly. They may even want to come over and do your laundry and clean your house, if you’ll let them. Let them. Allow people to wash clothes for you, and clean, and take you to the doctor or to church or the park or wherever else you need to go.
Remember your basic needs. Tell people who ask what they are. Your friends and relatives may not understand your grief, your changing personality, or your private obsessions.
Food, clothing, and shelter are things everyone understands. Say yes to these, and you have done your comforters a great honor.
Read more of Fran’s work in Stages of Grief at the Communities at the Washington Times.
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