A couple readers of my recent post describing what I am doing to keep busy and have a focus on a future… without… my beloved husband… noted that I did not say anything about my family or the support I am receiving.
Let me assure you…
… my family has been closer than ever. Being #14 in a family of 15 has its advantages. My twin brother and I have always been considered “the babies” of the family, and our older siblings have cared for us in many ways throughout our lives in a fond, special way as big brothers and sisters who look out for the younger ones.
As adults, my twin brother and I have come into our own, had long and productive careers, and are retired. Our siblings respect and recognize us as adults. However, there’s something special about being the last of the litter (so-to-speak.) Our siblings still care for us in “big sib” ways.
Unfortunately due to travel restrictions, my twin brother cannot be with me in person for now. He and his wife live near Rome, Italy. I speak with my brother and his wife via videochat and the regular old phone often. I have not mentioned my twin much because he desires to remain quiet and unobserved. But I assure you, he has “been there” for me.
The rest of my family continue to support me in many ways. I have a regular weekly get-togethers via Zoom that may last for two hours or more. It is common that 30 or 40 members of my family join in the “Support [BHD] Chats” we have. Not only my siblings, but also nieces, nephews, and some of their children.
Beyond that, I also have zillions of cousins on my father’s side. Believe it or not, he had 21 siblings. With that, I have 76 first cousins and many, many more cousins from their offspring. I have a once-a-month [BHD] Family Zoom meeting also, where it is not unusual to have more than 100 of my cousins join in.
These Zoom chats can run for hours. People come and go, topics change, younger children get bored and stay for just a few minutes. Overall though, since my husband died, these larger family videochats have gotten even larger as well as longer.
I speak with two sisters and my twin brother one-on-one at least weekly where we talk more about me and how I am dealing with life and my grief.
Everyone wants me to know they care. They listen while I recall stories of the love my husband and I shared. Our adventures. Our fun. By recalling memories of fun times, it helps me during my grieving process.
So that’s my blood family. Now… my community family….
Long-time readers of this blog know that I have lived in the same geographic area all of my adult life and have contributed in a number of ways. I have served in elected office, and on countless committees, task forces, boards, commissions, and civic associations. More than I can count.
Throughout all of that service, I have met and developed deep and abiding friendships with many neighbors and community leaders, including a special cadre of “senior pals” who I continue to help by shopping for groceries.
I am fortunate to have friends today with whom I grew up and have known since childhood. They have been great about keeping in touch and showing they care. From “lightening my load” by taking things to Good Will or doing things for me that I don’t have the heart to do, my long-term friends are showing me almost every day how they care and make “if there is anything I can do” a reality of actually doing something.
ALL of these people continue to “check in” with me in various ways; mostly by plain old landline phone. (You may recall that I do not text and do not have a sillyphone.) Some keep in touch by email, and some by social media. The best are those who drop by with a treat or sing to me. (Yeah, singing still… such love.)
I also earned Life Member status at my local fire department years ago. Last year, I renewed my credentials as a medic (the EMS side of the FD) so I could fill in for vacancies for medics required to quarantine. After my husband died, I returned to serve my fire department who put me to work as a medic again, this time on TDY to the Health Department to give vaccinations.
I return to my FD “home base” once a week to prepare dinner for on-duty and incoming crews at shift change. The camaraderie of brotherhood within my FD is special.
I also recognize many friendships developed through this blog and my website. I highly value and treasure each one and try to pay attention to the attention bestowed on me.
One might think that with all this “support” that I don’t need any more. Knowing myself and being acutely aware that losing a Spouse is like no other loss to which my “families” can relate, I participate weekly in a Support Group for Bereaved Spouses that is professionally facilitated by a counselor. Here I can share and learn about Spousal Loss Grief, which admittedly at times is overwhelming. Stops me cold and is somewhat paralyzing.
I also continue to see a professional therapist every two weeks. I arranged for this therapy last year (on a weekly basis then) when my husband was “off the rails” sometimes and I needed help sorting out my emotions so I could separate anger at the illness from anger at his behavior. The therapy helped me maintain focus on “living our marriage vows” and always love my husband, despite very dark displays of rage, anger, and emotion. I am very grateful that the health insurance I have pays for mental health support, and I am using it.
How To Support and Help
All-in-all, I know I am not alone. I have many people who truly care for me and want to help. As I tell them — these are the “best ways” to help:
- Show up. Don’t abandon me because you don’t know what to say. Even just saying “hi, I am thinking about you” helps.
- Let me take the lead. If I want to tell stories and share memories, then listen. If I cry, let me. If I want a diversion — tell me about your life and what’s going on with you. I am truly interested in your life as well.
- Be patient with me. I may not reply to email right away. I may let the phone go to voice mail. I am not thinking straight and know I am “not firing on all cylinders.” Grief, especially Spousal Grief, overtakes one’s mind in very strange ways.
- Remember that I am in the stage of Grief where I still consider myself married. Don’t make comments otherwise about “meeting people” or “get out there again.” I feel that I had my one true love and never again will I have that kind of relationship. Our love was one-of-a-kind and for all time–until my death.
All-in-all, I know (and my husband knows) that I am well cared for. He set me up well to live with financial freedom, lifetime spousal benefits from his past work, and he knows… he knows… that I am not alone. Not with my family, friends, and community…. not by a long-shot.
I am grateful to have family, friends, and a community that cares on which to lean and hold me up.
Life is short: remember what Clarence wrote to George in my favorite movie It’s a Wonderful Life — no man is a failure who has friends. I remain truly grateful.