By Gunilla Norris
When we lose a partner in life especially if the relationship has been a close one it is as if we have been torn asunder. Not only do we miss the daily presence of our partner and the things we did together but now have an entirely new set of circumstances to come to terms with. Our social life, for instance, changes a great deal. It is often hard in this world of “coupledom” to include a widow or widower. Even if we are included the absence of our partner becomes so exquisitely felt in these circumstances that it is sometimes very hard to be part of them.
Grief can seize us at the most unexpected time and place. We suddenly don’t want to have breakfast where we once happily did with the one we loved. Eating the eggs feels like eating sorrow all over again. We learn that grief takes as long as it takes and is processed and integrated differently by each one of us. Some people throw themselves into activity to distract themselves from feeling until they can face loss. Some go to ground like badgers and are somehow stopped from doing anything. The process of grieving should never be prescribed, and if we are to be a friend of someone with such a loss we are not to tell them how they “should” feel or what they “should” do.
And this leads me to write about the role of friendship in the grieving process. We so need a friend, someone with whom we can let things be as they actually are. It is known that to cry by yourself does not release us as much as to cry with someone who cares. We need our loss to be acknowledged and witnessed. We go through anger, despair, numbness, fear and confusion, but we can bear all that with a true friend who trusts our capacity to come through what we must.
Sometimes such a friend needs to be a professional. Sometimes a grieving group becomes a kind of collective friend because the issues of everyone in the group are allowed and shared. Sometimes we are lucky to have a family member or a long -standing friend who steps in to be that steady shoulder we so much need to lean on. Odd as this may seem sometimes it is a stranger who has no history with us that provides the compassion and objectivity to let us be free in the way we grieve.
We can also learn to ask for what we need though we may not quite know what that is.
Here’s a list of suggestions in that regard which may stand us in good stead when we are in the tsunami of loss. If you are grieving ask someone you think you can trust for:
1. A daily phone call or very quick visit. We may not want to talk, but it is good to be remembered. It helps to know that outside of our despair is a world where someone is keeping track. Think of it asking for a simple checking. Life is continuing however hard it is.
2. Have a friend or two who help you respond to the condolence cards you need to write.
3. Have your friend take you out for coffee just to get out of the house. Do the groceries with that person or something that is just simply about going on with life.
4. Ask your friend to help you find a skilled masseuse so that you can release the pent up feelings stored in the body.
5. Ask your friend to go to church with you if you belong to a religious denomination. Sitting in the pew alone where you once sat with your partner is very hard. But spiritual consolation is important to have if you are a faith- based person.
When we are physically wounded we don’t want to be touched directly on the wound, but having it dressed and protected helps us heal. These suggestions are like dressings of sorts. We know that at the heart of it all to have a friend (or to be one) in the grieving process is life saving. Such a friend needs to know that we will come through in our own way and in our own time. Such a friend does not shell out advice or take over but knows that just being fully present without a personal agenda goes further than anything in the process of grief.
We don’t need tons of friends. One conscious caring person is a wondrous gift. Once we have experienced such a companionship we can offer in our turn to someone in need. We will know first hand how precious it is. To grieve is normal and necessary. We will all at one time or other experience a great loss. We only feel loss if we have loved deeply. It is the lived love that will finally sustain us. As a friend of someone grieving holding to that knowing will let a lot of necessary emotional fluctuation be released. We don’t have to do anything about all those feeling. We just have to be a loving presence and trust the one who is grieving that they have what it takes to chose life again.
To be a compassionate and tender presence in the face of loss is a big thing. It is to be spiritual friend. When we have grieved long and well enough, a tenderness towards ourselves will emerge and also gratitude for the goodness that has been part of our days. It is really then that we can begin to build a new life.