Showing up in grief

Just after my brother died, a new friend that I had known for a few months kept showing up. Literally. She would drop by the house again and again. I was so grateful. I had little desire to go anywhere or do anything, so someone stopping in unannounced was perfect.

I imagine I was terrible company. I would sit motionless and watch in silence as my friend took my dirty dishes to the sink and watered the plants I was neglecting. And then she’d sit down across from me on the couch and ask me about my brother.

While I was useless in most every other way, that was one thing I was good at doing. I could tell story after story, because in those first fresh days of grief, Justin was the only topic I could think about, and consequently, talk about. I knew in my head it was probably too much for others to handle, but I couldn’t seem to stop talking.

One day my friend asked me what it was like when he died. No one had asked me that before. And my apologies to my friends who didn’t ask, but I told you anyway. She asked with such a simple innocence that it didn’t seem out of line, or something inappropriate to talk about. It seemed honest, true and real. I am so grateful for her gift of presence and for not shying away from asking questions.

A few weeks later, another friend drove in from out of town to spend a weekend with me while Andy was on a getaway with his parents. He deserved it, by the way. Andy was amazing during the first part of heavy grieving. I could hardly stop crying to go to work (and even now 10 months later I still cry at work sometimes, yay grief!). He did all the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, he really did everything. I was kind of aware of how much he was doing and how little I was, but I couldn’t seem to get up the energy to actually do anything that would help or contribute.

I was a real treat.

So, when Andy had the chance to get away to the mountains (his happy place) for a few days,  I encouraged him right out the door.

I think he felt okay going because he knew my friend was coming to town. And this was our weekend: My friend cooked our meals and cleaned the house. We took long walks outside by day and watched Netflix and laughed by night. I went into purge mode and found things we weren’t using and listed them online. We sold random things to people as they stopped by the house to buy them all weekend long.

One time we sat in bed and she asked me about the eight days in between knowing Justin was going to die, and his death. I recounted each moment of each day from beginning to end. When I got to the very last part, she was quietly sobbing. My friend kept apologizing for crying. I told her there was no reason to apologize.

In a strange way, her tears were validating for me. It gave permission to acknowledge that the whole situation was shitty, and was not how we had hoped it would end.

By the time my friend left to go back home, our freezer was loaded with homemade muffins and rhubarb crisp, our house was a little less cluttered, and my heart was full.

My friends taught me how important it is to show up when people are hurting. To physically drive to their house and sit there with them to be present in their grief. Words aren’t even necessary. In some cases, no words are preferred.

After I saw this modeled by my friends and I noticed how much it helped me, I realized I’m terrible at this. I want to be better at showing up for friends and family who are hurting.

I guess this is one good thing I’m learning from grief.


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