Just how do we ever do this?

By Emma Pearson

April 17, 2024

Image courtesy of Sarah Treanor (www.streanor.com)

22 August 2021

This is my 104th piece of writing for Soaring Spirits International, which means I have been writing here for exactly 2 years. A piece a week.  And sometimes I write more frequently on my own personal blogsite. I had been widowed for over two years, and had lost my youngest child Julia, in the months before I was invited to write here. Through Megan Devine’s writing programmes, I wrote an additional 120 or so pieces. That makes for a lot of pieces of writing on grief and widowing and child loss and multiple losses and love and dating and new love and … Living.

I also read lots of others’ writing too. Widows’ writing, “people who’ve lost a child’s” writing (why isn’t there a word for people who have lost a child?), general grieflings’ writing. I learn a lot from it. There are themes, and similarities.  And there are also differences. 

Can we learn from others’ writing and experiences? I believe we can. AND it never really helps. At least not in terms of cutting any corners of the experience, or fast forwarding the truly hard parts. There is no skipping over it. And that’s the hard and brutal truth that is tricky to convey without wanting to add additional weight to the weightiness of new grief.

One of my friends has recently joined the widowed ranks. I am so very sad for her. I want to “help her”, and yet I know that there is nothing I can do that can “really help”.

It’s hard. Hard to find words.  Hard to convey hope. Hard to convey “truth” or “likely reality”. Even as a relatively new widow myself (and by golly, when I was first widowed, if a widow.er four years out had said s.he felt that s.he was a relatively new widow.er, I’d have been aghast. And yet, it’s true. Whether you’re unlucky enough to experience child loss on top of widowing (I still cannot absorb it, which is why I write more about widowing than child loss), the experience, the pain, the loss of widowing endures. The forever loss is forever. Even with a beautiful new relationship accompanying me alongside.

It’s hard because nothing will really make a difference. It’s hard because everyone is different. Every love is different. Every relationship is different. Every grief is different.

Her person is gone.  At least in the way she wants him. Which is probably alive. Breathing. Weaving their tapestry of life.  Being a dad and husband. Being a companion and lover.  Being a partner in all facets of life.

My friend wrote, “Not sure how to go on”.

I can answer, “You’ll find a way”. Which won’t help. I doubt at this stage she wants to. Or believes it.

I can answer, “You have to want to”. Helps even less. Adds pressure. Damage, even.

I can answer, “He’d want you to carry on living”. Bleuch. Now we add guilt.

I can answer, “You need to, for your kids”. Bleuch and more bleuch. Guilt, shame, and by the way, “don’t grieve yourself – be with your kids” is the inherent message here.

I can answer, “Time heals all pain”. No. It really doesn’t. It changes it, yes, which at times means the pain is worse.  Harder.  Sharper. More prevalent. More pervasive. Omnipresent. And softer. And then vicious. The unpredictability can be shocking. I don’t believe in “progress”. Just “shifts”

I can answer, “This is going to be very hard, and I can be by your side”. Maybe a little better. Maybe a little bit of truth in it too. But in truth, no-one can really be by your side. Not in the way you want. Not in the way you need. One fairly new widow said to me, after Mike died, “This is going to be very hard, and painful. This will tear you up. This will make you question everything. And I am so sorry”. I didn’t want to hear her words. I hated her for saying it. They didn’t “land”. And only later did I feel they came anywhere close to the truth. Casting myself back to that time, I would want her to adapt her language to be less deterministic – i.e., “This is likely to be very hard, and painful. This is likely to tear you up. This is likely to make you question everything”. And yet, with hindsight, it was her deterministic language that made her words memorable.

What I wrote to my friend when she wrote “Not sure how to go on”, was:

“Of course, sweetheart. There is no book. No “how to” manual. Which is tough. You will experiment, breath by breath, moment by moment, minute by minute. It will be hard. And you will find ways of being, doing, going on, that work a little, or less well.  And you will start to notice, ‘hmmm…. I felt a bit more space/ease with that… I felt a bit less space/ease with the other’. Assume that there is no right or wrong way, and be with you own barometer of more ease, less ease. And if it is okay, I will send you a note here and there, and you say when you want to connect, if you do. Your timing, your terms. …. I wish I could squeeze you in person”

I doubt it “helped”.  Because what on earth can ever “help”? Her husband has died. Recently. Unexpectedly. Yes, she can feel grateful for everything they had. She can feel grateful that he didn’t suffer.  She can be grateful that they had as long as they had. That they had a good marriage.  Etc. Those things will probably make a difference to her grief and healing over time, but not right now. Not in the immediate aftermath.  Not this close to ground zero.

So I have no words. I can share my experiences, but I also know that I am me and she is she. And I probably remember that time back then inaccurately anyway.

The only hope and intention I have when I write to her is NOT to add pain and suffering to her pain. She is in pain anyway. Of course. Her husband just died. The pain is not optional. But adding suffering to the pain is where I believe we have some agency. It takes daily work, daily practices, holding boundaries, having tough conversations, losing friends you never thought you’d lose. And gaining access to clubs and communities you didn’t want to join.

Sweet new widbud, I am so very sorry for your loss. I am so sorry you are now widowed.  What I wish for you is simply not to have additional suffering heaped on to your pain. And, should you want, I am able to offer my own experiences if you would like to hear them. I am willing and able to witness your pain and hear your stories many many many times over, when and if you would like.

I think that’s the best I can do.  Indeed, it’s all I can do.

Go gently, sweet widbud.

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