My phone rang. For most this does not sound like a big deal, but it was my mother and I was in class. Something was wrong, and I knew it. Amidst the noise of the classroom and my own heart pounding and heavy breathing, I somehow heard my mother gasp, “He’s dead. Andrew’s dead.” I had suddenly and unwillingly gained membership to a club I did not want to join, Sisters of Young Widows.
My beautiful sister had found her partner later in life, and they had created a gorgeous little boy. They had a good life together, characterized by normal things, family dinners, house renovations, sleepless nights with baby, arguments over the dishes, or mopping the floors. And now that was no more.
The aftermath was horrific. Those early days of the guttural wails, physical grief that engulfed us,and just not being able to make sense of it, were daily challenges. The people, the tea, the food, the idle offers of help, chit chat, and the lack of peace. The mania of a home broken by grief. There were days when it was all too much to bear, and the days when the rhythm of it were all that was needed to get out of bed and face yet another painful day.
The other reality was that their little boy no longer had a Daddy he could see. While we were dealing with our grief, we had to support this little guy with loss too. That was and still is really tough.
But now the funeral has long passed, the friends have fallen by the wayside, and those idle offers of help, were just that, well meant but have not amounting to anything. And I must carry on. I am the sister of a young widow.
This happened, and is still happening to us, and the reality is, it could be any one of us, or any one of you. Our focus in those early days was to support my sister in any way we could and these are some of the things that helped us and also some of the things we did.
- In the early days, bring food to sustain the bereaved. We had no energy to think about food, but we needed energy to do what needed to be done. Simple meals were so gratefully received. Remember to cater for the little person. In all the chaos, our little man loved the special meals made for him, or the secretly hidden cookie.
- If you want to help, it is far more useful to offer a suggestion of what you can do. It was only after the first few days that I worked out they needed to be told what to do. Here are a few things I started suggesting. Help in the garden or with washing. Think of the odd jobs around your house, my sister needed them too. Offer to babysit, or take the kids out of the mayhem. Remember the kids are suffering too. A break from the horrific reality that they don’t often understand is enough to calm them down.
- Bring photos of the person that has just passed away. My sister loved the memories that people shared with her about her husband. I also printed photos of him and stuck them in a frame. In the early days, it was me who spoke about Daddy to their son. It was hard, really hard, but so important.
- Keep talking about the person. They might have died but their memories are still alive and vivid. Help keep them that way. If the children ask where the person is, keep it simple. Our little man was young, so we told him that Daddy was in the sky. There have been times when their dear little boy wandered outside and looked up at the sky and said, “I miss Daddy.” With tears streaming down my face, I told him I do too. The children need us to validate their grief. Share beautiful memories and help keep them alive, however tough it is.
- If it was a sudden death, be mindful that the people left behind are confused, shocked, and in a state of trauma. Having to explain that they don’t know the cause of death is tiresome. I took to getting quite snappy with people and telling them that he was just dead.
- If you know anyone that could assist in supporting with the affairs that need to be taken care of, gently bring it up. We had never done this before and were walking blindly. Recommendations and referrals were a godsend. I was so grateful for my friend who was a child therapist. She held our hand in the early days, and we still go to her when things are tough.
- Make up a bag of the coolest little toys you can lay your hands on for the funeral. As sad and gruesome that day was the smiles he bought to peoples’ faces as he delighted in what was in his little bag.
I know this is a morbid topic, but the grief is real and raw, and since it happened to us, I have met so many members of the club of Sisters of Young Widows. It is without a shadow of a doubt the single worst thing I have ever been through in my life, but the things that I mention above, were real and beautiful things that people did for us, and for that we will be forever grateful.