The Gift Of Grieving

Melody Messner’s husband died at home in 2018 surrounded by family which was made possible with hospice. Melody writes from the perspective of a caregiver and subsequent experience of losing a beloved spouse through death.

Grieving. You get no credit for grieving, my colleague said. Her mother had died the year before.

After three days of “bereavement time,” I was sitting at my desk in a fog. I tried to focus on what she’d just said. I’d accomplished nothing in the first three hours of the day unless you count the cup of tea I’d made. Then forgot to drink. Then reheated. Finally drank it cold.

Before I could wrap my mind around what she meant by not getting credit, another colleague leaned over my desk intending to express her deepest condolences. But instead, she burst into tears and talked about her mother dying and how much she missed her and how awful it was without her.

I wasn’t yet familiar with the idea that my husband’s death could be a “trigger” for someone else. That his death could bring their own grief to the surface. I held her hand. Offered her tissues.

After work, I stopped by the pharmacy to cancel my husband’s prescriptions explaining, he’s dead. The clerk started to cry. She’d enjoyed talking with him. He was so funny. She tried to smile. I tried to agree. Having no words, I fumbled with my purse. Wandered away.

Did people? Did friends? Colleagues? Did any of them seriously expect I was equipped to offer comfort to anyone? What exactly, was I supposed to say? My brain struggled to keep up. I would see someone’s lips moving but the sound was far away. I seemed to be floating. I watched myself trying to engage. To say something appropriate. But I couldn’t remember anything that might be remotely helpful. I said words. But forming a sentence felt like I was speaking another language. A language others knew. I was just beginning to learn.

It’s been nearly three years since my husband died. In my arms. And now I too understand this grief language they were all speaking. When you experience the deep down, bottomless depths of grief you find yourself speaking in ways that only others who have been there will understand.

Until his death, I never knew how much other people were suffering. It never occurred to me. I felt bad for them, of course. I wrote sympathy cards and expressed condolences. I went to funerals and to wakes. But now it’s different.

I have been given–and this sounds crazy–a new insight. An insight I didn’t ask for and never wanted, nevertheless. Now I am in communion with others in grief. We share a similar reference point. The anger. The begging for just one-more-conversation. Okay how about one phone call? Well, what about just one text message? The silence. The emotional darkness. The never ending quiet. The chair at the table. Empty. His pillow. Vacant.

My colleague was correct in some ways. While there’s no credit for grieving, there are times when only grievers can comfort and connect. I never imagined anything positive from my husband’s death. But when another grieves. I now can grieve with them, it’s like a gift. A small one. But one that I can offer. Fully. Completely. Painfully. Gratefully.

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