A Keeping It Real Post
For those of you who’ve been reading from the beginning, thank you! You’ve had a virtual front-row seat to the highs and lows of this grief roller coaster. I’ve been on it long enough I’m spiraling back around, and boy things sure look different this time.
Grief Support Fatigue
I’ve read and written a lot about grief and grief support, but I wasn’t able to find much in print about Grief Support Fatigue, so here is my officially unofficial take on it, now that I’ve experienced it first hand.
Yeah. It happened to me, and I suddenly saw the last four years in a very different light. I’m always grateful to hold space for my fellow bereaved. But I recently had to remind myself to put my oxygen mask on first, even though it meant leaving a friend to grieve in silence.
Like November and December, May comes with a stack of challenging milestones for the grieving. Mother’s Day, Prom, Graduation, and Memorial Day can be ass-kickers. They remind us of what we’re missing in The Afterloss. (Although thanks to pandemic Memorial Day was less obnoxious this year.)
One of my dear friends experienced her first Mother’s Day without her only son. I was on fumes dealing with my grief waves as well as providing support to other Widows and couldn’t bring myself to call her. I could feel her pain from a distance and knew it would push me over the edge. The moment I made that choice, I was the shitty friend with an epiphany about all the friend-and-family “failures” I’d experienced since becoming a Widow.
What Not To Say
Personal grief experience doesn’t make us experts in what to say. I sometimes think it’s worse because we know how easy it is to say the wrong thing and that fear paralyzes us into silence or the trite responses we’ve come to despise.
When I look back, I can see that my public What Not To Say rants didn’t make it any easier for those around me to provide continued grief support. Just like they never intended to hurt me with their comments, I never intended to make everyone walk on eggshells. Wow. This walk down memory lane kinda sucks.
Secondary Losses are when people we’ve come to count on, friends and family, disappear. Or worse, blow up about our need to move on (FYI “move on” is a HUGE what not to say). I’ve come to view that frustration being less with us and more about their inability to help ease our pain. Funny how time and distance can help us grow compassion for the ones trying to help us even when we don’t make it easy on them.
Grief Support Fatigue
And here’s the ugly truth: it’s exhausting to support someone, even someone you love, in the worst of their grief. Burn out is real, and I theorize it’s the primary source of secondary losses. In my case, losing D uncovered unresolved grief for multiple losses in my life. Can you say dumpster fire? It’s a miracle I have anyone left from back then in my life today.
Losing your husband is ugly. Grief is ugly. I was ugly. And I was ugliest to the people who loved me the most.
What I couldn’t acknowledge back then, was that my inner circle was also grieving his loss. My pain created an urgent need to have my grief outweigh all of theirs and demand they just know how best to help me. That was unfair. And for that, I’m truly sorry. I can’t go back in time and change that. But what I can do is talk about it now.
Who knows. Maybe the next time someone googles Grief Support Fatigue they’ll find this post and we’ll start a larger dialog on how to help the helpers.
My Fellow W’s
It’s true that some people just plain suck and it’s best to let them go. The death of a husband often reveals that relationships with inlaws, step kids, and couple friends weren’t as strong as you thought. Or didn’t apply to you as an individual, only you as a couple. Some relationships die with them. It’s one of those ugly truths about life in The AfterLoss.
It’s also true that people that love us dearly and would do anything to help us are going to screw it up. They will sometimes say the wrong thing. And one day, when you need them, they may not be there because they are exhausted and need to lick their own wounds. That doesn’t mean they are abandoning us.
Our grief changes us, and we outgrow a lot of people as we make our way in this new world. But when we’re in the worst of our pain, we’re like the family dog that has been hit by a car and bites its human who is only trying to help. It’s both normal and okay for the pain of grief to dominate everything. Just try not to get stuck there. Don’t allow it to sacrifice a relationship you may regret losing. We’ve already lost too much.
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
This post is dedicated to all the friends and family doing their best to provide grief support to the W in their life. Thank you. Please don’t stop.