Today I’m writing about a different side of grief… about being the one sitting beside someone who is grieving. About those moments watching a partner who is widowed go through their own pain. It’s no secret that Thanksgiving is a hard holiday for Mike. His wife died just a week before this holiday 3 years ago. Hitting the 3 year mark is hard enough without it happening near the holidays.
So there we were, having a very different holiday than they would have ever had before she died. Before he met me. And at some point, it was inevitably going to come crashing down. Which it did. Late the evening after Thanksgiving, we were about to get in the hot tub with everyone when his emotions welled up. He snuck away to one of the bedrooms at my sister’s house and I soon followed. As I sat beside my new best friend, putting my arm around him, I didn’t say anything at all.
Because in that moment, I knew I didn’t have any words that could make anything better. I knew that even though I am also widowed, I don’t have any advantage or special power in these moments. Nothing I can say will “fix” this or take away the pain of missing her and wishing that she were here. I had a dozen things in my mind to say, but as I scanned over each of them, I knew none of them would provide any real comfort. Because sometimes there just isn’t anything that can comfort us. Sometimes – especially during the holidays – it just hurts and we just need to hurt.
And so I just sat there, feeling helpless. Wishing there was something more I could do. Wishing my best friend wasn’t hurting and feeling so overwhelmed. And knowing the best thing I could do was just sit beside him quietly, and let it be ok to feel it all.
It reminded me of the first Christmas after Drew died. Of the moment I got overwhelmed and I just couldn’t deal with being around people, so I snuck outside for a moment and exploded into tears in the front yard. Feeling totally alone because everyone else seemed to be doing a bang-up job of not feeling their feelings. That Christmas was spent with Drew’s family, but my brother also joined us. Shortly after I walked outside, my older brother came following. And I remember him holding me tight and me crying so hard and hating it all so much. He didn’t say anything. He certainly didn’t try and fix it. After all, we’d both lost Mom many years ago, and so he knew as well as I did, no words could fix it. He also knew I didn’t need fixing. None of us do. We need permission to be broken, and seen, and accepted. Sometimes it’s being the broken one that reminds us of that. And sometimes it’s sitting next to someone else’s brokenness – being willing to hurt beside them.