A friend of mine recently had another friend of hers become a widow. She expressed to me that she wish she knew how to help. That all she knew was to be present.
In the midst of the deepest pain, the things that meant the most to me were the people willing to continually show up. Widowhood is hard, especially when the widow is young. I became this person that no one knew how to relate to, no one knew what I needed. Some people kept there safe distance afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to spark my grief. In a sense it felt as if some would keep a distance thinking that the very act of breathing would bring me to tears. Others didn’t know how to handle talking about death, or sitting in that pain with me.
I remember in the early days barely responding to texts. I was not only overwhelmed with the situation but also the amount of people who were suddenly outpouring their condolences. It meant a lot to me that my best friends understood and reached out to my family. They wanted to show up but they also knew that I had no capacity to tell them how to do so. Two of my best friends made the long drive to be with me at the Funeral. They didn’t ask anything of me, they just showed up. They didn’t need me to talk, or hold them. They just were. In the simplest form saying, “I’m here.” And I was in utter shock as I felt a hand on my shoulder and as I turned one of my best guy friends was standing there with a hug for me. He had flown across the country away from his family to show up. I wasn’t expecting many of my family and friends to attend the funeral being it was in Chicago, thousands of miles away from our home. But one after another my family showed up, standing with me. They didn’t know what I needed, but they were there. And in that simple act, they held me profoundly. My immediate family helped with so much planning that is almost impossible to bare that first week.
I remember returning home to flowers, and an outpouring of cards and gifts. Cards from people I hadn’t talked to in ages, cards from close friends who weren’t able to be there with us. And I sat and read them, and realized how amazing the support of people around us was. One of my friends who isn’t a person for lengthy words, wrote me a three page letter to express her love for my family, I still hold that letter dear. I had called our friend, and the pastor who married us before I left for the funeral. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but I knew I wanted to hold a service for Fareed In Orlando that felt more like us and his friends that couldn’t attend. He said he had been waiting for my call, to tell him whatever we needed. I asked what I needed to do to get the service together, he said show up. People who barely knew me at the time set up and cleaned up the entire thing. They showed up in the simplest way for a widow they barely even knew. I have now become close to those people and I appreciate there generosity and jump to the moment mentalities even more. I had a friend drive 10 hours to show his support that night, I was able to talk to him maybe 5 minutes. He didn’t mind, because he was there for me, not him. Another friend asked me to get dinner after, and accepted my no thanks with a “can we keep extending that invitation.”
Friends came and hung curtains, made photo boards, went shopping, brought us to the zoo, and played with William. Friends gave me personalized jewelry to honor Fareed. People brought meal after meal to make sure we were fed. People sat with me in the quiet when I had no words. One friend showed up every week to mow our lawn. Two of my best friends spent a week with us bringing us back to life. One of those friends stayed an entire month to help me adjust to my new world. Yet another family let us join on their valentines celebration. Multiple friends rotated staying at night with me in the hospital when Charles was born, while my parents cared for William. Two photographers actually offered to do Charles’ newborn session for free. My mom spent an entire year straight with us knowing that grief, toddlerhood, widowhood, pregnancy, and birth were going to be a lot for me to handle alone. A couple of my guy friends became great male role models for the boys. A former young widow was willing to sit with me in the mess of life and help me sort through all the pieces that didn’t make sense.
And I ask, How could I not stay hopeful in life when so many people stood with a hand stretched out helping us back up and holding us when there was no energy to climb.
It was definitely hard for me in the beginning to accept the help, I have always wanted to be a person who doesn’t need. God humbled me through it all. He taught me how we all need each other and were designed to show such compassion and live along side one another. If you are asking for ways to help a friend, just do. Sometimes people don’t know how to ask for the things they need, especially right after something devastating happens. There are countless selfless acts that people did for our family, many that we never asked for. These are just some of the ones that stick out to me as I sit here and write this. But what sticks out most, is that people showed up. Tragedy is hard. And I have come to realize there there are two types of people in the midst of it. The people who run, who blame, who stay silent in fear. The second type are the people who run towards you, many times without answers, but they show up. They show up with their hands wide open. When you need silence, they sit. When you need something moved, they lift. When you need a meal, they cook. When you are at the hospital, they ask for your room. When you need to talk, they listen. When you want to tell stories, they join in. They show up. Regardless of how uncomfortable it makes them, and they have no idea how to relate to such a far off situation, they do. When you need, they are there. They love. They show up.
And I think thats all we can do when tragedy strikes.
Just show up.