Handling loss when the sympathy cards no longer come

One of the consolations we experience in losing someone dear to us is the way family and friends come together to offer their support. When I lost my own wife six months ago, I was amazed at the outpouring of prayers and emotional support I received in my grief. From neighbors and relatives and friends I hardly know, came enough casseroles and other comfort foods to feed me for a month. People sent condolence letters, words of sympathy, pledges of prayers. I was humbled and touched by their caring. I have talked to many others who have had similar experiences.

I believe that people do rise to the occasion. Our human hears are made of flesh and blood not stone. Most of us are really want to be there for someone who has lost a spouse or a parent or, God forbid, a child. If we have an ounce of compassion in us, we put ourselves in the victim’s place and try in our own way to offer what consolation we can.

But life does go on. Inevitably, even the most well intended sympathy has a time limit. The time limit, unfortunately, does not apply for the remaining spouse or child. For him or her, the grief continues. That’s the challenge for those whose lives have been turned upside down by their loss. What happens when the sympathy cards no longer come and the solicitous phone calls start to diminish? How do you cope when you feel more alone than you have ever felt in your life?

I don’t know the answer. The usual bromides are out there. “Time is a great healer.” “You need to keep active.” “Get, on with your life. Join in new activities.” “Make new friends.” All of these can help at times but none of them can really fill the ache in your soul. You can’t just stop missing someone because someone says that’s what you should do.

For a period of time, I had a bad case of the “shoulds.” I found myself feeling guilty that I was not able to put my grief behind me. What’s the matter with me that I can’t just get over it? But, now I know better. I know that there is no ready formula for handling grief; no neat timetable that says after six months or after a year I should have put the loss of my wife behind me. Each of us is different and I have to respect that in myself and in others who have experienced loss.

I’ve always heard that the first holiday or anniversary you experience without your loved one is especially tough. I found that to be true. My own family and Kathleen’s family went out of their way to make Christmas a happy occasion. Out of consideration for me, they never even mentioned Kathleen, which ironically made it even more difficult. It was hardly their fault. They just didn’t know what to say. They missed her, too and were afraid to talk about her lest they themselves would break down and cry.

The holidays are behind us now, but that doesn’t mean my grief will dry up. Life’s not like that. I know I’ll have my good moments and I know that just as soon as I think I have put the grief behind me, I’ll find myself with tears in my eyes. I expect that now and it’s okay. With God’s help, like so many others, I’ll muddle through.

If there is a bright side to the darkness of losing a loved one, it lies in a newfound capacity to empathize with others who are going through the same experience. I find it easier now to put myself in their place, to care for them, to pull for them. We are fellow travelers on the journey through life, a journey with both its joys and sadness. I hope I’ll always be there for them as they were there for me.