I was at the funeral of a friend and client of mine several months ago; he passed in his mid-fifties, suddenly and unexpectedly. During the eulogies, one of his siblings spoke about his wife and their love for each other. He spoke about the family and the friends that Ray had during his lifetime and how they meant to him, and how close they were. This was pretty much expected. Then he went off on a tangent and spoke of something unexpected.
After telling us how much Ray’s friends and family meant to him, and all that they had done together, he asked us, all of us, not to forget his wife – his widow that he left behind. He said that of course we will all be there for her in the upcoming days and weeks and months. But as time goes on, we will move on, forget about contacting her, and make other friends. He asked that we each take a personal vow to stay in touch with her, to take her to lunch some time, to not forget about the friendship in the upcoming year, or two or five. Everyone in the room, everyone at the funeral, was an important part of their life and he implored us not to forget her as time goes on. As a widow with her children grown that have moved out of the house and have their own lives, she is all alone now. All she has is her friends – us – and we had to be there for her.
We all agreed and we all understood.
“I don’t hear from my friends anymore”
“My friends are not comfortable around me anymore”
“I don’t have anyone to go out to lunch with”
I hear that all the time in my bereavement groups. It’s not just from those who lost children. It’s from widows and widowers. Children who lost their parents. And people who lost a close friend.
I saw it first hand when my father passed away when I was sixteen. My parents had a lot of close friends. They went out every weekend with friends. They belonged to groups and clubs. They were very active. But that all stopped when my mom lost her life-partner. Yes, of course some of her friends stayed in her life, and they are there now. But more than not , most of them disappeared over a rather short period of time from her life. She made new friends, she met new people, and she moved on. But I know it hurt her, and it hurt us, the so-called friends who disappeared soon after sitting Shiva. This is an all to common scenario.
I know it is hard to stay in touch with someone who you no longer have much in common with. Or someone who it hurts for you to have lunch with because of the memories. Or the spouse of a dear friend who you were never really close with to start with. Or an in-law that the bonds of the family no longer exist. I have been there as well.
But think of it from the other side. Ray’s wife is now alone. She can use the occasional phone call or e-mail. She could use the occasional lunch or dinner date. She could use the shoulder to cry on, or the friend to recall the happier times. She needs friends – her old friends.
The same is try for the bereaved parent. You don’t know how much it means to us to receive a text or an e-mail that just asks us how we are doing. The short phone call to say your thinking about us, or that Andrew was on your mind. It doesn’t take long, and it means so much. Now I am not writing this for ourselves. Dorothy, Nicole and I have a lot of friends and family that keep in touch with us – and we really appreciate it so much. It has helped us get through this whole tragedy and kept us talking about Andrew and kept us alive. Dorothy’s still goes out with her cousins ever few months, and she needs and appreciates that. They are as much a part of her life now as they were before. It’s not about us. It is about so many others that we know, so many others that we speak to and hear from, so many others that don’t have that tight network of family and friends that we do.
We know parents who have lost their only child, and their friends just disappeared from their life. Fortunately, we do keep in touch with several of Andrew’s friends, so I know how great that feels. We know husbands who have passed and their office mates just moved on. While others stay in the widows life and help her to move on.
We have been to a few funerals in the past year or so, too many really. We hear all the time from the visitors that they are going to stay in touch, that they will call, that if the grieving needs anything, they should reach out to the visitors. Well it doesn’t work that way. They are not going to reach out to you. They are not going to call you and ask you to take them out to lunch. They are not going to send you an e-mail and say that they are doing okay, or that they really need someone to talk to. It just isn’t the way it works. They are the one with the loss, it is way too hard for them to reach out.
It’s up to you to reach out to them. Let me say that again. It is up to you to reach out to them.
I am sure that most of us have been to a funeral a year or two ago of someone we cared for. Someone who meant a lot to us. Maybe, as in Ray’s case, someone who was a friend and a mentor to me. Or someone who lost a parent they were close with? Did you tell them you would be in touch? Did you let them know you were there for them? Did you promise to be their friend? And then, did you turn around and walk away and leave them?
I’m just saying…
Do you think it is time to reach back out to them? Do you think he/she deserves that helping hand and that soft shoulder? I know that the initial call would be hard to make after all this time. But how hard is it on your friend not to receive that call? Not to be consoled and to not feel forgotten. It’s harder on them to be left alone, and it hurts much more, than it would be for you to swallow your pride, pick up the phone, send an e-mail, send a text, and make someone feel loved and comforted.
Andrew was very proud of his little sister’s preschool graduation. He was, and still is, very proud of everything she accomplishes in her life. He was so proud when she got accepted to play college hockey. He, sadly, never got to see her dreams realized though.