We widowed people, at first, are overwhelmed by the love showered on our loved one. We are torn open but we feel grateful for all this pouring in of feeling and sharing (and casseroles). And then after a year or two, we wonder: why did those jerks send casseroles? Why did they send a card and then do nothing else? Why have I been alone since the memorial service? And when is someone going to bring me dinner or ask how I feel? Are they afraid of me?
We figure that people are too afraid of death, our new status as single, or cancer or crying or whatever. We don’t need people like that in our lives anyway. And so the friendships are dropped, one by one. I’m not saying that isn’t true: to a large extent it is the reason for this perceived abandonment. But the end result is bad for us: more isolation, bitterness, the burden of building one more thing from scratch.
Those factors of death-a-phobia and widow leprosy are real but they are not the only factors... These factors also present the most unkind perspective on the world. To look at it in a less loaded way, many people send a condolence card or food because they want to do something. Most people are compelled to and they know they "must." But it's a limited intervention because they know that the widow’s space is not theirs. They give these things from the heart, but they respect the most intimate, most strong pain and grief… they wish to give you room that you need. In the first few weeks, you can’t hear them if they do more. All you can do is to keep eating, keep drinking water, and try to get some damn sleep (or try to get out of bed. One or the other.). That space is natural and becomes part of your healing and anyway, it's all you can possibly stand.
I know that's not all the widowed person needs... the community doesn't know what you need either. That's another story. But doesn't the world look better if you realize that this simple space is not entirely cruel to you at this one point in time?
I have been watching this dynamic in the private Facebook groups that grieve Yauch. For the most part, these folks want — desperately, kindly, generously — to cry on each other’s shoulder. They want to grieve their loss with others who knew him. Most of them don’t know Dechen. Of course they wish her well. But they know they are in a different department. Their need to grieve is also real, and it is also intense. They can still get together now and share without -- honestly -- burdening her.
In the big losses in my life — of course — I was at the eye of those hurricanes. When my father died, when my husband died, I didn’t notice or care much about what the community was getting out of the memorial service or out of supporting me with limited interventions (though I went to the mailbox compulsively [people still sent cards back in 2006] and greedily took any food that came by). Earlier losses I don’t think I understood at all… I was too undeveloped. And most of the losses I’ve been through since Gavin died, I’ve seen through my “widow” lens, which is invested in changing the picture and making folks aware of the widowed person’s real needs and real world in a real (and really long) timeframe.
Observing the grief and loss around Adam Yauch, in addition to that agenda (which matters!) I am also a member of the larger community. I’m not close enough to be overcome with my own emotion and sadness (though I am sad… but compare this to when Amy died, when I was cracked and off balance for weeks).
I think I’m getting closer to a healthy perspective on not only my own loss and grief, but what is really going on outside, without losing the benefit of my experience from the inside.
And I think that’s another new milestone. Next thing you know, I’ll start giving a crap about people’s kitchen renovations. (I might even get a custom tile backsplash!)