Saturday, February 1, 2014
When someone dies, people say to the survivor, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” The survivor thanks them, but of course has a completely blank mind and can’t think of anything. There might be a lot of things that need doing, but the grieving person is in a world of shock characterized by numbness and amnesia. So, having heard that offer numerous times and never having an answer for it other than, “Thank you,” in a rare moment of rational thought I wrote down some things that might help and then posted them on Facebook, where my requests were read by, and responded to, by many. “Clean one square yard of my house. Wash one window of my house. Drop by and do a sink full of dishes, or a load of laundry.” I asked for one square yard because I wanted to ask for something that was doable, and not overwhelming. Lin, Joan, and Trish came by and cleaned the whole entry room, as well as the kitchen, and washed the insides of the windows, and they brought food, too. Friend Barbara came by with her own squeegee and washed the big window that overlooks the ravine in the living room. Cindy came over and made the place neat and clean last week. “Help weed my flower bed, and plant the rhododendron I’ve been given.” Rick’s old friend Willum and his two sons came out to the island and spruced up the yard and planted that rhodie and washed the outsides of the windows – bless them. “Help me put a TV antenna on the roof, as soon as I can afford one, so that maybe I can get channel 9 again.” Friends Nicki, Cheryl, and Heather actually bought an antenna and set it up. Still can’t get channel 9, but I was able to watch that Seahawks game last week. Woo hoo! “Bring chocolate.” Those two words have brought me a veritable tsunami of chocolate. People have been handing me chocolate, slipping chocolate into my purse when I’m not looking, and mailing me boxes of chocolate, including one from Australia (thanks, Clare). Another friend Barbara sent a box with poetry, a jumble of chocolate with dollar bills scattered through it, and a jigsaw puzzle. That really made me laugh with delight. I said to singing pals Lynn, Erin, Linera, and Mary Rose today that I think that for the first time in my life I may have enough chocolate. “Recommend funny movies/TV shows on Netflix.” It is great to escape for an hour and a half into another world from which I can come back refreshed to deal with this world. My final request was this: “Send a little money. I apologize for being crass, but it turns out that there are expenses when someone dies, and Rick and I were living on Social Security, so anything at all would help. Seriously.” People have responded to that request incredibly generously. It took a lot of chutzpah to swallow what little pride and shame I had left to make that request. In my case, your generosity has made life less worrisome at a time when I can hardly think, much less think about how to pay the property taxes in April. Thank you. Many people don’t have the cash on hand to cover all the expenses that go with a death, especially if the death came at the end of an illness that lasted years and went through all their financial resources. Even if that is not the case, many people are living from one paycheck or Social Security check to the next. Money helps. It just does. It allows a person to feel a little more secure when his or her world is at its most insecure. So. When someone you know has suffered the loss of someone they love, you can say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” Then, even if the person hasn’t got an answer for you, SHOW UP and do a little house cleaning or window washing or yard cleaning, lend them some great movies or TV shows or make a list of great things to rent or see online, make a cup of tea or coffee, fix a sandwich, take the dog for a walk, give their kids a ride to rehearsal or the game and back, bring a meal that can be eaten now or frozen for later, write a check and send it to the account that’s often been set up at the bank to benefit the family or be the person who sets up that account, or give a check directly to the family. Don’t wait to be asked. And, of course, bring chocolate. I am not an authority on grief. I’m only reporting on the experience I’m having now, but I think I’m on pretty safe ground when I say, “Show up, help out, bring chocolate, and a little money never hurts.” Those are some things you can do.
So what do you say the night after your husband’s funeral? What do you write about? What a beautiful service it was, and how many people it took to make it happen – incredible. How I thought I had presence of mind at the service, but afterward I realized I went through the whole thing in a daze. How I was hugged by more people in one day than I ever have been in my life. How proud I am of our sons, JD and Drew, and my granddaughter Allysan, and the parts they played in that beautiful service. It was tough for them. It was tough for all of us. How wonderful it was to hear my friends sing, “I’ll Fly Away,” one of the first songs I sang with Rick over 40 years ago. How outrageously good the sailor who played “Taps” was. Instead of falling to pieces as I’d expected to at that moment, I stood there completely transported by the beauty and art of how he played. How I drove by the church for the first time tonight and said, “Hi, Rick!” and realized I could do that every time I drive by. How very strange it is to think that he has been gone for two weeks. I don’t believe it’s real yet. I didn’t believe it as I watched the dirt going into the hole where his ashes were placed, and said so to my god-daughter, Maggie, who was standing at my side holding me tightly. How great it is to remember Rick stories, such as the time a piece of my cutting board broke off, and when I told him what had happened, he said, straight-faced, “The piece of the board be with you.” Liturgy joke. The time I asked him, “Do you have cotton balls?” and he replied, “Do I look like a teddy bear?” He said his father pulled that one on him when he was young and he’d been waiting 30 years for someone to give him the straight line. How a friend gave one of my sons a little urn to contain some of his father’s ashes, and when he opened it, he found it already had some ashes inside. Oops. Returned the ashes to their proper custodian this evening. How long ago I heard a superstition that whenever you find a penny, someone who has died is saying hello to you. This was a great comfort every time I found a penny after my mother died years ago. You can believe it or not. Here comes the “too much information” part: After Rick’s service last night, at 2 a.m., I got out of bed to go to the bathroom. As I sat down, I felt something slip down my back and heard it plink into the toilet. I stood up, and there was a penny lying in the water. I had to laugh – I can’t prove anything, and I’m sure there is some real world explanation for how a penny got stuck to my back and then fell off at that moment, but that greeting in that way at that moment definitely fits in with Rick’s earthy sense of humor, and it definitely cheered me up, and I’m sure that all the things we don’t see work through the things we do see to speak to us. How much I and the rest of my family appreciate the kindness, and love, and generosity, and care that have been shown to us by so many people. Early on it occurred to me that what really counted was people showing up, and dozens, hundreds of people have been showing up the last two weeks, and it has made all the difference. How I wish I could sleep through a night. Oh well. Maybe someday. Thank you to all of you. And blessings, and love, and hugs. You rock.