Open Your Eyes To Grief Support, It Can Be Anywhere
By opening our eyes and our heart to grief support, it often comes to us in way we never imagined. I hear this all the time from readers of this blog and it has happened to me personally. Below is a story from Diane Dettmann who share her personal experience. I hope it will inspire you! – JoAnne
OPENING MY EYES TO SUPPORT by Diane Dettmann
In 2000 when my fifty-three year old husband died suddenly, finding meaning in life again seemed like an impossible task. Never able to have children, we spent our twenty-eight years of marriage entwined in each other’s daily company, sharing our successes and sorrows, traveling and enjoying life together. Finding myself alone at fifty-three, I struggled to make sense out of the loss. I wondered how to repair my broken life. In the process, I realized I wasn’t alone. Buried under all the pain, I peeled away the layers and opened my eyes and heart to the invisible support that surrounded me.
Unwrapping myself to the world around me, caring people appeared unannounced in some of the most unexpected situations. Their words and actions reassured me they understood. Strangers and new people I met encouraged me to keep going as they shared their stories of loss. Knowing others had not only survived, but were now living happy, productive lives inspired me with hope. As I embraced this new found hope, the loneliness subsided and the pain softened.
The following excerpt from my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, is from the chapter “Invisible Support” where I realized that friends, family and even total strangers can feel your pain and offer meaningful support after the loss of a loved one.
Moving on was one thing. Speeding ahead into the unknown was something totally different. Without any adult children to call for advice, my brother, my sister and her family became my strongest supporters. They offered guidance as we sat at the mortuary planning the funeral, and they wrapped their arms around me at the graveside. They broke my daily loneliness with phone calls, visits and love. Days after the funeral, exhausted from sobbing, I dragged myself out of bed and escaped to a neighbor’s house across the street for a few hours. When I returned, a bag of groceries greeted me at the back door, a special delivery from my brother, Mike. The first few weeks of my new job, Mike called every day at 5:30 a.m. to make sure I was awake. The sound of his voice at the end of the phone helped soften the absence of John’s, “Good morning, sweetheart.” Mike’s morning greeting and words of encouragement motivated me to put my feet on the floor, get in the shower and keep going.
Sometimes support appeared out of nowhere. To avoid the empty house on a weekend, I drove to my sister’s house and stayed over night. Mary worked as a design consultant at a local art gallery in Lindstrom, a small town fifty miles north of Saint Paul. During a few of my visits, I hung around the gallery while she arranged artwork and waited on customers. The gallery was filled with almond-scented candles. Aroma diffusers filled the air with the essence of redwoods and eucalyptus. Wind chimes tinkled when the warm summer breeze swished through the front door as customers entered the shop. Peaceful mini fountains placed around the gallery trickled in the background as soft music filled the air.
One day, while I sat on a soft cushioned chair reading a widow’s self-help book, the eucalyptus scent triggered memories of trips with John to Carmel, the smell of kelp at dawn and romantic sunset walks along the Pacific. The images pushed tears down my cheeks. An old woman stopped in front of me and asked what was wrong. I told her my husband had died. She leaned over and hugged me. She kissed me on the forehead and said, “Let God help you through it, don’t resist.” I thanked the woman, but wanted to tell her God had not been much help so far.
After Mary finished work, we decided to browse through the “Ragtime Clothing” store across the street. When we walked into the consignment shop, a woman young enough to be my daughter greeted us with a friendly hello and invited us to browse around. Mary suggested I look through the dresses and sport coats to see if I could find something for my new job.
I flipped through the racks of used clothes, confused. Why was I shopping here instead of at some up scale store at a mall with John? Nothing made sense. My heart raced. Panic rippled through my body. All I wanted to do was run out of the store, but Mary appeared from behind a rack with several hangers in her hand. “Here, Di, try these on. The dressing room is back there in the corner.” The young woman followed us and pulled back the dressing room curtain. I hung the hangers on the hook.
“Let me know if you need any help. My name’s Paula. I’m the owner.” I thanked her and pulled the curtain closed. Standing in the dressing room, I peeled my clothes off and hung them on a hook. I barely recognized the sad, scrawny shape looking back at me in the mirror. After trying on all the dresses, I returned them to the racks. I tried on a sport coat that Mary found. I was not sure if I liked the floral pattern scattered across the dark background, but decided for five dollars I could wear it with slacks to work.
“Looks like you found something,” Paula said. I set the sport coat on the counter and dug my wallet out of my purse. “With tax that’ll be five dollars and thirty cents. That jacket has lots of colors in it. You can wear it with skirts and slacks.”
I handed Paula a ten-dollar bill. Mary said, “This is my sister, Diane. She’s starting a new job in a couple of weeks.”
Paula’s face lit up. “Great, that should be exciting.”
I looked down at the floor. “My husband died two weeks ago.”
Paula walked out from behind the counter. She wrapped her arms around me. “I’m so sorry. I totally understand the pain you’re going through. My fiancé died a year and a half ago in a car accident.” We held each other like old friends and sobbed. Before we left, Paula and I exchanged phone numbers. Whenever I stayed at my sister’s, we made a point of stopping at Paula’s consignment store to shop and visit. Paula and I supported each other with frequent phone calls. I looked forward to our conversations about loss and how grief sucked. Paula understood; she was like the daughter I never had.
Diane Dettmann is the author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, a memoir about her journey as a widow. Her book is available at various independent bookstores and Barnes & Noble, and can be ordered online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle at: https://www.amazon.com/author/dianedettmann For more information go to Diane’s website at: http://www.outskirtspress.com/snowangels