14 Months of Cancer Grief:
For 14 months I had worked tirelessly with a vast majority of people, churches, and my own family in keeping Ben alive. My days consisted of making Ben his special juice recipe: kale, carrots, aloe vera juice, green apples, beets, ginger. Both Ben and I kept working and tried to keep our old routine as normal when everything was not normal. Inside Ben’s body was slowly killing itself. And slowly the man I married was deteriorating before my eyes.
Yet when you are in the midst of so much changing and so much deteriorating your mind doesn’t have enough time to register what is fully going on. My mind went on survival mode. The days that I realized what was happening I would break down and cry and get so angry at fighting such a horrible and aggressive cancer with my husband at the beginning of our marriage. By time standards we were newlyweds with a young child but cancer wise it fast forwarded our life experience to what people usually experience at the end of your lives with their spouses.
He had the body of a 28-year-old but the cancer of an elderly person.
The first year of widowhood:
I was completely spent; spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically. My whole world crumbled like a piece of glass to a million pieces. Yet when someone dies you cannot rest. There is a myriad of widow tasks you have to carry out. Things like notifying social security, obtaining the death certificate, changing medical insurance (when a spouse dies insurance expires at the end of the month they died), finding out if there is any life insurance, planning the memorial service, deciding whether to cremate or bury your spouse, and so on.
Since my son was only 2-years-old when Ben died the smartest thing I did was keep my son in his toddler class at my work so I could spend the first three months doing all the widow tasks. It was important that at least his schedule was kept as normal as possible. I was grateful that my son was in such great hands at his school and that he would be cared for so he wouldn’t be stuck with me all day. It was like being a chicken with it’s head cut off. I just felt so crazy and felt I was running around getting things done but never made a dent in all the paperwork and tasks that needed to get done.
I don’t think I officially finished everything last bit of it until 2 years later.
The first year or two I was grieving Ben as best I could while trying to get all the widow tasks done. I missed him not being there. I missed not coming home to someone. I missed not being able to process or talk with my best friend. I missed not seeing Ben with our son.
Although I am pretty introverted I tried to do so many things. I remained on the worship team at my church I helped plan a few artistic pieces, I was a part of the Urbana15 performing arts team. I spent a lot of days at my parents for meals because I just couldn’t cook for myself most days.
The second to third year of widowhood:
That is when a different kind of heaviness appeared. It’s like I was lost in this big ocean with thick fog and then the fog finally clears. My mind caught up to all the 14 month cancer journey, the widow tasks all complete, and it’s this new settling into the new normal. And all of a sudden all the things I was doing with people and the groups I was involved in through church just didn’t work anymore. It’s like taking the red pill from the Matrix. My widow mind finally woke up and reality set in and realized it was tired. It was like my body finally started grieving too. If my body could talk it would have said something like, “Whoa slow down. I have endured a lot these past couple years.”
I found I didn’t need people as much. I started to get a better routine down. I didn’t have to go to my parents as much for meals. My son and started new traditions and new way of living on our won.
Yet being alone with all my thoughts and a new awareness of reality settling in was a daunting reality withing itself.
Grief accumulates over time. Like tiny snowflake it grows into a big snowball. And I have been feeling the huge snowball of grief. It is no longer the heavy grief of missing Ben as much but the heavy reality grieving of knowing I can raise my son on my own but the tiredness of doing a two person job gets exhausting day in and day out.
Helping Someone Else Grieve While Still Grieving Myself:
This year I have had two friends lose spouses suddenly. That is when a new side of my grieving really set in. I was no longer the one with the freshest grief. It’s a lot like when a new baby or sibling comes into the family and you realize you are not the baby anymore.
And all the things that I have learned from grieving and letting the Lord guide me through it all seemed it had a purpose in knowing how to be there for someone else.
I began to see why it might be easy to shut down when you see a friend under so much grief. Grief pushes up against our own wounds. It pushes up against our feelings of inadequacy and shame and not being good enough or knowing enough. It pushes up against memories of our own loss or our comparisons of how another person’s loss is greater than our own and how we cannot relate.
So, what do most people do? All this causes a lot of people to shut down and ignore a grieving person.
Or it can be the opposite for some people. They actually care for a grieving person but stuff their own needs and think their needs are nothing compared to what the grieving friend has to go through.
In both situations the friend not under the huge loss needs to first let the Lord into what they are feeling. That is what I found myself doing for my friends who recently lost their spouses. It is important to first let the Lord tend to how their loss was hitting me and what wounds or painful memories started coming up.
I let the Lord bring up the wounds and painful memories it brought to me when Ben first died and how I felt. He brought up new things to consider and new things I had missed when Ben first died and that I didn’t see because I was so caught up in missing Ben. Doing this step with the Lord allowed me to know how to help my friends better. I could hear what the Lord wanted me to do more clearly. I asked the Lord, “Lord what do they need in their particular situation?” Many times it was just to listen to my friend or invite them to things. Many times I watched as my friend looked so tired and remembered how tired I was and would ask my friend if she needed me to watch her kids so she could rest.
It is not easy to face your own wounds or memories but I have found that when I do it with the Lord helping my friend is easy. She doesn’t need me to fix her problems but to join her. The Lord is already with my friends who are grieving I just need to let the Lord tend to my heart and then guide me in how to be there for them. It’s less about doing but just joining with the Lord’s heart and where He already is with the grieving person.