Someone asked me recently if my book, and specifically, the “Be Happy” chapter, covers the “big stuff”, such as dealing with death of a loved one. It doesn’t — and at one point in talks I give about the book, when I suggest letting go of negative thoughts, I specifically say, “I’m not talking about the really big stuff, I’m talking about the annoyances we all experience in life that most of us can do a better job dealing with.”
Ironically, when I was asked that question, I had already been working on a blog post about helping your friends who are dealing with big stuff — about being there in their time of need — particularly when they suffer the loss of a loved one. I’ll write that post another time because instead, for this post, I’m going to share the thoughts of my friend Myra, based on her experiences around the very recent loss of her husband, Ed. Myra’s words are way more powerful than anything I could have written, including very useful suggestions for friends of the bereaved about how you can best help. Myra’s advice reminds me of a chapter that particularly struck me in Almost a Princess, a memoir from two-time cancer survivor Jane Rubin. In Rubin’s chapter, “The Cancer Etiquette Dance,” she talks about the delicate task of doing the right thing and saying the right thing with a friend who has cancer. So read Myra’s post, be moved by it, be grateful for your spouse, other family members, friends, and everyone else in your life — and learn.
This is a guest post by Myra Sabel. Myra is mentioned twice in my book, Six Simple Rules for a Better Life, including her story about how smiles helped her during the extremely difficult year when her husband, Ed, underwent three surgeries.
If you’ve read David Singer’s book, Six Simple Rules for a Better Life, you’ve read my story about how, when my husband was ill, I went out of my way looking for smiles. I have always been a person who projects smiles and when my Ed was ill I found out how much I craved getting those smiles back.
After a long illness, Ed recently died. He had been a part of my life for 26 years. During those years we had good days and bad days, days when I wasn’t happy with him and days of great joy. His illness over the last two years had made me believe that I was prepared for his death, that I was strong, that I could deal with anything. I had been through so much — including more emergency room visits than I can recall, worried each time that it would be the last. We talked about his dying. We talked about everything. He told friends he was ready to go. I was as prepared as anybody could be for this. Or was I?
I was ready for the illness to end, I was ready for the pain and suffering to end, I was ready to give up my role as caregiver. But, I wasn’t ready to be alone. I also wasn’t ready for all the sad faces. Remember me, the smile junkie?
I want to share with you my thoughts about how to talk to and care for people who have suffered a recent loss. The first instinct is to give them space and look at them with a sad face, while using your quiet, sad voice. Suddenly, as the bereaved, I felt separated from not only my loved one, but also the rest of the world. People try to protect you by not talking about your loss. Ummmm, hello, I can’t forget it, so please don’t dance around it. Friends think they should be somber all the time. I am already in pain and suffering; please don’t add to the darkness that I’m feeling. Talk about my husband. Tell fun stories. Laugh with the memories. Those memories are good. They are precious. Laughter and smiles are even more precious when you suffer a loss. Maybe I’m not able to react positively every day, but every day that I feel the warmth and love of other people brings me that much closer to healing.
As I write this, it’s been four weeks since my husband passed. What are precious to me now are the invitations. Dinner, a movie, “let’s go for a drink”, being asked to go for a few hours to a farmers’ market, or maybe just a drive in the country. Anything you do to pull me back into life is important. I may not always respond with a smile, because sometimes I hurt in a way I hope you never feel. But even when I hurt, your act of kindness is felt. It lifts me up for a few more minutes. Please keep inviting me out. Call me to chit chat about that weird new TV show. Ask me an opinion on that new person you are dating. Help me build a bridge back into a normal life, because right now I feel as if I am alone on an island and I wonder if I will ever get back to normal.
I know your life is busy. I know your family deserves your attention. But please keep reaching out. For nearly a month I got calls every day, my mailbox contained at least one card daily. And then it suddenly stopped. Please remember this mourning process is going to take a while. You don’t have to focus on me daily, or even weekly, but if you could please remember me every two weeks, if all of my friends reached out either by phone, or e-mail, or sending a card, it would help. Because at the one month point the pain is more intense than it was during that first week. During the first few weeks I was numb, and I was also surrounded by people. Now I come home at night to a quiet home, just me and the cats, and for 14 hours I’m alone with my thoughts.
The day after my husband passed, a dear friend asked me to go out to eat. I got through most of the meal when it suddenly became too much for me and I had to leave. She was apologizing for days after our dinner. There was no need: Getting out was great, spending time with a friend was perfect. I just had a moment and had to go. Be understanding. Our emotions go up and down. It isn’t you that did wrong, there is no wrong if it is done out of love and kindness.
Back to smiles for one final thought: Smile at the next person you see. You may not know if they are in pain or not, but they will experience a moment of joy brought to them by you. Healing others is powerful — and everybody can heal another person.
If you have anything to add on this subject, please join the conversation…