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Today I learned that the husband of a neighbor died three days ago. In an instant, I was transported to the first days after Kevin died almost six years ago. Shirley came to see me. We hadn’t lived here a year yet, and I had a full-time job so hadn’t gotten to know many of the neighbors. I didn’t even recognize her but that didn’t stop her. She knew I was here alone and didn’t hesitate to take me under her wing. She came back the next day and asked what I needed, and I still wasn’t sure what her name was! Luckily, my sister had arrived and made her own introduction to help me out.

I prepared to take Kevin’s cremains to South Dakota for a memorial service, and she offered to help another neighbor take care of our dogs while I was gone. (It didn’t happen because Buddy ended up needing veterinary surgery care, but that’s another story.) Now, that’s generous.

When I came home about a week later, she called and insisted I go out to supper with her and her husband. I still remember it; we went to Uno for a burger. Uno is a restaurant I had not been to before, and now it’s not even there any longer.

A week after that, she just happened to have an extra ticket to a local big deal, a Christmas concert at her church. I didn’t really want to go but she talked me into it, and I am grateful she did. It was a kindness of the true holiday spirit, and it did uplift me.

She checked in on me from time to time after that. I would see either her or her husband walking their dogs, or at lunch, or the garden center, and just here and there. By now, I have recommended a hair stylist to her (she loved my cut but did not like the stylist or her cut), have borrowed her fondue pot, asked her advice about my consulting business, and given her rides to lunch. I know her much better now.

And yet, grief over the loss of a spouse — any grief, but especially this one — is so very personal that I am hesitant to intrude. Her children and grandchildren are arriving, and I don’t want to be in the way.

I have created my own sympathy card and will take it to her tomorrow. This is my message for her.

The Thing About Grief…

I was swept off my feet with the experience of losing someone special, too. But I don’t know how you feel about your loss or what your worries are.

I also had doubts about what I should do next, where I should be, how I was supposed to act or react. But I don’t know what kinds of doubts you have.

I felt the distress of wading into unfamiliar territory, the messiness of grief. But I don’t know what you find uncomfortable or awkward.

I can now recognize the joy that is mixed in with the sadness. Be kind to yourself, patient, and trust that you will have these kinds of discoveries, too. I’ll help you if you want me to.

I understand now that love does not end because he is gone, that grief does not last forever. You probably can’t see it yet. I’ll listen when you want to talk.

I am encouraged by knowing that every ending is followed by a new beginning. I believe you will grow from this experience. Yes, even at your age! I’ll help you celebrate when you are ready.

Nobody knows your grief except you. I can’t guess what you’re going through, and you couldn’t explain it all if you tried. That’s okay. You’re okay. You’ll do it right; there is no other way. That’s the thing about grief. 

–Solowingnow.com, Patricia Duggan

Rest in peace, Don. Rest, Shirley.