How to Help, When You Have No Idea What Just Happened and What To Do?

Recently, I have come across a number of friends that I run into on about a yearly basis, in Costco, or at Chik-Fil-A, etc. . . . It has been in those moments, when I tell these people who I rarely see, that I am tying the old knot again.   So, many things go through my mind in these conversations,  but the consistent thought is, how did I get here, from where I was two years ago???  

 Dave's Memorial Service
Dave’s Memorial Service
 I forget how little my kids were when their daddy died.
I forget how little my kids were when their daddy died.
 Just a Good picture of Dave's college friends, at his memorial, that i wanted to add.
Just a Good picture of Dave’s college friends, at his memorial, that i wanted to add.

Two years ago, I was still pretty much wavering between a looney or catatonic state of being. I was still wondering if I would have to go back to work full time, still wondering how it was possible that Dave died, still wondering how I could ever do this, still wondering how any, run of the mill shopper, was supposed to figure out WIC checks??? BUT NOW, I am here!  Ready and excited to become Mrs. Holly Walls (It really rolls off the tongue . . . maybe too easily).  

But the question of how did I get here, to a place where I feel healthy and thoroughly excited  to get married this soon after, has got me revisiting the past and mulling over the tangible (and intangible) things that got me here.  I really feel like my friends and even acquaintances should be writing this post, because it is like they all took an online class intensive on how to walk friends through the long, hard, tunnel of grief.  

On way too many occasions, I get the questions, “What should I do?  My friend just lost their spouse.  How can I help them?”  So, I will attempt to share the things that people did for me that have helped bring me to the place I am now.  Of course, it could be so different for everybody, but these are the things that stick out a couple years later. 

Cards, particularly with a story about the one who died. (Thanks everyone)

Contributions to the Memorial Fund – Literally, a day doesn’t go by that I am not grateful that I didn’t have to go back to work full time and that my family could still do things like go skiing and swim at our pool, in addition to paying for back surgery!  (Thanks everyone)

Healthy Foods and Snacks – I ate nothing, but dark chocolate and cuties for the first two weeks, but then branched out into soups and homemade granola for the next couple weeks.  It was a gift to be able to give my own body and my kids healthy food.  It felt like I was doing something right, even though, I wasn’t doing anything.  (Thanks everyone)

Massages – These were hugely important!  It was a time that I felt like I could physically get rid of some of the grief, with little effort on my part.  (Thanks Kathy)

A House-Cleaner – My cleaner does the sheets!!!!!!!!  (Notice that is present tense) I’m sure my kids and I would be sleeping in rotten, smelly, filth if people had not arranged for her to come. I, of course, have her do the sheets, due to limitations on my back, not my strong aversion to trying to fold fitted sheets or replace sheets on beds.  (Thanks Kelly)

A Babysitter – Friends helped me find a babysitter that would come on a consistent basis.  She still comes most Sundays and Thursdays.  This one is HUGE!  That way, I could still go to Bible Study and also have a night to catch up with friends, and most importantly, I don’t have to be on bedtime duty every single night of my life.  Bedtime is easier now, but when the girls were both four and Spencer was six, I was drained before the bedtime dance even began.  (Thanks Beth)

Friends helped set up appointments with financial planners and lawyers – Getting those people squared away, gave me so so so so so so so much peace of mind.  (Thanks Dave’s friends, Michael, and Aaron)

Friends helped figure out health insurance – My kids and I ended up on state run health insurance, which was necessary, initially, because I went many months without knowing if I would get survivor benefits or not.  I now pay for private insurance, but it is a huge expense, as many of you know. However, it is a relief to be off of government run health insurance.  I always hated giving my state cards and felt like I had to explain my whole life situation to everyone I gave it to.  Going from private insurance to state run insurance, was always a big reminder for me, that life didn’t go as I had planned.  People who contributed to Dave’s Memorial Fund, continue to help me pay for health insurance.  I only say all this, to encourage you friends of grief-walker-throughers, to help with all this.  It is something that felt overwhelming to me, for sure. (Thanks Bauman’s, Loretta, and everyone)

Gifts are a tricky one. If you feel led to give something, then absolutely do, but try to give something with meaning, or else it becomes another thing that you have to find a spot for in your already untidy house.  (I hope that didn’t sound ungrateful). Some of the gifts that I treasured were, a Lisa Leonard necklace, with a “D” and a heart on it.   Daddy Buddies a friend sewed for the kids made out of their daddy’s shirts. A quilt made out of Dave’s shirts.  Personalized pool towels (it always felt like we were bringing a little bit of Dave with us to the pool).  A book called, “The Book of Us,” which guides you through writing the story of you and your spouse.  Money to put together of photo book of all of Dave’s pictures was also a wonderful gift. (Thanks Lynsie, Brenda, Dumans, Surya, Aunt Sally, Tessa, Bear Valley Mops group and everyone)

 There used to be a jewel on their too, but in true holly form, I lost it. 
There used to be a jewel on their too, but in true holly form, I lost it. 

Prayer – I could LITERALLY feel prayers helping me make it from one day to the next. (Thanks everyone)

Facebook messages – Often times I would get them months after he died, late at night, and they were just what I needed. (Thanks everyone)

And don’t underestimate the power of a new hair cut and new clothes in these times.  The most fun fair stylist in the world offered to cut my hair for free when she heard my story.  Two of her clients the day Dave died were the nurse who called to deliver the news that fateful morning and another friend from church.  If I felt like I looked good on the outside, I actually felt a little better on the inside.  Maybe that is shallow, but it made a difference for me.  So, a trip to a nice mall with some cash in hand would be a good gift (at least for a girl) for someone who is in mid grief.  (Thanks Marijah) 

One thing that is not tangible, but my friends did well, was reading my cues, and reacting appropriately.  One thing that is difficult to navigate, is when people come to you with this face. . . .

Sometimes, you are just not in that, poor me, state.  All of the sudden, you feel like you have to match where they expect you to be.  A better greeting, is to just say, “It is good to see you.”  And, of course, steer clear of,  “How are you?”   That one is impossible.  You feel heartless if you say “fine,” but you feel like a Debbie Downer if you say, “I’m terrible,” every time.  A much better question is, “How are you doing, today?”  It is exponentially easier to answer than, how are you? Even if you say, “how are you?” you can save yourself and the hurting one, just by tacking on a last minute, “today.”   

While I’m on the topic, my friends were great at sharing in my emotions, letting me cry, letting me laugh, letting me escape reality, and letting me sit right in the middle of it.  They were up for whatever.  One thing, they also did well, was to speak truth.  Sometimes, I needed to hear the straight up truth of Jesus.  (No platitudes, though – you are endangering your life, if you throw out trite little sayings, to someone whose spouse just died.)  I didn’t always need people to wallow with me.  Sometimes, I needed someone to pull me out.   This takes an amazing amount of discernment, so asking for the Holy Spirit help out is probably what a lot of my friends did, when they weren’t sure what to do.  BTW – Well done, friends and acquaintances . . . I don’t think anybody gave me any platitudes!  

Well, I could go on and on, but like I said earlier, these are the things that stick out on this day, a little over two years later.  This list doesn’t even mention all the ways people helped make Dave’s funeral and reception unique, his birthday celebration unique, etc. . . Wow! Just writing this makes me feel so thankful that I am here and not there.  That was a brutal time.  I’m glad I wrote this, because I’ve been a little whiney about being trapped inside from snow last week, this cold I’ve got, and all the details of planning a wedding, as a non type A person.  In between nose blowings, I just couldn’t be more grateful for how everyone has helped to bring me from there to here.    

I hope that not many of you have to refer to this list, but on the off chance you do, know that whatever you do, you WILL be making a difference!!!!!  There is no question about that!

Christina’s Take:

Why are these tears dropping onto my keyboard? Why am I weepy Wanda up in here? It could be one of a few different options:

1) I’m about to start my period

2) I am too tired in the middle of a busy week

3) This blog post feels like a big, deep breath at the end of a marathon. I am not saying the hard has passed. But somehow this feels like a retrospective post…and I can’t believe it either; the time that has passed, the days you have traveled through, the faith you have held so close.

4) And most of all – I am so deeply moved by ALL OF THE PEOPLE you mention that cooked, babysat, cleaned, plotted, listened, laughed, gave, cried, prayed.

You are loved, Holly Sue Bonnell Aldridge Soon-To-Be-Walls! By me and sososososo many.

p.s. Still chuckling at what an old friend of ours wrote in an email: “Please tell me that others find themselves humming, ‘Deck the Walls with boughs of Holly, FALALALALALALALALA!’

Megan’s Take:

This post is a long one, but it is OH-SO-GOOD!  If you are still reading, you’re a real “Writing in Pencil” all-star! 🙂  I won’t take up too much of your time except to say, “Ditto, what she said!”  These girls are the absolute best.  The authentic raw love and emotion packaged in the above sentiments is the real, God’s honest truth.  Walking with someone through crisis/grief is never easy.  In fact, it’s often awkward and difficult at best.  But, entering into the “mess” will bless you to no end because that’s where you’ll find the heart of God.  I love that all the practical, real-world tips Holly gives run the ENTIRE GAMUT of gifts, talents, resources and expertise.  No one person can do all this for someone.  It really does take village!!  One question we often asked ourselves was, “God, what do you have for ME to do today?”  In these circumstances it’s so easy to compare yourself to others and often feel like your efforts are coming up short.  Even though Holly would be the first to admit her emotions were all over the map, she really did make it easy for her tribe to take care of her because she was SO RECEPTIVE to the love and to the help.  She never made any of us feel like we didn’t belong or were doing something “wrong” or what someone else did was “better.”  This testimony is an amazing one — and as we can see here — only just beginning!!  Can’t wait to see what God continues to do in and through your beautiful family. 

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