Most people have experienced the death of someone who puts them in a state of grieving. Grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, pets, and other assorted beings who have left us behind to mourn the fact that they have moved on without us.
Recently, my brother became the first of my siblings to become a widower. This, I discovered, is a completely different experience than I expected.
Grief is not new to our family, but when a sibling loses a beloved spouse, it is the one left behind that you grieve for. Personally, I want to wrap my arms around my brother and make everything better. It breaks my heart to see him dealing with the loss of a life while figuring out what his new world will look like.
According to the census bureau at least 59% of adults aged 60 and older have only been married once. In my brother’s case — 38 years. He is the only one in the family to accomplish this feat thus far. So many memories. So much love and laughter. Sometimes the good times are the ones that bring on the flow of tears.
So, we gather around to offer support, to reminisce, to eat too much and share stories. When I told a friend of mine I had to cancel something because we were flying away for a memorial service, he replied, “Have some wonderful reunions.” We did. In spades.
We are also sad. Sad for the realization that we siblings have entered the era where there will be death. Sad for those who are hurting for their own personal reasons. Sad for the lost look in my brother’s eyes.
Although my sisters-in-law’s mother has now joined a club that no parent wants to be a part of, I was delighted that not one person compared her loss to ours. This is her story, not mine.
What can we do to help? Not much. Be present. Listen well. Don’t share your unrelated personal stories — this is not about you. As a neighbor said, “Bring food, that’s what people do.”
Send a card. Write a note. Share something positive on social media. Don’t forget to take a picture of the family at the memorial — it may be the last time someone shows up in one, as death comes for us all.
Understand that we all grieve in our own way. Never tell someone how to do it — but do offer resources if asked.
Laugh. Cry. Remember. Make new memories. Embrace the reunion. Graciously accept whatever the grieving person offers you.
Accept that you can’t fix things. You can’t. All you can do is love.