On Wednesday we got some snow here in CT. I was out walking and saw my (seventy-something) neighbor shoveling so I offered to do it for her. She declined like she does every offer I’ve ever made to shovel for her but the good Catholic girl in me still asks.
She tells me she likes the feel of getting out and getting it done. She’s usually finished before I even get outside.
Last year she had to put her husband in a nursing home. It broke her heart. Every time I’d ask about him I could see the guilt weigh her down so I stopped asking. Occasionally I asked how she was doing but even that seemed like a hard question to answer. Eventually, I learned to just make small talk.
I decided to ask about her husband this time because so much time had passed I thought maybe she’d be able to speak more openly about it. Instantly her eyes filled with tears and she couldn’t speak.
I felt terrible. Clearly, this was still causing her so much pain. Then she said something that delivered a sickening punch.
“He passed away.” She said.
“Oh my God, Grace -when?
“December 23” (as in almost a year ago).
My neighbor had been living alone, grieving and I had no idea. My goal to protect her from the emotions I thought my questions might bring up when Ray (her husband) first went into the Nursing Home inevitably isolated her from me.
She comes from another era. She would never think to come ring my door bell and tell me Ray had died and in my idle chit chat she never wanted to bring it up.
My dad passed a few months after Ray so maybe that accounts for part of my obliviousness but even as I type this I’m having a hard time forgiving myself.
How many times had we spoke and there she was grieving?
What is somewhat ironic is that very same day I spoke with Grace, my podcast episode went live and it was about supporting people who are grieving through the holidays. In it I talk about how most grieving people feel invisible in their grief. And there I was missing the grief right in front of me.
One of the reasons I recorded that particular episode for this week is because today is the anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy. That school is just a couple of miles from my home. Last year a few of my friends in Sandy Hook told me they feel like people have forgotten.
I don’t think anybody has forgotten but sometimes grief does become invisible. I made a note to publish a message to you and everyone on my list today and to ask for prayers for the Sandy Hook community.
I still ask you for that.
But beyond that, if you are wondering how to support someone you love that is grieving, the very best thing you can do is make their grief un-invisible. Just tell them you see them and you care – it matters.
I share more about how to do that as well as how to navigate your own journey if you are grieving on the podcast here: https://www.pattylennon.com/grieving-at-the-holidays/. (You can also listen on your favorite podcast app).
And I want to leave you with one final message – if you are grieving and you feel alone reply back and tell me. I will support you. You are not alone.
Someone wrote to me last week and said: “I’m not sure I’m even supposed to reply to these messages.” Yes, please reply. Your message will go straight to my own inbox and I read every one. I love to hear what you are thinking or if you want to share something.
Community matters and
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