How are you grieving?

 

People should ask that instead of “How are you doing?” when the person they are addressing has lost someone. That question would get a much more accurate answer. 

 

Before I knew the pain of losing my husband, I always had this picture of how this grieving thing was supposed to go.

 

The picture comes from when my granddaddy died.  My grandmother’s house was full of people coming in and out. He was a free Mason, so he had a wake that was full of ceremony, laughter as well as tears. His funeral was attended by at least 200 people.  It seemed like every single person at his funeral tramped through my grandmother’s house for at least a week after. It felt cozy and comforting to have all of those people hug me over and over again. 

 

My own Daddy’s passing also gave me the idea that there were tons of people available when you need them.  My mom’s house was also full of food, family and friends, laughter, and tears, and thousands of hugs. I never felt alone because I never really was.

 

I didn’t expect my husband to die but when he did, memories of feeling comforted and loved when my Daddy and Granddaddy died filled my head. As I made plans for the services, I was comforted by the fact that family and friends would surround me with love that day and the days to come.

 

It should have been that way. Tony would have wanted that for me and our boys. He would know how devastated I was about his passing.

 

People came to town, surrounded us with love, comforting words and promises at the funeral and the reception afterward. Then, it seemed to me, everyone left just as quickly. My family stayed by my side the longest, thankfully, but eventually, they had to go back to their lives as well.

 

Just as we were supposed to.

 

Now what? I continually said to myself. Now, what do I do? How am I supposed to do this?

 

What happened to all of those people that should still be hanging around, making sure we ate, slept and feel comforted and loved? Where were they, when I needed to be held so I could cry? Why was no one coming to occupy my kids while I dealt with things? Where were my comforting hugs?

 

This is the part I didn’t see when my Dad and Granddad died. The part I knew nothing about. The part where you try and pick up the pieces of your life all alone.

 

No one prepares you for this.

 

I spent many days alone, reading, sleeping, sitting at the beach, shopping, eating, drinking, anything…just to forget my pain.

 

But that’s not how it works either.

 

The pain was followed by depression and loneliness. I didn’t understand. Why was I doing all of this alone? My mom and my grandma didn’t do it alone. I know, because I was there.

 

I expressed my frustration and anger at being left alone with this. What was wrong with me that no one wanted to support me through this? Then I went one better…what was wrong them that they couldn’t see how much suffering I was experiencing? The silence became deafening. Eventually, I stopped reaching for people who seemed to be frantically looking for something else to do.

 

It finally hit me. No one was coming. No one really wanted to come. Why?

 

I spoke to my mother about this. Was I wrong about what I saw? She told me that yes, she had many people surrounding her in the early days. But at some point, like the flick of a switch, everyone disappeared. It was through no fault of their own. They had lives to lead, and frankly, she continued, people were acting as though death was catching. She got tired of people acting like that and excused those people from her life.

 

Inwardly, I was nodding my head. Gee, sounds familiar.  Except I wasn’t letting people off the hook. That was my problem.  It doesn’t make it right, but many cannot handle grief, especially your grief. They weren’t backing away from me because of something I’d done. They were backing away because of what Tony did. And they had no idea how to cope with it…any more than I did.

 

Grief can a lonely journey.  No one tells you that. We need to be surrounded by caring and supportive people as we walk that path. We all expect our support to come from those who already know us.  However, people you expected to walk with you and support you through the journey oftentimes run the opposite direction.  I wish I could have been spared learning that the hard way. I wish we ALL could have been spared that lesson. Not having the support you need makes grieving all that much harder.

 

There is some good news in this terrible situation…there are loving souls willing to bring you the support and comfort you need. You can’t force everyone from your old crowd, even some family members, to understand what you need. But you can allow a new person or two or ten into your life to walk with and stand with you. These are the people you really need around you for the simple fact that they get it.  They will provide whatever support you need when those grief waves hit. They will sit with you on the phone and simply listen when you need it. That tribe can be the crew who instinctively calls you up and says “Get dressed. We’re going on an adventure. I’ll bring the wine.”

 

We don’t have a choice…grieving is a part of life. Disappointment in people who cannot or will not be there for you causes more emotional distress than you need. As a result, you grieve alone and more painfully. The alternative is actively seeking out a support system, be it a grief group, widow’s club or just a couple of friends who truly understand what you need through the journey. Grief still hurts, not denying that, but now you’re surrounded by your Grief Tribe. Their very presence in your life is loving and understanding.

 

Then you can answer, “How are you grieving?” with “The very best I can. I’ve got my tribe!”

 

About 

Cheryl Barnes was born in Atlanta, Georgia and after several moves with her family, settled in Indianapolis, Indiana. She attended college at Indiana University Bloomington, majoring in Public and Environmental Affairs Management. While she attended college, she laid eyes on Martin “Tony” Barnes and was completely lost. They became inseparable and were married on December 24th, 1991. After five years of marriage, their first son, Malcolm, was born on New Year’s Eve, 1991. After Tony obtained his Master’s Degree in Social Work, the family moved to Orlando, Florida. Tony worked as a counselor, while Cheryl got her dream job working at Walt Disney World. Two years later, their second son, Miles, was born in July 2004. Cheryl left Disney and took a job in accounting at a property management company. Everything seemed to be going well for the family and Cheryl made plans to attend nursing school. However, in July 2011, Tony was diagnosed with end stage renal failure caused by lupus. For the next three years, Cheryl cared for her husband while taking care of the boys and working. Tony’s health deteriorated as a result of several complications until he passed away on August 29, 2014. Thus began her new journey as a widow and single parent.
Cheryl was devastated at the loss of her beloved Tony, but continued to work and care for their sons as she had before. As a way to work through her grief, she started writing, at first, only for herself. But, being encouraged by others, she began publishing her blog, “Widowness and Light.” Along with writing and being involved with several widows groups on Facebook while raising her boys, she works as a training bookkeeper at an association management company. She is also a member of the board for Black Women Widows Empowered (BWWE).
She plans to go back to school and obtain a Master’s in Social Work so that she can help other widowed persons cope with their losses. She is also working on a book about her grief journey.
Her hobbies are reading, attending Orlando Magic games, yoga, going to the beach, and just chilling with her boys.
Additionally, she is also the founder of Black and Widowed: A Unique Journey, a Private Facebook group and a contributing author of the book, Widowed But Not Wounded: The Hustle and Flow of 13 Resilient Black Widowed Women.
You can also reach Cheryl through her public Facebook page, Widowness and Light, which is based on her widowed journey.