92906_000_021When someone has lost a loved one, what can you say? What can you do?
I loved Rae Lynn the moment I saw her. She was spiritual, beautiful, and athletic, and I knew I would marry her.
The longer we were married, the deeper our love became. She had a love for life and a determination to make the world a better place for those around her. We struggled together, and as we built a loving home for six children, our eternal marriage grew. We established family traditions and gospel-centered goals, nurtured by her total and unconditional love for us.
The idea that she could die so young—at thirty-eight—was inconceivable. Her death was devastating.
Through the months of illness, the pain she suffered had been gently softened by priesthood blessings, the love of many friends, and the peace and comfort that come through an understanding of the gospel. On the afternoon she died, her last words were of her love for me and the children, as she reminded us that we would be together soon. Returning from the hospital, I gathered the children around, and we talked of eternal families, of a loving Father in Heaven, and of the certainty of resurrection and eternal life. And we cried a lot.
People react individually to the death of a loved one. My experience taught me that adjusting to the death of your spouse is a lonely process. The support you need may not come, even from trusted friends, because talking about death is something most people avoid. Talking to a widowed person can be frustrating for people who don’t know what to say and who fear that they may say something harmful.
You who want to offer comfort to someone who is grieving may learn from my family’s experience.
Words are not adequate to express the gratitude I have for ward members and friends who have softened the pain of Rae Lynn’s death by sharing our family’s grief.
As time passes and the memories sweeten, as the healing occurs, slowly and painfully—as I learn that loneliness is all that it is cracked up to be—I realize more acutely than ever the great blessing of an eternal marriage. I see my wife’s reflection every day in my children—their bright eyes, sparkling smiles, and countless freckles. I miss her. I’m hurting. But time and love heal all wounds. And when I look back on this difficult time, some of my most cherished memories will center around good friends—friends who knew I was hurting. Friends who cared enough to help.
Enter the world of the grieving. Talk about my wife, my children’s mother, and remember her. Don’t avoid the subject. My children and I know she died and accept it. We like to talk about her. It is healing.
Be sure to visit. Your presence helps even more than your words. Just be there. Don’t worry that you will offend or hurt me, and remember that there are no magic words to make me feel better. Even the most awkward expressions of sympathy are helpful and appreciated.
Tell me that she loved me. Although it hurts to hear it, it is so important. Tell me that I was a good husband. Tell the kids that their mother loved them and still does.
Let me talk. If I say, “That reminds me of how Rae Lynn used to … ,” my comment sometimes causes an uncomfortable silence. I want to talk about her. Sometimes I just need to ramble. Yes, it is painful, but loneliness and isolation are much worse. Allow me to remember and cry.
Tell me I look great and I’m doing great. But don’t expect me to feel great. I don’t. Other people look normal, but I feel grotesquely abnormal.
Say, “It must be difficult.” It is. If I don’t want to talk, I’ll say, “Yes, it is,” and drop it. If I want to talk, I’ll share some difficulty. Either way, I’ll deeply appreciate that you thought of me and cared enough to be there.
Understand that I don’t feel normal in social situations. Latter-day Saint culture is centered around couples. I am married, but “uncoupled,” and I am acutely aware that I am different. I feel awkward.
Compliment me if you believe that I am a stronger person for having endured this trial. But please realize I’d rather have my wife here and have my character built in some other way.
Love us. The kids and I don’t want to be avoided or handled with kid gloves. We want acceptance, patience, and love.
Don’t tell me how to feel. Ask me how I’m feeling and I’ll tell you. Allow me to feel that way. I can’t avoid those feelings, and that’s okay. I may feel she was far too young to die and had too much to live for. Feelings like sorrow and anger are unavoidable during the grieving process.
Don’t tell me to be strong. Let me cry. It is difficult not to have someone in the world who loves me as much as she did. I feel as if half of me is gone, and it hurts. But I have to experience the pain before it can go away. Right now I don’t want to be strong.
Don’t expect me to “get over it.” I never will. I’ll adjust and accept and understand and heal, but I will always love her, and she will always be my wife. I will never forget someone who loved me so unconditionally. In fact, I never should, any more than I should forget our Heavenly Father. A true love story has no ending.
Don’t tell me you understand. You probably don’t. You can’t unless you’ve had the same or a very similar experience. Just accept the way I feel and allow me to feel that way without judgment.
Don’t give me a time limit on when I should be “better.”
Don’t tell me to get married. Tell me it’s okay to date. Perhaps I’ll marry again. But it will be in my own time.
Don’t make me do anything. Don’t tell me, “You have to go to the ward party.” Suggest it and encourage it if you feel so inclined, but don’t fault me if I don’t want to go at that particular time. It may be more difficult than you can imagine.