Rely on the experiences of friends to cope with grief

  • Baheej loved this Finnish salmon soup we ordered on trips to Helsinki. Now I make it and wish Baheej could share some with me.

    Baheej loved this Finnish salmon soup we ordered on trips to Helsinki. Now I make it and wish Baheej could share some with me. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

 
Posted3/28/2020 6:00 AM

When my beloved husband died, my friends were so helpful in supporting me. I'm not talking about just being comforting, bringing meals and inviting me to gatherings. They were so helpful in sharing their experiences and letting me know about what I may expect coming up, and even in years to come.

For instance, I was talking to a dear friend a couple years after Baheej died and I told her how the grief was still with me. She lost her husband ten years earlier when they were in their 50s. She reassured me that she still had such feelings of grief and sadness even a decade later.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

She said waves of grief come uninvited, taking you by surprise. So that helped me understand what I may be in for in the long term. And I started thinking about the implications of what I now call long-term grief, even though I didn't start writing about it for another three years.

A different dear friend alerted me about many practical problems one must handle after a death -- forms to file, insurance, all sorts of paper work. Of course, I had already been doing lots of that but she warned me it goes on for years. For instance, you will get mail, emails and telephone calls for the spouse who died for years. I still do!

So I was more prepared not to get all ruffled every time this happens. I found that once a street address or email address is out there in cyberspace, there is almost no way to stop it. No-call phone lists don't seem to work. So now I don't get bent out of shape every time it occurs. It's annoying when the caller asks, "Can I speak to Baheej," but I just hang up. You can't get upset at every annoyance.

Even my banker friend advised me to keep Baheej's name on one of the checking accounts because I would be getting checks in his name for years and will need some place to deposit them. So true. I received one recently, seven years later.

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Rely on the experience of friends; they can help you with both emotional and practical matters. Death and grief are so very complicated.

Of course, many parties, lunches and interest groups where we normally see our friends have been canceled because of coronavirus precautions. So we don't see as much of our friends these days. But there is the phone and email. I am using a lot of talk time and screen time with friends!

One of the problems in grief is wishing. Be on guard because this happens often, and it is more tempting when one is home alone often. I wish my dear Baheej could know and play with my sweet kitties. He would enjoy them, even though he was raised in a traditional culture where cats were not allowed in the house. He would love to have them sitting in his lap or cuddling next to him purring.

I often wish Baheej could enjoy the meal I am eating, especially when it is one of his favorites. Or see the pretty sunset. Maybe he does see it.

But beware, these thoughts often hurt. Wishing is another area where you need to put up your self-defenses. We can only take so much.

I even get these wishful feelings when I go out to get the mail, because it reminds me of how he loved getting mail and how he checked it every single day. I have photos of Baheej smiling by the mailbox.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The point is: If you are talking one-on-one with a friend who has had a great loss, whether a spouse, a parent or good friend, ask her or him for advice. In most cases, they will be glad to talk to you about grief and share experiences and ideas.

You have to ask because most people won't bring the subject of death up in regular conversation. I learned a lot by doing this. And it helped.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan.

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