Today last year a friend sent me this meme. Wen had just been gone for 17 days.
At that time in my grief journey I was not truly alone. There were still people beside me. Standing by me. Checking in on me. Bringing me food. Spending time with me.
At that time I had no idea yet how this meme would foreshadow what lay ahead for me. I had not yet experienced the utter loneliness that having to walk your grief alone entails. I had not yet realized that living alone and being alone are actually my deepest fears. I still remember walking down our road when this realization all of a sudden hit me like a sledgehammer. As I was thinking, ‘I have to live my worst nightmare: being alone’ my visceral gut reaction told me that this was the truth.
Some people choose to live alone. Many people live alone for parts of their lives. I had never really lived alone, except for a brief period during my college years. But I was in a loving relationship then so not truly alone. So here I found myself now having to live alone, be alone, walk alone. Not voluntarily but because the love of my life, my soulmate, had been ripped from me in a cruel turning of our fate. Shattered were our visions of growing old together. Our vows to each other to always travel the same path together rendered meaningless. Our together-life ended abruptly and way too early.
We had seen ourselves as becoming the ‘old lesbian couple’ on our street. Taking the place of our neighbors across the street who had just moved away to a retirement community. We talked about asking the kids on our street to help with mowing, shoveling snow and pet-sitting just like our boys had done for the old lesbian couple across the street.
Worse, you don’t just have to walk grief alone because it is your journey and yours alone. That is certainly true. And it is important to acknowledge that. How you grieve, how you express your grief, and the pace and time grieving takes for you are yours.
What this meme doesn’t acknowledge is how many people have to walk grief alone because they are left behind by those who don’t want to or can’t offer non-judgmental support. So many people who grieve deeply also lose their support networks during the first year of grieving. The number of people who stand by you, listen without judgment and support you by just being there for you dwindles quickly. People who call themselves friends never call you, never come by, never ask you and truly want to know how you are really doing. The support of the first weeks and maybe two or three months is gone just when you need it most. When the initial shock and numbness wear off. When the real pain and anguish set in. When utter loneliness envelops you. When your soul is shrouded in nearly impenetrable darkness.
So, I ask why do we expect grievers to walk this journey alone? Instead, why not offer grievers to walk beside them?