Recently Julia and I have started the transition between her “helping” me with chores around the house and truly being a partner who can competently fold laundry and put it away in her drawer, make her bed and have it actually look better after she is done and assisting with other little tasks. Maybe some of you are thinking, “Hey, my child has been doing that for months, years even…” That is great, but we didn’t. When Wesley was alive it was faster to do everything ourselves and so that is what we did. Magically the good fairy silently put away Julia’s clothes, books and toys but things have changed and I realize I cannot do everything by myself any longer.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” has been asked of me possibly hundreds of times since Wesley passed away by people whom I considered bosom friends and by men and women that I have not seen in 15 years. I have been so comforted with love and support but always felt a bit guilty that I could not think of what help I needed when people asked. I would sheepishly say, “No thank you, we are doing OK.” Although that was not quite honest because I did need help, I just was not sure what anyone could do to ease this pain or to relate to me because widowhood can feel tremendously isolating at times. I have found that as time passed that I have amended my answer to that familiar question. Now I’m more likely to say, “I don’t know.” Because I truly don’t. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that this familial trio is now a duo and the ways in which I need support morphs and changes like an ever changing shadow upon the floor. Some days I need to talk, cry, rage at the heavens but other days are not as dramatic and I just want someone with whom to get dinner. My not knowing is not the same thing as saying, “No, I do not want your help” so I implore that people not mistake my meaning. I need the help and love of friends and family today and for a long time after and what that help looks like changes daily.
People I have known all my life and others who I may never meet face to face have offered love, support, prayers and copious amounts of food. Because here in the South that is what we do in times of sadness, we bake for others and through this love offering we pour our hearts and tears into pound cake batter, bowls of chicken salad and other food wordlessly dropped on the kitchen counters of those who grieve. I will always remember and cherish those who came in the early days and the long days to come after Wesley died, and those who still reach out their hands to touch my heart. To give in this way is a tangible way to help, and help it does. Even this past week a friend who selflessly watched Julia all afternoon ended our visit by rushing to my car saying, “I made 3 pans of baked ziti and we’ll never eat it all. Take a pan home with you? ” And I did, because the act of cooking is still hard for me. There are just too many leftovers in the casserole dish and I don’t yet know how to make enough for just Julia and me.
In some ways, this post is a letter of appreciation to the people who have been there, not just physically, but from across many miles and some who are continents away. The men and women who have helped in so many ways, more than my limited vocabulary could express. Friends that I can call sobbing because well, it is Tuesday or I just discovered a book that Wesley bought Julia without me knowing hiding in a plastic bag buried in the closet; a colleague who meets with one of the alumni I work with as I could not travel and leave Julia in April; Wesley’s friends who keep me and Julia close and a part of their social group. I have felt the love of friends and family engulfing us and even if I cannot always summon the words of gratitude, my heart overflows.
We are often in the thoughts and prayers of others I’m told and I love the image of prayers being lifted for me and my family forming a celestial web creating some hammock-like comfort to Julia and me. I engage in many crafty hobbies: I sew, I knit, I cross stitch so perhaps the image of thoughts, prayers, hopes being woven together, knitted and purled on some heavenly loom is fitting to my minds eye. I feel comforted, warm and secure in the love that surrounds me and in moments of sadness or despair I only need took to my left and right and see the company of friends and family waiting anxiously to help. Their helping hands linked together to offer support and cradle us in their kind embrace.