Since I began this blog, I have tried to cover as many diverse areas of my grief as possible. From the dark beginning, all the way to the present moments of hope. As a grief blogger, my entire purpose is assured when I learn that I have helped someone, somewhere in the world. If I can aid a grieving person to understand their own grief from my experiences, then everything I write is justified. If I’m honest, for me personally, the moments that leave me stunned are when I receive feedback from those supporting a grieving person.
For the bereaved, our grief is a backpack we have to carry, and this is a very true analogy. It’s a very big and heavy load with a lot of painful things sticking out of it. From the comments I have received, I tend to pick up on how these ‘supportive friends’ possess the desire to share the load. Sometimes they can even identify that we, the widowed, have to sometimes learn to carry it alone.
Many grief support sites describe how we should “Ask for help”, “Be with the ones you love” and “You can’t do this alone”. In reality, not everyone is fortunate enough to have friends who can fit this category. Sometimes when a tragedy occurs we actually discover who our real friends are. At the beginning of grief, people will automatically say “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know”, “If you need anything, blah blah blah”, then all of a sudden you will never hear or see some of them again. This is the pinnacle point from our crisis that will go on to separate the genuine from the fake.
When I became a widowed single parent drowned in shock. I was thrown into the deep end with a 9-month-old baby. Without any focus, I started to question myself. What do I do next? Why has this happened to me? Why did it happen to her? How the hell do I look after my baby? How do I even look after myself? Fortunately, I was blessed with a lot of amazing people in my life. Support even came from the people I had least expected it from.
I found vast amounts of emotional therapy online from organisations like WAY (Widowed and Young). By talking to people, I had never even met, I discovered a virtual solace. The magnitude of love and support from everyone within the days and weeks of Katherine’s passing was staggering. The only downside is – it didn’t always come from the ones I expected, and if it did, it certainly didn’t last for long. For my daughter and I, our life didn’t go back to normal after the funeral as theirs did. The prime example of my experience is based on the level of support my daughter and I received from some of my wife’s friends.
As time went on from the funeral, their support decreased dramatically. Most turned out to be fair weather friends that became intertwined when my wife was alive, but distant in her death. The lack of empathy and understanding made it very difficult for me not to take things personally. Although I believed everything was peaceful and tranquil between me and Katherine’s friends, the death of my wife turned things upside down for me and my daughter. Somehow, I tried to keep in mind that these people were also mourning our significant loss. Regrettably, in this situation, bad things had the ability to come out of their mourning. Bad things that had arisen onto me, such as fears, and anxieties caused by these types of friends.
These fears and anxieties were real too, and not simply imagined. When I lost Katherine, the relationships with some of her friends became tricky and, at times, downright complex and stressful. Previously I had a very positive interpersonal relationship with all of her friends. To my surprise, within a few months after the funeral, I discovered a less-than-supportive tie with most of them. These people had been in my wife’s life for a very long time. They had been part of our wedding and more importantly bridesmaids to my wife for our big day. Sadly, all that Margot and I had left to face was a barrage of hostility, anger, rejection, and spitefulness.
It all started when my daughter and I were no longer invited to events and gatherings. Events that my wife and I had always been a part of. The levels of separation intensified as time went on. The visits, phone calls and messages all gradually stopped altogether. Being just the dynamic duo, their lack of empathy also applied to my daughter. When it came to Christmas, Easter, my wife’s death anniversary and sadly, even my daughter’s Birthday. None of these people had any time for her, which was the hardest part. The small cost of a birthday card and postage stamp had simply become too much. Too much effort for a baby that had lost the Mother she’ll never know. Their own lives became paramount over ours.
Whilst I was grieving ‘heavily’, the level of ignorance and lack of empathy shown towards both of us was very difficult to digest. I often wondered what Katherine would have thought of their reactions, which made it so hard not to take it personally. It wasn’t rocket science to conclude that those people no longer desired to have any sort of relationship with me or my daughter. As the distance of time became greater I became more philosophical about everything. I realised that those friends had treated my wife’s death in the same way as a divorce. Strangely, I sometimes wondered if these people may not have liked me in the first place, maybe they just tolerated me because I was Katherine’s husband. I cannot emphasise the sadness, stress and exhaustion it caused me. At a point in my life when my ‘to do’ list was as demanding as it had ever been.
It had also occurred to me that the change in my social relationship must have been considered a loss to them. I became aware that they had treated me as a “secondary loss,” meaning my wife’s death was the primary loss. The change in my social relationship was secondary to them because it happened as a result of the primary loss = Katherine. In simple terms, once Katherine had passed, my daughter and I didn’t matter to them anymore. This made it very clear for me to see their true characteristics.
I initially wanted to try and save the friendships in honour of my wife, but sometimes the damage is just too unrepairable. At this point in my grieving, I was fully armed with an offensive and unstable state of mind, it was so easy for me to overreact in these moments. Being in the early stages of shock, pain and grief, my actions could not heal the fractured relationships. Due to my spiralling mental health, I took the moral high ground and I decided to completely disengage from everything that was troublesome for me. I achieved this in a peaceful manner, there was no confrontation, just words. They gave me a lot of excuses, which I viewed for what they were; excuses.
Not too long ago, I was made aware that these friends had purchased a memorial bench in honour of their friend, my wife and mother of my daughter. This was no ordinary memorial bench; its location was a mystery and its sole purpose was just for them and them alone. All family ties to Katherine had been excluded from the entire purpose. It was a clear message that its existence was not intended for family.
When I first discovered what had taken place, it barely phased me. By this point, the damage had already been completed and I was fully aware of their priorities. My initial thoughts focused on what type of people I thought they were and the reality of what they actually are. These are people who wouldn’t ever admit their wrongdoings or faults – even in the death of my wife. If I could take something from their actions, it would be this. The private memorial is a beaming signal of their broken promises to Katherine, their deteriorated friendship, their guilt and their inability to ‘just be there’ for support. My commitment is now galvanised for the day when my daughter will ask me “Daddy, who are those people in that photo”.
At present, I’m in a very different place compared to back then. I have since accepted the choices they have made and the sad circumstance that Katherine’s death had brought an end to the friendships that were so meaningful to her. When I look back and reflect on this traumatic period, I can somehow pick out one positive outcome, my healing. I have always kept in mind that my healing was going to take time. Looking back in hindsight, my healing was far too valuable to be placed into the hands of these types of people.
Margot and I have survived the loss of Katherine with the people that matter to us. We’re not exactly made of stone, yet, but we can make it through whatever life throws at us.