Published on Medium, May 5, 2017 — A friend and her husband traveled on a cruise ship to celebrate their April birthdays. A week ago my friend’s husband died near the Bahamas.
I do not wish this horror on anyone. Not do I speculate on the whys and wherefores. For the record, I don’t think things happen for a reason.
My friend is home now, surrounded by loved ones. She prepares for her husband’s wake and service, handles his business affairs, gets back into the routine of daily life.
We who love her have no idea how to help. I’ve ordered pies for next weekend when her extended family show up. I’ll make a huge kettle of vegetable soup she can use now or freeze for later.
I stumble over words for her and for her local family members. I listen and send “I love you” texts and ask what I can do.
Writers often tackle grief in all its glory. For me, the best description of this personal sorrow came from a non-writer who wasn’t trying to be introspective. After a nasty divorce, a family member helped me understand that I cannot walk in his shoes.
He asked me, “Do you remember how you felt when your basement flooded?”
I remembered. Until we got a commercial grade pump, we grappled with several basement floods. We spent thousands of dollars on special gutters, a systems dug into the floor, finally buying the Mother of All Pumps.
He asked me how I felt when I received little sympathy about my flooded basement. I told him it made me so angry because people didn’t have any idea what an inch of water can do to a basement, running under drywall, sometimes ruining the carpet and pad, dislocating tile, and even ruining appliances. Just an inch of water can spread out of an entire basement seeping into hidden places.
I got it. Grief is like that.
No one can see where all the water goes. No one but the person with the clean-up job sees the full impact of the event. One can easily overlook the veiled places. If your basement has never flooded, it’s easy to just gloss over the entire event.
By no means am I comparing a household mess to the loss of a loved one.
My friend will likely be okay. She has dealt with other horrendous losses in her life, and remains a strong person.
Over the next months and years, she will explore the hidden places and find the damage. I will listen and not advise. For better or for worse, my partner is alive. I do not walk in her shoes today. I will bring pies and make soup.