First of all, I want to thank you for being part of Niki's Village. She will need each of us in the days, weeks, months and years (yes, I said years!) ahead. In case you've never supported someone who's grieving before, I wanted to share some thoughts on how you can be there for her-- and for her children-- in a meaningful, truly helpful way.
Since this is a big village, and I don't know everyone, let me start by introducing myself: I'm Joanne Fink, one of Niki's friends from the craft industry. I'm also a widow advocate, author of When You Lose Someone You Love, and founder of WhenYouLoseSomeone.com and Zenspirations.com.
Niki has just begun the journey I embarked upon seven years ago, when my husband died of a heart attack. He was 53, and our children were 11 and 16; similar in age to Gigi and Maxx. I want to share things you can do to make a difference for the family now, in the next year or two, and further into the future. Since I have a lot of information to share, I'm going to break this into at several different sections:
IT TAKES A VILLAGE: PROVIDING PRACTICAL ASSISTANCE
WHAT TO SAY AND DO WHEN YOU HAVE NO CLUE
UNDERSTANDING GRIEF AND ITS IMPACT
CREATING A COMPASSIONATE SUPPORT CIRCLE
BUILDING AN ADVISORY TEAM: LEGAL, MEDICAL & FINANCIAL
HELPING NIKI ESTABLISH A NEW NORMAL
HOW TO HELP THE KIDS GRIEVE
UNDERSTANDING SECONDARY LOSSES
KEEPING GARY'S LEGACY ALIVE
AFTER THE FIRST YEAR: THE ART OF ONGOING SUPPORT
I never had the privilege of meeting Gary, but from everything I've read he seems like a wonderful man. My heart goes out to all of Gary's friends and family. I made this piece to help keep his memory alive. The saying is one I originally wrote for my husband:
The measure of a life well lived is the legacy of love and treasured memories imprinted upon the hearts of those who share the loss.
So let's dive in to the first section:
IT TAKES A VILLAGE: PROVIDING PRACTICAL ASSISTANCE
When you lose someone you love every aspect of your life is seriously impacted: it's like a bomb went off, and there are physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual consequences. Niki is a strong lady, but she shouldn't have to worry about keeping things functional right now.
Some of what you can do to help depends on whether you live nearby, what talents and skills you can share, and how close you are to Niki, Gigi and Maxx. These suggestions are directed at Niki's close friends who live nearby:
Figure out Niki's immediate needs, and enlist help from other 'Village Volunteers'. For example, someone may need to buy the kids appropriate clothes to wear to the funeral. Someone needs to go with Niki to the funeral home, and may need to help her figure out how to pay for the funeral. (Andy's funeral was more than $15,000, and the funeral home wanted the money up front. I didn't have that much room on my credit card and will be forever grateful to my brother-in-law for lending me the money.) The funeral home can order copies of the death certificates, which will be needed. (I ordered 3 long forms and 6 short forms, which was enough).
Notifications. Someone needs to take care of notifying the kids' schools, talking to their teachers, calling people who aren't on Facebook, etc. People who are coming in from out of town may need transportation and hotel or home hospitality. People need to be fed.
Help Niki apply IMMEDIATELY for social security. As the custodial parent of a minor child, Niki is entitled to social security benefits, which she will receive until Gigi turns 16. Gigi and Maxx are entitled to benefits until they turn 18. It isn't retro-active, so if she doesn't apply in January she'll miss January's payment, and won't ever see those funds. (I would not have known to do this if a friend hadn't told me about it, and I'm so glad she did).
Find a good estate attorney (if Niki doesn't already have one). She'll need to figure out probate, set up guardianships for the kids, as well as healthcare surrogates, etc. These are things best done with legal guidance.
Look around the house to see what needs to be done and then do it! Does the grass need to be mowed? The trash taken out? The laundry done? Library books returned? Don’t ask— just do whatever needs to be done.
Plan for Gigi and Maxx's future. What will they need? If college isn't already covered, think about setting up a Go Fund Me that will help cover those costs. Realistically, now is when Gary and Niki's friends are most likely to want to contribute to something like this; if it is set up now it can announced at the memorial service. This is something I wish someone had done for my kids.
Don’t say ‘call me if you need anything’. People who are grieving are often disoriented and have trouble remembering things. They may not even remember that you offered to help, and even if they do remember, they probably won’t want to impose on you. Instead, call and say, “I’m on my way to the supermarket and am bringing you bread, eggs and milk– what else do you need?”
Make a commitment to be there in the future. Niki and the kids will have a lot of support in the first couple of weeks. People who are grieving often feel alone; abandoned by the person who died as well as those they thought would be there to support them. They will need support more in a month or two when everyone has gone back to their own lives, and they are still trying to figure out which end is up.
Understand that you can’t fix this. There isn’t anything you can say or do to bring Gary back. It's best to acknowledge that this is a life-shattering loss, and offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on can make a huge difference.
Remember special dates. Birthdays (both of the person who died and the person you are supporting) and anniversaries are major milestones— and are often emotional triggers. Put these dates– and the date of death– in your calendar so you can call, text, or send a card. It will make more of a difference than you can possibly imagine.
If you'd like to get more of these tips, you can subscribe to my newsletter at WhenYouLoseSomeone.com.
The life our friend Niki has been living ended today when Gary died; and it's up to us-- Niki's Village-- to help her create a new life after this devastating loss. As part of Niki's Village, I am happy to answer questions and share what I've learned on my journey. Please leave a comment on the blog, or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
You are NOT alone,
It's hard to believe that it's 2019-- and even harder for me to believe that in August it will be 8 years since Andy died. It's been a long journey-- what I call 'My Journey from Grief to Gratitude'. If you are newly bereaved you may feel that you'll never have anything to be grateful for again-- but I encourage you to keep your heart open to possibility.
Not long after Andy died I started a morning journaling practice which has made a huge difference in my life. This is a page I wrote in one of my journals a year or two after Andy died:
No matter where you are on your grief journey, I want you to pat yourself on the back for making it to 2019. I know that it’s been a struggle; that there were moments when you were overwhelmed by sadness; days you felt empty and hollow and hopeless; lonely tear-filled nights when you couldn’t sleep, times you didn’t think you could get through this on your own.
But although grief may have threatened to overwhelm you, you didn’t let the dark moments consume you or extinguish your inner light—
You deserve to be super proud of yourself for having gotten this far;
for having the courage to feel your feelings;
the wisdom to be gentle with yourself;
the resilience to rebuild your life after your loss;
the faith to believe that you won’t always feel this way;
the patience to figure out things you never thought you’d have to know;
and the strength to keep hope in your heart.
You are winning battles most people don’t even know you are fighting and reinventing yourself in the process!
I am hoping that 2019 will be a year of compassion, connection, hope and healing for each of us. Remember-- you are NOT alone!
Click here if you'd like to subscribe to The Grief Journey Newsletter ; and please share this with anyone you know who has lost someone they love.
Thank you for joining me on this journey,
June 27th is my wedding anniversary. Andy died just a few weeks after we celebrated our 29th anniversary, and I remember being a total wreck on what would have been our 30th anniversary. What made the day even harder for me was that nobody said anything to me that day; not my parents, not my in-laws, not my children, not my friends. When I stopped crying a few days later, I realized that no one had said anything to me because they didn't want to upset me. They didn't understand that NOT acknowledging our special day, or giving me the opportunity to talk about how much I missed Andy, made me even sadder.
On my journey from grief to gratitude, I've had days that-- even in the midst of my sorrow-- have been filled with joy; days when my soul is at peace and I am able to appreciate the beauty and love which surround me. I've had other days when I am so overwhelmed by the turbulent sea of emotions churning inside me that I struggle to breathe. Days I feel as though I'm slogging through quicksand; when my soul aches so much that I'm surprised people don't stop to ask if I'm okay.
When you are grieving, holidays often trigger waves of sadness, loneliness and longing. Mother's Day, which Americans celebrate in May, is especially difficult for those who have lost a child, or who long for one of their own... as well as for those who have lost a parent or, like me, a spouse. I remember Mother's Days before my husband died-- he would help the kids make scrambled eggs & cheese, and all three of them would tiptoe noisily into the bedroom to wake me up. Andy would carry the tray, and the kids would proudly hand me the cards they made. By the time I had opened the kids' cards, and gotten hugs, the eggs were cold, but it didn't matter. The joy on their faces as they watched me eat the breakfast they made was incredibly special.
No matter where you are on your grief journey, I encourage you to do something each day that you find healing and connective. It might be making yourself a nourishing bowl of soup… calling an old friend… or letting the tears flow… Being kind to yourself helps you find the path towards wholeness.
Those of you who follow the Zenspirations® blog are familiar with my ‘morning journaling practice’, where I begin each day with a pen in my hand, journaling the thoughts and prayers in my heart. When I am disciplined enough to do this, I am better able to stay grounded, and feel a connection to something bigger than myself.
The past six years, since I became a widow, have been the most challenging period of my life– and yet they have also been the most rewarding. I have grown creatively, practically and spiritually, and have come to realize that we grow the most during the most difficult times in our lives.
Whenever I feel a little less than whole, I try to get ‘Back to Basics’, which for me means trying to stay grounded in gratitude. One way that I do this is through a meditative practice I call Morning Journaling. I’ve discovered that, as an artist and writer, if I start each day with a pen in my hand I can better express what’s in my heart.