In the past two weeks two friends have lost husbands. Suddenly and unexpectedly. The men long shy of their 3scoreandten, their wives much too young to morph, over night, as widows. I cannot feel their loss for, mercifully, it is not mine to feel. But I can empathize. My dad was 47 when he died. My mum just 44. We, at 19, 18 and 13, were the ages those newly fatherless children are. So I call the one friend and I can hear her brave stoicism wobbling which makes me want to cry. I ask her when her beautiful daughter will arrive home to be with her, I ask who is with her now, I want to know if she has support for the unbearably horrible consequences that must be dealt with in the slaying aftermath of a death, the grim practicalities. I tell her to try to remember to eat. I remind her to get some rest when she can. And after that I don’t know what to say so I tell her I am thinking of her (‘Thank you’, she says, because she is graceful even now) and I put the phone down. And then I cry. Not because her loss is mine but because I know what a long road she has ahead of her and so to offer platitudes isn’t easy.
Yes. It will get better but it will take a long, long time. Yes the pain will recede but first, after the numbness of shock, must come the sharp sting of realization, every single morning, when she wakes, that he isn’t there. Yes, she will laugh again but before that she will cry as if she is never going to stop.
When my dad died an older, wiser friend told my young London flatmates, ‘for you, her dad died today, for her he will die day after day after day for a long time to come’. That is what I must remember now, and remembering that will make up for my inability to salve any part of her enormous pain by saying things that I know aren’t true unless I quantify them with the harsh realities that I understand:
It will get better.
But it will take a long, long time.
Instead I will drop her short emails and send her brief texts (for grief will steal her concentration) to remind her that I lurk, useless in the ether, for I cannot bring him back.
You cannot rescue a friend from the cold, alienating grip of grief. But you can prop them up a little as they limp their way through. That’s the best you can do.
The days are heavy here. A torpor descends as the heat rises and by early afternoon the house is kiln hot, I imagine I could make meringues on the verandah. A fan lazily stirs the leaden air. I lie sprawled on my bed, heavy limbed, heavy lidded, a starfish trying to find a cool spot. Life has been arrested. I am not entirely certain of what the outcome will be. Uncertainty is a difficult commodity to manage. I can’t pin life down so that I can get on with it. Instead I meander, inertia arrested. I blame the heat. It’s easier that way.