Eventually everyone got back to their lives. Then instead of hearing “I’m going to the store; can I pick up some bread and toilet paper for you?” or “What day can we get together for lunch this week?” or “When can I come do laundry for you?” they necessarily started asking what became my second least favorite question:
“What do you need?”
A single answer raged in my mind when I heard this question: Are you freaking kidding me? I need my husband. Think you can help me with that? I didn’t think so. You can go back to yours now. Thanks. I realize that this knee-jerk response is neither nice nor warranted as this question was usually asked by someone who truly did care - and would do anything, including bring Rod back if it were within their power to do so - coupled with a genuine desire to help and not knowing how.
Despite my silent mental outburst, I am genuinely grateful that I had people close enough to me who cared enough to stop and ask. Their very presence meant more to me than words.
You would think the best person to ask what they need is the person who you intend to help. But we’re a strange bunch, us husbandless women (because we hate the “W” word), and we are the last ones to know what we need. Well, at least the needs that another person, other than our person, could meet.
Most of the needs I was aware of in those early stages were up in my head and at the core of my being. I was overwhelmed by simply existing, and just trying to keep my crap together. I was not paying much attention to things like whether or not I had enough shampoo or clean clothes. I just dealt with those things when they become problems; there was no anticipating, no planning, no getting ahead of the game at that point. Forget getting ahead, I was pretty much living behind the eight ball as far as these things go for a while.
From my current vantage point, almost nine years out, I see that what I needed was for people to pay attention to things I did not have the capacity to pay attention to.
If you wonder if your widow friend has food in the house, pick up a few extra things next time you go to the store and drop them off for her. It doesn’t really matter what it is - if you’re friends and you’re buying it for your family, chances are good that she'd need it, too. Or make a little extra of whatever you’re making for your family for dinner and freeze some for her. Once you have a few single serve dishes, bring them over. Frozen meals are a god-send. It’s harder than you know to cook for one. Or at all. Or just show up with a pizza or chinese food and share a meal with her. (If we’re still under pandemic constraints, order take out for her, call or text her to let her know it’s coming, and maybe spend a few minutes visiting with her virtually until it arrives.)
If you wonder if she could use some help around the house, tell her you’re coming over this weekend to do yard work or after work on Thursday to help with laundry. Don’t ask her if she’d like you to come over; given the option she’ll probably say no because she doesn’t want to inconvenience you (she might be a little embarrassed by how far she's let things go). While you’re there, look around. If you see something that you’d take care of at your house, you might say “I’d like to empty your dishwasher or sweep the kitchen floor, if that’s ok with you.” It's much easier for her to process this type of specific request, and, since you’re already there, she’ll know you won’t be further inconvenienced by that extra thing.
If there’s a new movie coming out that you are going to see, ask her to come along. If there’s a church or community event you are attending, see if she’d like to ride with you. There may be some things that she’d like to do, but won’t do alone. And she probably won’t ask you because she understands that your schedule doesn’t revolve around her, and that you already have someone to go with.
What I needed was for people to let me know that they’d noticed something (this told me I was seen) and a specific way they wanted to help (this let me know that I was worth their time).
What I needed was presence and patience. I was as lost in answering this question as my people were in asking it, but I am forever grateful for those who stayed with me and continued to ask.
Moving forward, not moving on.