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Grief is…accepting help

October 30, 20239 min read

Grief is…accepting help

One of the many lessons I’ve learned from grief over the years is that it forces me to accept help. I lived for decades wearing my fierce independence like a badge of honour. I see now it was a defensive mechanism. If didn’t ask for help and I did it myself I couldn’t be disappointed or let down by someone else. I had to ask for help when my dad died and I had an infant and a toddler. I simply couldn’t do everything they needed by myself and be there for my mom and grieve my own loss. That was the beginning of the release of the pattern. The work to release it continues - it’s a well-established pattern.

When Kathleen went away and I wanted to make a room for her out of the chaos she had been living in I knew I needed help. We hadn’t been ready to make decisions about Ben’s belongings and still didn’t feel ready for anything permanent. And we needed to move some of them out to make space for hers. There was no way I could do it alone. I had a broken leg and was non weight bearing and the emotional task was huge too. I sent a message to a few friends who had been there for me in countless ways in the preceding year and a half (they’ve cooked, grocery shopped, visited, taken me for walks, called and texted, reached out with support and many other things). They were people who had offered help regularly and I often hadn’t been able to accept. Not because I didn’t want help, or need it, but because one of the effects of grief for me is I can’t really plan well. Anyone who offered help when I could think of something I needed, I accepted. But so often people had offered, and I couldn’t think of anything in that moment. And accepting help when it’s offered and asking for help are two different things. Accepting help is much easier for me and asking is still a work in progress. And I did it anyways. It was the only way the room was going to get done.

What happened next was a miracle. My goal when Kathleen left was to get her room sorted. We needed to move Ben’s clothes out of the closet and all the other things that were stored in the room had to go somewhere else. She needed to be able to put her clothes away and have space to breathe. That felt big and hard and like it would take all the time and energy I had to give. I asked friends to come in ones or pairs for short periods of time. I rented a local storage locker so we had somewhere to put things. To say I felt overwhelmed about where to start and how to do what I had set out to do is an understatement. Overwhelm is a new but frequent experience for me and I am very conscious about being gentle with myself.

The first person to arrive to help was amazing. She entered the room with me and promptly decided the thing that needed to be done first, to create the most space ,was the transition of Ben’s clothes out of the closet and Kathleen’s in. She was right. And it was the task I was most dreading. Ben expressed himself through clothes. He loved fashion and had collected amazing pieces. Except for his work clothes I knew the story of almost every other garment in the closet. They all reminded me of him, some moment in our lives, shopping on vacation, and many conversations about whether he should spend the money on something he loved. I had suggested people come for about 2 hours thinking that was all the capacity I had. She stayed 4 and we got the whole thing done. Ben’s things lovingly packed and Kathleen’s things put away in a way we hoped would be functional for her. While we packed and sorted we talked about Ben and Kathleen, we worked in silence and at times she talked to distract me from what was so hard. And it was done. Her help and presence were an amazing gift. The thing I had thought would be hardest was done and we were only on the first day. I had a good cry that night, missing Ben and the way I felt connected to fashion through his passion for it. And I felt some peace too. Nothing was completely gone. It was stored until we could release it to another fashion lover. We had taken a step.

Over the rest of that first week, other friends came and helped. They were full of love for all of us. They said yes to everything I asked. They took boxes and furniture to the storage locker. They took things to be donated. They moved things from one place to another. In the way that often works we would move something out of the way only to find we had moved it into the way of the next step. We laughed. We hugged. We talked. Sometimes tears were shed but mostly we went step by step to create a space Kathleen needed and deserved. By the end of the first week, it was done.

Then the dream got bigger. We had been waiting for new shelving which was held up with the global supply chain issues for about 6 months. It finally arrived. One of my most stalwart support team friends was due to help and decided we should put them up. That set a cascade in motion that led to an amazing almost complete apartment transformation. We ripped up carpet to be able to put up the shelves. The shelves were the wrong ones to they went back in the box. What else could we do my friend wondered? Let’s finally do the floor. I’d been vacillating about what to do with the floor for years and acutely for the past months. One idea was expensive and hard to do and one was cheap and easy. Let’s do the cheap and easy one she said and off we went. The store didn’t have what we needed but would order it in. By the next day she had found it and brought it back. It wasn’t quite right so she found a better one. And by the end of the next week my helpers had moved furniture, torn up the carpet and painted the floor. I’d wanted to paint a mini feature wall in the living room. That got done too. One friend had the right colour paint and another friend loved cutting in and painted it. One husband got called in to help with carpet ripping up and furniture moving and a friend of Ben’s came to help move everything back. He did some demolition work for us and we redid a closet. The love that flowed to us was so moving. I felt such grace.

In the meantime, another friend came to clean. I’ve never liked cleaning. I love when everything is clean but the process of getting it there…not so much. I had barely cleaned since Ben died and the cleaners I had hired a few months before were terrible. She is a professional cleaner who travelled from her home out of town and stayed with me for two days and top to bottom cleaned my apartment. I don’t think it has ever been as clean and it was done with such love. The amount of love and respect she showed our place and Ben’s things that remain in it was a gift. People who have lost someone close to them often just get it. She did, plus she is a loving, gentle soul who was perfect for the job. The time we got to visit was such a lovely bonus and made the whole thing so much easier. That applied to everyone who helped. So often in our lives, we don’t get to see people as often as we would like. Group gatherings are still hard for me but chatting for a few hours while getting something done with people I care so much about was a lovely and unexpected gift.

In the days right before Kathleen came home one last friend came to help. We framed and hung a travel map Kathleen gave me years ago. We hung pictures of us on our travels around it. We hung mirrors in the hall and bedrooms which completely changed the feeling of the apartment and completed my niggling to do list. The night before Kathleen came home, my stalwart friend who had inspired the expansion of my vision came to help with finishing touches in Kathleen’s room. It looked pretty and hers. We were done.

All this was done in secret. Kathleen knew I hoped some friends might come help and her room would be done when she got back. She didn’t know anything else. I took a video of her opening the door to come into the apartment and my dream was realised. I had explained to friends that helped that my original vision was that she would open the door to her room and be amazed. As we continued working, my vision became that she would open the door to the apartment and be amazed and that’s exactly what happened. All because I asked for help.

I am eternally grateful to the people who showed up for this project. I learned so much besides how to pull up carpet tackstrip. I know now I am loved. I am supported. When I ask, help is there. When I don’t ask, it is still available. So many old wounds are brought to the surface by grief. In this hardest of times everything is laid bare, visible and waiting to be healed. What we do next is up to us. I hope you choose healing. 

How can you support a griever? When they ask for help say yes. Then figure out how. If they aren’t asking, ask what they hate doing that isn’t getting done and ask if you can do that for them or hire someone to do it for them. If they say yes, do it. If they can’t think of anything, ask again another time. They may need help for years. Keep gently offering.

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Through her insightful teachings and thoughtfully designed programs, Suzanne offers a path guided by emotional intelligence and real life experience to address the full spectrum of the complex emotions and consequences of grief while expanding the capacity to engage fully with life post loss. Her heartfelt approach also honours the depth of loss through the invaluable practice of cherishing and expressing love for what has been lost and experienced.

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