In losing my late husband James, I’ve suffered many losses. The greatest of which is losing my partner, the father to my daughter Vivian and my every day person. But the terrible tragedy of losing a loved one is compounded by the unexpected loss of friends and family along the way.
My friend Thom* sat with me in the depths of grief, he was a young man who battled cancer (and won!) twice and asked me “So who else did you lose when you lost James?”. As a fellow grief-survivor he knew exactly the losses I felt. You see, when you lose a loved one, your grief is too much for some, they don’t like who you’ve become, they don’t like how grief has changed you, they instead retreat from you and ghost you.
Ghosting is often a term used in dating, when someone inexplicable disappears without a trace. No explanation given, no sense of remorse, not to be heard from again. I can’t explain their disappearance, perhaps they felt too overwhelmed, perhaps they felt they didn’t know what to do, but worst of all, maybe they didn’t want to be a part of your grief journey because they couldn’t handle the changes in you. The unfortunate reality of anyone who has been through an earth-shattering loss is that they will change. The changes are different for everyone, but for me, it has been a clearer definition of my boundaries. An acceptance that life is short. I’ve become angrier but also happier. My spectrum of emotions has broadened - my bad days are darker, but my good days are brighter.
In my journey, I’ve lost friends and families. They have ghosted me without much fanfare or explanation. Some of my closest family and friends have left me to cope with the grief on my own. As always, I am sure they have their version of story, but I haven’t experienced the grace of an apology or making more of an effort to repair the relationship. In most circumstances, they have disappeared. This haunts me. Their ghostly enigmas leave a question of why?
But I’ve to the conclusion there is no good enough reason why. They simply couldn’t overcome their own selfish grief to help or be part of my own. And so, with compassion and grace, I’ve let them go. Letting them go does not mean forgiveness, I am no saint, but I’ve let them go because I’ve come to focus on the people that did show up. The people who stuck around through the tears and the terrible decisions. The people who didn’t know what to do, but had the grace to show up. That’s what I am choosing to focus on, the people who showed up. They have been the resounding resource from which I drew my strength. My neighbours who invited me to Sunday evening dinners because they knew that was the loneliest time for me. My friend who invited me to Vanuatu and cried with me under the blaring wilderness of a waterfall. My mother who held my hand after my husband passed away and told me she was so proud of me, because I did the best job I could do as a carer.
The ghosts of grief have haunted me. I didn’t expect the loss of close friends and family, but in losing these ghosts, I’ve gained perspective on who are my lifelong friends. I will be forever grateful for those that did show up. I will remember each of their kind words and their selfless acts, and I hope I can do the same for them in their times of need.
I am often asked by my readers, what can they do to help a loved one going through grief? My answer is simple. Just show up.
*names have been changed