Before more about Mike, I want to talk about what we need. I don't think anyone knows what to do in situations like this, but I have figured a couple things out.
I have been given the book by Sheryl Sandberg (and Adam Grant), Option B. It's a good book and a great gift for me at this time, although her husband died unexpectedly of a heart condition, which is awfully different than our situation. But it's also striking to see how differently we all respond to grief. She describes feeling frustrated with people that ask, How are you?, finding it insensitive to her obvious grief; she prefers, How are you today?, which assumes the grief, but is still a way to check in, authentically.
Personally, I don’t really care about details like that at all. It’s actually really nice when someone just says a casual hello, asks how things are going, or starts talking about their own life. It gives me a break and makes me feel like a normal person.
What is a lot more unfortunate, although totally understandable, is that people don’t let me know about their own feelings of grief about Mike because they don’t want to burden me.
When I am being selfish, I long for people to reach out to me more. When Mike died, many people wrote letters about him, letters to my kids for later in life. These letters are absolutely priceless to me. It was sad when they stopped coming (although they would have to, someday). I wish people knew that it is never too late to reach out. I could talk about what I have learned about the people that reach out and the people that don’t, and it has hurt to realize some people drop off while others show up. But the truth is, I don’t know anything about people, especially the ones I don’t hear from. Maybe they have their own reasons, their own stories, their own sense of betrayal or confusion or anger, who knows? But for the people that still wonder what to do, reaching out is what is best for me, and eventually my family (my kids know about the letters, and read most of them, then had enough for a while, and it will keep going like that). It’s like what I teach in my practice: if you are wondering whether to communicate, always err on the side of communicating.
I was so grateful after my kids’ recent continuation, a good friend came up to me, asked me how I was, and said how the ceremony was so sad for her because she kept thinking about how Mike was missing it, and how beautiful the girls are, and how proud he would have been.
I actually was not having that experience that day. I was missing Mike a ton, for sure, and I was sad to be saying goodbye to a very special school my kids have called home, and where Mike frolicked with them afternoon after afternoon, year after year. There is a Little Free Library dedicated to him that he and his Girl Scout troop installed a couple years ago. Anyway, I was feeling sad that this beautiful place would become a memory, that another chapter was closing, one in which everyone knew and loved Mike and where he was interwoven with the girls’ memories. I knew that, when they go to their new school, it will never remind them of Mike at all, but of other people’s dads, their teachers, maybe me, their friends. I was sad about that. But I was super proud of my girls that day, indeed they were beautiful and poised and perfect, as all the kids were.
Anyway, my friend came up to me and shared how she felt and it meant the world to me. We cried for a moment over the potluck table. Then we got on with the celebration.