I have tried to be open to accepting whatever anyone offered by way of help or support since we began this never-ending journey of loss.
You may find as we did, that different people are good at offering different types of support. Some will be practical, bringing home-cooked food, offering company on a walk, or even financial support. Others might let you talk and talk, and be able to ask you insightful questions to gently challenge those unhelpful thoughts. You know the ones; they insinuate themselves into your distraught mind when you're at your lowest: the things you said, the things you didn't say: the "What if?s", the "Why didn't I?s", the "If onlys" (NB I have found that most people struggle with this and only my therapists, or friends who are trained therapists, were really able to help me in this way).
Someone you know might have advice on how to deal with the plethora of admin that accompanies any death, or information and support on claiming benefits or taking time off work. Your brain at this time may be incapable of retaining the smallest piece of information; you may feel (as I did) overwhelmed much of the time. We worked through the administration very slowly. Anton had not left a will, but as he didn't own property and wasn't married it was fairly straightforward so we were able to apply for probate ourselves. It goes without saying that this was acutely painful, but at least we felt a little more in control of the process.
Friends offer what they are able to give. One friend sent me a message every single morning for a year or more. Another was brilliant at spending hours on the phone, helping to ground me during periods of absolute panic and terror, and knowing just what to say. Another cooked meals for us and froze them. Several friends took me walking and talking and one in particular allowed me to vent my rage, my horror, my limitless grief, ad nauseum. One of my brothers flew home from a trip in Bali when Anton died, stayed with us, and then walked with me every Friday for over a year. My other brother living in Sydney flew over to be with us for 2 weeks, messaging and calling me often once he'd left. Other friends and family visited, messaged us, fed us, called us, walked with us, cried with us.
These are the close friends and family whose support we really could not have done without, especially during the first 2 years. Then there are those who are less close but really want to help or offer words of comfort. One neighbour gave us cake. Another came to see us to say how sorry she was to hear the dreadful news, and later invited us to tea. Another offered a safe space to talk when she came to cut my hair, and never shied from asking "how are you really doing?".
Its important to note that some people are not quite so brave; they are afraid of getting it wrong in some way, so they say nothing. That is the hardest thing of all in my opinion. It somehow negates our loss and suffering and leaves me feeling as though the person doesn't care, or thinks we should be "over it" by now. When I meet someone like this I try to remember that their silence is not about me, but about them and their inadequacy in the situation.
Be aware that some people will not know how to help you. They may not say or do anything because whatever they say or do may seem so utterly insignificant in comparison to your loss that they feel useless or even pathetic. One person told me that she feared anything she said would sound trite, given what I was going through. This is understandable, if we try to put ourselves in their shoes its easy to see how hard it might be to come up with a form of words that is adequate. Other people's feelings are definitely not our problem of course. Unless, that is we actually need them to help us - then they become our problem.
I have also found that it pays to remember that nobody is always going to be able to give me the support I need, when I need it. Often people are unable to find the right words; they even say things that sound crass or unfeeling. Sometimes they say what they think we might want to hear (which is often quite different to what we actually want to hear). When we're suffering so much it can be painful when someone puts their foot in it and says something that feels completely inappropriate, as has happened for me on a number of occasions. Although I have sometimes wanted to scream at them, fortunately I didn't have the energy. And I am glad now, that I didn't, because they were just doing their best, and they certainly didn't intend the hurt they caused. I have to acknowledge too, that I have been (absolutely understandably) hugely hypersensitive and easily upset. And its easy to forget, when we're in so much pain, that others have problems too; even if they may seem inconsequential or even trivial compared to our own, of course they're very important to the person experiencing them.
One solution is to start asking for what you need, whether that's some time to talk; a shoulder to cry on; some practical advice; a walk; a coffee, a hug.
And if that feels hard for you, consider this: Think about the last time someone shared a problem or asked you for help, particularly for an emotive issue. How did it feel? Was there perhaps a warm feeling or sense of pleasure that they chose YOU? Did it feel almost like they had presented you with a gift; the gift of trust?
Is there someone to whom you could choose to give that gift, to allow them the pleasure of helping you? Imagine a dear friend who is suffering the most tragic and heart-breaking loss. You feel for him/her. You want to help. You want to make it better in some way. If the friend allows you to give what you can, it feels good, doesn't it? If the friend shuts you out or shuns you, that hurts, and its likely you might not try again.
Family and friends may not always be the right means of support. There have been many times when I just couldn't burden my husband or son with my grief when they were suffering so much themselves. And sometimes I needed to say things I really didn't want anyone who loved me to hear. There have been times when my husband and I have been on very different pages of the grieving manual and haven't understood one another at all. We all have a different relationship with our lost loved one. We all have different ways of grieving. We all need to grieve in our own unique way.
That's when helplines and therapists are useful. I contacted the The Compassionate Friends helpline on more than one occasion and found the person on the other end wonderfully supportive and wise. I called Samaritans in desperation one winter's evening as I walked the streets in the rain, unable to sit at home, and it helped me to express things I needed to have heard but couldn't tell anyone close to me. I had several periods of therapy with different therapists and did eventually find the help I needed (see separate post A Therapist's Search for Therapy)
Groups and help from people we don't know (yet): Alek and I attended a local Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) group (just once due to lockdown) together. The local TCF group facilitator visited us when pandemic restrictions allowed and her support was absolutely amazing because it particularly helped Alek. We joined online TCF groups together, and Alek attended one for bereaved dads. I joined the closed Facebook group that TCF run for parents and siblings bereaved by suicide. TCF allocated me a Grief Companion; we met for coffee and walks and exchanged messages, and became friends. We went on a wonderful walk in London with a TCF volunteer. I still attend our local TCF group as often as I can manage, and I always leave a little lighter than when I entered. Before you switch off, thinking this is not for you, Alek asked me to add a note about how reluctant he has always been to join groups of any kind, yet not only did he join the groups and find his voice, but he found they really helped him.
"When we're grieving, our road needs to be paved with people" Julia Samuel