The role of widow comes with certain responsibilities. This was news to me, but is something I have come to understand.
One of those responsibilities is to be a part of the healing process for the other people in your loved one’s life. If you stop to think about it, you automatically know this on some level. It is accepted that the widow is in charge of notifying the rest of the family as much as she can, that she will plan a memorial service so others can pay their respects, that she will write or arrange for obituaries. The widow may have help with these tasks, or she may be able to delegate them entirely. Ultimately, however, it generally falls to the widow to be the tour guide through the earliest days after the death.
Often during the planning of the service, preparing the house for company, etc. I thought how strange it felt to be in charge of event planning while my insides were dead. That is how it is done, however.
I am not the only person who lost Trey. I know this. I lost him the most, but he had many people who cared for him deeply and feel the loss.
This post is not meant to be about the early days, however, but about the continuing role of the widow in helping others grieve. Recent events have highlighted this for me in a way that I did not previously understand.
I am planning a trip with the kids to visit my in-laws this summer. I planned a slow week of family time with my husband’s parents. I thought I might meet a friend one day for lunch, and visit my husband’s sister one day. My MIL kept saying that she understood I probably had a lot of people to visit, since I used to live there, and I kept thinking that really I do not. I don’t do the ‘friend’ thing much. We are going to visit my in-laws and that is pretty much it.
Nope. That is not it.
Every member of my husband’s family in a three-state area are planning to make the trip to see me while I’m nearby. Family members who used to live within a two hour drive of us but did not visit us (or us them — it’s a two way street) suddenly want very much to see me when I come to town. We are now planning what is essentially a family reunion centered around my visit to the state.
This is because my kids and I are a part of the healing process for Trey’s family.
Some family members may feel regretful or even guilty about not seeing Trey more often. Many of them were making plans to see us at some point, but never made solid plans. Some of them were on bad terms with Trey when he died. Because he was young and it was unexpected, we all thought there was time. None of us thought that the last time we saw him would be the last time we would see him.
Meeting with me, seeing me and our kids — our kids who look so different from each other and yet somehow manage to both look so much like him — helps them find a sort of closure or peace. I stand in as a surrogate for the connection they still need with him.
It is a daunting task, and frankly a bit uncomfortable. I can barely hold myself together. I do not feel the strength to serve as a support for others. It is painful to see his family. Trey laughed exactly like his uncles, and when I hear them laugh it slices me open. I see his eyes in all of their eyes. I feel their pain and loss shoved toward me, thick pillows of emotion that smother. It is infinitely difficult to be what they need.
There are those who will say that I do not have to do this. I need to do what is best for me. If I need to sneak in to see my in-laws without notifying half the free world that I am coming, that I should do what I need. To those people I say you are absolutely right. I do not have to do this.
I am in so much pain.
I have seen the family in so much pain.
If I can do something to help them through it, I will. If I have to plan and host a reunion for their family, I will do it.
It is my responsibility as Trey’s widow to do what I can for his family.