Cards. Meals. Visits. Gifts. Day after day these things arrived at my door right after my husband died leaving me with a newborn and twin toddlers.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude and humbled by others’ generosity and care for my family. I was also a little bit surprised because I didn’t know I had so many friends. Yes, some were strangers, but mostly people I knew came out by the dozens to help my family. I was in awe.

But the weeks passed and the cards, meals, visits, and gifts stopped almost as suddenly as they had started. Everything stopped the moment I really needed it the most . . . but ultimately, looking back now, the ache wasn’t because anything tangible had ended, it was the human connection that went with it.

People’s lives didn’t stop—nor did I expect them to—but mine did.

Mine was like a record skipping, stuck on the worst part of the worst track. When the fog settled thick around my ankles and I could at least see what was in front of me (but not exactly where I was supposed to go) I saw that I was on an island all by myself.

Just me and my grief. Alone . . . together.

The days, weeks, months and years passed and I remained on this island with no foundation built, just a bare piece of land. Sometimes, usually when the pastors preached the yearly sermon on helping the widows and orphans, people would stop by the island and drop off things like lasagnas or offer to watch my kids for a day or two and then float off the island again, bidding my grief and me adieu, and wishing us luck.

Sometimes, people would float by, avoiding the island all together as if the island itself held a bad omen they might “catch” if they got too close.

Maybe my grief and I were a reminder that husbands can die after only four years of marriage at age 34. Maybe it was a reminder that some kids will grow up never knowing their daddies. Maybe it was a reminder that they, too, may have their strength called upon in a way that may break them. No matter why, they never stopped by.

People I’ve known for a long time suddenly avoided me in the Starbucks parking lot or at the library. They say things like, “We stopped inviting you out because you just seemed too depressed and kept saying ‘no’.” People I’ve just met at the school playground avoid me the next time they see me after the “small-talk” conversation leads up to, “What does your husband do?” and I reply, “He died . . . ” (obviously more tactfully . . . usually) or at a party the conversation stops and people just sort of . . . wade away from me. As if I’m carrying a scarlet letter on my back. Like I’m too broken to be relatable or fun to be with. I’m too prickly to get close to. Or maybe my island is so far away and unreachable, that people just don’t even know how to get there. I don’t know.

But I also know this for myself and others who are bereaved: sometimes dropping off the lasagna to someone who just lost someone is necessary, but other times, staying to eat the lasagna with them is better.

Sometimes financial help, childcare, and gifts are so necessary to get through the day-to-day and sometimes we need to stay on the island alone, but other times a simple invitation off the island is better. Even if we keep saying no, keep inviting us because eventually, we’ll probably say yes. It’s OK—if we come, we’ll try not to be too depressing, but maybe you can help by getting us out to do things to remind us we’re still alive. A concert. A movie. Dancing. A walk.

I promise you’ll probably get a smile more than tears . . . and if the tears come, they’re not contagious, they’re just there to remind all of us we’re alive.

Don’t get me wrong, without the help I’ve received I’d be drowning. I am so incredibly grateful. But I, and really all of us, need to have real human connection, that life vest of companionship to keep us afloat. I just don’t want to only be known as the token widow-friend who’s thought of only during Christmas and the “widows and orphans” sermons.

I want to be thought of when you need a shoulder to cry on. When you need help solving a problem. When you want to go out and have fun. When you throw a party.

And more importantly, one day, if you ever find yourself on your own island, God forbid, I want to be the first on that island to eat lasagna with you.

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Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a is a widowed mom to three children. With a background in journalism and a sudden need to “figure out what to do,” she turned to writing about her experience with a husband with cancer, caregiving and widowed parenting and overcoming the aloneness of all of the above. She believes the art of storytelling brings people out of the dark into the light together to share in joy, humor, suffering and pain in life. She hopes that by sharing her story with transparency and heart will bring others hope and empower them to share their own stories.
Facebook: @JustAMomNicoleHastings