The funeral is something that you will have to face, regardless of whether you feel up to it or not. The day itself will pass in a blur, but what leads up to it will seem interminable. You will feel under pressure, because there is only a finite time allowable before your husband must be interred by burial or cremation. There are a whole host of arrangements to be made: order of service, hymns, readings, flowers and choosing a coffin. All of these things need thought, and thankfully there is a very good website which gives you all the relevant information about what to do after the death of your partner, from form filling to funeral arrangements. The site is interdenominational, well laid out and can be found at www.ifishoulddie.co.uk/
This may be the first time that you get to meet the vicar/rabbi/priest – and you may not like him or her when you do. When Charlie died, I contacted the vicar who had married us nine years previously, and he very kindly agreed to conduct the service. I did this for a very good reason; I had no connection with the man who had replaced him and I knew that he knew nothing about Charlie. It was vital to me that the man who spoke about Charlie to a church packed with his closest friends, could do so with conviction and feeling. He did it beautifully, and I will be forever in his debt for the kindness that he showed to me at such a difficult time.
The service has to be right. I have a friend who thought that she was in the wrong church when the vicar began to speak about her late husband; the vicar hadn’t known the deceased man but my friend had presumed that he would deliver a suitably moving tribute – and he did, it made her want to move out of her seat and run screaming from the church, because it bore absolutely no relation to the man she loved.
She still talks about it with horror to this day.
So think very carefully about what it is you want to say about your husband, and think also about what he would have wanted. Don’t be afraid to tell the vicar – they can be quite intimidating people but you have to remember that they are there to serve you and the best interests of your late husband. If in doubt – cry. It would take a very hard vicar indeed to ignore the wishes of a distraught young widow.
You may be wondering whether or not to let your children attend the funeral. All I can say is if they ask to come then let them. Let them see their father being buried, let them see his coffin in the crematorium, because if you allow your children to see what some might consider too upsetting for them, you stop them seeing their dead father on the bus, or on a train, or riding in the back of a taxicab.
Not attending his funeral will result in a continuation of the disbelief about his death. My husband never got over the trauma of not being allowed to attend his own father’s funeral, and I was determined that Rosie would not go through life as he did, believing that daddy hadn’t really died, but was a secret agent on a very special mission. It is up to you entirely what you choose to do, but remember, what happens on the day of the funeral has the power to induce peace of mind or torment for a very long time afterwards.
The chances are that you will have a house full of people immediately after the funeral. Let them help you. Let them do the cooking, the housework and most importantly if you have children, let them take them off your hands. Use them, because they will have to leave you eventually to get on with their own lives.
I was 33 when Charlie died and it was my age, and the fact that I had two young children that shocked people most. You will find that you get inundated with letters of sympathy and often from the most unexpected people. And as you will soon come to realise, the reason that so many people express concern at your plight is that they find it hard to believe that a man in his prime can die, leaving a young wife behind him. Sadly cancer and car accidents, heart disease and head trauma do not legislate for the age of their victim.
The reaction that your husband’s death provokes will be initially overwhelming. If you find it too hard to read all the letters of sympathy – don’t. Don’t do anything that you feel that you cannot cope with. Put the letters away and wait a while – there are many more pressing matters that you have to attend to.
In an ideal world we would all live in a close-knit family group, which would provide us with endless love and support, thus negating the need for us to seek help elsewhere. If you find yourself in that position then you are very lucky – you can skip the next bit because it doesn’t affect you.
For the rest of us, the reality of our family situation ranges from warm and caring, to positively dysfunctional. You may have family who are emotionally close but geographically distant. Conversely, you may be stuck with a stepmother who lives on your doorstep, makes your life unbearable and that you wish you could tell to **** off and leave you the hell alone.
My point is this: if you don’t have family whom you can call upon to help you, then you have to rely on your friends.
When the funeral is over and your houseguests have left you will be amazed by how many people come forward and offer help to you. Most people say the same thing, “Just give me a call if you need anything – anything at all”.
This is not helpful to you. What you need is help of a practical nature, and help that is freely given without you having to ask for it.
But how do you ask for help?
You can’t do it, can you?
One of the emotions that you will experience first is a feeling of worthlessness.
You have been left alone, but you are too crucified with self-doubt to ask anybody for anything. You may think that there are no positive aspects to being widowed at a young age. You are wrong.
This is the point when you will learn the first of the valuable lessons that widowhood is going to teach you.
Real friends don’t have to be asked.
I would hate anybody to think that I did not appreciate every single act of kindness that was shown to me in the first weeks of my widowhood – I did and I still do.
The point that I am trying to make is that whilst it is very heartening to receive offers of help, what you need more than anything else is not an offer, but a deed.
Finding a casserole on your doorstep will mean more to you than any amount of sympathetic words. Being asked out to lunch with your children will make you feel more loved than a hundred offers of help.
And why is that? Because you didn’t have to ask.
I have friends in my village who cooked for me when they knew that I didn’t have the heart to cook for myself. Four years later they still come over every so often, bringing with them something delicious on a tray. They love me and they don’t expect anything in return, they do it because they loved my husband and they just want to make me happy now that he is gone. That sums up the true nature of friendship to me, and if you are lucky enough to have friends like mine then I know that you will find the first few weeks a whole lot easier to cope with.
Of course you cannot make people help you in practical ways. If all you ever get are offers of help, then you might have to pluck up the courage to ask.
If somebody offers to look after your children, then drop a note through their door asking them to have them on a certain day – that will give them time to think about it and it means that you don’t have to ask them face to face. If they really meant their offer then they will make every effort to accommodate your wishes. If they say that they cannot help you on that particular day, but offer help on another day, then you know that they do genuinely want to help. If, however they find an excuse and never offer to help you again, then you know that they were not sincere in the first place.