Checking Your Support System

Grief creates an immediate need for support.  My husband and I relied on a family support system – our elder daughter, brother and sister-in-law, and father-in-law – for many years.  All of these family members lived in town and were only minutes away.  Then our lives changed.

In February of 2007, our daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash.  Two days later, my father-in-law died.  Last summer, the remaining relatives moved to Wisconsin.  Others are going to move there as well.  Support was disappearing right before our eyes, and we felt very alone.

Apparently other people are in the same situation.  A friend of mine said her support system was failing fast.  “So many relatives and friends have died we don’t know who to call,” she commented.  “We went to a party last week and didn’t know anyone.”

Judy Tatelbaum discusses limited support systems in her book, “The Courage to Grieve.”  As she observes, “Many of us do not involve ourselves socially much beyond our immediate families and work.”  She goes on to say, “Thus, we deprive ourselves of much of the extensive environmental support that would benefit us.”

Clearly, we needed a new support system.  Putting a new system together sounds easy, but it hasn’t been easy for us.  In his book, “Life After Loss,” Bob Deits includes practical advice for creating a support system and it begins with a list of names and phone numbers.

“By writing down this information and keeping it by your telephone, you don’t have to remember names or telephone numbers in an emergency or when you are distraught,” he notes.  “It is also a way of beginning to take charge of life again.”  This list could include the name of a minister, priest, or rabbi.

We started our list with our remaining daughter’s name and phone number.  She lives in a Minneapolis suburb and could be here in an hour-and-a-half.  Who else could we call?  Following Deits’ advice, we added the church office number and our minister’s home phone number to the list.

At church one day, I shared my concerns about our support system with a neighbor.  She is a physician and lives up the street from us.  “You can always call me,” she said.  So far, so good, but we still needed more names for our list.

Since our daughter died, her best friend has invited me for coffee several times.  Her invitations always had a purpose, and the last time we were together she offered reassurance.  “If anything happens to either of you, call me right away,” she said.  “Bud and I are always ready to help.”  Her kindness made me want to cry.

Name by name, our new support system began to take shape.  We’re trying to get out more and continue to volunteer in our community.  These social connections and volunteer efforts could provide support in the future.  Grief is a challenging time, yet it gives you a chance to shore up your support, fill in the gaps, and create a new system.  Knowing help is at hand is comforting and you’ll sleep better at night.

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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