Two weeks ago, I was planning my husband’s memorial service. Now I think he will survive the three emergency operations he has had, but may not walk again. His kidneys may not function either. As you might imagine, I’m experiencing intense anticipatory grief and using my grief support system. I’m trying to use it wisely. These tips may help you use your grief support system wisely as well.
1. Keep selected people informed. I send regular updates about my husband’s condition to four or five friends. One friend forwards these messages to other friends in my support system. Her gift of friendship relieves my stress and saves me time. You may wish to ask someone in your support system to relay your messages. Personally, I wouldn’t update more than five people; it’s too much work.
2. Filter the offers of help you receive. Many people have offered me food and, while I appreciate their offers, I’m the only person at home. I have enough food and enjoy preparing meals for myself. When people offer to deliver food I thank them and state a fact. For example, I may say “Thanks so much. I just made a huge batch of vegetable soup.” Sure, you can accept help from others at this trying time, but you don’t have to accept all of the offers.
3. Share your concerns. Many people want to visit my husband in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The ICU is a sterile area and not a place for an open house approach. The other day a stranger visited my husband. This visit confused him at a time when he was exhausted, learning how to swallow again, and exercising his vocal cords after his breathing tube was removed. Worse, my husband tried to make conversation. I turned to the desk attendants for help and they posted a sign on his door: NO VISITORS EXCEPT FAMILY. PLEASE CHECK WITH THE DESK.
4. Be honest with others. I sent an email to the selected people in my support system, telling them that my husband was struggling to regain his memory and thinking abilities. He is struggling because he has received so much anesthesia and pain medication, and been in the ICU for 20 days. “Please do not visit him at this time,” I concluded. My friends are respecting my request.
5. Be careful with social media. I wasn’t going to post anything on Facebook, but a relative emailed me and asked me to do it. So I started posting general information and dozens of people responded. Many said they were praying for my husband and would continue to pray. Others said they were sending me positive thoughts and virtual hugs. All of this caring is comforting. You are the only person who can decide whether to use social media. If you do, be careful about what you share.
6. Say thank you and keep saying it. Someday I hope to return the kindness I’ve received from my friends, caregivers, and other worried family members in the ICU waiting rooms. The magazines in the waiting rooms were dated, so I brought in current magazines from home.
I am blessed to have a support system that includes medical experts, friends, church members, and community groups. My goal is to use this system when necessary, but not overload anyone. So far, I’m achieving this goal.