Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | August 21, 2010

Picking Up the Phone

One year ago today, I was in Atlanta. DS and I took a day trip for a family brit, a Jewish tradition welcoming an 8-day-old baby boy into the world. In the middle of the afternoon, my phone rang. It was a dear friend telling me she had found her husband, also a dear friend, dead at the bottom of the steps. Life and death; funny how they swirl around, each oblivious to the other.

Thus began the first year of the rest of her life as my friend struggled with the unfamiliar, unwelcome new world of widowhood. I made a point of picking up the phone at least once a week or so. Sometimes she was fine; other times there was a catch in her voice. When I heard that, I’d say, “That’s it. I’m sending DS to pick you up and bring you up here for dinner.” Sometimes we’d cook; other times we went out. Bertucci’s rolls are fantastic comfort food.

She went to services every Friday night to say Kaddish. Sometimes we went with her. She didn’t usually stay long afterwards. That was fine with us. Whatever she needed.

People would come up to her and ask, “How are you doing? I’ve been thinking about you.” Her reaction was immediate and emphatic. It pissed her off! “If they were really thinking about me, they should pick up the phone,” she’d say.

It got me thinking about why people didn’t pick up the phone, even when I know they really did care.

They’re busy. We’re all busy. Sometimes when we’re busy there are tasks that are easier to put off. Because it can be hard to call someone who’s grieving. We don’t want to intrude. What if they’re having a bad day? Are they going to start crying right there on the phone? What will we do then? It can be intimidating.

So what? Just because something is difficult or intimidating doesn’t mean it’s something not worth doing. Of the calls she did get, my friend reassured me that none of them were an intrusion.

On the flip side, I found myself deeply honored and privileged to be there for my friend over this last year as she struggled; as she cried; as she called an asked what to do with her husband’s old stuff. Did I want an unopened glucose meter of his for my office? Sure. After she had to put the old cat down, did I want the spare carrier and litter box? Of course I took them off her hands. She’s been cleaning out his dresser, his closet, and his workbench. As much as she’s gone through and discarded so far, there are times she still feels overwhelmed at how much more stuff there is. But that’s okay.

She has good days and bad. Today wasn’t good, but she managed. We took another load of cat stuff off her hands for her, then brought her up to our place for dinner. We ate, and talked; she cried some. Then I thanked her for allowing us the privilege of being with her on this day; for letting us help her get through this anniversary.

We agreed that telling the bereaved, “Just pick up the phone if you need anything” is lousy advice. Grief makes you numb, and renders the phone heavier than a dumbbell. The essence of comfort is taking the initiative: pick up the phone yourself. Leave a message if you must (make it brief). Tell the person you’re thinking of them, and that you care. That’s really all you have to say. But it means the world to the people you care about.

Oh, and the pictures from the baby’s first birthday party were adorable.

Life goes on.



  1. Your blog contains so much truth. My husband died, with no warning, of some kind of “cardiac event” sixteen months ago. People from my water aerobics class, from the dog park group, from the local coffee shop – they all rallied around me, calling and making sure I got out. They talked about my husband (whom they had all known and liked) which really helped. Several of them were widows and could speak about how grief progresses, how hard it is to let go of clothing, golf clubs, and all those other things left behind (and that sometimes you don’t have to let those things go at all – I need to see his shoes!). These people are lifesavers.

  2. I am now ‘enjoying’ comments to my posts on Facebook from my childredn’s friends. They too have fond memories. Things I didn’t know.
    Thanks DF.

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