Recently, my daughter died. Since then, I have received several letters and sympathy cards, but no one visits me. Some people phone, but what I need most of all is to be visited. I have friends and relations nearby but they all keep away. I remember years ago a colleague’s son died. She was never alone – family and friends all came and sat with her. My relations all say they are praying for me (they are Roman Catholic), which comforts them but not me. What I need is company. What can I do?
I may be quite wrong, but I think you may be one of those people who think that everyone else is gifted with the power of reading your mind. I’m a bit like that myself. I’ve often spent hours gnashing my teeth in fury as friends don’t behave in the way I want them to, until someone kindly points out that I haven’t actually made my feelings at all clear. I imagine everyone else will pick up on my needs by some kind of osmosis. I often find I have an almost-too-subtle approach to making requests, or what I imagine is too subtle – that by moving one tiny muscle of my face, as it were, or by making a discreet cough or by the very tone of my voice, I signify to them that I’m in danger of drowning and would they please help. Naturally enough, they don’t read these minuscule signs, and, indeed, can’t understand any of my frantically understated pleas until they’re summoned by my eventual screams, gasps and shouts. What I should do, of course, is not wait till it gets to that stage and, instead, simply state, very clearly and loudly: “Actually, I’m drowning over here. Would you please, please come and help?”
Have you written back to any of these kindly but irritating people who are “praying for you” (and I rather agree – this can surely help no one but themselves) and said: “Thank you so much for praying for me. I’m really grateful – but if you want to give me comfort, what I’d love is a visit. I feel desperately lonely and long for company. Is there any time you could come over next week? Like Tuesday? If you could come for an hour, it would make all the difference to me.”
There are two reasons why people don’t visit. The first is because they have some weird idea that you wish to be alone and not see anyone. And, indeed, many bereaved people do feel like this and would find visits a real imposition at a time of such pain and agony.
The other reason is that people are terribly frightened of visiting. They think you’ll burst into tears. They think they’ll say the wrong thing. They have no idea whether you want them to talk about your daughter or prattle on about the weather. (Hint to anyone who’s uncertain: most bereaved people don’t want to talk about the weather.)
So make your feelings clear. Tell your friends you want them to visit and you want to talk about your daughter. Ask and you shall receive, as your religious friends might say. But without asking, you’ll never get the comfort that you need.
Reach out to them
A friend of mine told me a few weeks ago that she had terminal cancer. I asked her what I could do to help. She said, “Visit me.” I did. I was concerned that it might be painful for both of us; it was not. I stayed for more than an hour and we had a good chat. I have visited her again since that. We both seem to get something positive from it. Don’t be afraid to ask for visits, Dora! You can even show them this letter, if it is published. The worst they can say is “no”.
Peter, by email
Say what you need
Many people find other people’s bereavement very uncomfortable: having little or no experience themselves they don’t know whether to make contact or leave the bereaved to cope on their own. It would be kind to them to invite them round to see you for coffee. It can be hard to show we need other people but generally we all respond positively to invitations. If you have tried this already, keep trying, however hard. We never know what is going on in other people’s lives and they may genuinely be busy. I’m sure if you make contact, it will pay off, however exhausting this may sound.
Pip, by email
Next week’s dilemma
I’ve brought up my daughter alone since my wife died several years ago. Now she’s in her first year at university and visiting her I was saddened to see her lavatory in a shocking state, her bed clothes filthy and her room full of old food. Despite everything spent on her education, she obviously didn't learn any ordinary domestic life skills. Who could teach her now? As a man, I’m worried that any potential boyfriend will turn away from my daughter when he sees how she lives and she’ll never get a permanent partner.
What would you advise Ed to do?