By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
It was like a dinner with friends—with a few notable differences. First, there was the vast array of alcoholic beverages on the table at our hostess’s house.
I can bet that most of the women in my company on this night never thought of having a can of Moscato or a glass of red wine before they experienced what happened in their lives.
But you quickly learn that a few (responsible) sips of a beverage with some vodka can take the edge off pretty quickly.
And sometimes at the end of a long night of dealing with carpools, homework, sibling fights, and the occasional meltdown, as a single parent you need a little self-care—in the form of a can of rosé.
Second was the fact that we didn’t really know each other, save for the one glaringly obvious bond connecting us all to each other.
We were the young widows club of the Five Towns, and we really didn’t want the admission. We wanted a refund, pronto.
No one asked us before our spouses passed, but on this night, we chose to show up at a house for a little meet and greet, and a little FaceTime action to show each other support like no one else can.
There have been support groups for widows and still continue to be, but these young moms were the only ones who knew what it felt like when I had to put my teary one-year-old daughter on my lap as I sat in a low chair at shivah, receiving condolences from the shocked faces that kept coming and going from my house during that week in March 2019.
These girls were different than other groups because they were widows at a tragically young age, like me. An age when we’re so busy having babies and raising families that we simply don’t have the time to even consider the horror of something like this happening, until it does.
We went around the table introducing ourselves by name and then describing our children. We then spoke of how long it’s been since our spouses’ passing, and it ranged from eight years to a loss only two months ago.
The thing with grief is that it affects everyone differently. There were newly bereft women there functioning in a way that I could never have imagined in the infancy of our loss.
In the same vein, there were women there who lost their spouses many years before and were just getting to the point of healing that the woman who dealt with her loss recently had reached. There’s no objective timeline, no rules.
Another thing about grief is that when you’re willing to admit and confront that what’s happened actually happened and things in life will change drastically and you’re ready to ride that wave of change, whatever that brings, that’s when healing change can start to take place.
It’s when people who struggle with addictions or disorders of any type are ready as well—when whatever you’re dealing with is acknowledged and you’re ready and willing to say, “I’m here. It’s not where I’d choose to be, but this is my journey and I’m going to trust a Higher Power and understand that sometimes there’s no understanding.” You have to own the story in order to claim it.
Sometimes there’s an element of just blind acceptance. When you decide to be all in instead of irrationally begging for things to go back to what they were (which is called bargaining, the third stage of grief), that’s when you’re ready to move forward.
A lot of factors support this type of progress, but one of the most important of all is having support groups of people who can relate to your pain and struggle and are in different phases of their journeys. It has the power to provide encouragement and optimism in a place you’d be surprised to find it.
So, at that table that night were stories and discussions about choosing the right therapist, concerns over kids dealing with loss, having to become a single parent, grief counselor, and prepared with answers for vulnerable kids overnight, and dealing with the really stupid things that (well-meaning) people say, among other topics that made me thankful to be there that night. They say sympathy is feeling for someone else, but empathy is feeling with them. We received an abundance of sympathy from the hundreds, thousands, of people who feel for us. But empathy—the compassion that comes from the unenviable position of knowing loss from personal experience—that’s a different kind of hug.
It provided me, and the other women there, with a sense of security and a feeling that no other friend could give me—an understanding that they get it, they’ve cried similar tears, they support where I’m going, and they’ll never give up on me along the way, regardless of the bumpy path that life has given me. In Pirkei Avos it says that one way to acquire wisdom is to be nosei b’ol im chaveiro—by carrying a burden with a friend. With means together. “Nosei” means “to carry” but also “to uplift.” When we carry with empathy, the whole group is lifted and grows.
We’re all in different stages of recovery from unimaginable loss. We all give each other strength because we observe the story not exactly in a consecutive order but one that provides us with the idea that happiness, love, and so much good is still possible after grief.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.