How do you ask them if they are going to be okay on holidays or if they need you even if its not their first but second, third etc… year being without their spouse?

Another good question I received. 

How do you ask them if they are going to be okay on the holidays or if they need you if its not their first but second, third, etc… year without their spouse?

That can be challenging.  What it really would depend on is where they are in the grieving process.  Try to really listen to them and learn about their grieving.  If you listen, without judgement, they will talk to you.

When Mike died, Thanksgiving and Christmas were right around the corner.  I think I was in shock when these two holidays came.  Which made it feel like it wasn’t really the first holidays.  It may also depend on what type of family support they have and if their family is logistically close to them.  There are so many factors that effect this and I learned everyone has their own grieving process.

I would start out by asking them the month before the holiday.  Start out by finding out what their plans are for the holiday.  If you would like to join them on the holiday, see if you can make plans together.  Then keep checking in each week with them until the holiday comes.  You can offer your support, asking them if they need anything from you.  Work with them on trying to make the holiday a focus on the positives of the holiday. 

Most holidays tend to focus on family, so there will probably always be some sadness they will carry with them during the holidays.  I would suggest visiting them the days before the holiday.  Those are the days that seem to be most challenging for me, not the actual day.  I build up so much anxiety that the day seems less eventful than what I pictured it being.

Focusing on the positives in their life and staying upbeat for them will definitely help.

Life as we know it!

It seems like life passes by so quickly.  It has been almost 19 months since Mike’s death.  There are days that seem like it has been a long time since Mike has passed and then there are days when it seems like yesterday.  In the movie Deep Blue Sea, the cook explains relativity something  like this…if you put your hands on a hot woman one minute seems like a second. If you put your hand on a hot frying pan one minute seems like an hour.  I have always liked that expression.  I am not sure how it relates to the days that I feel different, except that I can base it on how I am feeling and what is happening in my life.

In the last 19 months there have been so many changes in my life and the lives of my children.  My family has been through all of the firsts, like anniversaries and holidays.  We have gone through the court proceedings and sentencing.  This all has seemed to provide some closure, but there still is an open wound that I am not sure will ever close. 

What I can say is that my children and I are moving forward in our life and our healing process.  We have met some of the most amazing people in our life’s journey.  There have been people that have been here with us for every step of the way and I could not ask for better people that surround us now.

We spend time with our family and remain close to my in-laws.  This has been a blessing as I have heard from other widows that do not have a close relationship with their in-laws for some reason or another. 

My children are thriving now.  My oldest son has made the honor roll, which brought tears to my eyes as he was struggling after Mike’s death with school.  I was so proud of him and sad that Mike had missed his award ceremony. They are both making friends.

For the first time we are finally socializing with the people on our street.  I just realized yesterday how challenging it was for me to mingle amongst my neighbors and get to know them.  Now my children and their children play together and bounce around from home to home, enjoying each others company.  Creating a beautiful home is important to me and I have been able to spend all the effort into doing so.  These small things make me proud.  I am showing myself that I am able to live.  I see my children laughing and it shoots so much joy through my body.

I have changed as a person and am really getting to know her.  I believe in life after our loss and have so many dreams that I cannot wait to accomplish.  Through this struggle I was not sure how I was going to be able to find peace again, but I did.  I credit a lot of this to finding my crazy courage.  Facing all the fears that come with a loss and being capable of being in charge of myself again.

If you know the widow but are not really close to her/him, what is an appropriate way to show support?

Hello All!

I have received my first question.  Someone asked me if you know the widow but are not really close to him/her, what is an appropriate way to show support?

When I became a widow, I felt very vulnerable.  It was really hard for me to allow people in my life that I really didn’t know.  I became skeptical and wondered what their intentions were.

Here are a few tips…

First you should use the way that you know them to build the trust in the widow/widower.  For example, maybe you are friends with a friend they are close to.  Connect with that friend and find out what they are doing to provide support and help them help the widow/widower.  If that person is going by to visit the widow/widower then tag along.  But do not do it all the time, maybe just in the beginning to establish some trust.  You can leave your contact information with the widow/widower and let them know if they need anything to let you know.  Be sure to include day or night. There is a strong possibility they will not reach out to you for some time, because they will not know what they need.  There is one question you should never as a widow/widower for some time and that’s how are you doing.  Instead say is there anything I can do for you or how are things going.  Maybe when you are visiting the widow, just start to help around the house.  If you see dirty dishes or maybe the garbage needs taken out, just do those tasks. 

Do not stay too long, unless the widow/widower indicates otherwise.  If the widow/widower comes to the door and they do not invite you do not take offense to it.  And if the visit becomes awkward know it might be time to leave.  Although in the beginning all visits may be awkward, just look for nonverbal cues from them.

Maybe you do not know them through another friend and you are an acquaintance.  I will give you an example, maybe your child is on the same team as their child.  Do Not just sit there and stare at them.  Start a conversation with them, even if it is about the weather.  You should provide your condolences to them, but try not to make that the conversation unless that is something they start to talk about.

Another very important thing you can do for them is listen without interruption.  If they want to speak to about the situation sit and listen to them.  Try to validate their feelings about the situation.  Do not try to tell them how the situation made you feel, instead focus on their feelings.  Especially in the beginning.  There will be plenty of time for you to share your feelings with them. This is if you are merely an acquaintance. 

Think about starting a group to make meals for the family.  Try to get as many people together as possible and cook dinners.  It will be easiest if the meals are able to frozen.  Put instructions on them on how to cook them and what it is.  You cannot imagine how helpful this will be.  When you become a widow/widower even the very menial tasks become exhausting.  It may also remind the person to eat.  I know there was a time that I couldn’t even eat or at times remember.  But with the convenience of these meals  makes it so much easier.   Even doing the errands, like going to grocery store or driving them around.

You can also make a sympathy basket for them, with gift cards and other items that would be useful at this time.

If they have children, offer to take the children to any events they have or even to school.  You can offer to take the children to the movies or to the park and this will give the widow/widower some time to themselves.

I really found that texting helped me at times.  I really didn’t feel like talking to someone verbally, but wanted to just reach out to them and share what I was feeling.  If they text you, text them back.  I would not call them, because likely they would have called if they wanted to verbally speak with you. 

Another good way to support is just sending a sympathy card with your information on it.  You could even mail them resources like books to read and keep it anonymous if you would like to.

Really determine how much support you are willing to provide to a widow/widower before you start.  You need to stay consistent with them.  You do not want to start out strong and then disappear, because that will be hard on the widow.  Before the funeral, during the funeral and a few weeks after there seems to be so much support.  From my experience after this you feel more alone. This may be the best time to connect with them.  I cannot stress enough that you need to determine how much support you want to provide before doing anything. 

Another good time to reach out to them is the few days before a holiday or event.  The hardest time for me was the days that preceded the event. 

After knowing all of this, the widow/widower may not even reach out to you.  Just know that by offering you are doing what you can and that is all you can really do.

 I hope these tips help you provide your support.  Please do not hesitate to ask anything further if you feel you need more information.

When you feel alone…

Mike, Samantha and their sons wearing Santa hats at Christmas dinner

Gallagher family’s last Christmas

The day Mike died, I received an amazing amount of support.  People came and there was so much to plan for in a short amount of time.  I did not have much time to think, only in the mornings as the sun was rising.  These were the moments I would cry and repeat to myself that I cannot believe he is dead. Trying to get all of the anguish, fear and sadness out before anyone else would wake up.  As the sun would rise and I would feel the warmth all through my body, I would wonder how I was going to survive another day without him.  But I would gather my strength for the day and walk inside.

After the funeral, life seemed so strange and at times I wished that this was all a dream.  Each night I would fall asleep, if I slept at all, crying.  I would look at the empty space next to me where Mike used to lay.  Some nights I did not know how much more I could stand.  It seemed as though the emptiness was consuming me.  So I would lay where Mike would sleep.  I would smell the pillow and close my eyes absorbing anything I could of him. 

There were days when I would be challenged with getting out of bed.  The needs of my children helped with that.  I knew they needed me and I was able to ignore what I was feeling.  It was easier to ignore myself and focus on my children.  Although this was completely unhealthy I eventually learned how to manage both time for myself and my children.  It was really hard for me to do. 

I think after everyone leaves after the funeral you feel more alone.  There continued to be constant reminders that Mike was gone.  His car sat in the garage, my bed was empty, I could not talk to him and our 2-year-old would ask about his daddy.  He would say ” mom, my daddy died, right?”.  Hearing those words from an innocent child’s mouth creates such instant sadness.  We had to continue to live our lives, go back to our routine, but I did not know how when Mike was part of the routine.  I learned how to pick up all the pieces to move through our  lives without my husband. 

I remember how I could sit in a room full of people and would still feel alone.  It was like I had forgotten how to connect with others or maybe I just didn’t want to.  I felt like a stranger to myself for quite some time.  Until I realized that for so long I was Mike Gallagher’s wife and we were connected, even seemed to have developed into one person.  What I had to learn was to be an individual again and still stay connected with Mike.  He was an intricate part of my life and I wanted him to remain there.  He is still a part of our lives, he just holds a different place now.  I recreated myself.  Somehow that made me feel less alone and capable of being a part of the world again.

Mike

Image

Mike in Border Patrol Uniform

Michael Gallagher
July 5, 1978 – September 2, 2010

Mike was a father, husband, brother, son and friend with an infectious laugh.  He served his country in the army and then as an United States Border Patrol agent.  He was killed on September 2nd, 2010 by a drunk driver while protecting the United States Mexican border.  He was taken away from this world at the age of 32. He will always be missed, honored and remembered for what he did during his life.

A significant poem…

You never said “I’m leaving”

You never said goodbye

You were gone before I knew it

And only God knows why

A million times I needed you,

A million times I cried,

If love alone could have saved you,

You never would have died.

In life I loved you dearly,

In death I love you still,

In my heart you hold a place,

That no one could ever fill.

It broke my heart to lose you,

But you didn’t go alone,

For part of me went with you.

The day God took you home.

-Unknown

Some news links about my husband’s death…

http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/global/story.asp?s=13122001

http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/286176_County-native-killed-while-on-duty-with-U-S–Border-Patrol.html

http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/dpp/news/crime/agent-killed-crash-9-3-2010

http://www.trivalleycentral.com/articles/2010/09/04/casa_grande_dispatch/news/doc4c829c3dd796e221651420.txt

http://azstarnet.com/news/local/border/article_ecd392cc-bb84-11df-b44d-001cc4c03286.html

An article written about the accused sentencing…

CBP badge with mourning black strip

Almost a year in a half after Mike was killed we got the justice that we wanted and needed.  She was convicted and sentenced.

http://azstarnet.com/news/local/crime/border-agent-s-dui-killer-gets-yrs/article_0617f05f-e8c2-58f9-b116-e8e42bd7b9ee.html

A Widow’s Crazy Courage

Picture of Mike and Samantha

Mike and Samantha

On September 2nd, 2010, I received news that a wife and mother does not want to hear.  It was the news of my husband’s death.  He was killed in the line of duty by a drunk driver near United States and Mexican border.  I remember that day very vividly.  I cannot remember all the details of the days that followed. 

When I heard the news I cried, but only for a brief moment.  My thoughts began to race through my head and I thought about my two young children.  I was faced with explaining to them that their father was dead and not returning home.  That was the hardest thing I had to do was look into my children’s eyes and say those 4 words…your father is dead. I can’t explain to you how it takes even more of the life out of you than when you hear the words…your husband is dead.  As you look into your children’s eyes you see the very innocent life leave them, just as the life has left your eyes. 

Samantha and her two sons

Samantha and her two sons

My children and I have learned many lessons in the last 18 months.  We have learned how to make it through some very trying times.  I will be honest there were moments when I did not know how to be a mother to them.  To shield them from the pain that they were going through, but we made it through.  There have been thousands of tears, many long nights and days. 

My family has learned many lessons through this tragedy.  What I consider our biggest accomplishment is we once again love our  life.  It is not what we planned for, but we continue to live our life story, still holding on to my husband and their father’s memories. We have walked down our life’s path one foot in front of the other.  We are survivors!