The morning after Eric died, a neighbor that I had met only once knocked on the door. This was a seminal moment for me, because I made a decision to be open to people who wanted to love me. The decision was automatic, as if the Holy Spirit was guiding me because as I answered the door, I was feeling major widow scrutiny, remembering the long walk across my front yard to the battalion chief’s suburban. So many emergency vehicles. A crowd of neighbors, including her.
Eric had already been wheeled to the ambulance after 30 or 40 minutes of work. We were all on the way to the hospital. He was still dead. Was he covered? I don’t know.
“Lisa, is everything ok? Can I help?” She looked so hopeful.
“Eric died yesterday,” I said. I am not a fan of the word “passed.” Plus I never really beat around the bush. She was shocked and took a step back as if I had slapped her.
“What can I do?” I was so clear that there were a lot of scary things coming for me to do and that I would need help, so starting with her, everyone who asked got an assignment. Sometimes I just blurted out thing I needed done, sometimes I remembered the offer and called later with requests.
“Thank you for asking, could you please tell the neighbors Eric died so I won’t have to?”
I just couldn’t imagine this particular scene playing out over and over again. Kind people knocking on my door. Asking for bits and pieces, details and savory gossip. Neighbors I knew and neighbors I didn’t. I think we hugged. I am glad she got that assignment because future outreach on my door or in the neighborhood included condolences and gifts like brownies, an offer to mow the lawn and other very kind things.
My take away from that day was that people want to help. They ask, “what can I do?” because they have no idea what to do. And frankly the person being asked usually has no idea either. But their intentions are true. And if they aren’t… who cares? They shouldn’t have asked then.
Four months later on my widow’s journey, my best friend Tayne said, “Take all the help you can get. Say yes to everything.” At that moment I was debating saying yes to accepting Christmas presents from some ladies at a local church. I had already accepted free lunches, an EBT card, all the fixings for a Thanksgiving from the Overland Park Police Department, and donations from the Back Pack Snack program.
Tayne was right because I still felt broke in this moment. Yes, my mortgage had been paid off, yes, my social security survivor benefits had begun, but Eric’s retirement had not yet kicked in. I still was unsure of what my monthly in and out expenses would be. And I was still afraid I would have to go back to work.
People did stop asking. But I still need help. Being an only parent gets tricky. Losing my life’s partner, best friend, and other driver is lonely. I mostly remember to ask and am even good at it now.
This week I had asked. I had asked a neighbor whose daughter we absolutely love if Katie could spend the day before school resumed from Christmas break, 7 am until 7 pm, while Tayne and I drove Liam to military school. She had blessedly said yes. Now, in addition to Katie not having to have a heartbreaking day in the car saying goodbye to Liam, she got to have her nails done and be with a girl that fills her heart bucket.
But on this day, I didn’t ask. I had forgotten. I had thought I could do it all myself. I usually “assign” a friend to help me with birthday parties because there are way too many details.
The thirteenth birthday was going to be the very best day. Saturday, early afternoon we were going to pick up three girls for party, party, party. Ice skating, sushi and a sleepover.
First though, we would head to the airport for a visit from Jaren, who lived with us for three years when we were in SoCal. Being adopted also, he was a Ruskie big brother to my kids. This would be his third time visiting Kansas since Eric died and the fifth time having an overnight with the kids. He is a man of integrity and a man of his word. I remember what he said at Eric’s wake, “Eric saved my life by inviting me to live with his family. I will pay it forward.”
Then the miasma of things bolted from the ether. It started slush raining as I got notice that Jaren’s plane was late. I quickly changed the ice skating adventure, which was near the airport to roller skating, which is near our house. I also found out that if we went all the way to the airport to pick up a late plane and then all the way back, there would be less than an hour of skate time before the rink would break before the night skate session would start. This would throw everything off. I started to panic and went in my room and took a deep breath and decided to ask.
I knew this particular mom would help if she could. She always helped when I asked if Katie could spend the night, or if she needed a ride somewhere. So, I called her and asked her if instead of me picking up her girl if she could pick up all the girls and take them to the roller rink and stay with them until I had the late plane situation managed. She didn’t miss a beat. This is amazing, especially because I had given her a half hour's notice.
Then came the part where my heart started to panic. Telling Katie. Of course, I cried. How can a birthday party be perfect when your mom has farmed out taking and watching to another mom? Through tears I was trying to hold in I told her that I was sorry. I hope every widow has a Katie daughter in their life.
“But mom, my party will be perfect because you planned it,” she said, giving me the biggest hug. “Don’t cry, mom, it is all fine.” And it was.
When I arrived at the rink with Jaren in tow, there was my gaggle, the mom having paid for everyone too, because in all the confusion I had forgotten to give her money. Thank goodness for Venmo!
People want to help. Just ask.