Grief hijacking – also known as competitive grieving, grief, emotional or energy vampires, grief tourists – call it what you like, it’s exhausting and heartbreaking. You’ve started a conversation, whether on social media or in real life, about your loss, and the conversation twists to become about their loss, not yours. They might be grieving for your person, they might bring in their own loss in a way that it seems like they are playing grief Top Trumps. They might be the acquaintances who pop up from your past to tell you that you are brave, or share your social media posts to show that they are ‘supporting’ their grieving friend without ever actually doing anything to help. Whichever it is, the person you are talking to has made it all about them.
If you are approached by grief vampires and grief hijackers, have boundaries to help protect yourself. Share only what you are comfortable about sharing, and say no if they ask too many questions or want to share things about you on social media that you want to keep private.
If you, as the friend or family member, want to respond to people’s posts or stories about bereavement, think about what to say. Remember that it’s about them, not you. And if you are going to offer help, be there and do it.
This isn't a post about widowhood. It's a post about the time before.
Tim died so suddenly that we weren't able to put any plans in place. Over the almost four years since Tim died I have seen two beloved friends die of cancer, and have talked through plans with them. Plans make a hard time easier for the people that we leave behind.
Make a will
Tim didn't and it just added to all the things I needed to do at a time when I was falling apart. So make a will. Make sure that people know if you're going to name them as executors and make sure they know where to find it. Include a statement that you're revoking all previous wills. Get legal advice if you need to. This may be available free from a charity if you include a bequest, or via your union.
Wills can be about actions as well as assets, and you can include things that you want people to change, or not to change. These can be quirky if you are in the mood and you think the recipient will appreciate it - for example, "I'll come back and haunt you if.... you dig up the red rose bush, or you don't use those concert tickets we've got."
Make an additional list of any things that you want to go to particular people, where they aren't big enough to go in a will. Your favourite pen, for example. Also, think about what needs to happen to pets.
Power of attorney
A power of attorney will make life easier for the people around you if you think you might become so incapacitated that you can’t make decisions. You will need one for health and welfare, and one for finances and property. These need to be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian to make them legally effective. This requires a fee and can take several weeks to be put in place.
Make a list of important information:
Consider simplifying finances, for example consolidating everything into one bank account and one credit card. Having some form of joint account, even if you also have separate accounts, means that someone left behind can access money in those first few weeks of 'afterwards'. Check that anything that has a named beneficiary on it, such as a pension, goes to the right person.
Practical things and medical requests
If you are likely to be ill for while, check out benefits that might be available for you and your carers, and contact social services for help with things like hoists and commodes.
You can put into writing your feelings about treatment, do not resucitate (DNR) orders, withdrawing feeding and drinking, pain relief and organ donation. You can change or revoke these as your feelings change.
Set up a password manager like LastPass and get all your critical passwords and other things into it, and give the overarching password to your partner, a member of your family, a close friend or the executor of your will. This should include not only passwords, but where you need to give memorable dates or other pieces of information.
Think about your digital legacy – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, photos, music playlists, mobile phones, laptopts, iPads and tablets, cloud storage, backups etc – and make sure people know what you have, what the passwords are, and what you want doing with them. Let people know if you want these closed or memorialised (where allowed). Go through social media accounts if you think that there is anything that you think might make people unhappy to see after you are gone.
Tell someone where all the instruction manuals are.
Consider your funeral plans and write them down.
Do you want:
Finding a funeral director that you can lodge your plans with can be good. You can always revisit these plans – they are not set in stone.
Funerals can be expensive. The average funeral costs just under £5,000. It really doesn't have to, but people will try to get you to spend money on gold plated coffin handles and fancy printed orders of service when you're in no fit state to argue. A graveside funeral is likely to be the cheapest option if cost is an issue. Stick with what you want - plain or fancy.
Start decluttering if you can. Perhaps starting with the random crap that one (okay, me) has on their desk. I found going through Tim's desk achingly hard. If you just leave the meaningful things it can be easier on your family. Create piles for bin, save, sell and donate - you can sell stuff on eBay and donate 10-100% to charity.
Don't get rid of everything though. There will be things of yours, even little tiny silly things, that people will want to remember you by. And you need to carry on in a lovely, comfortable place that's you, not a sterile room.
Give your family and friends permission to throw things away, too. I still feel guilty when I get rid of something of Tim's.
Make a bucket list
Create a bucket list of things you want to do, people you want to talk to, places you want to go, things you want to buy, films, plays and bands you want to see, and get on with making it happen. This is your bucket list, and it can be as big or small as you want it to be. The list can be tailored to how well you are and what you can afford - travelling can be real or virtual, gigs can be in person or live streamed.
Use your time wisely. Don't spend so long sorting practicalities that you don't spend time with the people you love.
In Case you get Hit by a Bus
What to do after a death
Christmas can be hard for some people. This is written for The Widows' Handbook, but there are a lot of reasons why people don't want to be forced to be jolly at Christmas.
Don't push people who don't want to be part of the Christmas spirit - people who have been bereaved, particularly if they were bereaved during the Festive season, don't always want to be part of the jollities.
Invite people who struggle with Christmas along to things, and if they say no, accept the answer. Tell them the offer remains open if they change their minds. Accept that they might say yes, and then change their minds. And then give them peace and space.
Remember that if you invite grieving people, you are inviting their grief too - it's part of who they are.
Above everything, be kind.
When you hear that someone you know and care about has been widowed, for most people the first instinct is to say, 'what can I do to help?' But this puts the pressure on the widowed person to think of something, and that's not easy in the moment. These are the things that helped me.
For the widow:
There are things best never said to a widow…
Worried you'll say the wrong thing? Read this awesome piece called How not to say the wrong thing.
I was widowed at 50 when Tim, who I expected would be my happy-ever-after following a marriage break-up, died suddenly from heart failure linked to his type 2 diabetes. Though we'd known each other since our early 20s, we'd been married less than ten years.