Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Third Culture: A Follow-Up Piece with 5280

In this month's issue of 5280 magazine, Robert Sanchez highlighted my journey in his article, Wife Interrupted.  They received a large response from readers wanting to know more: how to live inside the grief, how to walk alongside someone whose heart is broken.  They asked me to write a piece in response, and they have posted this online.

These are my words.

I belong to a third culture. I am neither a whole, healed woman, nor will
I wear black and grieve forever. I belong in this nebulous, in-between

We are a growing demographic, the broken-hearted us. You might
belong on this team roster, or perhaps you are walking alongside
someone who is. If you are wondering how to help someone in this
place, let me tell you what I've learned.

If you don't know what to say, simply say, "I'm so sorry." Or even
better, "I am so sad for you." Don't try to explain or offer a lofty word.
There is no explanation, so free yourself from trying to find one.

When you ask how we are, we may say, "Fine, thank you," or "We are
doing okay." Try with all your might not to press further. The pleading
eyes or the prodding voice that says, "Really? Come on, really? How are
you, really?" We can't answer that question. It is all I can do to speak. I
answered you. Puncture this surface, and I might spill everywhere.

I, personally, have needed acknowledgement that nothing was normal
anymore; that everything has changed for me. I have needed a “free
pass” from anything and everything on anyone's calendar. I have not
been able to step into what was, sit at a table where Robb would have
been, attend a party where he would have been a guest.

It’s natural for anyone who has gone through this to want to proceed
with “life as normal.” We may not want a public display of any kind.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is to be present and patient. When—
and if—we are ready to begin the journey of uncovering the tragedy, we
may remember you were one who was present and patient. And we may
trust you.

This journey brings along a monster named Burden. He whispers dark
secrets that make us think we're exhausting you and your resources. If
you can give without waiting for a wish list, you can slay that dragon for
us. We may not know what we need, but we usually know what we don't want. Respect the word "no."

There is a difference between wanting to give to us and wanting to give
for you. The motives are thinly veiled, and there is grace and space for
both. Try to know why you want to help. Is it because you know this
family well, you see a need, and you can fill it? Or is it because you feel
overwhelming compassion—perhaps even a sense of guilt that your life
hasn't fallen to pieces—and you simply must-must-must respond in a
tangible way?

If you are giving for us, then just do. Step in. Don't wait. It will mean the

If you are giving for you, then give in a spacious way: gift cards, notes,
surprise gifts. It will mean the world.

If you are one of us, stuck in the in-between, third culture of grief, please
let me tell you what I have learned. The rules have changed.

If you are hurting, if you need help, say it. Others don't know what you
need, but so many want to help. If you know what you need, say it. And
if you know what you don't want, say it. Be honest, and don't let pride
exhaust you. Save that energy for getting out of bed in the morning.

Be alone as long as you want, as much as you want. Isolation is normal,
I have definitely learned. In other centuries and cultures, those with a
broken heart and a ruptured world have been sent to live in seclusion for
as long as they needed. Allow yourself the freedom to clear the calendar,
to say no, to be alone.

Check your mailbox. And on the day the mailbox is empty, don't be
deceived: It doesn't mean the world has forgotten about you or the one
you love.

Give yourself a break on the thank-you notes. All the rules are different
now, even the formalities of courtesy.

You can't always predict an emotional toll. What you fear with all your
heart may come more easily than you expected. What you thought you
could conquer may bring you to your knees. Go easy on yourself. Go to
a party if you want, and leave five minutes later if you must. If laughter
finds you, pull up a chair and invite her to stay. Don't worry about what others might think—tell them you're taking the day off from sadness.

God is good and antidepressants aren't bad. Get help.


Claire said...


I read your words yesterday and emailed them. They are so helpful. Though our journeys are different, I am in a place of grief myself. Thank you for giving me a voice. Thank you for giving one to my family. For permission to be real. To change the rules. To say something or nothing. To be broken and whole.

Much love.



Penny said...

This is so full of wisdom. I've watched my stepmom bury both of her adult sons~ her only children. All I could do was hug and love on her, let her cry, and listen to her talk about her sons. There are no words that can take someone's pain away~ love can absorb a little. Even in your pain, you are ministering to others. Even if it's just to us that may be in a position to offer help. Bless you, Tricia.

Unknown said...

Tricia, a good friend and widow herself introduced me to your article in 5280 magazine. I am the Interim Executive Director of a brand new nonprofit organization, Hope for Widows. We are working to build a national peer-to-peer network of and for widows, where the healing for oneself, comes from helping others.

We are in the process of developing several programs to facilitate building the community and provide support in the areas of financial coaching, parenting and household management, as well as, self-esteem and depression management.

Our first course of action is to begin building our network by leveraging social media avenues through existing channels and with ground-breaking new technology including mobile aps, personal websites, & periodic podcasts. The second step will be to provide these services through a succession of regional conferences with a long-term goal to develop a nationwide network of over a million widows through the creation of local peer-based chapters.

The organization is based in Salt Lake City, but myself and one of our advisers, the founder of the Widdahood and WidowChick are located in Denver. As a widow, writer, and educator I'm writing to inquire whether you might be interested in learning more about our organization and possibly participating in helping us to refine our programming.

If you would like to start a dialog, I believe you can respond to me through this blog or my website

Simply Sarah said...

Absolutely beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I pray for you and your boys daily.

Laura Thompson said...

That was so beautifully written Tricia. It gives me hope that God really can bring beauty from my ashes. Even in your grief God is using you... it humbles and encourages me. Thank You