I met my friend Amanda at a birthday party. It was summertime and all of the moms (who happened to be Cross Fitters) were taking their babies in the pool. Amanda and I gravitated towards the playroom because we weren’t quite the Cross Fit type and we didn’t want to be seen in our bathing suits in public. We laughed about it (while stuffing our faces with cake pops) and started to play and talk.
We both had baby girls that were 1.5 years old. They played and we shared stories about their eating, sleeping, and milestones. It was then that I found out that Amanda was recently widowed. Her husband had died from colon cancer at age 31, leaving behind their 10-month-old daughter Mira.
I couldn’t believe it. How did she even have the strength to be at a birthday party? I was in awe. We exchanged social media info and became Facebook and Instagram friends before we left the party. We decided that we would get together with the girls soon.
So of course, I stalked her Instagram and found beautiful pictures of her husband Joe and their baby together. I read her blog (Cocktails and Chemo) which chronicled Joe’s illness and eventual passing. It was so beautiful. I cried and laughed while I read it.
Then I learned about her foundation. In between caring for her dying husband, working, and taking care of an infant, somehow Amanda found time to start a foundation dedicated to supporting cancer caregivers. She eventually had to quit her career in television journalism to care for Joe and Mira. She used that platform and her blog to start a national foundation. I was blown away by it all.
Very quickly our friendship blossomed into much more than I had anticipated. We talked daily, and our girls absolutely adored each other.
It’s been almost a year since we met, and in that time I’ve learned how hard it is to be a widow and a single mom and how strong you can be when you really have no other options. I’ve also picked up some advice about how friends of hers have really helped—what not to say and what really makes a difference:
1. When people say really stupid things. When we first started hanging out, I didn’t want to even say the word husband or refer to mine because I didn’t want to cause her one extra ounce of grief. I wanted to kick people when they complained about their husbands doing the laundry wrong in front of her. Over time I learned that she wasn’t quite as fragile as that, and she wanted to hear what was going on in my life.
When I hear about some of the things people say to her, sometimes I don’t even know how to respond. People have told her to clean out his closet, take down pictures of him, to date, not to date, and how no one will want to marry her if she has photos of Joe everywhere. She handles it all with grace and dignity. I want to punch all of those people.
The takeaway: Instead of offering unsolicited advice, just listen. As much as you might think you know what she’s going through, you have absolutely no idea. Just be supportive.
2. Being a single mom is no joke. There’s no break. She is the sole provider and caretaker for Mira. She makes the decisions (big and small) alone. No one is there in the middle of the night when Mira is sick or won’t sleep. When she wants to go out socially or for work, she has to get a sitter. She is potty training alone, doing the bedtime routine every night alone, and getting Mira ready for school every day alone. When I need a break from my kids, I can tap my husband in to do bath time or bedtime. She doesn’t have that, and it’s made me appreciate how fortunate I am.
The takeaway: Offer to babysit—even for an hour—so she can run to the post office without a toddler in tow. Come over to her house with dinner (and wine) and clean it up before you leave.
3. Grief comes in waves and it’s intense. Sometimes I’m so caught up in how brilliantly Amanda handles everything that I forget she’s doing it while grieving. She and her husband didn’t get the life they planned. It was taken from them way too soon, and this life isn’t what she signed up for. She misses him. She grieves for the life they were supposed to have. Sometimes Amanda will bail on plans that we had, or forget them altogether. I’ve learned that this is common for grieving people and I get it. She never knows when it is going to hit her.
The takeaway: Be flexible and understanding. Also send friendly reminders and confirm times. Grief has a way of making your life unorganized. She is taking one day at a time, and even though she might have the best of intentions, sometimes it’s too overwhelming.
4. Sometimes, you just need your mom and dad. Amanda recently decided to move to Indiana where she grew up and where her parents live. She and Joe had decided to make Orlando their home. They started a business here and made a beautiful life for themselves. Over the past year and a half Amanda has struggled between wanting to stay here, near her friends and Joe’s family, or moving home to have the support of her parents. I’m devastated to have her moving away, but I know it’s the right decision for her.
She recently came over and we talked about it a lot. On her way out the door she said “Do you think I’m a failure? Would you be moving home?”
I said, “Amanda, if I was you, I would have moved in with my parents a year ago.”
In the 18 months since Joe has died, Amanda has successfully moved to a beautiful neighborhood perfect for the two of them. She’s enrolled Mira in a part-time school that she loves. Her foundation has blossomed and has supported hundreds of cancer caregivers all over the country with spa days, gift cards, care packages, and moral support. She’s started a freelance writing career that gives her professional gratification and extra income. She’s won multiple awards for her foundation’s work. She’s inspired countless caregivers and widows with her poignant and honest blog and video entries. She wakes up every day with a positive attitude and a smile. Some days might be harder than others, but she is on a mission to live Joe’s legacy.
She isn’t a failure, she’s a rock star, and she’s my friend for life.