Perhaps there are two periods in your life when you understand love the best, when you are a young child and when you become an older adult. The reason is that as a young child, you look forward to all the people you will learn to love in the future, and as an older adult, you reflect on when you felt love in your lifetime. Whether looking ahead toward the future or examining the past, it becomes clear that love is a series of moments in your life that get frozen in time.
Years ago, I was on a plane flying back to California on a long flight and sitting next to another passenger. We started to talk about the flight and where we were heading, and then because we had six hours to kill, we began to talk about some serious topics. Where our careers were going, places we wanted to visit in the future, what was important in our lives, and finally, we spoke about God. The person I spoke with told me he did not believe in God because where was he in all this mess in the world?
He said no one could prove that God existed because we could never see or touch him. He asked how I could believe in God. I asked if he believed in love, and he said of course. Yet no one can put love in their hand or touch it, but probably more than 80% of people believe it exists.
As a global society, we have various definitions and ways we think of love, from kissing in the rain to flowers delivered at the door, to the birth of a child, marriage, and taking care of sick family members.
There have been over 6.5 million deaths due to Covid-19, and the loss of life has been higher than we could have ever projected. Those individuals no longer here have parents, spouses, children, friends, and co-workers directly affected by this experience. It has left a hole in many hearts and communities and brought the understanding of grief, bereavement, and what it means to care and love into the limelight.
To explore love, I reached out to Kim Hamer, the author of the book 100 Acts of Love A Girlfriend’s Guide to Loving Your Friend Through Cancer or Loss and the founder of 100Actsoflove.com. In 2009 Kim Hamer lost her 44-year-old husband to cancer. They had three children, ages twelve, nine, and seven. While her husband had cancer and after he died, Kim was surprised and humbled by the creative and thoughtful ways their friends, co-workers, and sometimes strangers supported them. She started calling these kind actions “Acts of Love.”
My Interview with Kim Hamer
What Is Love?
“It doesn’t have to be a love interest. It’s the love you feel for your kids, your adoration for someone doing something amazing, and the warm feeling you get when you hang out with your friends. It’s that feeling that makes you feel comfort, comforted, and accepted.”
How Do You Find People To Help You In A Crisis?
“I think we forget when we are in a crisis that we are part of a community we’re unaware of. It wasn’t like I had this strong community. It wasn’t that at all. It was that people all of a sudden showed up and were very helpful. I think sometimes we forget that the person you smile at in the grocery store appreciates that you smile at them every day. Your neighbor enjoys your conversation with them when you stop to talk for a few minutes, and those people are part of your community. I don’t think it’s about finding it, but it’s about getting to where you can accept the love.
When we talk about love, we talk about wanting and needing love, but we often don’t talk about how bad we are at accepting love.
Accepting love is hard. It’s tough because most of us feel like we’re not deserving of it. Do you say yes, thank you or do you say no, I’m good. I got it. There’s a lot more to community, and I think that is what made Covid so difficult when there was a death. It’s vital that we love on people affected by the death and come together to love up on each other. We couldn’t do that during Covid and didn’t have the opportunity to gather and be with people mourning the loss of somebody.
When tragedy happens, people come forward. We’re part of these big communities and not even aware of it.”
What Is The number One Thing People Should Not Say To Someone During A Crisis?
“The number one thing never to say to anybody in crisis is, “if you need anything, let me know,” or any version of that. Although it sounds helpful, it’s too big an offer, and here’s why.
The first thing is, what is anything? I’ll give an example when my husband was first diagnosed, I had a four-year-old, and you know, four-year-olds get sick, and they have the snot and the stuff running out of their faces. So does anything mean that you are going to take your brand new, just detailed car and go to pick up my snot nose, maybe vomiting toddler?
Or did you mean that you’re happy to go out and run and get a gallon of milk?
For my friend whose mother was dying, did anything mean you were willing to read to someone dying? Are you comfortable with that, or did you signify that you’d be happy to pick up the mail from the post office? Anything is too big a word to wrap their heads around.
The second reason it’s not helpful is that when you say that to the person, you ask them to break down their day into bite-size chunks. I often use this example, what did you have for breakfast two mornings ago?
A lot of times, if you don’t have the same breakfast all the time, you don’t remember what you had for breakfast in the same way that a person in crisis or even a regular person not in crisis has difficulty remembering.
The third reason is if the person does figure out something that they need help with, now you are asking someone who is feeling very vulnerable in a society where asking for help is no longer shamed, but it’s still not a great thing to do. They have no idea if the thing they have in mind is under that anything because you both know it does not mean anything. You, the person offering, had a specific something in your head. So those are the three reasons it’s not helpful.
What I often tell people to do is to be specific. When you offer support, be very specific about the help you will provide and how often. I dedicated my book to a gentleman named Kenny, who lives in Los Angeles and works a booth at the Venice Farmer’s Market. When I told Kenny that my husband had cancer, he told me, if you need anything moved, Let me know. I thought that was a weird offer, to be honest, but something about Kenny’s offer stayed with me because it was specific, and I’d stop by every other week or maybe every three weeks, and he’d say, don’t forget if you need anything, moved I’ve got your back. Well, we had a grand piano, and after my husband died, this is four years after Kenny made the offer, I just went through a phase I needed to rearrange the living room, and who do you think I called to help me move not only the piano but the big furniture?
I called Kenny because of his offer because he offered it more than once. And because it was so specific, I remembered it. The other thing is that your person going through this crisis may look like they have all cards in the deck, but they are missing some.”
Is There A Correct Way To Grieve?
“There are two different sides, first from the grieving person’s side; I don’t know if there’s any way to quote-unquote deal with it. There’s only a way to walk through it. In the beginning, the pain, depending on your relationship with the person, can be so excruciating that it feels like you will never be over it. I think about the designer Alexander McQueen and his mother. She died, and he had a really close relationship with her, and then a month later, he killed himself. That story always breaks my heart because I think there were other extenuating circumstances, but the fact that he felt he couldn’t get past, he wouldn’t be able to ever get through the grief of the loss of someone so beloved to him is not valid.
It’s a lie that we tell ourselves. The beginning of the grieving process is so intense. So here are a couple of things that I did that I found very helpful.
The first one was I got into a support group. Why would I want to go to a group with other people who are grieving?
There’s something very magical about being in a support group with others who are also grieving the loss of someone they love, and that magic is in seeing firsthand that you’re not alone. Grieving is extremely isolating. When you are suffering someone who’s of great loss to you, and then you walk out into the world, it seems like nobody has changed anything, and you’re like, my world has turned upside down.
Your friend calls you and tells you that she went to Disneyland with her kids and how much fun it was; you feel like it’s just not right. I think the support group was beneficial to me in that I could see other people grieving the same way that I was grieving. I think the second thing, it’s just time.
I have three children, two boys, and one girl. Well, when my daughter was born; she would scream every night at 8:25 pm, right when she was born, for what felt like years. It was definitely for the first nine months of her life, and my husband would take her and put her in this baby Bjorn; we were living in Las Vegas in the winter at the time. He’d put his big green LL bean overcoat on and take her for a walk until she stopped crying. Sometimes he’d be back in five minutes, and sometimes it would be an hour. I said to him. How do you outlast that? How do you not want to put her on the side of the road and walk away? He told me you just need to know you can outlast it.
So there’s faith. I remember him saying that. When he died, I remember thinking, I need to remember I can outlast this, and so really having the faith that I can survive it no matter how bad it gets or how painful it feels.”
In Times Of Grief, What Do People Need The Most?
“We live in the United States of America and are so darn proud of how we believe that we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We hold people to iconic levels. Oprah, Gates, Tiger Woods, or Kobe Bryant, we hold them up to these incredible standards like they did it themselves. They got help, they sought support, and they got feedback. They didn’t like some feedback they got, but they did it anyway.
None of them did it themselves. When dealing with an illness, we think, oh, I can manage this myself. If these great people could not handle it themselves, why do you think you can manage it yourself?
People often think that asking for help is shameful. We don’t want handouts. We pass judgment on our ability or lack of ability to manage a difficult situation by ourselves. All those things can get in the way of seeking and accepting support. The last thing you want to do is make people feel guilty for being vulnerable and taking the help you’ve offered.”
What Kind Of Act Do You Remember The Most When You Were Going Through Your Difficult Time?
“I love telling the story about my neighbor Nate. My husband and I were beginning a friendship, and Nate loved my kids. He would invite us over for barbecues, and we’d swim in his pool. We lived half a block away from Nate. One day after my husband died, Nate knocked on the door and said, “When was the last time the oil was changed in your car?”
I couldn’t tell him. We had an older car; it was back in 2009. It had little lights that would switch over to let you know if you should change your oil. I couldn’t even tell him where it was in the lighting system.
And he said, “Okay, I’ll tell you what, I will do it for you tomorrow. Why don’t you just leave the keys in the mailbox, text me, and I’ll come to grab the car and take care of it?” And I said, Great.
So first of all, the offer is great because he’s asking me to leave the keys in the mailbox. Sometimes, accepting help is tough when you are going through something difficult. He made it easy for me to accept help because it wasn’t like there was shame in the fact that I couldn’t even manage to get to the oil changing place to get my oil changed in my car. You know, there was shame in the fact that I couldn’t remember that I needed to have the oil change.
He made it easy for me not to feel any shame. He came and got the car, dropped it off, put the keys back, and said, it’s done. A little later that day, I went out to take the kids someplace, and I walked out to the car, and I started to cry, and I got in the car, and I started to sob because he had not only had the oil changed in the car, but he had had it washed inside and out. I need to say that I had three kids who used the car with me, enough said. He had washed it inside out, changed the oil, and filled it with gas. I always remember this because he did something that took a burden away from me that I wasn’t even aware that I had a burden of.
So that’s the thing when you are in crisis; doing everyday things is challenging and stressful. That small little forethought of changing the oil, filling it with gas, and cleaning it relieved this burden.”
What Holds Us Back From Supporting Each Other In Society?
“There’s the macro level, and then there’s the micro level, our sphere of influence. How can we specifically help and support somebody in crisis in a way that makes them feel loved, cared for, and good like we’re a part of a community?
Sometimes we get so lost in the big stuff that we forget about how powerful we are in the small stuff. I think one of the most significant issues we have is focusing on what we can do personally on the micro level. Because when you look at the macro level, it feels like I’m like this little piece of sand on the beach. When I think about what I can do to support my friend who’s dealing with loss or cancer, lack of childcare, or anything else I could be a giant boulder helping stem the water flow.”
What Is The Most Significant Thing You Have Learned About Love?
“Oh, that it’s always there. It’s always there. Even in moments when I don’t feel loved. The love is always there.”
About Kim Hamer
Kim Hamer was widowed at the age of 44. While caring for her husband after his death, her friends found unique ways of supporting her and her family. As a way of paying it forward, Kim founded 100ActsofLove.com, offering girlfriends inspired ways to help their friends deal with cancer, loss, or crisis and helping companies walk employees who are dealing with the process of illness and loss of a family member. Her message has reached thousands of women worldwide. She is the mother of three children and resides in Los Angeles. Find out more at 100ActsofLove.com.
About the Author
Annmarie Hylton-Schaub, Head Marketing Strategist and Content Developer at Project Good Work, a boutique marketing group focused on helping individuals who want to launch social impact projects, charities, and change-making initiatives. The marketing group works to develop branding, marketing strategy, and content to connect clients with the people who believe what they believe so that their project and business can thrive.