by Kathryn Usher

The "firsts" are the hardest. It doesn't have to be a sizable first, like Christmas. It could be when you run out of coffee and have to venture to Brookshire's and buy Folgers Dark Roast Colombian. "Big" you say to yourself. He always bought big. But "small" you say. Because he is no longer here. And on that trip you still know his favorite cookie is, was, shortbread. But two years later you will have forgotten and in a panic text your daughter to see if, together, you can remember.

Water. Bottled. Tap. Filtered. Fizzy. All of them. Tears take as much as you can guzzle. It's a dry desert thirst that pulls through you. You can make yourself feel better about all the aluminum cans you are stacking up by crushing them and giving them to your neighbor who turns them in for cash.

That one time you went to a grief support group. Awkward. Met a woman who was still coming 10 years after her husband died. You politely listen to her speak but think — "This suffering I can not." And in your brain you promise you will not return. Because two meetings would lead to a decade. It's the Algebra of mourning.

Sunday afternoons. The quiet house. The light bouncing like waves. Quivering, fluttering, like it's fighting the numbness. This is the most alone time.

A receipt on the counter in the bathroom. You pick it up. The date. You think "you were alive on this date." More math. Like you are taking college courses of it.

You can only wish for a cheat sheet. Answers copied from someone.

After all these years the only answers you have that you can share —

1. When someone dies just tell the family and friends "I'm sorry for your loss." Because — no — losing a spouse to death is not like a divorce. Do not offer that. "I'm so sorry…" it is enough. All you really need to do.

2. During the second or third month after the spouse has died do not tell the widow "frankly, you are just playing the widow card."

3. Offer to buy and bring to their house bottles and cans of water. Maybe some tissue also. Crying is dehydrating.

4. Be kind. Offer to do whatever they need doing. But don't judge them. It's not your place. Mourning is strange and extremely hard work. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Every survivor is different. And every death is different.

5. Whatever you give to the family or friends of the deceased do it only if you can do it without any expectations of anything in return.

It's the same kind of gift you give to a stranger with a flat tire, when you roll down your pick up truck window and shout "you need anything," or you offer to call them a tow truck, or give them some fix a flat in a can, or change the tire or maybe even buy them a brand new tire. That human being you saw at the side of the road and who said thank you at the time you gifted them roadside assistance — that thank you is payment enough. You have no idea how much effort it is to just move through the day after the death of someone close. If that brief thank you and tiny bit of eye contact is not enough, then don't do it. Don't do anything. Just drive on by.

"I'm so sorry…" it is enough. All you really need to do.