moving forward

navigating through the life that was and moving into the life that is

10 Things Not to Say to a New Widow

on July 9, 2013

I have thought about this post for several weeks.  By writing this post, you may think I’m saying, “hey guys, you know how you were there for me and cared for me when my husband died? Well here are the things that I wish you really wouldn’t have said.” The truth is I do not feel that way.  If you did say any of these things, thank you. Thank you for mustering up the words to say when saying anything feels inadequate. Thank you for continuing to encourage and support me.

I belong to a young widow and widowers group with people fresh in their journey joining every day.  I have found the following statements to be universally brought up. The purpose of writing about this is to help you see it from the other side and gain insight and perspective on what to say in the future.  Because, unfortunately, as is becoming much too regular of an occurrence in my life, death will touch all of us.

The aspect I find most interesting in this part of my journey is how in your greatest time of need, God somehow grants you the grace to handle other people’s pain and uncomfortableness with grief.  I was not the only one hurting. I was not the only one who felt confused, shocked, speechless, as if my life had been completely high jacked.  However, people would try to put their feelings aside and meet my needs. We all do this. We feel the need to say something, to acknowledge what has happened.  Because dealing with death is awkward and uncomfortable, sometimes people will say some strange things. If you see me, ask me about some of my most interesting condolences. 🙂

Before you read the list, I would like to say that the operative word is NEW widow – 10 Things Not to Say to a NEW Widow.  When it first occurs, everything is temporal, everything is in the moment, so there is no foresight being utilized in a newly widowed brain.

  • I have listed each statement first
    1. is what people think they are saying.
    2. is what it sounds/feels like to a new widow.

    Please read this with a sense of humor in mind. I am owning up to my honest thoughts about some of these statements and when all else fails, we all need to laugh.

  • God just needed another angel.
    1. She’s a believer. That will give her peace.
    2. My honest reaction, like hell He does. To do what? He has a trillion of them already. I need Glen here. My kids need him here. Angel, schmangel…
  • He’s at peace now
    1. He is with the Lord in Heaven and that is a peaceful thought
    2. Selfishly I want to know how that’s supposed to make me who is still here, feel any better? We were at peace before all of this happened. He didn’t go looking for peace.
  • How are you doing? (in the slow, low, monotone tone)
    1. I am expressing concern and love.
    2. Seriously is that a question? Do you really want that answer? Would you like to pull up a chair or maybe a sleeping bag? I’m a widow. A widow with a brain injury. I’m facing a whole new world. My children have no father. I wake up every morning alone.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
    1. There is a reason for this and one day it will all make sense.
    2. Yes it does. I don’t doubt His plan for one second. But now, at this moment, that brings me absolutely no solace. I mean none.
  • I know exactly how you feel…(when my husband left… when I got divorced and had the kids alone…my husband travels for work…)
    1. Relating to her will make her feel good.
    2. You have absolutely no idea how it feels.. Those things are difficult too, but not the same. I don’t want you to EVER know how it feels.
  • I’m glad to see you’re moving on
    1. Love and concern.
    2. I’m not moving on. I will never move on. I may be moving forward. And what does “moving on” imply? That I am dating? Is that the only way that I can show growth and healing by dating?
  • Let me know if there’s anything you need.
    1. Love and concern and a willingness to help.
    2. (Awkward silence). The majority of the time, I have no idea what I need. Ask my best friend. Ask my family. Or best of all, tell me what you are going to do. Anything you can think of, I probably need. But the last thing I want to do is admit that. The biggest needs for me, grief and TBI combined: a meal, a nap, time in my house alone.
  • At least you’re young…
    1. You can go on and get remarried and live a happy life.
    2. At least I’m young? Hmmm. Wow. I’m pretty sure that being young does not make this any easier. Every age of widowhood presents different challenges, but being young does not make it any easier. I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person and being young enough to be able to spend it with someone else is of no comfort at all.
  • You’re doing the best you can do with your kids.
    1. You are doing a great job.
    2. This statement is obviously meant as an encouragement but I can promise you that it does not feel that way. I’m doing the best I can do. Yes, of course I am doing the best I can do. Unless my children are naked and running in the streets, scrounging for scraps, please tell me I’m doing an awesome job with my kids. It’s taking everything in me to get out of bed in the morning, let alone get my kids out of bed.
  • I don’t know how you do it.
      1. I don’t know how you do it.
      2. None of us knows how we will handle something until it becomes our story. And that is what is so beautiful about life. We get to be the author of what comes next. It’s kind of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that my brother was crazy about when he was little. Circumstances happen and then you choose a way to go, your reaction causes the path to change. Some endings are favorable and others are not. There is weight in good choices.

    Me, the way I’m handling it? God. My faith. My weaknesses. My imperfections. My lessons learned. My tantrums. My children. My future. My love. My mistakes. And an occasional homemade wine spritzer.

If you got this far, thank you. Thank you for understanding.

Here is a short list of things that would work. But everyone is different, so these are my statements of comfort during my early widowhood.

  1. Honey, I love you so much.
  2. (I don’t really have an alternative to this one).
  3. How is physical therapy going? How is (insert an activity that you know I like or that we share)?
  4. I’m so sorry, this just doesn’t make sense.
  5. I have no idea how you are feeling. This is just stupid.
  6. I heard/saw (insert activity I was involved in). I’m so glad you had a great time.
  7. Hey I would like to drop dinner off on Tuesday or Saturday? What works for you?
  8. (I don’t really have an alternative to this one).
  9. The kids are doing so well. You are doing an awesome job.
  10. I don’t know how you do it. –or- I don’t know what to say. –or- This sucks. (This one is okay because I appreciate honesty and transparency over anything else). I appreciate when someone is just real with me and tells it to me just as it is. It gives me the freedom to say what I really want to say which is “yes this sucks and I don’t want to pretend that it doesn’t”.

8 responses to “10 Things Not to Say to a New Widow

  1. I’m sure that people who say things to those who deeply grieve a loss mean well, but sometimes it doesn’t come across well to those who are walking the difficult path of grief. After our son died, we heard some doozies. It’s refreshing to hear how it’s interpreted from the other side and what would be better options.

  2. Andrea Brenner says:

    I’ve heard all of these! I understand that it can be awkward for people to approach you because they don’t know what to say. The “comfort words” you shared are so often said that they become almost cliche. I am like you in that I am a real person who doesn’t like to pretend things are okay. When my family and friends asked me how I was doing shortly after my husband died, I was honest and forthright. I said things like “this sucks” and “I am totally lost.” I like to hear things from people like ” it must be hard” or “I have no idea what you are going thru but I am here if you need to talk.” To me, that is honesty, and no one is trying to put on a facade. Thank you for sharing!

    • Sandra says:

      I appreciate the honesty as well. It makes me feel like people are being real and not saying things that are untrue. Thank you for reading!

  3. Carrie Ennis says:

    Sandy,

    For a long time I have wanted to say something supportive to you. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said nothing- which is wrong as well. I think part of it is because we’re almost the same age, you married Glen just a few months before I married my husband, and I can’t imagine suffering a loss like you have. We had not talked in so long I wasn’t sure what to do. I followed your blog constantly at first and have regularly checked in as the Months have passed. I know we weren’t close, but I have always thought of you as fun, smart and beautiful. Through your blog, I can tell you still have all those great qualities. You really are an awesome person!

    Sincerely,

    Carrie
    ( Gary’s step daughter, Nita’s daughter)

  4. Today, when you told me a bit about your story, I said nothing and just carried on with the rest of the conversation. Afterwards, I felt like I should have said something more meaningful – something that showed that I had actually heard what you said. But despite having suffered the loss of a child, I still don’t know what to say to people who have lost loved ones.

    I often feel that I can’t mention my daughter to people because it makes them uncomfortable to hear about someone else’s loss. They often go on and on about it and then I feel as if I have to make them feel better about the fact that my infant daughter died. I understand why people react this way, and I never feel angry. However, I often wish they would just say nothing and let me talk about her as if it is perfectly normal. We only had 8 weeks with her, but they were 8 weeks I never want to forget.

  5. When one doesn’t know what to say, he/she should go with that.

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