It has been almost a year now since I was pushed without a parachute into this new life; the life of a young widow. And in that time, a lot of people have said a lot of things to me in their attempts at sympathy or understanding. I am lucky enough to have a lot of people in my life. When you have a lot of people in your life, and you post on Social Media as frequently as I do, you tend to get a lot of people’s opinions. People’s opinions, when combined with the subjects of grief and death, can be a recipe for instant trainwreck.
So, although I do realize there are a lot of lists and articles already out there like this that point out things NOT to do/say to someone who has just lost their spouse, this is my list and it comes solely from actual things people have said to me, or things people have done. Please know that I am aware that most people are only trying to help when they say these types of things. I get that. However; I think it’s important to show people how the things they say and do effect me and others like me who have lost their spouse; so that they might rethink saying it the next time to someone else. (even though that will most likely never happen, and people will continue to say dumb things until the end of time.) Also; to be fair and helpful; I am posting not only a list of “Please DON’T”, but also a list of “Please DO”, so that people understand that there ARE things they can do and say that actually make quite a difference, and that are forever appreciated. Also, when posting these lists, I’m using the word “Please”, which is pretty damn polite of me, so fuck you if you don’t like it. Now, I have 11 months worth of dumb-ass comments to get off my chest, so let’s get started. Here we go …
Please Don’t Say He Is In A Better Place:
This is just rude. How do you know it’s a better place? Are you dead? No? Then you don’t know. If it’s truly a better place, than why don’t we send your son or daughter, or the love of your life there, and I’ll take my husband back. Better yet; if this place is so damn great, why don’t YOU go there? I’d be more than happy to pack your suitcase and send you on that one-way flight to this wonderful place called “dead.” This phrase might be appropriate if the person who died was 90 years old, or very sick, or in pain. My husband was none of those things. His death was sudden and unexpected and came out of nowhere. There is absolutely nothing “better” about his life being cut short. The only place he wants to be and I want him to be is right here with me – his wife. For you to imply anything else is just hurtful and rude. Just please stop saying this to people unless you KNOW for a fact that they were suffering here on earth. Actually, you know what? Don’t say it then either. Just don’t say it. Ever.
Please Don’t Say It Was God’s Plan:
This is another gem of a comment I’ve received countless times from countless people, usually when I didn’t even ask for their opinion on the subject to begin with. Comments like this are very assumptive, as you are assuming I am religious (which I am not), and you are assuming that everyone on earth believes what you believe (which they do not.) If you had asked me what I believe about the subject (not that you did, because normally people who toss out religious-type death cliches don’t really care what you think – they just want you to conform to what they think), I would have told you that I don’t believe in any “plan.” It’s all random, and sometimes life sucks and you collapse on a Petsmart floor and die. If it wasn’t random and unfair, then rapists and murderers and pedophiles would be the ones struck down dead by drunk drivers, or get stricken with horrible cancers. I don’t believe in the type of “God” that would purposely make someone sick or end someone’s life because it’s all part of some big “plan.” That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Not that you asked.
Please Dont Say Time Heals All Wounds:
More meaningless dribble. Time doesn’t heal shit. Time just marches on and happens. Time doesn’t stop. The only thing that will heal me is me, and it’s a lifelong process that doesn’t really ever end. Grief does not ever go away, it only changes form. Time has nothing to do with it.
Please Dont Say He Wouldn’t Want You to Cry (or) Be Sad:
This makes me nuts for so many reasons. Please dont tell me what my husband would or wouldn’t want. You don’t know. I’m grieving. Grief is a necessary thing that I MUST go through and experience in order to eventually come out the other side. And you’re telling me I can’t cry? Well, I’m sorry, but I’m going to cry a LOT. I’m going to be sad too. Really really sad. These are called emotions, and I have them. I always will. You telling me not to cry or not to be sad, makes me feel like I’m a failure at grieving. This is the hardest thing in my life I have ever gone through and Im doing the best that I can, so when you tell me or imply that I’m not doing it correctly, that doesn’t feel so good. Guess what else? Just because I cry doesn’t mean I don’t also laugh. I am able to feel moments of joy, AND I’m also incredibly heartbroken. I am forever changed, and everything is darker and different now. I see things from an entirely new perspective. It is not possible to go back to who I was before this happened. My husband would want me to grieve for him in a healthy way, and to feel whatever it is I need to feel. And that includes crying.
Please Don’t Say Well … Life Goes On:
Does it? No shit! Thanks for pointing that out.
Please Don’t Say God Never Gives Us More than We Can Handle:
Oh really? Is that so? Well then – I’m sure you can handle it when my fist is coming straight at your face. Don’t blame me. It was part of God’s plan.
Please Don’t Say I Know Exactly How You Feel:
Actually, no, you don’t. You have absolutely no idea how I feel. Until you have lost your spouse right smack in the middle of your life and toward the beginning of your marriage, you haven’t got a clue how I feel. People say this for all sorts of reasons. A lot of people will claim to know how I feel because they just lost their grandmother, or their pet, or their cousin, or even their sister or a parent. These are all painful and huge losses, and I am in NO way diminishing that. But it’s not the same. It is simply not the same. Im guessing that you never planned on marrying your dog. I don’t think you ever planned a future or a life with your cousin, or wanted to have a family with your cousin, or slept with your cousin. (unless you’re from Kentucky or Arkansas, maybe.) A lot of people will try to compare their divorce to my husband’s death too. Again, getting divorced is one of the most painful things a person can go through, but it is NOT a death. The person is still breathing. If you have kids together, your children can still have a father or a mother that is alive. Divorce is a choice. This was not a choice. You don’t know how I feel, and I hope you never have to find out.
Please Don’t Say Be Grateful that You HAD Love Like That:
It really annoys me when people tell me to “be grateful” for things, because it implies that I am an ungrateful brat. Telling someone to be grateful also sounds like a lecture to me, and it doesn’t validate the very real pain the person is in. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be in this much pain if I didn’t love him so much, and if I wasn’t sooo aware and so “grateful” that we had the most amazing, wonderful, beautiful relationship. But that relationship is now gone. He’s dead. Excuse me if, at the moment, I’m not feeling very grateful. Why don’t you give me 5 or 10 years, when this isn’t so raw for me, and then I promise to get back to you on the whole “being grateful” crap, okay?
Please Don’t Say You’re Young. You’ll Find Someone Else:
Excuse me … um .. what??? First of all, Im not that young. Im 40. And how do you know Ill find someone else? You dont know that. And more importantly … someone else? Someone else? My husband, the person I was supposed to be with for the rest of my life, is no longer here with me. It is not because we got divorced or because he left me. It is because he was breathing one second, and then he wasn’t. I am still in love with him. I still feel like his wife. How can you possibly talk to me about someone else right now? That is the absolute last thing on my mind or in my heart. I am just beginning to put the pieces of what my life is back together again, and you want me to go out and search for a man? Maybe one day, in the distant future, in a land far far away, I will be ready to discuss the idea of “someone else.” Maybe. But its really none of your business, and right now is not the time. Not for me. He was not a puppy. I’m not going to go out and just get another one. He was my husband. I don’t want someone else. I want him.
Please Dont Say You Really Need to Move On (or) Get Over This:
About a month after Don died, a family friend said this to me in an email. His exact words were: “It is clear that you need to move on.” It was in response to me writing up a blog like this one, where I was expressing feelings and emotions in print. Apparently, saying how one feels is a terrible thing, and equals that I haven’t “moved on”, whatever the hell that even means. Seriously – what does that mean – move on? I dont even understand what the fuck these people are talking about when they say this. Am I supposed to act as if Don never existed? Is that moving on? Should I never speak of him again? Just put him away on a shelf forever and pretend that he was never a ginormous part of my life that helped make me who I am today? I honestly believe that anyone who would say something like this has probably never experienced real love before. If I was sitting in a corner doing crystal meth in my pajamas for the past year, then it would make sense to tell me I need to move on, if that’s what you mean by it. But that’s not the case. I get up everyday. I shower. I go to work. I see friends. I see family. I perform. I write. I do creative projects. I honor him. I am living my life, and I will continue to do so by moving forward. Don will always, always be a part of my life. He is a part of me now. Get over it? Move on? Never.
Please Don’t Say You Are Never Alone / You’re Not Alone:
I beg to differ. Good people of earth, you must understand that If I say “I FEEL ALONE” – I do, in fact, feel alone, and know what I’m talking about. Please take my word for it and believe me. Please don’t tell me that I’m NOT alone, or that I’m never alone. I understand that I have friends and family, and in that sense, I’m never alone. But MY family is gone. Yours isn’t. It’s easy for you to say I’m not alone and then go home to your spouse. Please trust me that when I’m here at 3am and I cant stop crying or cant sleep; and there is nobody lying next to me; I am, in fact, alone. Or when I have to do something by myself that Im used to doing for years and years with my husband; I am alone. Or when I have to pay all the bills that I used to split with my husband. Or when Im sick and feeling like crap and there is nobody here to make me soup or tea or get me a blanket. I have to get my own blanket. Or when the cats puke all over the floor for the hundredth time since Don died; and now its suddenly MY job to clean it all up. Or when Im afraid in the silence of the night; and Im thinking about how fleeting life is; and of all the things I will have to face in the many years of my life; alone; without my husband to get me through it. One day; hopefully in the very far away future; I will have to deal with losing my parents. I will not be able to turn to my husband and go through that with him. I will have to go through that alone, without the support of my husband. When you tell me I am not alone, it feels like you are not hearing me. It makes me feel like I am invisible to you. Please listen to me when I tell you that I feel very alone, because this is the loneliest time in my entire life; and I need to be heard.
Please Don’t Say So How Are You? (Unless You Really Want to Know):
This is well-intentioned poop. At least most of the time. Its one of those things that most people just ask, simply because they think this is what they SHOULD ask; but most of them do not really want to know. Most people, when asking this question, are expecting a short, general reply. They dont REALLY want to know how you REALLY are doing; and every little problem you are having. Well, when you are talking to someone who has just lost everything and who is feeling incredibly lonely on top of it because the one person that she used to tell EVERYTHING to is no longer around, you should expect a long-winded response. These days, if you ask me how I am, you’d better understand that the real answer to that question is complicated and might take awhile. Many times since my husband’s death, I’ve had people ask me “How are you doing?” – and right in the middle of my reply – I can already tell their eyes are glossing over with regret that they had asked. Unless you truly give a shit, please don’t bother asking. You are just wasting your own time, and mine.
Please Don’t Say God Must Have Needed Another Angel:
This one is just insane on many levels. Once again, it is really best to never say this kind of thing to someone, unless you are 100% certain of their religious beliefs, and even then, it’s still pretty stupid. I mean – come on. Is God THIS much of a selfish prick that he would take someone’s life because he’s running low on Angels? It’s Heaven! You’d think they’d have this inventory thing down by now. I refuse to believe in a God that would ever be that cruel. He “needs” another angel, so hey, let’s just grab this guy who is minding his own business and living a perfectly good life; doing good things here on earth. Let me steal him from his wife! What kind of asshole God would do that? And even if he was that cruel and mean, he’s GOD!!! Can’t he just make his OWN angel? Im sure with all his superpowers and everything, he could probably come up with something. They gotta have some oragami or some shit up there to make Angels with. Arts and crafts. People say this statement as if Im supposed to say “Ohhhhh! God needed an Angel? Well why didnt you just say so? It’s totally FINE that my husband is dead! God having another Angel is definitely more important than my happiness!” It is a moronic thing to say. Stop saying it.
Please Don’t Say You Should Move Out of that Apartment. You Should Get a Counselor. You Shouldnt Rely On Your Counselor So Much. You Shouldn’t Put all Your Feelings Out there. You Shouldn’t Post so Many Pictures of Him. You Should Get Rid of his Things. You Should …….
Annoying, huh? These are called “backseat grievers”, and they all want to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. Please stop. Every person grieves differently, and you cannot possibly know what I am going through or what is best for me. Only I know that, and I’m doing what works for me.
Please Dont Say Everything Happens for a Reason:
Does it? Fuck you.
Please Don’t Say Are You Better (or) Back to Normal Yet?
Yes. There are actual people who have said this to me directly. Most of them are older folk who seem to think that grief is some sort of disease or flu that you should recover from within a week or two. This question is almost too stupid to react to. I will never be “better”, only changed. And normal? What is normal? I have no idea, but it’s not me.
Please Don’t Say You are Looking Much Better:
This one is usually said with a surprised or shocked look on the person’s face as they say it. Really? Im looking much better? Better than what? What the hell did I look like before? Now you have me all paranoid that I have been walking around with poop all over my face or something. I dont know what you mean by this, and you’re just confusing me.
Please Dont Say Did You Have a Nice Weekend?:
Why, no, actually. I did not. I spent it completely alone because weekends are for families and couples, and mine is gone. I ate dinner alone, lunch alone, and breakfast alone. (when I remembered or bothered to eat them at all, because cooking alone sucks the big one.) Then I went through some of my dead husband’s things and cried for a few hours. Tried to watch a movie but it reminded me too much of our relationship, so I turned it off. Heard a song that instantly put me back to our wedding day. Turned it off. Tried to sleep but got jarred awake by endless nightmares. Fielded phone calls from credit cards and hospital bills all asking for money from my dead husband. Did I have a nice weekend? What the hell do you think?
Please Keep Saying I’m So Sorry. I Don’t Know What to Say:
Yes, it does get annoying for us to hear this over and over and over again, because so many people say it to us, or some version of it. But – it’s not offensive in any way, and it’s true. One of the best things you can do is be you, the person we love. And remember that even though we are changed forever because of this loss, at our core, we are still the person you love. About two weeks after my husband’s funeral, my best friend Sarah and I went for lunch. Suddenly, she started to cry and she said: “I just dont even know what to say to you, or how to help you. This isn’t the dream I had for you when we were kids. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.” When we feel like everything has fallen apart and we are confused by it all, it is so good and comforting to know that our friends feel that way for us too. Saying that you don’t know what to say is so much more honest and helpful than giving us some cliche meaningless platitude anyday.
Please Keep Saying You’re Doing Really Well:
There are other versions of this type of statement too, such as you’re amazing, you’re so strong, etc. Some widowed people are annoyed by these kinds of statements, so I can only speak for myself in saying that, for me, they are helpful. I’m trying, and that is all I can do, so it’s nice to hear from people on the outside looking in, that I’m actually doing okay. Most of the time I don’t feel strong at all, or I don’t want to be. Telling someone they HAVE to be strong is not good or helpful, but telling them that they ARE strong is. My good friend Bobby wrote me an email recently that said, among other things, this: “Everyday I look at you and wonder, how, in the midst of all the shit life has thrown at you, you keep going. You keep doing. I know great things will come to you. They just have to. You are incredible.” I gotta say that made me feel good, and it made me want to keep going until tomorrow.
Please Keep Saying He Would Be (or) Is So Proud of You:
This is just a nice thing to say, and a really nice thing to hear, because I always hope like hell that it’s true. He was always proud of me here on earth, and I want it to be true that he is somehow still proud of me now.
Please Keep Saying Here’s a Great Story About Your Husband:
I want to talk about Don. I want you to talk about Don. This is how we keep him alive – by telling his story. Not only is it okay when you tell me stories about my husband, but I love it. There is nothing I love more. Please don’t be afraid to talk about him whenever you want to. Please call me up out of the blue and tell me something you remembered about him that made you laugh or smile. Do not be scared that you will upset me by talking about him or mentioning him. It is not possible for you to “upset me.” I might cry when you talk about him. I might laugh. I might do both. I do both every single day. My favorite thing is when someone that knew my husband before I knew him tells me a story. I love when his nephew Mark talks about what he was like as un Uncle, or when his friend Carol tells me things about his rebellious and younger days in the Air Force. Or hearing about how kind and gentle he was with patients while on the ambulance from one of his EMS partners Maria. Please keep sharing your stories with me. And please let me talk about my husband around you without making me feel awkward. It’s okay. His life mattered. I want to talk about him.
Please Keep Reaching Out:
This one is hugely important. Grief is so isolating, and when you lose your spouse, in a sense, you lose your world. It feels even worse when all of our friends stop calling us or stop inviting us places. Please do not make assumptions about us based on nothing. Do not just assume I do not want to go somewhere. Let me decide. There are some days when being around people is incredibly painful, and there are other days when I absolutely need to be surrounded by others. Please keep our lines of communication open, and please understand if I dont get back to you right away. Keep trying. Keep calling. Keep reaching out. One of the most unhelpful things to say to a widow is: “You have my number. Call me anytime.” This is vague, non-commital, and puts the pressure on us. Be specific. Call me. Ask me if Id like to talk. Ask me to lunch. Offer something specific. “I’d love to take you to a movie and dinner on Tuesday” is much more helpful than “call me anytime.” Most importantly, keep me in your life and keep reaching out.
Please Keep Saying I Miss Him Too (or) I Miss Him So Much:
This is good. I like it when people say this. It lets me know that Im not the only person still thinking about him, and that everyone hasn’t forgotten about him. My friend John often sends me text messages that simply say: “I miss Don” or “I miss him”, and I just think: “Yeah. Me too.” It’s nice to miss someone and not feel completely alone in missing them.
Please Keep Your Word:
If you offer to do something, please follow through with it. Please do not say things just to say them. Vague things like “let’s talk sometime and we will go see a play” or “one of these days Ill help you go through some of your husband’s things” arent really helpful if you don’t follow up with them. All of the emotions associated with grieving do tend to make us a bit more sensitive to these kinds of things, so please keep your word if you say you will do something. I would much rather hear a simple and honest: “Im sorry I have been out of touch for awhile, but youve been on my mind a lot”, than a promise of something that is not fulfilled.
Please Keep Saying This Sucks!:
Sounds weird, but for some reason, this really helps. Also helpful are: This really sucks, I cant believe this happened to you, Fuck You Life!, this is so unfair, this really fucking sucks!
Please Keep Saying I Wish I Had Met Him (or) I Wish I Knew Him:
So many people that have never met my husband have said this to me, and it makes me feel really good. The fact that they recognize what a great person he was, just from me telling them that, is incredibly powerful and nice. I remember telling my friend Elayne Boosler how upset I was that my husband never got to meet her, because he respected her so much as a comedian and also for her work with animal rescue. She said: “I’m really upset that I never got to meet him. What an incredible soul he was.” Gave me a warm and comforting feeling. It was something I needed to hear.
Please Keep Saying I Love You (or) He Will Always Love You:
Hearing that you love me is wonderful. Hearing that my husband will always love me is even more wonderful. I remember early on, Don’s nephew Mark told me that until the end of time, Don’s heart will always belong to me, and only me. Something about the way he worded that – it really worked for me.
Please Keep Saying Absolutely Nothing:
One of the very best things you can do for me is to simply be there. Don’t disappear from my life. Be around. Be present. Cry with me. Laugh with me. Give me a hug. Banter with me and mock me like old times. Make me believe there will still be moments. Make me see there is still joy. Take me somewhere new. Show me something different. Sit with me in the quiet of a room. Hold my hand. Be my friend. Tell me you have no idea how I feel. Tell me your heart aches for me. Tell me again how much my husband adored me. Or just sit next to me and say nothing.