Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Not To Say

OK .... forgive me, but I'm cheating today. I'm copying a post I put on my blog over a year ago ... just a couple of months after Jim died. I've had several requests to post it again, which I did on my blog earlier this year, and I thought I'd post it here, too.
It was a list of the top things that my children and I did NOT need to hear, but did, after Jim died. It's followed by a list of things we did need to hear.
It might not speak for you .... at least not every point, but I would guess that we can all relate to at least a few of them.
Feel free to use this list freely ..... to help those not on this path ..... "get it" a bit better. Not that they can fully "get it", God willing, but I think it's helped many of my friends understand a little.

OK, buckle your seat belts. And please, please, please remember -- I have no memory of who said what. Please don't put that onto me or yourselves. This is not to make ANYONE feel badly. It's just what I've learned and have been told to pass on. I think most of us are doing this for the first time. And like parenting, we don't always get it right the first time.
And, like parenting, this is done in love.

1. This is the most important item and I cannot stress it enough: "I understand." or "I know what you're going through."
No. You. Don't.
You can't. The loss you have suffered is yours and yours alone. It's interesting but every single widow who spoke to me never, ever said those words. My relationship was unique and mine. No one else can possibly understand the depth of pain and despair that I feel.
This brings me to #2 -- which is from my children.
2. "I lost my father, too." Not only does it not help because every relationship is unique, but it also turns the attention to YOU. When you're shaking a mourner's hand at a funeral or a visitation and you say, "I lost my father, too", or "I lost my _______(fill in the blank") then the mourner feels compelled to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." and the whole reason for the event is lost. Bad, bad, bad idea.
3. "God has a plan." REALLY??? Because at that moment in time, I didn't give a damn. And neither did my children. The plan, whatever it was, sucked.
4. "God must've needed Jim for work in Heaven." Again, REALLY????? I don't think so -- God seemed to be doing quite alright on His own. WE needed Jim here. We STILL need Jim here.
5. "At least he's no longer suffering." Let's get this straight -- Jim wasn't suffering -- at least not until 4:00 a.m. on December 17th. And then he got meds and felt quite relaxed. He would have rather suffered some more and stayed here. And I'm sorry, but being the selfish person that I am, I would have rather had him suffer more and still be here.
6. "This has made me appreciate my dad more." Yes, someone said that to one of the kids.
7. "Merry Christmas."
8. "How was the cruise?" I'm sorry, what?! It sucked. Although that's not we said. We said, "It was O.K." (Note to WV readers: Jim's memorial service was the Saturday before Christmas. The kids and I left on a cruise the next day and "skipped" Christmas."
9. "Call me." This also goes along with "Call me if you need anything." People who are grieving don't usually call. They are just trying to breathe. And they don't know what they need, other than the loved one who is gone. Don't ask me to call. Call me. Come sit with me. Just sit.
10. "How are you?" You really don't want to know, so try not to ask.
11. Also from the kids, "Your dad lovED you very much." They know that he STILL loves them very much.
12. This is one that I really struggled with but I think everyone wants me to be open and very honest here. So here it is:
Try very, very hard to not write a Bible verse on a card. As one of my daughters said, "If you're not a Christian then you look at the card and think 'why the hell would someone write that to me?!' and if you are a Christian you think, 'Why the hell would someone write that to me --- I already know that." The first days are not the time to be reminded of God's love because it doesn't feel like He's very loving.
13. "Hang in there."
14. "This is going to be a very difficult Christmas for you." You think?!!!
15. "What can I do for you?" This goes along with #9. Again, I can't think past the fog in my brain and the pain wracking my body, heart and soul. I have no idea what you can do. This is where the "just sit" comes in. Jewish people "sit shiva" when someone is grieving. They go to their house and just sit. They talk if the griever feels like talking. They don't if she/he doesn't. The important thing is, they are there. Very important.
16. This has also been a difficult one to include but here it is:
"God never gives you more than you can handle." To that I say B.S. I don't agree with that - at - all. God gives us a whole lot of crap that we can't handle. Trust me. And I don't agree with that theology. I read that verse as saying "God won't TEMPT you beyond what you can bear. And when you are TEMPTED He will provide a way out'." The only temptation that I had was the desire to off myself in the early days. But God did give me the loss of Jim -- and it's way more than I can handle. Just because I'm alive doesn't mean I'm handling it. Try to never, ever, ever say that to someone who's lost someone. Ever.
17. "You're young .. you can find love again." There are no words for that one. None.
18. "Trust in God." - when someone gets knocked to the ground by God, there's going to be a trust-issue. Trust me.
19. No one has asked me this directly but I guess some people have worried that I'm on meds and that I joke around about alcohol. Really?! Because even if I were drunk &/or higher than a kite most days --- could you blame me?! And to put everyone's mind at rest (or not -- think what you want to think) - I doubt that I could play tennis, work, write in a blog, or converse with my children if I were drinking every day or taking more than an anti-depressant and a sleeping aid every day (which are both prescribed by my doctor). So I'm not overly depressed and I sleep at night. Find someone else to worry about.
20. And the coup de grace, the ultimate thing I didn't need to hear and the only one I have vividly in my mind and know exactly who said: 'I am the reason Jim was successful. Let me handle your money. You owe me.' --- or something to that effect.

Now, to end on a positive note:

The Things I/We Needed/Need to Hear

1. "There are no words."
2. "You are constantly in my thoughts and prayers."
3. "I am so angry at God."
4. "This sucks."
5. "I love you."
6. "My heart aches for you."
7. "I'm sorry that I never got to know/meet him because he sounds like an incredible man."
8. Any time someone shares a memory of Jim.
9. "Can I come over?"
10. Any time a man cried in front of us. It sounds strange, but we need to know how much Jim meant -- especially to men.

So there you go .... the top things I needed to not hear and need TO hear ..... 20 months ago.
I'm thinking about posting a new list entitled, "The Top Things I Don't Need to Hear, Year 2").
Feel free to add your own comments and tell us what you didn't, or did, need to hear.

Have a great Wednesday.


  1. Janine:

    Here are a few of the "what not to say" lines I got:

    A few days after: "Of all the families that I think could handle this, it is yours." WRONG!

    Two weeks after: "Sorry about your loss, but life goes on." Yeah, for whom!!!

    A month later: "Are you back to normal?" Normal? What is that?

    8 Weeks later after my father-in-law died, from my mother-in-law: "Are you better now?" NOT!!!

    "I'm sorry about your loss, but I can't wait to see what you learn from this." Ummm, being a Widow sucks and still does.

    From a former friend going through a divorce (I never compared our situations and listened compassionately to her): "It would be easier if he had died." Said twice to me. One month after her divorce she was dating a man, and got married a few months later. Hmmm, I guess it wasn't that hard!

    Yes, there were other things said, but those have stuck with me through these almost six years.

    There were a couple of people who did say the right things like: "I know you miss him, I miss him too." Thank you, I still need to hear that.

    and "I can't imagine what it is like, but I know it would be devastating for my wife, if it had happened to her." I hope it doesn't happen for a VERY long time.

    Anyways, just my input.

    Thanks for your post - wish I had blogged six years ago, if there was blogging. Maybe I wouldn't still have my issues.


    Beth in NC

  2. Hi, someone said to me, "oh well, everything happens for a reason, it could be worse, at least you're young" ... I replied, "hmmmmmm" but I wanted to say:

    Well could you enlighten me oh great oracle as to what the reason is ... and can you tell me what could be worse than losing my heart, my life, my world, my soul ... and what exactly are you implying: that I have longer to recover in, or be miserable for, or that I should pop down the local nightclub and seek out a replacement for this special magical man?

    LOL - I laugh now, but at the time, it really was not funny.

  3. Isn't it incredible that some people can be so insenitive, although,I choose to believe that most mean well. It has been four and a half years for me and some days it feels like it was yesterday.

    I have learned that I will not get over it, move on or move past but I am learning to live though it. I have learned grief is like a huge wave, it comes out of nowhere and knocks me down,I tread water trying to keep my head up until I can stand again and wait for the next wave.

    After 40 years of marriage and thinking in terms of being a "we", I find it hard to now find out who "me" is.

    Will we ever feel whole again? For me that is the answer I am searching for!



    1. That is exactly the way I feel. I have also learned I will not get over it. People tell me I need to move on but I know I never will (30 years of marriage) and you know what? I have also learned to admit this is OK. It is harder now than it was three years ago when he died. Each day only means it has been longer since we were together.Everyone is unique in their loss. I believe I have one true love and that will never change.

  4. the other day - someone from where i used to go to church said "well, at least you HAD someone - i never did"

  5. Thanks for your blog. It has been three years since my Thomas died. I struggle still every day. Now people are asking me if I'm dating yet. I just need a place to be with those who know the feeling, and don't ask those darned questions. Thanks...Lynne

  6. "Everything happens for a reason" and "God won't give you more than you can handle" are the two biggest turds to come out of waaay too many mouths. God isn't a murderer. God didn't "take" him. We're not puppets and God isn't a puppeteer, moving us around for His amusement. That would make God a monstrous, evil joke. God feels as sad about this sudden death at 49 as I do, and helps me whenever I ask for strength, although sometimes I ignore the help.

    Oh, and to the teenage niece who, days after the death told me "you gotta get back into your routines!" I say, try thinking before you speak. My EVERY routine revolved around your uncle. Every last routine.

    And to her mom, his sister, who on Death Day +5 told me I had to "get out there and date," I say, this betrays how you feel about your own marriage. Keep your clueless advice for me and your total lack of knowledge about my relationship to yourself.

    I am heartbroken, but I realise I'm glad I have had something so good to be heartbroken about.

  7. His sister actually uses the term "pity party" if I admit to feeling low.

  8. This is one that really hurt. My dear, dear friend who I LOVE and who's husband divorced her--"It will get easier. I miss ________less and less each day and you will too" What?????. She gets to see him at every graduation, wedding and happy event. She can pick up the phone and call him. I will never talk to the love of my life again. How is this the same? I know she is trying to help, but some people don't get it. It gets harder. Another dear friend said she thinks the reason it gets harder is because the day he died I was with him just like the day before and the day before that. Every day it is longer since I was with him so I miss him more. She really gets it and i love her honesty and insight.

  9. Co-worker "been there, done that"
    Me I didn't know you lost your husband.
    Co-worker I didn't. My mother died a few years ago.

    MD on the unit (I'm a nurse, and my husand and I have two adopted school age children): At least with the kids you have a purpose in life

    Actually, I have to laugh at the cluelessness of some people.

  10. So many of the things that you and the other posters say, resonate so deeply within me.

    From my Brother " Stop wallowing in self pity and move on".
    At this moment it is 40 weeks since the love of my life died! Every day that passes I am moving further away from the man I love.

    From other relatives "at least it was quick and he didn't suffer"
    " Ian would want you to be happy"

    He might not have suffered but I am! And this is going to sound like an awful thing to say, but in some ways, I wish he had been ill we could have talked about it. At this moment I don't know whether Ian would want me to be happy or not, we didn't talk about it, we thought we had a life time together not just 4 short wonderfully amazing years. Neither of us expected one of us to die in an instant like that.

    From my father "Other people get over it why aren't you?"

    I'm not other people, and I am coming to realise, other people probably aren't getting over it, they are learning to hide it better.

    I am feeling that people are fed up of hearing me say how sad and miserable I am feeling. Now when I am asked "how are you?" I just say "fine"!

    I should say, that makes my family seem really bad, and they are not, just typical, stiff upper lip Brits. I couldn't have gotten through the first few weeks without my dad by my side, he did all the practical stuff that I was just to shell shocked to deal with, dealing with the coroners office and the police, guided me through organizing Ian's funeral, making the phone calls to extended family, friends and colleagues etc. I couldn't have done it on my own.

    Thank you for your post. I look forward to seeing

    "I'm thinking about posting a new list entitled, "The Top Things I Don't Need to Hear, Year 2". as in 12 weeks I will be entering year 2.

    Love and hugs xxx

  11. Here are some of my favorites, said when my darling husband of 12 years died at age 45 from a sudden illness:
    Just don't lose your sense of humor
    What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
    Too bad you didn't have children
    You're lucky you didn't have children
    You know he's still here with you, just in a different "plane"
    You're young - you can get remarried
    He visits me in my dreams all the time - is he visiting you?
    What was it like when he died?
    What was the last thing he said to you?
    I know how you feel - I've been through two divorces
    Well, I lost him, too
    Why did you let him die in the hospital instead of at home?
    Volunteering somewhere would help you feel less sorry for yourself
    At least you're strong
    Don't you think it's about time you took off your wedding ring?