Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Things I/We Didn't Need to Hear ....

(this was originally posted on Feb. 16, 2008, almost 2 months after Jim's death.  It was in response to many of my blog readers asking me what to "not say" to a grieving person".  This is the 2nd time I have posted it on WV, but I think we need to remind people ..... every once in a while).

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."
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.


  1. So true. I am tired of hearing all those line, because they are not truly reall to me. I love the things you wrote about what people should do, even now ayear later I need someone to just show up and do something I need, instead of making me have to ask. Stories are the best. The most memorial moments at my husband service was his male friends tears- they let me know they would not forget him. EVEN after a year, people do not understand and just do not get it.They do not know what it feels like to be young and without your husband and all that goes with that!

  2. Thank you - especially for #18. Trust whatever powers that be that also Created this? Yeah. Trust issues. I no longer trust that things will work out beautifully. I don't expect them to be hideous, either, but I don't trust in all things good anymore.

  3. Thank you! so true, especially call me!
    The worst comment I heard was to me and my daughter (21 at the time) was "You look so nice! Isn't it fun to get dressed up!" I wanted to hit her...

  4. A variation on #3: "This is God's plan." My wife committed suicide, but people still said this to me. I just said right back to them, at the funeral, there in the reception line, "God's plan was for her to stay here with her family and raise our four children. She is the one who thwarted God's plan, so don't you think what you just said is completely ridiculous and hurtful? Don't you dare say anything like that to my kids." And it wasn't just one person; at least a dozen people told me that (my wife was very popular; there were approximately 1,100 people at her service).

  5. All so true......its hard to hear these things still ; its been a little over a year and people just think your ok......its never ok or better you just learn to go on........

  6. I have to agree with you. and have one to add..."God took him for a reason" - what better reason was there for him to stay, because he had an 11 year old son, that needed his Dad.

    My favourite phrase is " Remember to breath"... I am sure you guys will understand what I mean!

  7. I think that most people make inappropriate comments because they feel that they have to say something, but have no idea what to say. After all, there are no words. Before I was widowed, I would (metaphorically) kick myself at times when I realised that I had said something crass to a bereaved person.
    One of the nicest things that happened to me just after my husband died was a visit from a good friend of many years' standing. She didn't bring flowers or a card; she slipped an envelope into my hand , and it contained a voucher for a haircut 'to be used whenever you feel ready'. It took me over 4 months to get round to it, but the thoughtfulness was much appreciated.

  8. It's so true!! Unfortunately we are the ones reading this, wouldn't it be a good idea to give out a list of do's & don't at Funeral Homes and start getting the word out . #9 Absolutely, they have no clue how difficult that is, you couldn't have said it better. Thanks for sharing that again.

  9. Wonderfully said. And I love the last one on the things to say list. Whenever the Jonny's guys show me they're upset about his death... well I don't want to say it makes me feel better but... it does in a weird way, just as you said it.

  10. When my husband had a relapse of his leukemia, a "friend" said knowingly (How could she know?)"Your life will be very different now." Duh. I wanted to strangle her.

  11. I was hurt by some of the comments that people made to me following my husband's suicide, BUT I tried very hard to ignore the comments and focus on the fact that people meant well. They really did!

    Sometimes people made comments, then immediately realized it was the wrong thing to say and were embarrassed. But, I didn't always know the right things to say either, so I TRIED to overlook the seemingly insincere comments made by others. However, there were a few hurtful remarks that still stick in my mind today unfortunately.

  12. The list brings back many memories but the comment I remember most is when a friend told me in January (one month after my husband died in a accident) that I was suffering from the 'holiday blues' just like her.

  13. Yes, yes, and yes. Another one for the "never say" list: "You'll be together again in Heaven." First of all, my husband was an atheist. Second of all, I'm 45. Even if I believed in Heaven, is it supposed to comfort me to think of waiting some 30-40 years to see him again?! For pete's sake, people, think before you speak.

  14. Another to add to the "never say" list is "You look great."