Tuesday, September 17, 2013

All the dumb things*

... people say.

Last week, a teacher I like and respect was chatting to me in the staff room before school.  She said "I've been widowing all weekend because my husband was away.  Amanda, I don't know how you do it".

..and I know, I KNOW that these kinds of comments often make the collective blood of widows begin to simmer.

But I didn't bite her head off or correct her because I know what she was trying to say.

She was trying to say that she admires me because I parent by myself all the time.
She was telling me with her clumsy words that she thinks I have strength and calmness that she knows is hard to keep up.
She was telling me that being a single (sole) parent who is working full time is a hard job.

...and it is.

People say dumb things all the time.  But they think they are being compassionate and kind.  ..and they often are.

At the moment, I am a useless bystander, watching, waiting and hoping that a little girl I know survives long enough to get a new heart.
Last week she went to the doctor with a cold.  By that same afternoon, she was in hospital on life support with cardiomyopathy as her diagnosis.

Lara is 6 years old, on life support and needing a new heart. 

This has stunned my collective friends to the core.
We are gobsmacked as to how this cheeky little girl has gone from having a persistent cough to having a ventilator in a couple of days.

...and like many of us have done in our time of grief (myself included), Lara's mother Ali has turned to facebook as a way of keeping everyone updated on her condition and venting when she needs to.
On the facebook page, she has posted pictures of Lara doing craft whilst hooked up to pipes and tubes and she has posted her fear over the upcoming transfer to Melbourne where heart transplant surgery will occur if a heart is "found".
I hang off every word, hoping that a heart is found (yet knowing another family has to suffer a tragedy for this to happen).
There's even a fundraising page which raised over $10000 in less than a week: people care.

....But this is also where all the dumb things are being said ... in the comments.

All the classics are there:
What a Little Angel / God is calling his little angel
What a fighter
Stay Strong

Don't cry
Don't worry
She needs you to stay calm
Let me know if I can do anything to help...

When what they mean is that the love Lara and her family.
That they are worried.
That they hope Lara doesn't die.
That they don't want to show how scared they are for fear of upsetting Ali even more.
That they are uncomfortable and don't know what to do when Ali airs her feelings.
That they know they should do something but don't know what exactly to do (so they put the onus back onto the one person who is stressed out of her gourd:, Ali).

What they are really doing is trying to let Ali know she is not alone.
That they care about Lara.
That they wish things were different.

They just tend to eat a fair bit of shoe while they are doing it.

People mean well and their love and concern is real.

This is something I know I need to remember next time someone drops an almighty clanger on me.

* All the dumb things is a line from a Paul Kelly song that I love and it seemed to fit this post....


  1. How kind and understanding of you to appreciate those scratchy words. Remembering your interpretation may help me be more understanding in the future.
    Thank you!

  2. I'm wish I could be as generous in my understanding of the stupid comments and actions of supposed friends many of whom have been absent since my husband's memorial service. I believe they're thankful it's not them and they don't want to even go there in their minds. One has to live with grief to understand the total devastation it brings when the love of your life dies. My life as I knew it disappeared in five minutes when my husband died next to me in the middle of the night. His heart attack was sudden and unexpected. I went to bed a wife who adored her husband and I woke up a widow. I tried to save him while praying that he would be normal if he survived. No amount of "get on with your life," "turn the page," "he wouldn't want you to be unhappy," is going to change what is and the pain I live with 24 /7. I'm 27 months into this hellish journey and I'm still grieving. I've come to realize I will always bear this pain in my heart and soul. Perhaps a few friends are concerned and mean well. I'm in too much pain to figure it out.

  3. Oh-so-many "dumb" things are said, in their imperfect tries to be supportive and compassionate. I heard some of these trite phrases twice: (1) when my husband died unexpectedly; and (2) when I was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery, then began treatments. One of the cruelest, "kind" phrases was that "God doesn't give you anything He doesn't think you can handle". Which implies that God DID give it to you (widowhood/disease). Nothing further from the truth, folks. I could hold a class: Things Not To Say to Widows OR Cancer Patients T101!

  4. No one is perfect - yet many demand that everyone says the perfect words. Some find it a lot safer to not say anything - or even avoid any possibility of perhaps mistakenly saying the wrong thing and being labelled "dumb" - or even worse, incurring an angry response. Friends and family are compassionate and have good intentions - but often feel very helpless in that they just don't know what to say or do.
    We are all just human, after all. This means we make mistakes. If you get angry about every word that is said - don't be surprised if those well-meaning people start to avoid you. A better response would be to communicate to them what you want.
    Do you just want someone to listen? To just be with you so that you don't feel alone? It's better to communicate this than to end up driving away everyone who tries to support you but fails to live up to very high expectations of saying the perfect words.

  5. I needed to hear your take on this badly! While the comments actually come few and far between in reality, they stick in my head for far too long. The two worst:
    1. "We're widow friends this week!!" - said in front of me, very ecstatically between my employer and a friend whose husbands were on a trip. No. You're staying home while they go have fun. Not the same.
    2. "You know you need to be married to have children." - said by my Grandma, three times, while I was at my sister-in-laws baby shower... on what should have been three years as a couple for my husband and me.
    I also lost a very, very dear friendship when I told the friend that I wouldn't be going to her wedding. There was a lot involved in it but primarily, she thought I didn't want her to be happy, when in reality her wedding was on the 6 month anniversary of my husbands death. I've worked very hard to forgive her carelessness and hurtful words in the situation and hope that someday we can work out the differences.

  6. I have had friends tell me they simply 1. Did know know what to say since my pain was so terrible and 2. Or tell me .....I am sorry...I have been seflish...talking to you about John's dying is too close to home...I don't want to be reminded that it could happen to me.
    I appreciated their honesty and said all they had to do was ask me...I would have helped them.

  7. Thank you so much for this. Been trying to tell myself this so many times that they mean well.

  8. My family instituted a new family rule just a few days after my husband's death. We call it the "dog in the face" rule. We had just left the Pastor's study where we had planned the service. A woman with the kind of little dog that annoys me on the best of days, pushed her little dog into my face and said, "Look, he is feeling so bad for you, he is really sad." There could not have been a more inappropriate thing at the moment, but I chose to look past the actions, past the words, and to the intent of the speaker. She meant to be comforting, even if it didn't quite work out as she had hoped. When we got home we literally decided there would be a new rule- we would look past the "dog in the face" to the heart of the person who was trying to express their sorrow or their comfort. The comments still continue from time to time, but now I just think, "dog" and go on.