Here is a list of some of the things that have been said to me while I was grieving which just drove me to an insane level of rage and depression. I used to feel people were just plain ignorant of how I was feeling. Now, I realize, they were mostly trying to say something in an attempt to comfort, even though their attempts fell flat like a lead balloon in front of my face. A good rule of thumb when you don’t really have anything to say to a person who is grieving is just say nothing at all. If they are someone you are close to, give them a hug or pat them on the back, but keep your mouth shut unless you’re sure what you’re going to say will truly bring comfort to the other person. Sometimes, though, people don’t really want you to say anything. They just want you to listen. They don’t want solutions; they just want to be heard, their pain recognized and understood.
By the way, just so you know, this is not just “Heidi’s list of what not to say to widows because she’s oversensitive.” Rather, some of these are universally accepted by other widows (those with whom I’ve corresponded on the internet).
Everything happens for a reason. This one used to really get to me. Even if I was spiritual at the time, I would find no comfort in it. I know the person was merely trying to express that there is a reason for everything, even this tragedy. But that the reason is unknown to both us, it really does more to make me feel lost in the vastness of universe rather than feel secure. It just sounds like I’m supposed to shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well. He died for a reason. It’s part of the Master Plan.” I don’t know. I just have a hard time with the phrase.
He was meant to be in your life for a reason. Translation: “Your husband was in your life for a specific reason and when he fulfilled it, he died. Now you will grow to be a better person because of the experience.” None of which I find comforting. What makes me more important that he should be created to better my life and then die while I continue to live? This smacks of Calvinism. I just can’t buy into it. In my spiritual beliefs, there are certain random acts that happen of which God has no control over. It’s called free will. This statement, along with the one before it, just depresses me. I don’t want to imagine that my life’s plan, from its very beginning, was to fall in love and then lose the best thing in my life. I can’t imagine God being so harsh. Rather, I believe, the Plan is always in motion, whatever it is, and our acts on this planet determine where they go. Therefore, my future is what I make of it now that the tragedy has occurred. End of story.
Despite my univeralist leanings, I have heard even religious widows exclaim a disgust for these phrases that imply a plan. Even if they believe that God has a Master Plan, they really don’t want to be reminded that the Plan isn’t always rosey. Maybe it’s a concept they can handle later, after they’ve gone through their grieving. Though, for me, it’s still bitter words to my ears.
Don’t worry. You’re young, you’ll find love again. Said to me at my husband’s wake as I stood next to his casket greeting people. I think you can figure out how insensitive these words are without me explaining them. I don’t remember who said this, but I hope karma has kicked them in the butt somewhere in the last seven years!
Life is for the living. Said to me by the HR lady at my company when I returned to work two weeks after Mike’s death. Gee, thanks for stating the obvious. So succinctly and cleanly.
I understand how you feel. I’m divorced. Wrong answer, bucko/buckette. While I agree (and have stated in a post last year) that there are definitely some similarities in the way someone feels post-divorce, such as the feelings of loss of a foreseeable future, losing one’s spouse is a great deal different than getting a divorce. Forgive me if you are divorced for my crudeness, but the difference is this: losing my husband was like having your spouse die in the best years of your marriage before they took the turn that led to divorce. It’s really not the same thing at all. Mike and I were chugging along happily when tragedy broke apart our union. In a divorce, one or both parties has decided that what they have is not working out–they choose to dissolve the relationship. I do not deny that this is a painful process. I’ve broken up with people, I understand how hard that is, and I can’t imagine what that’s like once you’ve taken the vows of commitment in marriage. But, it is not the same feeling of loss that one feels when their spouse dies.
I understand how you feel. I recently lost my mother/father/uncle/grandma/cat. Okay, close. Still, not quite the same kind of relationship as you share with a spouse. Now if you’re saying that you understand grief and what it feels like to lose someone important, say that. Or say, “I understand some of what you’re going through.” Although, really, I’d just avoid saying you understand. I know that I would never tell a parent who lost a child that I understand how he/she feels because I lost my husband. The loss of a child, again, is a different relationship than a husband. And, furthermore, not being a parent myself, I don’t have the foggiest idea of what it feels like to have that kind of connection with a human being. I can imagine it or empathize with the idea, but that’s not nearly enough to say I understand. Instead, I would just offer to listen to the person grieving, probably in an empathetic attempt to understand. But I don’t think I ever could really understand unless I experienced motherhood.
In fact, I am not even sure I could tell another widow that I understand how they feel just because I’m a widow myself. If the person I’m talking to lost their husband to a long debilitating disease, it’s different sort of grief than the shock-grief that occurred when my husband died suddenly. Just listening to widows on my online widows/widower groups makes me realize how many diverse situations there are between how people died and how a person felt about the death. There are similarities, but I still can’t presume to know what someone is feeling simply because I went through a similar experience. We all grieve in our own way. Again, I stress listening as the key to these types of situations. Only through listening to others can we glean any knowledge of any situation. So instead of saying you understand, offer your ear for listening. Most griever just want to be heard. I can’t say that enough.
You’re so strong. While seeming to be a compliment, it actually smacks a widow in the face. First of all, implied in the statement is that you are showing no emotion and you’re being praised for showing no emotion. I would start to feel bad, thinking that I wasn’t doing Mike justice. Secondly, the last thing a widow feels is strong. Imagine you’re having the worst day of your life–you’re depressed, your boss yelled at you, you lost your favorite possession. Then someone comes up to you and says, “Wow! You look really happy.” But you feel miserable on the inside. How does that make you feel? It’s just kind of awkward. Because now the door is closed for you to express anything other than what others have projected you to be feeling. Telling me that I am strong is telling me that you don’t want to hear about anything that contradicts your observation.
What does it mean to be strong anyway? I always wondered if just the fact that I didn’t go outside and hang myself from the nearest tree was testament to everyone else that I was strong. Yes, I made it through the whole process. Yes, I went on living, I continued to work. That wasn’t strength, that was necessity. The only other option for me was to lay in a fetal position on my bed and never get out again. What I was doing was surviving because millions of years of biology have dictated self-preservation. Strength is for superheroes–people like Lance Armstrong who can barrow their way up mountains on bikes. You survive grief because you have to, not because you want to.
Besides, I seriously think you would have doubted my strength if you saw me in the evenings alone in my house. It was the only time I could crumble uninhibitedly, let the darkness on the inside ooze out. There was no strength. Only survival. Don’t envy me for survival. Envy evolution because you would do it too if you had to.
Mike would want you to move on. How the heck do you know what Mike would have wanted me to do? And, anyway, I think it’s an obvious statement that at some point, yes, Mike would have wanted me to “move on” with my life and find love again. Yes. But, really, do I need to hear this while I’m still trying to get through the grief of losing him? In the back of my mind, I always pictured asking Mike, when he were alive, if he wouldn’t mind if I dated someone else when he died. I can’t imagine that a person can really imagine their spouse with someone else, even if they basically give you permission to “move on” after they die. A spouse shouldn’t even have to tell someone that; it should be innately obvious that eventually the person will find someone else to love again someday. But no one wants to talk about that at the bedside of their dying spouse. Or maybe they do, when the person is dying of a long term illness, but I would still find that conversation uncomfortable and ridiculous.
I have to mention, too, that I really, really, really, really abhor the words “move on.” They were used (and still sometimes used) in lots of different incidents throughout my experience: I see that you have moved on; It is time for you to move on; How long was it before you moved on?
It’s really just kind of a heartless phrase. “Moved on” implies moving beyond, away from. Grief doesn’t really “move on.” It kind of stays with you your whole life, it just more or less “eases up.” Believe it or not, “eases up” sounds much friendlier to me than “move on.” This society is so focused on “moving on” in all aspects of our lives, like going forward is the only way to be, even if we have nowhere specifically to go. Staying somewhere for a long period of time is called “complacency” and people frown upon complacency. We always must “move on” to the next situation and then the next, leaving behind the bodies of those who refuse to move. I wouldn’t feel the need to move anywhere if I found that one happy spot where I felt compelled to stay. We don’t always have to be on the go. In the case of grieving, sometimes a person needs to stay where they are at for awhile. This going forward lingo of movement just implies being left behind at the station if the train of life you were supposed to take has pulled out. Will you have another chance to catch this train in the future?
Even today, I wouldn’t say I’ve “moved on” (though the phrase has slipped out of my mouth on occasion due to its popularity in mass culture and I cringe every time it does). I’ve let go of the bad emotions–the anger, the sadness, the depression–and opened myself again to new experiences, to living my life to its fullest, because I know with actual first-hand knowledge that that is what Mike would have wanted of me. The grief still lingers–I feel it from time to time, as I feel the loss of all those who have passed before me–but it no longer weighs on my soul. I’d call it learning to live with my grief rather than “moving on.” I’d beg you to do the same. I’m pretty sure “moving on” is a widely hated term by widows and widowers alike, not just oversensitive Mars Girls.