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Sandra Walker

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10 Things Not to Say to a New Widow

Posted: 09/03/2013 6:39 pm

I have thought about this post for several weeks. By writing this post, you may think I'm saying, "Hey guys, you know how you were there for me and cared for me when my husband died? Well, here are the things that I wish you really wouldn't have said." The truth is I do not feel that way. If you did say any of these things, thank you. Thank you for mustering up the words to say something when saying anything feels inadequate. Thank you for continuing to encourage and support me.

I belong to a young widow and widowers group with people fresh in their journey joining every day. I have found the following statements to be universally brought up. The purpose of writing about this is to help you see it from the other side and gain insight and perspective on what to say in the future. Because, unfortunately, death will touch all of us.

The aspect I find most interesting in this part of my journey is how, in your greatest time of need, God somehow grants you the grace to handle other people's pain and uncomfortableness with grief. I was not the only one hurting. I was not the only one who felt confused, shocked, speechless, as if my life had been completely highjacked. However, people would try to put their feelings aside and meet my needs. We all do this. We feel the need to say something, to acknowledge what has happened. Because dealing with death is awkward and uncomfortable, sometimes, people will say some strange things. If you see me, ask me about some of my most interesting condolences. :)

Before you read the list, I would like to say that the operative word is NEW widow -- 10 Things Not to Say to a NEW Widow. When it first occurs, everything is temporal, everything is in the moment, so there is no foresight being utilized in a newly-widowed brain.

Please read this with a sense of humor in mind. I am owning up to my honest thoughts about some of these statements and when all else fails, we all need to laugh.

1. "God just needed another angel."
What people think they are saying: She's a believer. That will give her peace.
What is sounds and feels like to a new widow: "Like Hell he does. To do what? He has a trillion of them already. I need Glen here. My kids need him here. Angel, schmangel...

2. "He's at peace now."
What people think they are saying: He is with the Lord in Heaven and that is a peaceful thought.
What it sounds and feels like to a new widow: Selfishly, I want to know how that's supposed to make me, who is still here, feel any better? We were at peace before all of this happened. He didn't go looking for peace."

3. How are you doing? (in a slow, low, monotone tone)
What people think they are saying: I am expressing concern and love.
What is sounds and feels like to a new widow: Seriously, is that a question? Do you really want that answer? Would you like to pull up a chair or maybe a sleeping bag? I'm a widow. A widow with a brain injury. I'm facing a whole new world. My children have no father. I wake up every morning alone.

4. "Everything happens for a reason."
What people think they are saying: There is a reason for this and one day it will all make sense.
What it sounds and feels like to a new widow: Yes it does. I don't doubt His plan for one second. But now, at this moment, that brings me absolutely no solace. I mean none.

5. "I know exactly how you feel... (when my husband left/when I got divorced and had the kids alone/my husband travels for work)
What people think they are saying: Relating to her will make her feel good.
What it sounds and feels like to a new widow: You have absolutely no idea how it feels. Those things are difficult too, but not the same. I don't want you to EVER know how it feels.

6. "I'm glad to see you're moving on."
What people think they are saying: Love and concern.
What it sounds and feels like to a new widow: I'm not moving on. I will never move on. I may be moving forward. And what does "moving on" imply? That I am dating? Is that the only way that I can show growth and healing by dating?

7. "Let me know if there's anything you need."
What people think they are saying: Love and concern and a willingness to help.
What it sounds and feels like to a new widow: (Awkward silence). The majority of the time, I have no idea what I need. Ask my best friend. Ask my family. Or best of all, tell me what you are going to do. Anything you can think of, I probably need. But the last thing I want to do is admit that. The biggest needs for me are probably a meal, a nap and time in my house alone.

8. "At least you're young..."
What people think they are saying: You can go on and get remarried and live a happy life.
What it sounds and feels like to a new widow: At least I'm young? Hmmm. Wow. I'm pretty sure that being young does not make this any easier. Every age of widowhood presents different challenges, but being young does not make it any easier. I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person and being young enough to be able to spend it with someone else is of no comfort at all.

9. "You're doing the best you can do with your kids."
What people think they are saying: You are doing a great job.
What it sounds and feels like to a new widow: This statement is obviously meant as an encouragement but I can promise you that it does not feel that way. I'm doing the best I can do. Yes, of course I am doing the best I can do. Unless my children are naked and running in the streets, scrounging for scraps, please tell me I'm doing an awesome job with my kids. It's taking everything in me to get out of bed in the morning, let alone get my kids out of bed.

10. "I don't know how you do it."
What people think they are saying: I don't know how you do it.
What it sounds and feels like to a new widow: None of us knows how we will handle something until it becomes our story. And that is what is so beautiful about life. We get to be the author of what comes next. It's kind of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that my brother was crazy about when he was little. Circumstances happen and then you choose a way to go, your reaction causes the path to change. Some endings are favorable and others are not. There is weight in good choices.

Me, the way I'm handling it? God. My faith. My weaknesses. My imperfections. My lessons learned. My tantrums. My children. My future. My love. My mistakes. And an occasional homemade wine spritzer.

...

If you got this far, thank you. Thank you for understanding.

Here is a short list of things that would work. But everyone is different, so these are my statements of comfort during my early widowhood.

  • "Honey, I love you so much."
  • "How is physical therapy going? How is (insert an activity that you know I like or that we share)?"
  • "I'm so sorry, this just doesn't make sense."
  • "I have no idea how you are feeling. This is just stupid."
  • "I heard/saw (insert activity I was involved in). I'm so glad you had a great time."
  • "Hey, I would like to drop dinner off on Tuesday or Saturday? What works for you?"
  • "The kids are doing so well. You are doing an awesome job."
  • "I don't know how you do it."
  • "I don't know what to say."
  • "This sucks." (This one is OK because I appreciate honesty and transparency over anything else. I appreciate when someone is just real with me and tells it to me just as it is. It gives me the freedom to say what I really want to say which is "Yes, this sucks and I don't want to pretend that it doesn't".)
 
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