A few months after becoming a 30-year-old widow, I sought out support from people who could relate to me. I found an amazing Facebook support group for widows and widowers, where I didn't feel so alone. After making some friends, I realized that I was connected with these people I hadn't even met, on a level deeper than I knew was possible. They became my safe haven.
I could say anything, and I knew in my soul that I was understood and not judged. It became apparent to me very quickly that many of us struggled, sometimes daily, with friends and family, sometimes even strangers, who say things to us that make us cringe. I'm sure that this is all meant with the best intention, but let me speak on behalf of the majority of widows and widowers, that the following 10 things are things you just shouldn't say to a widow or widower.
Please be advised that I have not sugar-coated anything in this post today. You may feel badly, or even defensive, because perhaps you have said this. Please know that the intention of this post is not to make anyone feel bad or guilty. Rather it is to be a source of help in the future. I'm very aware that the majority of the time most people don't know what to say. I hope that this helps going forward.
1. "I know how you feel."
Ummmm, actually you don't. I'm in no way taking away from the grief that one experiences when they lose a loved one, but we are talking apples and oranges. The loss of a spouse is something that can't be compared to. I've sat and stared at this screen for 25 minutes trying to come up with the words to begin to describe the loss, and I can't. Whether you are trying to relate through a loss of a parent, pet, or even the divorce of a spouse, it's just not the same.
2. "You need to be strong for your kids."
Thank you, Captain Obvious. I'm fully aware of my children, and their needs. Let me assure you, every morning I get up with them, make sure they're dressed, fed, and smiling before I send them off to school. I don't lay in bed crying all day in front of them, even though I wish I could a lot of the time. Their needs have always come above my own, even before Bruce died. Him passing didn't magically change that. If you happen to see me at a vexing low, perhaps uncontrollably sobbing, know that this is because I suck it up in front of my kids everyday.
3. "Everything happens for a reason." (or the like-minded, "It was God's plan.")
Let's assume for a moment that this is true. Let's even fast forward to a time where this could possibly make sense. I will tell you loudly and clearly that it doesn't make sense to me now. It only makes me angry to think that all of the pain and anguish I have been living for 9 months was part of some masterfully designed plan.
4. "Be grateful for the time you had together."
I'm very grateful for the time we spent together. Thinking about it constantly simply reminds me of all the time that I'm spending without him now.
5. "He's in a better place."
Okay, so you're saying that alive, well and watching his children grow while being with his loving wife was a bad place?
6. "God only gives us what we can handle."
Really. Does he? Is that why I haven't slept through the night without medication in 9 months? Is that why I've been through intensive counseling and am taking daily anti-anxiety meds? Is that why in spite of my very best efforts, I still feel like I'm failing miserably almost daily in coping with this? I'm not quite sure why God seems to think I'm such a badass....
7. "Chin up. There are people out there who have it worse off than you."
Thank you for downplaying my feelings. That's super helpful... not.
8. "It's time you move on."
The funny thing about grief, is there is no time limit on it. I've learned that I can go days, and feel relatively normal, and then grief hits out of nowhere, and I feel like I'm back at square one. I'm confident that my grief will never go away, rather I will learn to live with it. You can't move on from grief. It will always be there.
9. "You're still young. You will find another man."
Yes, because that's the first thing on my mind, entering the cesspool that is the dating world. I didn't divorce my husband, I planned on spending my life with him, and now I can't. The fact that I can go out and "find another man" is far from being at the top of my priority list.
10. "It's a long hard road."
Yes, you're right. I'm the one who has been living it, the one who cries myself to sleep at night, the one who has lost friends, and been disappointed by family members, the one who has been judged scrupulously at how I make my decisions now, but I was under the impression this was all a cake walk. *insert eye roll here*
At an exasperating low when my eyes were puffy and red from crying, my little sister asked me, "What can I do or say to make you feel better? I don't want to say the wrong thing."
It's simple: You hug them. Tell them you love them. Acknowledge their feelings, and tell them it's okay to be sad, and that no matter what, you will be there for them. Most importantly, stand behind what you say.
Special thanks go out to my dear widow and widower friends for helping me compile this list, Yami and Babycakes. You know who you are.
This post originally appeared on widowandautismmommy.com.