Home » grief » You Don’t Know Jack

You Don’t Know Jack


Many thanks to everyone who was so kind and sent their well-wishes (and even shared their own stories) to my recent post about the anniversary of my husband’s death. But there’s something you don’t know.

I’m a widow. And I’m not a widow.

After 20 years of marriage to an alcoholic and addict, my husband went on a dangerous drunken spree that began with telling me and the children good-bye and ended 15 months later with his death from a pulmonary embolism at a rehab center. Somewhere between the slurred midnight phone calls and mountains of credit card debt, I was forced to obtain restraining orders and eventually a divorce to protect myself and our kids.

So, I’ve had the dubious distinction of being both a divorcee (for 5 months) and a widow. The legal authorities recognize me categorically as a widow, but funnily enough, I get the feeling some of my friends don’t. If they know we were separated and divorced the year before he died, they don’t see why I should be as upset as “a real widow”.

For people who don’t know, it’s difficult, when someone asks how he died, to answer truthfully.

I stumbled upon this article from The New York Times, which perfectly summed up the situation. It’s a little like this:

Them: What happened?

Me (Version 1): He had a pulmonary embolism. Very sudden. On his way into a meeting.

Me (Version 2): He had a pulmonary embolism, which was a result of a lifetime of chasing vodka with Tylenol PM, PCP, and pills that belonged to other people. He was in a rehab center because he was homeless, but he still managed to have the most heinous behavior right up until he dropped to the floor outside an AA meeting where he was actually passing himself off as a counselor.

Obviously, I tend to stick with Version 1.

I want to ask a favor of you. The next time you ask a question that requires a person’s back story, consider that the answer may be all that they are able to share with you, but that doesn’t make it the whole truth. Don’t believe for one second that you really understand what happened or how the survivor is feeling. Thank them for sharing. Encourage them in their strength through this difficult time. And know that if the answer is a short one, then you probably don’t know jack.

6 thoughts on “You Don’t Know Jack

  1. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint and feelings on this, Karen. Maybe it will help those of us who wish to help and convey our care for someone in your (or a similar) situation) in a way that’s both sincere and not hurtful, intrusive, or otherwise not what we meant.


  2. You and your children are survivors of what many families also silently go through. You survived! It doesn’t change your heart and emotions of how painful the love and relationship was and that it ended tragically in many different way.

  3. I have never admired your courage more than now, Karen. I, too, have loved an alcoholic who died. You’re right that none of us can truly know “jack” about what you’ve gone through, but I do know, regardless of the pain caused by alcohol and its resulting abuses, pain from the loss of someone you loved is no less, and sometimes harder, because you hesitate to share it. I hope sharing even a little bit has helped. Warm hugs. ❤

  4. Dear Karen,

    I’ll sound like Miss Echo here but I, too, admire your courage. Although at the time, I’m sure you didn’t feel courageous. You are a survivor and I doff my hat in your honor. Thank you for this article and sharing your heart.



  5. I hope you realize how much your disclosure and honesty will help others. I’ve admired and respected you without any idea about your journey. Sending a thank you and a hug

  6. Pingback: 10 Reasons Survivors Should Shut-Up | Karen B. Nelson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s