Now that I’ve had a year to ponder my life changes and follow all the advice for the unexpectedly single (don’t make any big purchases, don’t plan too far into the future, etc.), I have made one big discovery.
Not talking about all this has created a dam on my creativity and my ability to express myself on everything from global warming to which shampoo I prefer. Deciding to break my silence on the one-year mark of my husband’s death was both terrifying and liberating. A tiny hole was pierced in the dam that I had built, and I felt a lightening of my soul. A very small lightening, but more than I had felt in a long time.
I’m going to be exploring more of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience, and if it makes you uncomfortable please feel free to unfollow or unfriend or whatever un-thing people do now. You won’t hurt my feelings. This is for me. And for people who like me. And for people who are like me.
I want to be very clear about this, because people can be quick to jump to conclusions.
I’m doing really well. I came through a trying time in life, in which I found very few people to identify with. I’m stronger now, and hope to add one small voice for the next person who is desperately searching for support.
It isn’t all I talk about here, but it’s become a huge part of who I am now and must logically be included in the writing that comes from me. I’ve made peace with it (I think). But it’s okay if you can’t.
What I’d like you to think about though, is what not to say to someone like me. And you WILL meet someone like me.
The grieving widow, or widower, or parent, or child. And they are grieving their loved one, who may have been hell to live with, but loved all the same. Some of these can be found in this very helpful article, which had one very important point I’m saving for the end.
Don’t criticize the griever. This seems obvious, but lots of people think they are being helpful by suggesting “solutions” in retrospect. “You should have gotten him into rehab.” (Really? Why didn’t I think of that? Oh, wait. Now I remember. He was there 4 times. You know who wasn’t there? You.) “I don’t know why you ever married her in the first place.” “What would <insert name of deceased> think if you did/said/wore/thought that?”
Don’t criticize the deceased. Yes, we know he was abusive/she couldn’t be controlled. We’re painfully aware of the dual burden of feeling the keen loss of the person we loved (including all they might have been) at the same time feeling a sense of relief that the madness is finally over. We may talk about what is true for us and our experience, but at this particular time, what survivors need from others is unflinching support and love. That doesn’t mean we sugarcoat the past. We may say things you’d rather not hear. But it’s for us to say.
Don’t tell the bereaved how to feel. We don’t need to hear who is to blame, how we should feel, when we should “get over it”, or that it was part of God’s plan. Ditto for preaching about how we should behave in front of the children, the parents, the dog, whatever. We’ve been dealing with a lot, and we’re going to feel a lot of different things – sometimes all at the same time. This is going to last possibly forever. Grief is not a process. It is something you process and continue processing as long as you live.
Don’t keep silent. If you don’t know what to say, say, “I don’t know what to say. But I’m here for you, praying for you, and loving you.” We don’t need you to know how we feel (and we wouldn’t want you to. It’s horrible.) But we need to know that you still care. Your silence translates to us as “I don’t have time for your pain. You’re a downer.”
I know, logically, that saying insensitive things – or nothing at all – is more about the other person’s discomfort or inexperience. But at a time like this, the grieving person literally has no room to make you comfortable. It’s like that time you slammed your hand in the door and a telemarketer calls. Your brain is so overwhelmed with pain that it shuts out the usual routine tasks and just hangs up the phone.
Here’s the really important part of why you should PAY ATTENTION to your words. The survivor of a traumatic death is extremely vulnerable to what they hear because they are very likely suffering from PTSD. When it was first suggested that me and my kids had multiple symptoms of PTSD, I was confused. I thought this was for soldiers and people who saw some kind of “action”. But the “T” is important. It stands for “Traumatic”.
All death is traumatic. For those who got sudden bad news, or held on to the end, or sat vigil by a bedside, or otherwise have seen what you have not, they are going to be traumatized. You are dealing with a damaged person who has had all they can take.
This is your opportunity to be a balm to their soul – or another brick in the wall of misery they are facing. Prepare now for the conversation to come. Practice your response so you aren’t caught off guard. Buy a couple of simple “thinking of you” cards and some stamps so you can send a brief note of love when the time comes. Make a note on the calendar of other people’s important dates so you can give them a phone call to let them know they were in your thoughts.
They may be struggling with many things. Don’t let your ignorance be one of them.